Overlooked best practices for email design

Having a well-crafted, clear, and consistent design for your brand is invaluable in today’s cluttered digital space. Often times, businesses will use e-newsletters, blogs, and email marketing efforts to complement their presence on the web, but these channels aren’t always created equal. The design principles and procedures used to create a successful and efficient HTML email campaign are very different than those used on a website. Instead of employing a one-size-fits-all strategy for these two areas, consider the following tips when differentiating between your online landing page and email marketing efforts.

Assume that emails will be accessed without the images showing
Images might not always translate so seamlessly from your web page to your email campaign, and most email clients don’t automatically display images without prompting the user to first take action (i.e.,”Click here to view images,” or “Right click, then download images”). It’s also important to ensure that your key messages — the information that you most want your readers to take away from the email — aren’t embedded within (and can still be clearly understood without) an image. Instead, use HTML body copy for all of the information that you most want to be communicated to your readers.

Keep a balanced “text-to-image ratio” in your emails
Spam filters often look at the ratio of images to text in an email. If the email contains more images than text, it might be flagged as spam and never seen by your intended audience. Integrating text with images not only ensures that your company’s messages can be easily read by recipients, but that it won’t get caught up in a spam folder.

Provide a fallback background color for emails featuring an image that serves as the background
Popular mail clients such as Gmail and Microsoft Outlook don’t provide support for background images, so it’s important to provide a fallback background color if an image is supposed to serve as the email backdrop. HTML code allows for both image and color to be called in the same tag, meaning that if a particular mail client supports background images, they’ll be displayed. If images aren’t supported, the fallback color will show up in its place.

Make sure the email is easy to act on
The presentation of your email should be constructed in a way that gives readers the most pressing and pertinent information first. Whether your objective is to get your audience to click a link, learn about a new service or product, or simply share news or updates. You don’t want your readers to have to sift endlessly through information to get to the portion of your message that’s most relevant to their interests and needs. Instead, place your call to action at the top of the message, where the reader is most likely to see and internalize it.

Consider using a table of contents for emails with multiple sections
If it is necessary to include many different sections in your email, all with equally important information for your audience, it’s best to create an eye-catching table of contents right below your company’s logo or header. To make it even easier on readers, also consider linking items in the table of contents to the corresponding area in the email. This enables readers to jump directly to the areas that are most important to them with minimal effort.

Beware the pitfalls of JavaScript or external CSS
Every email client interprets the code in a different way, and the vast majority of mail programs will not load your style in the way that it was originally intended. Some programs, like Thunderbird, have good support for this kind of design, while others, such as Lotus Notes, have almost none. Email clients will remove JavaScript for security purposes, and CSS must be used in-line and not in style blocks. Because you do not know what client your readers are going to use to open your message, it’s best to rely more heavily on HTML coding.

While marketers focus on deliverability issues, growing their subscriber base, and creating relevant content to maximize ROI, email design often gets pushed aside. But great email design can help you with all three. Proper coding and design techniques can help avoid delivery hang-ups, and a well-organized and visually pleasing email is more likely to be shared, which only increases your subscriber base. Ultimately, a healthy balance of text, images, and graphics with a clear-cut call to action leads to more conversions — one of the most crucial aspects for an increase in ROI.