Imagine being part of a team that includes a designer, copywriter, developer, and marketer. They are all working together harmoniously on an email campaign, each contributing to it from their area of expertise, resulting in a perfectly crafted email that is great looking, well written, and renders correctly in every inbox. You are all together when the send button is pressed, and you look on as your beautiful emails are released like doves into the sky.


The unfortunate reality is that’s almost never the case. It’s you, the marketer (or whoever the boss has decided is in charge of sending emails), who must somehow do the job of several people to create an email worth sending. The company’s design team has been assigned to a higher priority task, and you’re told to “just wing it”. You’re pretty sure the email you send won’t be anything like soaring doves. Maybe more like an angry flock of seagulls.

Is this how it feels when you send some of your emails?



In this situation, however, there are simple steps you can take to make the design of your email shine, which in turn produces better engagement.


Keep it simple!

Try to do too much and you’ll end up with a mess. Declutter and break your content into readable chunks for the user to work through. Provide ample amounts of padding around all elements.


Visual hierarchy
You can use visual elements to control what the user looks at, and in what order. Your design should have a very limited number of headline styles, each sized based on their importance. This example email shows how controlling the visual hierarchy moves the eyes of the user around the email. With this, you can be directing them toward the action you want them to take.

Font usage
Now, let’s talk about Comic Sans. If you are an elementary school teacher, children’s book illustrator, or clown, please proceed to the next section. For everyone else, you should be sticking to your company’s brand standards when it comes to fonts. These usually include a primary font to use in email (which, due to email restrictions, may be a fallback to the company’s primary font). If you want to vary the appearance of text in your email content, consider the above hierarchy example and stick to a limited number of styles.


Number of columns
It used to be common to see a two-column layout, with the main content in one column, and the other containing more featured content. While the two-column layout still has its place, one-column is the way to go if you’re looking to give your email visual aesthetic. If you don’t believe me, head over to our friends at Really Good Emails and see some of their examples of great design.

Don’t be afraid to put important content lower in the email

With mobile open rates now exceeding desktop and likely never turning back, you can be assured that your users are going to be scrolling, which is important since you’re now using a one-column layout and giving your content room to breathe. We used to be told to get our call-to-action “above the fold”, but that seems silly now. We don’t even think about scrolling anymore. You should give it a try right now. Just open up an email on your phone, and your thumb will almost magically go to work, showing you the entire email.


With that being said, your email should include eye-grabbing content at the top of the email that will draw the user down the page. This could be some graphic or photo, or maybe even just a large headline that hints at what’s below.


Make your CTA stand out

We like big buttons, and we cannot lie. As mentioned above, your CTA doesn’t necessarily need a prominent spot at the top of your email, but it should be clear and concise. Use a font size larger than your body copy, and give it plenty of padding. You’ll also want to pull some color from your brand guidelines to make it really stand out.


Putting it all together.


If we put all these tactics together, what will the final result look like? Take a look at two emfluence emails – one sent in 2010, the other sent last month. While the email on the left may have done well back in 2010, I think it’s going to have a bad time in 2019. The email on the right uses several methods mentioned:

  1. Clean one-column, with content broken up into well-spaced chunks
  2. Clear CTA’s
  3. Appropriate hierarchy of content


Give these methods a go in your next campaign, and make those emails soar!



  1. Great piece!

    I’m curious, do you have any data to back-up the ‘Don’t be afraid to put important content lower in the email’ point?

    I agree in theory but I still make an effort to have a CTA above the fold. Wondering if I should test that out.

    1. Hi Jake! We would recommend testing if you have high-value top of fold content. Or ideally run an A/B test on the same message to see if there’s a significant impact. We’d love to hear your results on that test!

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