6 things you didn’t know about email design

When you think of improving your email performance, there are obvious factors you can influence to improve results. Better subject lines improve open rates, clear CTAs and nice content improves click-through-rates, and consistent messaging through the whole experience increases conversion rates. This post is not about them. This post is about the most commonly overlooked, forgotten or otherwise disregarded elements of email marketing that you probably didn’t know.

1. You can control the pre-header text/preview text

Open up Gmail or Mail or most other mail clients and you will notice that before you open an email, you can preview the first few words of the email – this appears after the subject text. You may now know this, but you can control what your users see in this space. Too often I receive emails like this:

theSkimm are amazing marketers, and you can tell they have worked on their subject line – “So hot in here” – to get the most opens. But they’ve let themselves down by not using all of the inbox real estate they can. Their preview text is typical, “is this displaying correctly” usually because it’s the first text in the email body.

For contrast, check out the this preview text from The Iconic and how they make the most of it to get users to open the email:

The subject line piques a user’s interest, and a scan of the preview text elaborates slightly to give the user more information they would want before opening the email.

Preview text can also be shown in the notification bar on mobile, and on Android the email can even be dismissed without opening the inbox. Here, preview text is even more important:

Email clients are giving you an opportunity to show even more of your email in the inbox; you can, and should, use every inch of it.

2. You can use moving GIFs in email (sparingly)

Emails are pretty basic HTML. Most interactive elements you are familiar with in web you can’t use in email. That said, you can make some parts of your email stand out and help increase the time they linger with your brand by making them move.

While you can use GIFs in emails. apparently you can’t have them in LinkedIn posts, so I can’t give you a demo.

Use with caution, GIFs can increase the load time of your email and if not used sparingly can also annoy users. It’s always a trade-off, but it can pay off if used subtly.

3. You must have alt text for images

Alt text is too often neglected in email marketing because email doesn’t have the SEO benefits that websites have. You still need to keep your users’ experiences in mind. If they open an image heavy email that doesn’t load the images, and all they see is white boxes, they are going to be confused or angry at your brand. Almost all email clients easily offer users the option to load without loading images. You need to assume at least a proportion of your users aren’t going to see images unless they explicitly hit the “show all images” button. Your beautiful email can go from this:

To this:

4. You can SPAM filter test emails before sending them

You shouldn’t have to find out if you email is hitting the spam or junk folder only after you’ve sent your email. Your email marketing agency should be able to run a test of any email you send to make sure it lands in your users’ inboxes before your send it. The SPAM filter algorithms are not complicated and making sure your email avoids the content, sender reputation and verified sender spam flags is vital.

5. You need to have a responsive design template

You know web can resize depending on what size screen you’re on, but you probably overlooked that you can (and should) make you emails look great on both desktop and mobile, or even tablet. As soon as you make a user pinch to zoom, they aren’t having a fun time with your brand. Users prefer to scroll down a long email than to pinch and zoom with an email too small to read. Expedia does a fantastic job with their emails, responding to tablets, phones and desktops.

Photo courtesy of Econsultancy

6. You can get better Email Analytics

Most email sending services like MailChimp and Campaign Monitor can offer your tracking on Open rates, CTR, and often even geography. Email marketing agencies will also be able to provide you details on forwards, open duration (how long they linger in the email), as well as from which devices and email clients users are viewing your email. Knowing the devices and email clients that your users are using should be driving everything you do in email. You’re wasting time designing for Gmail if few of your users use Gmail, similarly you’re wasting time and money designing for mobile if few are using mobile devices.