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8 tips for optimizing email design to increase click-through rates

8 tips to optimize your email design

Enhance email user experience and improve engagement

Disclaimer: This is not a post about why email marketing is important, nor what content is necessary to enhance your campaigns. I’m speaking primarily from a design standpoint, as that is my expertise as a user experience designer. There is an endless list of reasons that make email marketing invaluable for your business, but below are tips to enhance user experience, as well as boost the engagement and click-through rates.

Once you prioritize what content is relevant to your audience, you can begin applying these eight tips to create more email marketing in our ever-evolving, information-overloaded, mobile-driven society.

To all you copywriters out there, this might be painful for you. Why can’t people enjoy the art of reading an intelligent, witty, well-thought-out article (like this one ; ) ), appreciate your hard work, and then buy your product? I feel your pain. However, your customers don’t think that way. The average person spends about 51 seconds scanning an enewsletter and gives only 15 seconds to promotional emails according to Be Relevant’s email best practice guidelines. Less than 20 percent of those viewers read the whole thing.

That being said, to take advantage of this precious time, it’s imperative to keep it short, keep it simple, and make it as easy as possible. Isn’t that what life is all about these days?

1. Stick to a short subject line

Besides the fact that most people don’t read anymore, shorter, or at least strategically crafted, subject lines are necessary for anyone viewing your email on a mobile device. To optimize across platforms, keep your subject line between 38-50 characters or front-load the key information so that viewers see the main point of your email when deciding whether or not to open it.

2. Take advantage of preheader text

Even if a viewer reads your subject line and takes interest, you haven’t won them over just yet. You have one more chance to engage them enough to open your email with the preheader text that displays immediately below the subject line in your inbox.

Look up the average character count for different email clients (aka, applications) and write a succinct, action-driven summary of what’s inside your email.

And another tip, if you are including this line: “Email not displaying correctly? View in browser,” make sure it’s not the first line in your email, as it will display, by default, as your preheader. I see this all the time. The last thing you want to do in those two seconds you have to impress your customer is lead them to think that something could be wrong with your email.

3. Use a one-column layout

We are living in the mobile age, and that’s not going to change. In fact, for digital marketers, it’s getting harder as the popularity of smart watches and wearable devices increases. Unless you are using a responsive template that converts 2-plus column layouts down to one when viewed on mobile devices (like these from Litmus and Campaign Monitor) keep your layout to one column.

When your email shrinks down on mobile, one column is easier to see and read. This is the most mobile-friendly way to design emails without having to code them responsively. Apply this rule to your buttons, promos, images and body copy. Your users will thank you.

Also, consider keeping emails between 320-550 pixels wide. And never wider than 600 pixels as some deployment systems have width requirements. Much wider than that and your content will not scale well on a mobile device.

4. Make reading easy

As we’ve discussed, people don’t like to read. Even English majors don’t want to spend more than a few seconds with your email. Your responsibility is to tell them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it as quickly and conveniently as possible.

Research shows that the best way to do this effectively is maximum visuals (illustrations, animations, images, videos) and minimal text. The meat of your written content should be primarily headlines and call-to-action statements, including buttons.

How bad do you want a frappuccino right now?

5. Use system fonts

I know, I know, it’s not fun to use ugly fonts, but it’s also not fun for your beautifully designed email to show up with undesirable results in your customer’s inbox. With all the different email clients out there, it’s hard to guarantee which of your customers will be able to see your beautiful web fonts.

If you do decide to use a web font, make sure the backup is one of these:

6. Make everything bigger

Keep fonts to a minimum of 18 pixels for body copy, 24 pixels for headlines, and use a guide of at least a 44-pixel square for call-to-action buttons (Did you know the tip of your finger is about 44px???) And limit the use of hyperlinks in body copy. These are hard to click on with a finger and can be frustrating.

7. Know your limitations and TEST EVERYTHING

Email and web design are two different worlds. Unfortunately, because of the multitude of email clients, on top of mobile browsers and applications, there are more limitations for designing an email than there are with a website.

Make sure that when you try something, you test it. Use a testing site that shows what your email looks like across all platforms. At ABZ, we use Litmus as well as a variety of mobile devices for safety measures.

Here are a couple basics to avoid to ensure the best result in the maximum amount of email clients:

  • Background images
  • Bulleted lists
  • External style sheets
  • Key content like headlines or call-to-action statements in images

8. Stay creative

Don’t be discouraged by email design limitations. There are still endless possibilities to make your email campaign beautiful and functional, and there is almost always a workaround to bring your ideas to life. Do your research, see what other companies are doing and push the envelope. Don’t stop creating and settle for the bare minimum just because you know it will work. Email is often your first point of contact with your customer on a personal level, and it begins the relationship.

Enjoy more successful email marketing

Use these tips when creating your next email campaign, and watch that relationship grow!

Check out Campaign Monitor’s top email campaigns of 2015 and get inspired.

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