Maximizing the 5 key elements of e-mail design

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Your customers and prospects view e-mails in five stages, according to a white paper released this week by ExactTarget, a provider of e-mail marketing solutions.

Those stages are: looking at the “from” line, the subject line, the preview pane, the opened but not-yet-scrolled message and the full e-mail, according to the paper, “Email Marketing Design & Rendering: The New Essentials” (

How well you design for each stage will affect how many people read your message all the way through and how many simply hit delete or, even worse, report your message as spam, said Melinda Baxter, ExactTarget’s director of marketing services. Baxter, who recently co-hosted a webinar based on the report, provides these quick tips to help you maximize those five key elements.

1) Consistency is key. B-to-b recipients expect instant recognition; if they signed up for “XYZ Newsletter”, they want to get “XYZ Newsletter,” Baxter said. You can make sure they recognize your e-mails by standardizing messages with your company, or brand name or the name of someone they deal with often at your company, she said. “More than 73% of people will report spam based on the “from” field, so you have to remember that’s the critical first piece,” she said.

2) Optimize and test content in the preview pane. More than half the people who open an e-mail do so because they like what they see in the preview pane, Baxter said. “The key quadrant is definitely that four-by-four-inch square,” she said. Keep this area clean and to the point. Include your brand name and the call to action in this space; and weave in information that taps into both rational as well as emotional arguments, she said. This is an area where links can also be valuable so people can go directly to a more comfortable viewing paradigm. Another point to remember: Keep designs at no more than 600 pixels wide so readers won’t have to scroll horizontally.

3) Design for common e-mail clients. Your design is going to look different depending on which e-mail client your recipients are using. The most common b-to-b clients, according to the ExactTarget white paper, are Microsoft’s Outlook and IBM’s Lotus Notes; about 75% of all b-to-b recipients are using one or the other. However, many businesspeople use free mail services to receive marketing messages. The most common b-to-c clients are Yahoo, which garners 25% of e-mail recipients; Hotmail, which accounts for 20%; and AOL, which accounts for 18%.

4) Include just enough of a tease. Should you include a paragraph summary of an article along with a link or just a short sentence and a link? It depends on how much content you’re trying to get into your message. “If you’ve only got a few stories, go with the synopsis and the link. But if you’re trying to get a lot in, a sentence or small teaser line is a better option since time spent on e-mail deteriorates as a reader moves through it,” she said. “If you’re asking someone to scroll, you’re expecting a lot of someone.”

5) Another tip: Include a screen grab of any video you’re linking to, Baxter said. “A frame of the video with an arrow is the best way to go, so people see what they can expect when they click through,” she said.

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