HTML Email Design Best Practices: The 10 Golden Rules

HTML Email Design Best Practices: The 10 Golden Rules

We get a lot of questions around email design. While there are always new tricks to try, there are some tried-and-true best practices that seem to stand the test of time. Use these as the baseline for any HTML email design or template to create engaging messages that perform well across devices and browsers. 

1. Identify Yourself

Include your brand name in the From Name field and use a recognizable From Address. This is not only a best practice, but will also help you remain compliant.

2. Size Matters

  • Keep your Subject Line and Preheader under 65 characters to ensure that they fit no matter what browser, email client or device is used. 
  • The ideal email width is 600px wide to render properly on all devices and browsers. 
  • Keep images crisp but optimize for load time with a resolution of 72 dpi. 

3. Design for Mobile Users

Utilize a grid layout so your email neatly stacks, scales and stays organized on mobile devices. Listrak Composer lets you set up both desktop and mobile versions with a simple click of a button.

4. Get More Clicks with The Right Buttons

Use eye-catching, high-contrast CTA (call-to-action) buttons to let subscribers know to click-through for the good stuff.

Try switching-up the words in your buttons. “Shop Now” and “Learn More” can work well, but play around with more creative options to build curiosity and lure users into clicking-through.

Maximize clicks by making your buttons “bulletproof.” This means making them HTML rather than images so they still display when images are turned off in someone’s inbox (which is usually about 50% of the time). Make sure to use a web-safe or Google font.

If you go the image-based-button route, make sure that when it shrinks for mobile devices, it’s still large enough to be legible and clickable.

5. Save Above-The-Scroll Real Estate

Keep the header area of your email clean and clutter-free. Most inboxes support up to 90 characters of preheader text, which is what you see after the subject line in inboxes.

On mobile, hide the preheader area to let your important promotional content shine. With Listrak Composer, you can set this up with a single click.

6. Pare Back The Navigation

Use a short navigation (max. 5 items) so you don’t distract from the most important parts of your email. Also consider (and a/b test) not using a navigation at all – not every email needs one!

On mobile, move the navigation to the bottom of the message and stack it neatly above the footer to save space while remaining clickable. Listrak Composer lets you choose this option and select different layouts for desktop and mobile versions.

7. Optimize with HTML Text

HTML text is good for copy-heavy areas to make sure it’s crisp and legible in all inboxes – desktop and mobile (HTML text will scale up and down depending on device width). Keep in mind, the minimum legible font size for most mobile inboxes is 13px.

When including a coupon code, type it out as HTML text so the user can copy and paste it easily, and so it displays when images are turned off in their inbox.

If you have to save copy as an image, send a test to yourself before you hit send to ensure that it’s crisp and legible.

Thoughts from An Email Designer

Typography is quite possibly the most important element in an email’s design, and here’s why: fewer than half of all emails are opened with images turned on. That tells us that incorporating live HTML text into an email design is a necessity in today’s multi-device, multi-browser world. While using alt text can help, leaning on HTML text is the most bulletproof way to deliver your important message to as many people as possible.

Unlike the olden days of email design, we’re no longer tied to simple fonts like Arial and Times as our only HTML text choices. We can now play with custom fonts and other web-safe choices to enhance our designs and stay brand-appropriate. This is great news for any email designer who wants to enhance the style of their emails while keeping user experience in mind.

8. Fonts Everywhere

The first rule of HTML text: every inbox will render fonts differently. In our technologically changing world, this is just something we designers have to get used to. But there are ways to make sure every recipient receives the best email possible, even if a custom font doesn’t render exactly as you’d hoped.

Web-Safe Fonts

There are a variety of stylish, user-friendly, web-safe fonts. Fonts that come preloaded on most computers render consistently over 90% of the time. Others have less wide support but still have their advantages and can be used in a font stack as long as you have a more supported font as a backup.

Sans-Serif Fonts

71%+ Renderability: Very Consistent Support

  • Arial
  • Arial Black
  • Tahoma
  • Trebuchet MS
  • Verdana

1%-70% Renderability: Average Support

  • Candara
  • Century Gothic
  • Gill Sans
  • Lucida
  • Lucida Sans

Serif Fonts

71%+ Renderability: Very Consistent Support

  • Courier
  • Courier New
  • Georgia
  • Palatino
  • Times New Roman

1%-70% Renderability: Average Support

  • Book Antique
  • Cambria
  • Garamond
  • Lucida Bright
  • Baskerville

Choosing Good Fall-Back Fonts

Remember what we said about fonts rendering differently across inboxes?

Inevitably, your custom font isn’t going to render perfectly everywhere, but don’t panic. There are ways to make your design shift subtly and purposefully as it hits less-supportive inboxes.

One great way is to control the fall-back fonts that will display when your custom font does not. Here are two prime examples:

sans-serif: Trebuchet MS, Verdana, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif
serif: Georgia, Courier, Times New Roman, serif

Yes, the options are somewhat limited, but you can still make deliberate choices that support your optimal font and will help improve your conversion rate. Above all, remember that using HTML text is critical to your email’s success, so it’s worth having to put up with slight changes in styling.

When deciding, consider that some fonts have more space between letters, others have a thicker stroke, and there’s always the serif vs. sans-serif choice. Think about these factors and choose one that won’t vary too much as it displays in less-supportive inboxes.

As an example, here’s how one letter’s styling varies from font to font:

9. Background Images

If using a background image, keep it simple. Using a simple grid layout is best, and don’t include complicated graphics that distract from the copy on top.

Since background images won’t display when images are turned off (which is about 43% of the time), don’t include anything important to the goal of your email. Remember to include alt text which provides context if the image is blocked and assign a complimentary back-up background color to display.

10. Keep it Engaging

Even within the restrictions of a grid layout, you can get creative with interactive GIFs, engaging copy and layouts with angles and color blocking to intrigue. Use these elements to guide the reader’s eye to take an action and click through.

Interested in learning more? Contact your Account Manager for details.

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Choosing the Best Popup Design for Your Goals

If you’re ready to grow your email list then a popup on your website is a must-have. Getting started

designing a popup may be a bit daunting, though. There are so many things to cover: Do you include an incentive? What design do you choose?

Allow me to help! I’ve picked out a few popup designs that I love and hope that my thoughts will help you choose the best popup design for your goals.

Keep it light and airy

This traditional lightbox-style popup is very simple and clean while still maintaining the look and feel of the brand. Using CSS transitions, it slides onto the homepage about three seconds after you’ve arrived. Using the angled photo, this popup adds visual interest while drawing a literal line down to the widest (and most important) part of the form: the email input box. This subtle but effective direction to the input plus the free shipping note in light blue really makes me want to enter my email and click that “send” button. 

Tip: If your website content is more central to the browser window, this design is a great option for you.

Be big and bold

Another sibling in the popup family is the full-screen. In order to really grab your user’s attention, these popups completely hide the website behind them. While designing these, it’s important to maintain the look and feel of your brand just in case your customer forgets what website they’re on (hey, it happens!). This one in particular does this perfectly. The background color is the brand’s gorgeous green, and they even took it a step further and included the logo at the top of the form. This way the user always knows what site they’re on.

Another element I like about this popup is the offer used to entice the customer to sign up. Not only is the offer large and distinct in the headline, but it’s also reiterated in the call-to-action button. Another bonus element I enjoyed: the pretty cool JavaScript counter directly under the button! I don’t see those too often in popups so that really stood out.

Tip: If your website content is stretched across the whole screen, this design would fit seamlessly.

Try clean and subtle

Here we have the simplest popup of the bunch: the banner. These are great because they aren’t in your face or pushy; they’re simply there for you whenever you decide you’d like to subscribe. This means a first-time visitor to your website is given the chance to browse around and then make the decision if your brand interests them to sign up for your newsletters.

These popups don’t usually have imagery and since they’re so small, the copy is kept to a bare minimum. In this example in particular, the black background really made this stand out on an otherwise very colorful website. This example does include a close button, but also adds a clever “don’t miss out!” headline right in front of it to play into all your FOMO fears. 

Tip: Looking for a softer, subtler sell? This popup is perfect for you!

Which popup design speaks to you? Let us know in the comments!

Elsie Compton
Graphic Designer

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Customer to customer (C2C) markets provide an innovative way to allow customers to interact with each other. Traditional markets require business to customer relationships, in which a customer goes to the business in order to purchase a product or service. In customer to customer markets, the business facilitates an environment where customers can sell goods or services to each other. Other types of markets include business to business (B2B) and business to customer (B2C).
Consumer to consumer (or citizen-to-citizen) electronic commerce involves the electronically facilitated transactions between consumers through some third party. A common example is the online auction, in which a consumer posts an item for sale and other consumers bid to purchase it; the third party generally charges a flat fee or commission. The sites are only intermediaries, just there to match consumers. They do not have to check quality of the products being offered.
Consumer to consumer (C2C) marketing is the creation of a product or service with the specific promotional strategy being for consumers to share that product or service with others as brand advocates based on the value of the product. The investment into concepting and developing a top of the line product or service that consumers are actively looking for is equitable to a retail pre-launch product awareness marketing.

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Operation Optimize: The Beginner's Guide to SEO

So you want to get your site ranking. That’s great, but where do you start, what do you do, and how do you see if it’s working? Before you can run, you must walk – and that means learning the basics.

SEO stands for search engine optimization and, by Moz’s definition, is the “practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results.” In other words, you are working to rank at the top for a target list of keywords, which will increase your quality organic traffic and help you gain quality leads.

Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s discuss what you came here for: Operation Optimize.

Getting started: The hardest part

Yes, we all know the hardest part of any task is getting started. The same is true for SEO work. But once you do your research and create a plan (we’ll help you there), you’ll be ready to go in no time.

First, conduct an audit of your own website as well as a technical and digital audit of your competitors. Take note of what they are doing – and if they are succeeding or failing. Analyze data like their domain authority, linking root domains and even social media followers.

After completing the audit, conduct in-depth keyword research. This task is a pivotal part of an SEO project, as the keywords you choose to target are the heart of this operation. You want to make sure you are ranking for terms that 1) your target audience will search for and 2) will attract the highest-quality visitors.

Creating a plan: The road map to SEO stardom

Once your research is complete and you have your keyword list, it’s time to create your project road map, including your initial optimization plan and ongoing monthly initiatives. Upfront, you will want to …

  • Complete on-page optimizations to your current SEO landing pages.

  • Create new optimized landing pages for clusters without existing landing pages.

  • Analyze and address all technical website errors.

Once you’ve created the foundation for an SEO masterpiece, create a plan for ongoing monthly initiatives. This will include the following:

  • Monthly outreach

  • Guest blog writing

  • Internal content writing (e.g., landing page updates)

  • Weekly technical updates

OK, are you ready to walk the walk?

Implementation: Into the thick of it

Let’s use our road map to bring this operation to life. Step 1: Complete all of the on-page optimizations you noted, whether that is making edits to a current page, creating a new landing page or addressing errors. Once the site is completely updated, you can begin your off-page work, which leads us to Step 2 …

Create a list of reputable, relatable websites on which you would like to gain a link. The top thing to keep in mind here is quality. SEO is no longer about the sheer quantity of link backs to your site; it’s about the quality of said links and how valuable they are in a search engine’s eyes. Once you’ve got your list, conduct outreach to gain guest blog opportunities – or even ask for a link back to one of your top resources. It all counts!

Finally, write the content, submit to publishers, and gain link placements. It’s as easy as that. But make sure you aren’t breezing through the writing part – you’ll need a strong piece to achieve results.

Producing results: KPIs for success

Here is the most important thing you’ll need to remember about SEO: Results take time. Unlike other digital campaigns, where you can see the immediate fruits of your labor, SEO work may take weeks to months to see the progress you would like.

As for how to determine success, there are several KPIs to keep your eye on:

  • Domain authority. Track your website’s DA, a search engine ranking score created by Moz that predicts how well a website will rank in search engine results.

  • Keyword rankings. Monitor keyword rankings for terms chosen during your keyword research.

  • Organic traffic. Use Google Analytics to monitor organic traffic to your website on a weekly or monthly basis.

  • Organic leads. Within Google Analytics, set up goals to monitor your conversion rate for organic traffic.

Which KPIs take precedence will be determined by the ultimate goal of your SEO project. Are you looking to increase brand awareness and traffic to your website? Are you looking to drive a certain number of organic leads per month? Once you determine your focus and ideal outcome, you can identify the measurements and benchmarks you need to hit.

Finally, check in on these metrics about once a month. Where can you improve? What should you focus on to meet your goals? Optimize your plan accordingly, and you’ll be an SEO guru in no time.

Don’t worry if you’re feeling overwhelmed; that’s completely normal. It takes a lot of time and effort to get your site ranking for your targeted keywords and achieve your goals. If you feel like you need more help, contact an SEO agency for advice and assistance in creating and implementing strategic optimization plans.

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