Tips From the Experts: Designing the Best Email Templates

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David Luther

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Digital content strategist, content outreach specialist, content writer, SEO expert, and hot sauce aficionado.

When crafting an email, it’s tempting to jump right into the fun stuff like engaging copy, eye-catching graphics, and a catchy subject line. But before you tackle any of that, set yourself up for scalable success with an email template that serves as a foundation for all of your email marketing messages — not just an individual campaign.

So, what goes into making your templates functional, visually appealing, and adaptable to a wide range of campaigns?

“The perfect template is functionally and aesthetically versatile throughout the entire lifecycle of a customer,” says Chris Pressey, senior digital designer at Oracle Bronto. Read on for some tips from our email design experts about the major elements of the ideal email template.

Design for Functionality

Not only should your email template be user-friendly for your team to build out your campaigns, it has to be easy for your customers to navigate to encourage conversions from each message.

Make sure they render consistently

From Outlook to Gmail, your customers are likely using a wide range of inboxes. Make sure you understand how each renders on desktop and mobile. But, at the same time, make sure your template is versatile — no matter what email application or device your customer is using, your messages should render properly.

Doublecheck custom fonts, and if they don’t render properly, have a fallback. Arial, Helvetica, and Times New Roman are safe options that display on any email application, device, or web browser.

Follow the 80/20 rule

Your templates should be 80% text and 20% images. Image-heavy emails often load very slowly, increasing the chance that your customers will hit “delete”. And what’s worse, some email applications will even send these messages to spam, so avoid junk folders by relying on both text and HTML elements.

Use dynamic content for added personalization

Make each message personal by using the data your customers have given you, going beyond first name personalization in the subject line.

“A popular campaign that I see a lot is the birthday campaign,” Pressey says, explaining that these emails use each customer’s name and birthdate to provide a personalized experience.

Build for Aesthetics

Once you make sure your template is functional, it’s time for the fun part: Designing the framework to house your creative assets.

Keep your email templates simple

Your template shouldn’t distract customers from the message you’re putting in it. Make sure there’s a color contrast between the template and the content blocks to make sure your message is what stands out.

Start with the more neutral colors in your company’s color palette, and use a balance of light and dark shades. For example, if your template is light-colored, go darker with your creative and vice versa.

Make the transition from email to website smooth

Your template (and creative) should look very similar to your site — that way, you customers have a continuous brand experience and know where to navigate when clicking through an email.

Images should render proportionally across devices

No matter what device your customer is using, your images should render proportionally. Set image sizes based on percentage of screen rather than pixels, and use a universal image ratio within your product catalog.

For example, even though a hat and pair of pants are different sizes in real life, their images should be the same height and width.

Conquer Automation Challenges

When using dynamic content and other tools that automatically populate your message with images and content, testing in the template phase helps ensure that everything will render properly.

Prepare for product title length

A good rule of thumb: at 16px, the average line of text is 20px in height — so if your longest product title is four lines, make the dynamic title a height of 80px. That way, whether an item is called “Blue Shirt” or “Blue Long-Sleeved Shirt with Stripes”, each has an equal amount of space and doesn’t skew the rest of your creative.

Add padding to CTA buttons to create clickable real estate

The average thumb uses about 50px of clickable surface area, so adding 15px of padding — keeping in mind the average line of text is 20px — makes it easy for your customers to click the button on a mobile device.

Perfect Your Email Template’s Design

Building effective email templates is all about creating a seamless customer experience  while making your own job easier in the long run.

“We want to get rid of the idea that a template is for a specific message or campaign,” said Pressley. “That way, we ensure the customer is getting the same seamless experience throughout each campaign.”

By designing for functionality first, laying the framework for your creative assets, and testing your automations early on, you’ll ensure your emails are primed to drive engagement and revenue.

If you want to learn more about optimizing your email templates, check out our webinar.

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