Choosing an Email Platform: 6 Top Design Requirements to Consider

Choosing an email platform, or email service provider (ESP), can be hard. And when it comes to design capabilities, there’s a lot to consider. Email marketers need to strike a balance between out-of-the-box capabilities and customization options. So, what tops the list when it comes to finding the must-have ESP design tool? We asked some email marketing gurus to weigh in. Read on for their wise insight and top tips.

Must-Have #1: Features that streamline the design process

One of the best things about working with an email marketing platform is the ability to streamline the process. Here are my favorite design-related features:

  • Drag & Drop Sections: I love being able to easily add, remove or reorganize sections of an email. When working with newsletter or event emails especially, this feature comes in handy.
  • Web Font Integration: Including web fonts may seem like it’s a small detail, but it goes a long way with brand identity & recognition. The easier it is to add web fonts to an email, the better.
  • Image Uploading: This seems like a silly feature, but it can be a pain if your uploaded doesn’t work!
  • Responsiveness: When I’m working with ready-built templates from an email marketing platform, it’s great to know that they’ve been tested on multiple devices. This helps to take out some of the guess work and extra rounds of testing.

Each of these features helps my team to work with the clients in a smooth and effective way. They allow us to be creative while also meeting deadlines!

— Melanie Kinney, Digital Design Director at G3 Communications


Must-Have #2: Marketing automation capabilities and responsive templates

When looking for a new ESP, there is no reason not to go with one that has automation. Marketing automation is no longer the future of email—it’s the present. I would encourage clients to choose an email platform with advanced segmentation logic (allowing both AND and OR statements), and one that allows for a combination of auto-responders and automated lifecycle programs. Also, the platform MUST easily and accurately sync with whatever application you use to manage customers, or you won’t be able to take advantage of those automation features.

Any ESP should be able to tell you, ahead of time, which applications it syncs with and how it will help you set up the connection. On top of that, there are a few “nice-to-haves”: responsive templates with an HTML editor (for greater customization), and an ESP that’s on the list to sync with Litmus (what a time saver!)

— Belinda Blakley, Sr. Creative Digital Marketing Specialist at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine


Must-Have #3: HTML flexibility, including custom template uploads

I mostly design and code custom HTML emails outside of ESPs. Therefore, I look for the flexibility to upload my own templates. My preferred way of coding emails is fluid/hybrid. It’s based on a technique I learned from Nicole Merlin. This means the layout is not relying on media queries because not all email clients support it. However, I do use responsive method for image swapping, for example. This way I can control the art direction of visuals between desktop and mobile.

Email service providers that offer a naming convention in their template language are great. This makes it very easy to create editable content sections (or, modules). I can offer my clients one large master template. Clients can then build their own emails and use prebuilt modules on-the-fly or repeat modules for personalized of content.

— Annett Forcier, Senior Developer with Cossette


Must-Have #4: Ability to create and upload custom code

Having the option to upload full HTML files is a must-have for any ESP. Being able to create and upload custom code allows you to match the needs of your business and brand better, setting you apart from the competition.

In addition to importing HTML files, an ESP should have a rendering engine (like Litmus) for previewing and testing templates across various devices. An ESP that is well-designed from a visual and experience standpoint, plus drag-and-drop editors, are also great. But, if the overall application is difficult to use or navigate, then it may not be worth it.

— Shannon Crabill, Email Developer at T Rowe Price


Must-Have #5: A one-stop shop for templates, drag-and-drop editing, GIF creation, and rendering

Recently, I worked with a major client on an email campaign that was set up in one of the top email marketing platforms. When you’re sending a steady flow of emails, the ease of producing and scheduling is definitely important! I learned how valuable it was to have existing templates, which can save a lot of time. A drag-and-drop editor also allowed flexibility with modules that could be easily moved/rearranged—but it was vital that a small change in padding, image size, and font size (whether through the WYSIWYG or HTML editor) didn’t break the template or cause rendering quirks.

Also, in working with the design team to create new email designs, I realized other important factors for the ideal ESP, like: a rendering tool to show how an email would look on different devices and browsers, an image/GIF database, and a photo resizing/cropping tool. Even a GIF or video-creation tool would be helpful. Essentially, an ESP should be a one-stop shop that makes a user’s experience easier—so that there’s no need to have multiple accounts for various services just to create one email!

— Sherry Huang, Growth & Product Owner at RevSquare


Must-Have #6: Intuitive UI and dynamic templates

When choosing a new ESP, ease of use should be considered first and foremost. The UI has to be intuitive to the user so that it flows as naturally as possible.

When considering email designs, I look for readily-available templates that can be amended based on the needs for that particular campaign. The templates need to be responsive because mobile/tablet viewing has risen so fast over the years. An added plus: the ability to create a new layout from a choice of drag-and-drop templates within the system itself! Another aspect that ranks high is the ability to create dynamic variations within set templates. And, to truly make it a personalized and targeted email, it would be amazing to have the flexibility to create different layouts for the dynamic content sections.

So here’s a ranking of what I personally look for in an ESP:

  1. Ease of use
  2. Naturally intuitive platform and flow
  3. Choice of template layouts
  4. Dynamic variants within template layouts
  5. Ability to choose different layouts for the different sections of the email (choice of layout for header, hero image, body copy with columns, etc.)

— Priya Bransfield, Email Consultant


Wrap-Up: Design Questions to Ask When Deciding on an Email Platform

It’s clear that choosing an ideal email platform means selecting one that offers the reliability, flexibility, and options that your design team needs. We love the feedback we got from our email marketing gurus! They covered all the bases, including most of the questions we typically ask:

  • Does the email platform have a drag-and-drop editor?
  • Will I need an email developer on staff to code templates?
  • Does it have a built-in template library?
  • Are the emails mobile automatically responsive?
  • How good are the mobile and desktop preview capabilities?
  • Can you easily incorporate interactive design elements?

 

What do you look for in an email platform? Share in our comments section!

  • Sophia

    If I will ask you personally, what do you prefer? I’ve checked mail chimp and I think it is pretty common. I’ve done some research about Activetrail, it’s promising since it has all great features such as SMS and lots of templates to choose from. Though I am still open for any suggestion or recommendation from someone who may have already acquired success using their chosen tool.

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