Email Design Guidelines for 2021

John Davier

John Davier

Published on

November 28, 2020

Guest post by Elise Dopson

Are you struggling to see results with your email marketing campaigns? It can feel disheartening—especially if you’ve exhausted every trick in the copywriting book.

But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer from poor engagement forever.

In fact, there’s one not-so-small element that could make or break the success of each email you’re sending to your list: Design.

How do you create flawless emails? Do I need a professional designer to help? Should each of my emails follow a similar format?

If those questions are whizzing around in your head, don’t panic.

In this blog post, I’m sharing seven of the email design guidelines you should be following—allowing you to stop the curse of bad emails in 2019 and beyond.

1. Nail your subject line with emojis

I know what you’re thinking: “Elise—is a subject line really that important when thinking about my email design?”

My answer is simple: Yes.

You could spend hours designing the most beautiful email, but if you’re not convincing people to open and view it, it’s all going to waste.

A fantastic way to encourage click-throughs is to use emojis in your subject line. More than 50% of brands who use this design tactic saw an increase in their open rates because it demands more space in a crowded, text-focussed inbox.

Just take a look at this subject line by Brittany Berger, for example:

Brittany Berger Email

Notice how much more eye-catching that subject line looks, compared to bog-standard text?

That’s your goal with newsletter design: to catch your audience’s attention and convince them to meet your goals.

2. Make your message clear

Great job! You’ve convinced someone to open your email… but what happens next?

You don’t want to pique someone’s interest with your subject line, only for them to click-through and discover the content of your email isn’t similar.

That’s clickbait and won’t get you any results—which is why a strong, bold and clear message is an email design key.

Take a look at this one from Grainger:

Grainger: clarity of message

The first thing I see when I open the email tells me what to expect: information on switching to efficient energy.

If you’re doing the same, there’s no reason why you couldn’t see higher engagement or conversion rates—purely because the people who’re opening your messages are genuinely interested (and not being tricked into it).

3. Include dynamic, personalized content

Did you know that 58% of consumers consider personalized experiences “very important” when purchasing from a company? It’s true. The same report also found 52% of consumers are likely to switch brands completely if they don’t make any effort to personalize their communications.

(If that doesn’t convince you to start personalizing your emails, I don’t know what will.)

But personalization goes beyond adding a ‘First Name’ tag with your subject line and introductory paragraph.

Effective email personalization delivers unique, tailored content. That could be anything from:

Products a consumer has viewed previously

Products a consumer has added to their online cart, but not yet purchased

Products similar to a customers’ previous purchases

Take a look at how Sephora send personalized emails based on the information they’ve already gotten from their subscribers—including their eye color and skin type:

Sephora recommendations email

Put this into practice by using one of the thousands of newsletter templates that leave space for personalized, dynamic content.

You’ve really got no excuse to leave personalization off your to-do list!

4. Name your images properly

Do you send your emails in HTML? If you are, there is still likely to be a chunk of your subscriber list that prefers to view your communications in text form.

Text form won’t display your images properly. Instead, your audience will see the alt text of your images. That’s why you need to name your images properly.

You don’t want to ruin your audience’s experience by naming images “newsletter3-leads”, right?

Give them an appropriate name before embedding them into your newsletters!

5. Close with a strong call-to-action

We all know the importance of a call-to-action. As a singular word or a short phrase that encourages someone to complete your goal, it’s important to embed calls-to-action into your email design.

Fancy sending an email that falls into those that see 371% more clicks and 1617% more sales?

Add a single call-to-action to the bottom of your email—and make it stand out. Nobody’s going to act on it if they can’t find it, right?

Here’s an example I love from Grammarly:

Grammarly call-to-action

The call-to-action is clear, bold—and most importantly, obvious.

That’s what you want to achieve with the call-to-action in your own email design.

Read more on fresh and creative newsletter ideas in this article by Contact Monkey that lists 10 great tips that you can incorporate in your email marketing strategy.

6. Let people know how to edit their preferences

The word ‘unsubscribe’ doesn’t need to make you quake in your boots. Although your aim is to build a strong email list with people who love and adore your brand, you could land yourself in hot water if you’re not making the unsubscribe button obvious in your email design.

Why? Because according to GDPR regulations, your audience has the right to know how their data is protected—and you need to provide them with the option to stop receiving emails from you at any given time.

Take a look at this example by Sumo:

Sumo email example

Can you spot the unsubscribe button? It’s not hidden in blocks of text or using formatting to make it tricky to find.

To summarize: The footer of your email needs to include an easy way to unsubscribe.

As much as you’d love everyone to stick around forever, you’ll land yourself even further in their bad books if you’re making it difficult for them to do so. Anti-spam laws (such as the United States’ CAN-SPAM act) layout rules and regulations that email senders must comply with. Otherwise, your business could face financial penalties and earn a permanent place in your subscribers’ Spam folders. Including an unsubscribe link makes it easy for your users to manage their subscriptions—and for you to maintain compliance with anti-spam laws.

Key takeaway

Are you ready to start creating stunning emails in 2019?

Remember to nail your subject line, do more with personalization, and make it easy for subscribers to remove themselves from your list—even if you don’t want them to.

Whether you’re selling new products, directing subscribers to your latest blog post or encouraging a follow on social media, don’t let poor email design be the reason your audience doesn’t engage.

I can’t wait to see the emails you’re going to send!

Author Bio:

Elise Dopson is a B2B marketing expert and content writer for Lucidpress. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her with a good cuppa tea. (She is British, after all.) Follow her on Twitter @elisedopson.

Author Bio

John Davier

Content marketing guru at MailMunch. I’m passionate about writing content that resonates with people. Live simply, give generously, stay happy.


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