45 Email Design Tips for 2016

We love using our Email Design Workshop blog to show you how to build creative, effective email campaigns, step by step, with plenty of detail. But sometimes it’s nice to have a short-and-snappy list with tips and ideas all in one place. That’s why we rounded up our top 45 email design tips for 2016 so they’re easy to scan, reference, and remember. We hope you find them useful as you kick off 2016 and plan your best email campaigns ever!

One important thing to note about our list: Because mobile opens now account for up to 70% of all email opens, making sure your emails are readable on a mobile device is THE most important thing you can do to make your email campaigns as effective as possible. As a result, our top email design tips for 2016 all have mobile optimization in mind.

Without further ado, here’s our top 45 email design tips list for 2016:

Our top 45 email design tips for 2016

  1. Be brief. Think of your email as a teaser. Readers have short attention spans and are increasingly reading on mobile devices on the go. Your email should be a preview of what’s to come when readers tap your call-to-action button and get to your website.
  2. Alternate between two email-safe fonts. Using too many fonts can be distracting. Stick with one or two, and use them consistently: try using one font for all headers, for example, and another for body text to improve scan-ability.
  3. Don’t rely on images to be the only visually interesting part of your email. Images can increase your span score and be slow to load, or they may not appear at all depending on a reader’s settings. Capitalize on flat design tactics and bold HTML background colors to create a dynamic, visually-interesting email without depending on images.
  4. Create a content hierarchy. Create focus and organization in your email by structuring your story using the inverted pyramid model, as recommended by Vero.
  5. Don’t overcrowd your header. Cut down on extraneous links (social media, special sales, etc), menus, and extraneous text. Your email is not a website.
  6. Try a full-width call-to-action button. It will make it immediately clear to readers where you want them to click and it will be easier for mobile readers to tap.
  7. Simplify your animated GIFs. Depending on the number of frames and their resolution, GIFs can turn into large files. Oversized GIFs can be slow to animate and eat up data plans on mobile. Minimize the size of your animated GIF by animating only what needs to be animated; as the frames rotate, the fewer pixels change, the smaller your file size will be.
  8. Clearly label advertisements. Make in-email ads distinguishable from the surrounding email content with a special label and/or with a change of color in the header or background. Use a consistent approach so your readers always know when they’re looking at an ad.
  9. Don’t say “Click here” on your CTA button. Don’t waste space by telling readers where to click, especially because on mobile devices, readers are tapping, not clicking. Skip it and tell readers directly what they should do using a clear, direct action verb; try “Reserve my spot now” or “Get my free ticket.”
  10. Use a single-column layout. Compared to emails with multiple columns, single-column emails are easier to read, are better optimized for mobile viewing, and are more clearly focused on a call to action.
  11. Don’t worry about the fold. “The fold” will be different from device to device; it’s impossible to pin down a single location. Instead of trying to jam too much information at the top of your email, follow email expert Elliot Ross’s advice and focus instead on putting your most important offer at the top in a way that’s “clear, concise and easy for your readers to convert.”
  12. Incorporate custom fonts selectively. Most email clients will not support your brand’s custom font. Use them sparingly, like in the main header of your email, then incorporate email-safe fonts for the body of your message.
  13. Have at least 500 characters of text. Email on Acid has diligently researched and concluded that you need at least 500 characters of text in your email to pass spam filters. The 60/40 text to image ratio is a myth!
  14. Always use bulletproof buttons. Your button should look great and work properly, no matter the device or email inbox. Always use a bulletproof button, i.e. a button created from HTML instead of an image.
  15. Start with the subject line. About 35% of readers decide whether or not to open your email based on the subject line alone. Stand out by putting some thought into your subject line. Try getting readers curious about your email with a line that asks a question, promises a deal or coupon, has a “how to,” or includes a number.
  16. Set a max email width between 500 and 600 pixels. This ensures your email will render at a readable size on wider devices such as on desktop and tablets. On mobile devices, the width and text will render as specified in your mobile-responsive code.
  17. Prevent Gmail from clipping your email. Gmail clips HTML emails that are larger than 102 KB in size while the Gmail App for iOS clips emails that are larger than 20KB. Optimize the HTML code and reduce the amount of content in your email so that your email is shown entirely. More on message clipping.
  18. Optimize preheader text. An email’s preheader is a small amount of text that follows the subject line in the inbox: use it to entice readers to open your email with a short message between 40 and 50 characters.
  19. Never use a single large image in a responsive email. Incorporate a balance of text and images instead. Using just one large image in your email will create mobile rendering issues, increase your spam score, and if your image doesn’t load, readers will only see ALT text.
  20. Design on a grid. Grid-based designs are easier to make responsive because HTML emails are built with tables comprised of rows and columns.
  21. Write short ALT text. Be prepared for your images not to load: some email clients don’t automatically load images, and some subscribers don’t enable auto-loading for security purposes. Keep it to one line; if it breaks into 2, some email clients will not display it.
  22. Style your ALT text. If you can, style your ALT text by adding styling to the image (your image won’t look any different, but when your ALT text appears, it will be the font, color, and size you specified).
  23. Design the first frame of your animated GIF as if it’s the only one that will load. Outlook 2007 and newer will only display the first frame of your GIF (it won’t animate), so plan for that when you’re designing.
  24. Use a headline font that’s at least 3x the size of your body copy. Try a three- or four-word leading statement that’s clear, bold, and stands out immediately.
  25. Try an all black & white email design. Without color, you may be forced you to simplify, streamline, and improve your design in new ways. Check out this B&W email from Converse, highlighted by designer Mike Ragan.
  26. Impress readers with a standout subscription confirmation email. Subscription confirmation emails should be simple and streamlined, but they should also reflect your brand. Use brand colors, your logo, and make the message communicate in your brand voice.
  27. Don’t put your CTA button first. Research has shown that placing a CTA button below the fold actually increases clicks by 304%! Let readers know what they’re signing up for first—with great copy and visuals—then invite them to act. Reference the inverted pyramid.
  28. Commission illustrated work. Whether from an in-house designer, a freelancer, or a friend, consider incorporating effective, on-brand illustration into your email for important stories or messages. Alternatively, simple photo treatments, like adding a layer of color to an image, is an easy way to enhance your email design.
  29. Don’t over-format text. Keep your body copy all the same size, color, and font. Headers should also be styled consistently—the same size, color and font.
  30. Give away content. Build customer loyalty by offering high-value content for free: email subscribers a free download of a white paper, ebook, infographic, or another useful piece of branded content.
  31. Use a brand color for links and headers. It’s a simple, effective way to brand your email and maintain a clean design.
  32. Improve readability with line height and spacing. A good rule of thumb is to set your line height to be at least 1.3x the height of your letters. So if your body copy is 12pt, your line height should be 16. This maintains a comfortable distance between lines, optimizing readability. Copy should never feel too tight or too loose.
  33. Minimize image file sizes. Allow for quicker load times on mobile devices with images that don’t exceed 1MB.
  34. Choose a modular layout. A simple layout that arranges content in blocks—or modules—allows you to present your story linearly (like this one from Litmus). And make sure the layout you choose responsive or at least mobile-optimized.
  35. Treat social media buttons as secondary calls to action. Wherever you place them, social media buttons shouldn’t compete with your main content. Try the header or footer. If they need to be included in the body of your email, along with each featured story, choose only two or three sharing options (e.g., only Twitter and Facebook).
  36. Left-align your text. This almost goes without saying, but it’s important. We read from left-to-right, and newsletters are best formatted that way.
  37. Break your template. Experiment. Build into your editorial calendar special emails that push the boundaries of your usual style.
  38. Use one or two bright accent colors. Try using just one or two bright accent colors per email. Incorporate simple design elements (like section breaks or headers) to bring your email to the next level. A muted background color (like white or gray) can help make the body of your email pop.
  39. Wow readers with your welcome email. study by Marketing Sherpa found that welcome emails were THE highest performing message—measured based on the open rate—with an average open rate of 50%. Put some thought into your welcome email design and delight readers with a precedent-setting email.
  40. Create dynamic content dividers for long emails. Try high-contrasting background colors to distinguish each module, giving a clear order to the information and allowing the viewer’s eye to take in one message at a time.
  41. Entice readers to watch your video by making it the central component of your email. Starting your email off with a video signals to subscribers that you really want them to watch it (because you know it will get them to convert!). Use a bold color, a few lines of text, and an actionable “Play video” CTA button to encourage readers to watch.
  42. Tell your story in multiple ways. Readers take in information in different ways: use multiple formats to improve comprehension and retention. Vary your content between videos, infographics, text, images, illustrations, and more. Have fun! And monitor engagement.
  43. Use short paragraphs and bullets. Make your email content scannable by giving readers bite-sized nuggets of information. No long paragraphs!
  44. Buttons should be on-brand, too. Play with colors and styles to achieve a look that matches both your brand identity and your email’s aesthetic. The button should attract attention (it should be obvious that it’s a button) but not stick out like a sore thumb.
  45. Approach interactive email with caution. As Steven Melendez wrote in Fast Company, “Before an interactive or heavily styled email can be sent to customers, it needs to be tested.” Make sure emails appear properly across all clients, and that your interactive features don’t bring up security concerns.

A new year is a great time to get inspired and try something new. Enjoy these tips, and let us know if you test them out in our BEE email editor!

What email design tips are YOU going to focus on in 2016? Share them in the comments!

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