Email Template Best Practices

Summary

Email templates are critical for guiding a subscriber from open to conversion.

Yes, graphics are important for grabbing visual attention.

 

Yes, copy needs to connect on a relational and sales-driven level. (After all, your subscribers need to know WHY they should care). 

Packaging all of that up into a neat template has to be unique to the email experience. If they can see or read the content, then it’s just wasted effort.

There are five areas to think of when considering designing a conversion-driven email template:

  1. Above The Scroll
  2. Using Images in an Email Template
  3. Skimmable Content
  4. Clear Call To Action

    1. Above The Scroll

    Formerly known as “above the fold” in the days of paper-driven marketing, we now default to expecting users to scroll through all digital content.

    “Above the scroll” is the header of the email that subscribers will see immediately after they open the email.

    The content after a user’s screen size cuts it off is invisible to them at open. In order to view it, they need to scroll with their mouse or thumb.

    This area usually consists of two things:

    1. Your logo
    2. A captivating headline/image.

    There are two tricky parts to keep in mind when thinking about image sizes and headlines.

    Screen sizes vary widely.

    If most of your subscribers are generally desktop users, “Above The Scroll” is a much bigger space to play in.

    Your mobile users will have a much smaller window to grab their attention.

    Nailing down the exact area where “Above The Scroll” is is almost impossible for that very reason.

    Plus, people are accustomed to scrolling. It isn’t as big of a friction point for user experience as it once was as we all become fluent in using digital content.

    Email Client Information Takes Up Vertical Space

    As you know, your email doesn’t show up in an inbox exactly as you send it.

    When people open your email campaign, there’s usually the sender information and header combo from the email client (i.e. gmail, Outlook, Apple Mail, etc.) that can take up a large portion of the screen.

    This is especially true for mobile users.

    What that means for your template: make sure your logo isn’t taking up too much vertical space at the top.

    That’s precious real estate that could be devoted to a captivating headline that draws your subscribers’ attention further into the email content.

      2. Using Images in an Email Template

      Email marketing production gets complicated quickly, and you want to make sure your emails are not only eye-catching but readable.

      Testing of images in email varies widely. I’ve tested the exact same email content as text-only versus heavily image-based and the impact is only significant on specific types of campaigns.

      The main thing to think about is whether or not you have the internal resources to justify the extra work.

      Regardless, here’s what you need to know about using images with text on them in your email template.

      Accessibility

      When you're thinking about putting text on images, you can't forget about how to keep your overall digital marketing strategy accessible.

      People who rely on text-to-speech readers on their computers and mobile devices rely on there actually being text that their technology can read to them.

      They can't read the text that is embedded in your image.

      That's why it's imperative to include “alt-text” on each image. This option is available in every Email Service Provider.

      There will be a box in your image settings that is called “alt text” that lets you type out the text on the image.

      Mobile Responsive

      If you put tiny text in an image that is designed for desktop and shrink it down to mobile, you'll want to check out how it reads on mobile.

      I see this all too often. Text placed on an image that looks okay on desktop, but is barely legible on mobile.

      Make sure your font sizes are at least 28px if you plan on doing this.

      Disabled Images

      Some email clients like Outlook and Gmail will auto-disable images from unknown senders.

      That means if ALL of your content is in images, these subscribers will have to go the extra step of enabling images in order to see your content.

      We know as marketers, that every additional step we ask a user to take, is a place we could potentially lose them.

      Having alt-text will help this OR limiting your use of images with text placed on them.

      Here's what an email looks like if it's all image with text on it and it has not been optimized for mobile or alt-text.

      Click the image to see a gif of what I mean.

      3. Skimmable Content

      The average session time on a website is about one minute. We can expect less than that from other forms of digital content.

      What that means for email: make your content skimmable.

      How do you make your email campaign content skimmable? Here are three things to know:

      Avoid big blocks of text.

      A run-on paragraph can look visually overwhelming. If it looks like a lot of text to read, people won’t engage.

      Shorten your paragraphs to one or two lines at the most. Again, people are used to scrolling. If your copy is engaging, they’ll keep scrolling.

      Add visual variation to your text.

      Again, a monotonous block of text is easy to skim over. That means you need to visually draw attention to the most critical parts.

      Usually, that’s the major benefits of your offer, key points your subscribers need to know, deadlines, or special offers.

      You can add visual elements to text in a few ways:

       

      1. Bulleted/numbered lists. If you are highlighting the benefits or features of your content, product, or service, break it out into a list.
      2. Text Decoration. That can look like font styles such as bolding, italicizing, or changing the color of specific sections of text.
      3. Font Size. Make sure to break up sections of your email with headers that can be a simple bump up of the font size.

      4. Clear Call To Action

      Your call to action not only has to be clear in terms of the copy but also the visual design.

      A clear call to action should be simple and short. It should tell your subscribers the next steps they need to take in order to take advantage of your offer or content.

      Visually, it can big, bold, hyperlinked text like this:

      Even better, a button with a contrasting color like this:

      You want your subscribers to STOP when they see it, so they know that there is more for them outside of the email.

      It’s the signpost in your email that tells them which direction to head in to guide them further down your funnel.

      Take-Aways

      There are four areas to think of when considering designing a conversion-driven email template:

      1. Above The Scroll. This is precious real estate. Use it wisely.
      2. Using Images in an Email Template. If you have the resources for developing them, make sure they’re accessible and readable on mobile.
      3. Skimmable Content. You have less than a minute for your subscriber to read the content. Avoid big blocks of content and add text decoration.
      4. Clear Call To Action. Make sure you have a clear signpost in your email that directs your subscriber to take action.

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