5 Rules of Engagement for Email Template Design

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Of all the digital strategies you can employ to move consumers closer to your products and services, email marketing has to be near the top of the list. Whereas one-off strategies like sponsored ads and social media posts are effective, email marketing offers an unparalleled opportunity to nurture leads over time, gradually building customer relationships grounded in trust and loyalty. It’s not surprising that email marketing boasts the highest ROI of any digital strategy, on average 4300% according to a study from the Direct Marketing Association.

Of course, that ROI figure is an average, and some email marketing campaigns are far more successful than others. Those which achieve their goals—from generating leads to ramping up conversions to boosting sales—understand the rules of engagement, like creating smart, customized landing pages and online forms, segmenting subscriber lists, targeting buyer personas, and A/B testing subject lines. At the center of those rules is the content recipients see when they open your emails. 

Email Template Design:  Your Content Infrastructure

You would never take the time to create compelling website copy, and then post that copy on a poorly designed site that looks bad or doesn’t work. The same is true for your emails. While you need to use engaging subject lines and compelling copy, those efforts will go unnoticed if your email template doesn’t load properly, or frustrates recipients by making it hard for them to take the actions you want them to take. Think of your email template as the infrastructure of your email marketing campaign, supporting and reinforcing your messaging to maximize results.

Here are 5 rules of engagement to design an effective email template:

1.  Make It Responsive

In 2013, Scott Burdsall, Senior Email Marketing Manager for CareerBuilder, was frustrated by stagnant open and click-through rates. Then, he noticed that the number of recipients opening his emails on mobile devices had almost doubled. He swapped out the template he’d been using for one which was mobile-responsive—open rates increased by 17% and click-through rates jumped by 24%.

A recent study from Email Monday found that 55% of emails are now opened on mobile devices, 32% of mobile email users are frustrated by text that’s “too small to read,” and, most important, switching to a responsive-design template results in an average increase in unique clicks of more than 15%. If your template isn’t mobile friendly, you’ll see depressed metrics across the board—potentially leading to reduced sales.

2.  Size Matters

Your email needs to sell itself within the email preview pane regardless of the email service provider you send it to. That means it needs to fit within the space limitations they impose. For maximum effectiveness, limit your value proposition, call-to-action and any other relevant information to no more than 600 pixels in length and 3 inches in depth. 

3.  Don’t Rely on Images to Carry Your Message

Many email service providers disable the loading of images when recipients open your emails. That means many recipients will never see your embedded images—they’ll see white space, something which frustrates them and tells them you don’t know what you’re doing. Without question, the right images can reinforce your messaging, but for best results, don’t trap key information in images which might not load, and always use alt and title text behind your images to make sure copy will load when images don’t.

4.  Keep It Short and Sweet

Your email recipients are likely to be impatient—they want to know what it is you’re trying to tell them in as few words as possible. If you have a lot of information to convey, replace lengthy text with links to fuller articles or product pages on your website. 

5.  Be Cautious with CSS

While Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) simplify design, relying on CSS to design emails can hurt your marketing efforts. If you code your template using CSS, it probably won’t translate across multiple email service providers, many of whom (including Gmail) strip CSS from both the body and head sections of your template. If you have to use CSS to code, use inline CSS.

The success (and ROI) of your email marketing campaigns relies on more than the strength of your messaging. It also depends on the experience recipients have when they interact with the emails you send them. Understanding the rules of engagement for email template design will maximize the odds of a positive experience in which all of your recipients, regardless of the device on which they open your emails or the service provider they use, can easily access your messages and take the actions you want them to take.

For more email marketing tips, check back on the blog or visit our Act! emarketing resource center.