Design Your Email for Delivery & Response

Though there is no one-size-fits all approach to designing a great email, there are some general tips and best practices that you should always keep in mind when building your own campaigns. 

This is a very broad topic, covering everything from the From Label to images to HTML.  So let's dive right into the details:

From Label & Subject Line

The From Label should almost always be the name of your organization.  It’s important that your recipients be able to immediately recognize the email is from a person or company they know - otherwise they’re likely to glance right over the email without opening it or could potentially even report it as spam.

To illustrate this point: There is a non-profit organization here in San Francisco that sends out a few email updates every month.  The emails are well designed and interesting, but are incredibly easy to overlook because instead of using the name of their organization as the From Label, they use the names of various high level people in the organization. 

They likely do this to make the emails seem more personal, but it doesn't matter how personal they were being as people who don't know the names of executives in the organization are less likely to open the emails up.

The Subject Line is essentially the headline for your email.  Keep it as short, descriptive and interesting as possible (easier said then done, of course).  A few tips:

  • Try to keep it under 45 characters long.  Many email clients cut the subject line off at or around 45 characters, so going over this number can lead to many of your recipients not being able to view your entire subject. 
  • Don’t write a misleading subject.  Doing so is questionable from a legal standpoint and will also cause subscribers to stop trusting your messaging - use a misleading subject line now and people won’t believe the great subject you use in the future.  The subject should describe the actual content or purpose of the email.
  • Don’t use ALL CAPS or overuse punctuation!!!  This makes it look like your email is screaming for attention, which can both annoy your recipients and make your message more likely to get picked up by a spam filter.

Message Content

Plan for the Preview Pane - Make sure that your call to action or some of your interesting content will show up if the recipient views your email in their preview pane.  The average pane is 600 pixels wide by 200 pixels tall, but that is going to vary by recipient since the preview pane is adjustable.  So plan to have easily digestible content at the top of the page that will drive the recipient to take action or read more. 

Note that the average VerticalResponse email template is a bit less than 600 pixels wide.

Use Short Blocks of Copy - Avoid writing long paragraphs that are difficult to scan through.  Use short paragraphs and bullets to make your points and call to action pop out.  If you find it absolutely necessary write long paragraphs, highlight words and phrases within each paragraph that highlight what you’re going on about.  That way a recipient can quickly scan your message and determine if they want to take action with it. 

Always remember that - in most cases - recipients aren’t going to sit down and read your entire message.  They need you to show them where, why and how they should take action.

Provide Numerous Links - Don’t just link back to your website once or twice - make it easy for people to take action by sprinkling links throughout the message.  Turn all your images into links, too.  Images are big and pretty, making them tempting to click on.

Follow the 80 / 20 Rule - This is a simple rule of thumb that says your email content should generally be no more than around 20% images and no less than around 80% text.  Measure this simply by looking at the email and roughly estimating how much of your message real estate is covered by text or images.

Why should you follow this rule?  Mainly because many email clients initially block images when an email arrives in the inbox, requiring the recipient to click a button or a link to turn the images on.  Relying too heavily on images can mean much of your content will be initially invisible to many recipients.  A very image heavy email can also be more likely to end up in a spam folder.

Optimize Your Images for Email - The smaller the file size of your image, the faster it will load.  Be sure to save your image for web use using an editor like Photoshop or to edit the image using the tools found in our Library (we always optimize images for web use when you edit and save in the Library).  The file size of an email image should generally be 25kb or smaller.

You should also provide alt-text for all of your images.  This back-up text will display in place of the image in many of those same email clients that block images.  Plus, if you have any blind subscribers using a screen reader to read your email, their screen reader will read the alt-text aloud.

Our Canvas tool will prompt you to insert alt-text into any image that you add to an email.

Test - Not sure you’re getting the most from your campaigns with the content you’re using?  Test!  Try different kinds of layouts and content to smaller segments of your list to see if you get higher response rates.  No form of marketing, including email, has a one-size-fits-all approach, so you can’t determine what will work absolutely best for you without trying different approaches. 

The VerticalResponse segments tool allows you to split up a list for testing.  Go here to learn how.

Ready to build your own marketing email?  Go here to do it!