Email Design Glossary: From A/B Testing to WYSIWYG

Have you ever felt lost in a sea of design industry jargon? We have. There are some words we see and use every day that should have simple, no-nonsense definitions. This is why we created the email design glossary here. Now all those pesky words are in one place, in alphabetical order. So the next time you need a refresher, make sure to bookmark this page and come back here!

A – F | G – I | L – P | R – W

A/B testing

A/B testing compares two variations of a design (from subject linest o email design layouts  to CTA buttons, etc.). Often, one version is sent to one segmented audience (group “A”) while another version is sent to the other segment (group “B”) at the same time; then, response rates to both versions are compared.

alt text

a short keyword-rich phrase describing an image, which can help with SEO; alt text usually appears when a mouse pointer hovers over an image

anchor link

linked text that, when clicked, takes you to a specific place in an email, or on a page, without needing to scroll (here’s a quick tutorial on anchor links – plus, see the alphabetical anchor links we included above!)

animated GIF

an image format that allows for multiple frames, in order to provide an animated sequence

GIF email design glossary

Animated GIF by Warby Parker

bulletproof CTA

a call-to-action button that’s written in HTML so it renders across all inboxes (but you don’t need to know how to code to make one!)

call to action (CTA)

a short imperative phrase that usually appears on a button and motivates users to take action (like clicking through to a site, landing page, etc.); the better the phrase, the more clicks you’ll probably get


a U.S. law that sets the rules for email and “establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations”


similar to a GIF, a cinemagraph is a still photo where a specific section or element has a repeated movement

Cinemagraph Fireeworks email design glossary

Via the Flickr Group: Cinegraph–More Than a Photo

countdown timer

a “live” timer that counts down to a set date and time, in order to create urgency (here’s how to make one!)


fallback content is what readers see when your original content—like an image or particular font—fails to load because of an email client compatibility


the last content block in an email, which often includes fine-print, like a physical business address and an unsubscribe link to comply with anti-spam laws (so make sure you know footer design best practices)


a full-bleed email layout with an edge-to-edge appearance, that extends to the full width of your screen; typically more noticeable on desktop and tablets, and sometimes referred to as full-width or edge-to-edge

ghost button

CTA button in which the background color is transparent, just like the Twitter “Follow” button on this tweet


stands for “Hypertext Markup Language”; often used to describe emails that are built like websites, with images and colors instead of with plain text


an email that’s made entirely of, or mostly with, a single image—not a design best practice (we explain why here)


“email interactivity” refers to an action taken in an email that triggers an event within the same email (like tappable pop-ups, drop-downs, videos)

live text

part or all of an email comprised of “plain text” that reliably renders, using email-safe fonts like Arial, Georgia, and Helvetica

merge tags

a placeholder for dynamic content, like a |FIRSTNAME| tag that gets populated with your subscriber’s name upon sending


when you implement various design practices (like responsive design) to optimize a design’s effectiveness on a mobile screen

modular design

a system of organizing your email content as building blocks (i.e., modules); most modern email editors follow this principle, including our BEE email editor


empty space surrounding and separating content blocks (this makes a big difference!)

pre-header text

the text that follows the subject line in the inbox, often used by readers as a screening tool

email design glossary

retina-scaled images

the practice of optimizing images for a phone’s retina display by compressing them to avoid blur (here’s how to do this!)

responsive design

when a design is coded to detect the device it’s being viewed on, so that it resizes (or “responds”) to fit the device’s dimensions/size parameters

spot illustration

small drawings similar to icons—usually without borders or backgrounds—that are often designed to appear alongside text

email design glossary

UNIQLO spot illustrations


a design foundation that’s standardized (e.g., with the same header and footer layout) to improve workflow efficiency and provide a framework for delivering well-designed messages that are always on-brand

white space

empty space in a design, often achieved by adjusting padding, that creates breathing room between design elements

WYSIWYG editor

What You See Is What You Get text editor that allows users/editors/designers to create HTML emails without needing to know how to code (think WordPress)

How would you define the words mentioned here? And, what other words do you want to define? Share them in our comments section!

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