How to Make Data-Driven Email Design Decisions

Savvy email marketers know that¬†good design determines an email’s success. And if your emails aren’t performing the way you want them to, it’s critical to examine your design. To make smart data-driven email design decisions, ask yourself these five questions, and then test our suggested solutions to improve your metrics.

1. Are your click-through rates lower than you want them to be?

Your click-through rate shows how engaged the audience is with your email. Click-through rates can vary pretty significantly depending on the industry, company, and email type, but recently, IBM Marketing Cloud reported an overall mean click-through rate of 3.3% in their 2016 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study.

Obviously, this is a pretty important metric. The whole reason you’re sending email is to engage your audience. Improving or maintaining high CTR is a mainstay on every email marketer’s to-do list. But have you considered how design impacts CTR?

What to consider: The number of images

Images can have a big impact on click-through rates.¬†According to an analysis of over 5,000 email campaigns by Vero, campaigns with images saw¬†a 42% higher CTR than campaigns without them. That’s pretty significant. If you’ve been using the same email templates over the past year, now is a good time to test fresh versions‚ÄĒones that are more visual.

Once you add more images, it’s important to know how to¬†optimize them. Try these design tactics:


2. Are you getting enough clicks on your primary CTA?

Bad and boring CTAs happen to the best of us.¬†Plus, there’s a lot to consider, like how it should look, where it should appear, how many times it should appear, and what it should say. To improve clicks on your primary CTA,¬†check out these tips.

What to consider: The CTA button

Yes, we said button. People are wired to click on buttons, and your primary CTA should be one. Linked text is for secondary CTAs, when needed. Here are the design best practices to try and test:

  • The CTA should pass the¬†squint test. This means that even with blurred vision, readers can still see where and how to take action in your email.
  • Make the button bulletproof, so that it’s HTML and not an image. This means it’s always clickable, even with images turned off‚ÄĒan email essential.
  • Move the CTA somewhere else. In most cases, the button should appear at the top of your message and close to an offer.
  • Reduce the number of CTAs. Simplify your email and offer readers a call to action just once (or twice).
  • Change the CTA color. No doubt about it, color is one of the most significant components of¬†making a button stand out.

3. Are your mobile readers engaging with your email?

Do you know what percentage of opens occur on mobile devices? Believe it or not, the percent is often higher than 50% (as shown in this report by Litmus). So, engaging mobile readers is definitely a top priority for most email marketers. Another important question to ask yourself: does the email design fit within the confines of a tiny screen?

data-driven email design

What to consider: The mobile-first design approach

There isn’t a single golden rule for optimizing your email for mobile. Taking a “mobile first” approach means adopting multiple design techniques and testing how they perform. To improve engagement among your mobile users, you should be trying these design tactics for mobile:


4. Do you wish people spent more time looking at your email?

If time spent on email is important to your business, have you considered how to use design to increase this? Even transactional emails can include secondary upsell content, and some emails are long enough to warrant anchor links. Sometimes, bigger is better when it comes to email. Change your email design and see if readers spend more time with the content.

What to consider: The message content, length, and structure

We often lobby for short, simple messages that don’t resemble websites, but this doesn’t mean everything you send needs to be short and snappy. Test how your audience responds when you increase email content and length. Use design to help your longer email’s effectiveness:


5. Does your data show that certain email clients dominate your subscriber base?

Email marketers should continually monitor which webmail services readers use.¬†Litmus’s most recent data indicates that Apple iPhone retains a stronghold, but every user base will be different.

data-driven email design

What to consider: The priority of email services

With the number of email clients growing every day, it’s not realistic to have designs tailored to every user’s email service. Instead, designers should know the main email services (and devices) that their audience is using¬†and then optimize designs for the most significant¬†environments.

For example, if most of your readers use Outlook, then it’s imperative to know Outlook’s design rendering quirks.¬†Litmus reports, for example, that¬†recent versions of Outlook (2007-2016) don’t have the best HTML or CSS support. Designers then need to be aware that there’s no support for background images in divs and table cells, for CSS float or position, or for text shadow. For the majority of readers who use Apple devices to read emails, it’s important to monitor iOS updates and see how they impact design. For instance, iOS 10 introduced issues with image auto-scaling. The key is to do your data research, to test, and to prioritize for your audience.


What data are you looking at?

Let us know in the comments what data you’re looking at to make smarter decisions for your email design!

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