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Improve Email Deliverability with 3 Design Tips

Improve Email Deliverability with 3 Design Tips

Designers and email marketers both have the same goal: to create high-performing email campaigns. When emails are delivered to the SPAM folder, performance plummets. We recently covered the ins and outs of design x deliverability in an Instagram Live discussion with Jennifer Nespola Lantz.


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In this article, we’re expanding on an important topic discussed in our conversation with Jen: design choices can impact your ability to deliver your email messages to the inbox (i.e. your email “deliverability”).

What is email deliverability?

Email deliverability is the ability to successfully land your messages in the inbox. You can have beautifully designed, perfectly optimized emails – but if nobody receives them, that’s not really going to matter.

Many things affect whether your emails end up in the inbox or not, including the reputation of your FROM address (the email address that the message comes from), the reputation of the sending platform, and even more technicalities like email authentication.

Those are all important and you should discuss them with your email service providers. But even if you’re not techy, your choices can affect your email deliverability.

How email design affects deliverability

Let’s assume that all the technical stuff has been taken care of. Are there other choices that affect your ability to deliver emails to the inbox? The answer is “yes”.

At the core, it’s about engagement. Mailbox providers (like Gmail, Apple Mail, and Yahoo! Mail) want to make sure their users are having a good experience in their inbox. In other words, they want people to receive messages that they want to engage with. Design choices that affect engagement, therefore, can impact deliverability.

Let’s look at some of them.

(1) Don’t hide the unsubscribe

It’s a bit counterintuitive, but the best way to make sure your audience is engaged is to make it easy for them to opt-out. You’re emailing people, not email addresses. Even if you do a great job at segmenting your audience and sending them content they care about, there will be those that no longer wish to receive your messages. Make it easy for them to unsubscribe.

There are two fundamental reasons to have a visible unsubscribe link:

  • Spam complaints. If you make it hard to unsubscribe, your messages are more likely to be flagged as SPAM. That’s a very strong signal to the mailbox provider that people do not want to receive your emails. If spam complaints rise, your likelihood of ending up in the SPAM folder gets higher and higher. In addition, your ESP may decide to stop sending your campaigns altogether.
  • Engagement score. If everyone on your list actually wants to be there, your overall engagement score goes up. If 200 people click on a link in your email out of 1000, that’s a 20% engagement score. If you sent the same message to 10,000 people and the number of clicks remained the same, engagement would go down to 2%. Clicks are just one of the engagement signals that mailbox providers look at to determine whether customers care about that message, but you get the point.

For example, Dwell Magazine uses a clear, transparent design for the unsubscribe preferences at the bottom of their newsletter:

Clear unsubscribe options in email design

Here is another example from Netflix: notice that the unsubscribe link has the same size, color, and underline style as all other links in the section. There is no attempt to hide it.

Netflix unsubscribe link example

Apparel brand For Days, instead, wrote the unsubscribe in a font size that is so small that at first we didn’t even see it. We love the design of their clothes, but they should reconsider the design of the email footer 🙂

For Days unsubscribe design example

Similarly, Portuguese airline TAP chose to make the “Cancel Subscription” link almost invisible in their email. Not a good idea.

Cancel subscription link almost invisible


(2) Don’t send image only emails

There are many reasons not to send emails that only contain images. Among them: they will not be seen when images are turned off, they’re slow to download when the quality of the internet connection is poor, and they often don’t render well on a mobile device. On top of that, they often get treated as SPAM by the inbox providers because spammers try to conceal text by using images. Spam filters typically consider that kind of message as high-risk and put them in the SPAM folder.

The same is true for messages that includes minimal text (i.e. a very low text to image ratio).

We cover this in details in Why you should avoid sending image only emails.

Example of image only email

(3) Be recognizable, fast

How quickly do you decide whether to read an email when you’re browsing through your inbox? In an era of 8-second attention span, we take even less time to glance at an email and decide whether we’re going to read it or not. It’s crucial that your messages are easily recognizable, so your readers don’t have to spend any of that short attention span figuring out who is sending them the message.

One way to do this is to use a recognizable, consistent FROM name and email address. This not only helps your recipients recognize you, but it also helps you build a reputation with the mailbox providers. The alternative is problematic: the more you change things, the more uncertainty is created and the more difficult it is for Gmail & Co. to decide that the incoming message is to be trusted.

For example, task automation company Zapier has been sending blog updates from “Deb at Zapier (blog@zapier.com)” for some time. This adds a recognizable human element for the recipient (“Deb”), while creating consistency for the mailbox provider (the FROM email address has been “blog@zapier.com” for a long time).

Recognizable FROM address

Equally important is to employ a clean, brand-focused, consistent design, especially when it comes to transactional emails (those are emails that you would never want your customers to flag as SPAM and not receive.) For example, Google uses a clean, minimalistic, on-brand design for security alerts: font, colors, logo, links…everything is quickly recognizable.

Example clear branding on transactional emails

Wrap-up: email design does impact campaign deliverability

The choices you make from a design point of view can impact your ability to deliver emails to the inbox over time. Make sure that:

  1. You don’t make it difficult for people to unsubscribe
  2. You have a good balance between text and images
  3. Your customers can quickly recognize your messages

With BEE Pro, you can quickly design emails that perform well. You can also create and save all sorts of different email footers with clear unsubscribe links, and then re-use them quickly when you need a specific one for a newsletter or promotional campaign.

Get started by checking out our free email template catalog

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BEE Team