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Designing the Perfect Email
by Rieva Lesonsky
November 7, 2023
Middle aged man working on computer in small modern office space

As we mentioned in part one of this series, email dominates the marketing kingdom, generating an impressive ROI (return on investment) of $36 for every dollar spent, the highest ROI of any marketing strategy, according to Campaign Monitor.

Email Design

Another crucial element contributing to the success of your email campaigns is how they’re designed. HubSpot notes there are 13 best practices for good email design:

  1. Craft a strong subject line.
  2. Write an attention-grabbing pre-header.
  3. Be concise.
  4. Keep your email on-brand.
  5. Think about your layout.
  6. Personalize every email.
  7. Incorporate unique visual content.
  8. Don’t be afraid to use emojis.
  9. Use a responsive design.
  10. Optimize your email with calls to action.
  11. Add an “unsubscribe” button.
  12. A/B test your design.
  13. Design an email signature.

While we can’t cover them all here (their article is quite thorough), let’s discuss a few crucial elements for your emails.

Here are some tips from Salesforce’s 50 Best Practices for Email Marketers:

  • Each email is part of the overall customer experience. Every message should fit in with all the other communications your subscribers receive from you. In other words—stay on brand.
  • Make the CTA shine. CTA is a call-to-action design element, which makes it easy for readers to know what you want them to do. Distinguish your CTA through color, placement, and text treatment.
  • Break it up. Consumers tend to scan emails for important points that pertain specifically to them. Divide your email into bulleted text and short paragraphs for better readability.

Subject Lines

Think of email subject lines like a newspaper headline—they’re the teasers encouraging customers to open the email. But there’s a science to creating them. Here’s the scoop from klayvio:

  • Keep it short. The longer the subject line, the lower the open rate. But A/B test to make sure that’s true for your audience. And since most emails are now opened on mobile devices, brevity is critical because most phones only display 30-40 characters in a subject line.
  • Including the offer in the heading increases conversion.
  • Be straightforward: Telling customers what they can expect helps you reach a high-intent audience.
  • Be specific: Specific email subject lines let readers know what to expect when they open your email, eliminating uncertainty.
  • Use numbers to drive curiosity: A Yesware study found subject lines with numbers get a 45% higher open rate than the average.
  • Use personalization: Something as simple as using the reader’s first name can help boost open rates.
  • Evoke a sense of curiosity in your headlines: This feeds into humans’ natural impulse to investigate, observe & gather information.
  • Asking questions urges readers to open the email to find the answer. But be sure to ask interesting questions.
  • Be conversational: Taking a conversational and friendly tone of voice is far better than sounding like a robot wrote your emails. People tend to pay more attention when you talk directly to them.
    • When writing an email subject line, imagine you’re writing to a close friend.
    • Think of subject lines as starting a conversation rather than making an announcement.
  • Evoke FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): FOMO creates a sense of urgency, which is a great hook that can drive customers to act quickly. FOMO works equally well in the body of your email. For example,
    • If you’re promoting a sale, remind customers that the discount is about to expire.
    • Limited-time offers (such as for a specific event or holiday) can help boost open rates.
  • Test emojis, but don’t overdo it. If you want to stand out in a crowded inbox, using emojis may help get you noticed. But consider some basic rules to avoid misinterpretation.
    • Use emojis to amplify the message, not replace words.
    • Emojis appear differently depending on your subscriber’s operating system, so be sure to A/B test across channels and devices.

The words that you use in your subject lines matter too. If you’re sending a newsletter, let them know that. Including the word “newsletter” in your subject line gives you a 24.1% open rate, and using “PDF” delivers an open rate of 25%.

Perhaps counterintuitively, using the word “you” in your subject lines will depress the open rate to only 15.5%. Also using ALL CAPS will reduce open rates by about 12%.

2023 Email Trends

NetHunt says 2023 will be a “challenging but interesting year” for email marketing because users will have to balance emerging new trends with the old ones that still work. Here’s what to look for in 2023:

  • Animated collaging. Moderate animation is a hot email marketing trend. Be smart with dynamic gifs.
  • Dark mode and neon. [Increasing popularity] since Apple introduced Dark Mode to adjust the brightness of the screen.
  • Minimalism. Uncluttered, well-structured emails with a single objective and few irrelevant details will reign supreme.
  • Illustrated iconography. Businesses will actively grow their brand identities with illustrated, visually prominent icons on plain backdrops.

There’s an art and a science to using email marketing. And while it may seem a bit complex, a SCORE mentor can help you work through it. Remember, email is still the most effective marketing method, so learning to do it right is well worth your efforts.

In the next post in our three-part series, we’ll cover B2B emails

About the author
Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is president and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content and media company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship, and the blog
Read full bio
Young female business owner on computer planning email strategy.
Winning in Ecommerce with Email Marketing
We’ll take you through the three stages an email marketer goes through on their path to growing sales by building on the fundamentals that are proven to work.
Business man working on laptop with a cup of coffee as he checks his email
Best Practices for B2B Email

In the first two parts of this series, we discussed the importance of email as a marketing tool for all small businesses. So why are we singling out business-to-business (B2B) email marketing here? We’re focusing on B2B in this post because many B2B business owners may have the wrong idea of positioning their email campaigns.

ROI by Industry

As we noted previously, according to Campaign Monitor, email generates $36 for every dollar spent, the highest ROI (return on investment) of any marketing strategy. And most businesses that always A/B test their emails generate an ROI of 48:1.


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