Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to build and retain a loyal brand following.
By nature, email communication is permission-based. When they sign up to your list, subscribers not only state their interest in your brand but they expect to hear from you. This attitude makes email marketing more likely to convert sales than other marketing channels — on average, netting you up to $47 for every dollar spent.
The returns don’t stop there. Regular engagement helps build a loyal following of customers that:
- Spend 31 percent more on average, than new customers
- Refer 50 percent more people than one-time buyers
- Are more likely to try out different products you sell, sustaining business growth
The best email designs also tease out fresh leads. Throughout this guide, you’ll find 22 real email design examples accomplishing this and more.
Whether you’re linking to products, blog posts, or any other content, each click from a link in one of your marketing emails drives traffic that improves your website’s search engine optimization (SEO). Over time, this activity also boosts your site’s discoverability — allowing you to capture new customer interest from search engines.
- How to make your email designs stand out
- With the right tools, you don’t have to start from scratch
How to make your email designs stand out
What you communicate over email is important, but so is how you say it. Effective email designs help an audience visualize your message. Your layout’s organization can work to catch peoples’ attention before they lose interest and click away.
Help your readers make sense of what they see by leveraging design cues like:
- Focal points that catch attention and show what the message is about
- Patterns and shapes that organize ideas
- Color schemes that highlight important points
- Consistent elements that establish brand familiarity
Your marketing emails need to stand out from the clutter. Turn up the volume of your messages with email designs that:
- Optimize images to prioritize speed
- Aim to look great on any device
- Make your message personal
- Keep things simple
- Start strong to prevent restrictive scanning
- Direct the reader’s eyes down the page
- Speak visually
- Navigate with content blocks
- Encourage action
- Direct attention with color
- Experiment with visuals
- Tease interest
- Finish strong
Below, let’s look at why these design elements work and how to use them to create better emails. You’ll have eye-catching examples of most of these effective email design elements in action to inspire your next campaign, too.
Optimize images to prioritize speed
In 2000, a Microsoft study found that “the average consumer’s attention span was 12 seconds. About 15 years later, it dropped to eight seconds” — and recent studies suggest our collective attention span continues to narrow.
If your email takes more than two seconds to load, you’re losing time to grab and extend this fleeting attention span. Optimize your content to ensure fast delivery.
Start by understanding the most widely supported file types for email servers, including:
- JPEG for photographs
- PNG and GIF for line drawings
- GIF for image animation
To prepare your images for quick loading, you should:
- Use images at least 600–650 pixels wide, so visuals load fast but aren’t distorted
- Save original files at a resolution of 72 pixels per inch to minimize compression when you upload them to your campaign library
- Reduce your file size to less than 5 MB
Tools like Constant Contact’s image library and hosting can streamline this process for you and help make sure your messages don’t lose the race against time.
Aim to look great on any device
Most people look at their emails on their smartphones. Ensure your emails are compatible with this customer behavior by designing messages that look as good on a smart device as they do on a computer screen.
Create a mobile-responsive design
Without mobile responsiveness, your email could become difficult to interact with, get distorted, or be cut off. Reach your audience no matter how they view your emails by:
- Leading with concise subject lines that won’t get cut off in an email preview
- Avoiding tiny text that’s hard to read on a smaller screen
- Using web-safe fonts that ensure your design looks right on any device
- Adding alt-text to your visuals to reach people with preferences set to restrict automatic image downloads
- Making sure your layout will adjust to fit screens of any size
Urge mobile users to interact with you
Mobile-responsive emails can improve open rates. The best mobile-ready email designs also make it easy for users to interact.
About 80 percent of smartphone users purchase through their device. You can make doing so even more convenient by providing well-placed coupon codes or discounts customers can redeem right from their phone.
Make your message personal
The most effective email campaigns aren’t one-size-fits-all. According to Aberdeen Group, personalized emails improve customer conversion rates by 20 percent.
People get a lot of messaging thrown their way throughout any given day. They’re more receptive to emails that are personal — relevant and customized to their preferences and buying patterns.
Segment your audience
Personalizing your customer emails starts with strategic contact list segmentation. It helps your email marketing campaigns to divide your contacts into smaller groups based on common characteristics — like what they buy or where they are in your sales pipeline.
Segmentation ensures that each email you send is more direct. With content that’s specific and relevant to separate groups of customers, your messages become more compelling and engaging.
You can automate this process with segmentation tools like those offered by Constant Contact, which let you:
- Create multiple lists and segment further within those lists with up to 500 unique tags
- Filter contacts based on metrics like customer behavior, list membership, ecommerce activity, or custom fields you assign
- Set up automated triggers when a customer subscribes, so you initiate contact when they’re highly motivated to engage
- Launch a series of timed emails to follow up with contacts based on their activity
- Craft multiple versions of an email to share with different audiences
Speak directly to individual customers
Salesforce found that almost “59% of customers say tailored engagement based on past interactions is very important to winning their business” — and they’re more than twice as likely to engage with the tailored content you send.
Add this extra personal touch customers expect with:
- Personal greetings that reduce the chance your email gets flagged as spam
- Consistency, so customers expect to receive your content on a regular schedule
- Brand recognition in your sender field, encouraging credibility and trust
- A bold subject line that grabs attention and summarizes what a reader can expect
Keep things simple
The best email designs prioritize how readers experience the message. Creating a positive experience for your readers means getting straight to the point without extra fuss and distraction.
This less-is-more concept relates to Hick’s Law, a design pillar that encourages simplicity in presentation. The more you include in your message and its design, the longer it takes people to make a decision. Information overload doesn’t play well with customers’ short attention spans.
To center designs on simplicity, you need to:
- Be specific and limit how much information you send in each email
- Guide readers by breaking up content into small and actionable steps
- Avoid overwhelming customers with too much content competing in one design
- Direct attention through your design
You don’t need to be a skilled graphic designer to apply Hick’s Law to your email campaigns. With today’s versatile email marketing tools, you can easily create a stunning and eye-catching message grounded in a simple design, as Casper does with its holiday message below.
Start strong to prevent restrictive scanning
Research from Nielsen Norman Group found that the average person follows an F-shaped scanning pattern when they view digital content — and this can limit how much of your message gets across.
But Nielsen notes that good design can prevent restrictive scanning like this. A “layer-cake” design helps people see the whole picture, by:
- Drawing in focus with a striking lead
- Linking similar ideas throughout the email body using elements like color and patterns
- Separating information with white space much like frosting does between the cake layers
Direct the reader’s eyes down the page
“Above the fold” is a design concept borrowed from the media world. Because newspapers are folded in half before hitting the newsstands, they need to showcase the most important headlines, stories, and imagery first.
Your email’s “fold” is where your readers need to scroll to see the rest of your message. A strong beginning grabs readers’ attention and makes them what to read the rest of the email.
To make sure they do keep reading, you must also guide them down through the text to what you want them to do. Direct their focus throughout the email with:
- Strategic use of space, because copy-dense emails shine with wider margins
- White space around blocks of texts, ideas, and images to create visual direction
- Contrast and adequate text sizing so that your content is readable
- Imagery that encourages attention down the page and balances the design
- Standard and web-safe fonts, because decorative fonts can be challenging to scan and might not load properly on all devices
In the example above, Harry’s makes the email’s intention clear at the start — then uses these design tricks to keep people scrolling.
Your email’s preheader can support above-the-fold prominence, as well. This text is what appears after the subject line in an inbox. If left blank, the preheader automatically shows the first sentence in the email body. But you can customize it to show readers what to expect from an email. This can improve email open rates and prime readers to scan the whole message.
How you organize your content on a screen should not only hook readers’ interest but carry them beyond your catchy headline. The most successful email designs do this visually. The final look of your email will depend on the tone and vibe of your brand. Apple is famous for its bold use of white space, but this subtler approach isn’t for everyone.
Focus attention through spacing
Don’t deviate from your brand’s voice. However, what you should take away from Apple’s minimalist approach is how well empty space focuses attention.
Get playful with color, copy, and imagery — but follow Apple’s lead with a design that:
- Is neatly divided into organized sections
- Has a hierarchy of information that makes it easily scannable
- Breaks up ideas with graphics, headers, lines, and shapes
- Shows instead of tells whenever possible
It’s about balance in what you present. Everything in your layout should serve the email’s overall intention and make it simpler for readers to understand what that intention is.
Break up copy horizontally
Sometimes you have more to say — whether it’s updates on blog posts, product lineups, or other news. Divide copy-dense information horizontally, like Todoist does in the example below. This steers the reader down the page from one scannable snippet to the next.
Navigate with content blocks
Content blocks help compose thoughtful navigation and make it easier to draw a reader’s attention down the layers of your content cake.
With tools like Constant Contact’s email marketing platform, you can construct your customer map with block options like:
- Text content blocks you can design with customized fonts, colors, sizes, and more
- Image blocks you can optimize with filters, frames, and overlays
- Horizontal and vertical dividers that create the look you want
- Space blocks to buffer information and give the eyes a place to rest
You can use content blocks to direct readers to links off-page, as well. By doing this, you’re preventing the tendency to cram too much information into a single message. Try out:
- Customized, clickable buttons that encourage user action
- Social blocks to boost your following across social networks
- Video blocks that feature a clickable thumbnail to a full video uploaded elsewhere
- Read more blocks that enable you to showcase previews of longer-form content and invite readers to click onward to finish reading full pieces
Just don’t go overboard. Make sure that the types of content blocks you use in an email relate to the message’s main call to action (CTA). Too much variety can make your design look cluttered — and drown out what you’re trying to say.
Organize content with visual elements
Optimize the way your content blocks look so they can easily guide your audience.
The human eye tends to perceive similar-looking elements as parts of a complete story, even when this information is visually separated. Similar colors, shapes, and patterns give the information in your content blocks a logical flow.
If important points are scattered across a layout, visual consistency can link them together. It’s about making it as simple as possible for readers to jump from one thought to the next without confusing them.
Use color to highlight key points
Color also helps specific information stand out — whether you’re trying to highlight a promotion, a CTA, or a new product.
Make important content pop by:
- Changing a block’s background color without altering the theme of your template
- Creating borders or padding around images or text block
- Using a muted color scheme to focus attention with brighter tones
An effective CTA should inspire your reader to move toward a specific outcome. Yours should match the intent behind the email you’re sending — such as buying a product or reading your blog.
Including multiple CTAs in your layout is shown to increase conversions, but there’s a catch. Hick’s Law applies here. Offering too many options can confuse an email’s intention, making readers lose interest.
Emphasize your message with a CTA
A simple email design will favor your CTA’s success. If there are too many distracting visual elements, you’re competing with yourself for a customer’s attention.
Make your CTAs stand out
Consider the main action you want subscribers to take and make that your CTA conversion goal. This direct approach helps keep each message simple and direct.
CTAs that convert:
- Are visible and stand out among other elements
- Have a contrasting color to the rest of your email’s palette
- Use clear, direct language that makes the result of clicking obvious
- Create a sense of urgency
- Illustrate benefits that compel readers to click
Add context to compel readers to click
CTAs can also address your audience’s reservations or fears of missing out. Add extra motivation with CTAs that:
- Offer encouragement with a promotion
- Use scarcity incentives — like including the number of products or tickets available
- Explain discount timeframes to create a sense of urgency
- Provide social proof, like a recent review or number of products already sold
- Make assurances, like how no credit card is required to start a free trial
Use CTA content blocks
CTAs that work get your reader to engage. Action blocks support this goal even more by making the CTA interactive and helping them to stand out visually. CTAs like this direct readers’ attention and activity, cut down on aimless searching or clicking around.
Fuel better engagement with Constant Contact’s action blocks that:
- Showcase items from your Shopify store
- Pull details from Eventbrite listings into your email
- Create an RSVP request that users can forward to friends who aren’t on your contact list
- Generate engagement with a poll
- Collect donations
- Award customer coupons — with flexible options like a minimum purchase requirement, expiration date, or other restrictions you want to apply
Limit each email to one or two distinct action blocks that reflect the main message. Including too many can confuse readers and complicate the point you’re trying to make.
Direct attention with color
Even a well-structured email can look disorganized or cluttered without attention to its color scheme. Email campaigns often use signature colors tied to the brand they represent to establish a consistent tone and voice.
But how you use color should voice your email’s intent. Our brains are hard-wired to trigger reactions based on different colors. Using these psychological cues can support your message.
Choose a color scheme that fits your brand
The color scheme you use works to set an email’s tone. Because people’s eyes are drawn to what’s most visually prominent, you can use specific hues to make important information jump off the page.
Get strategic with simple palettes like:
- An achromatic color scheme using black, white, and greys with a burst of another color to focus attention
- A monochromatic color scheme based on one main color together with variations of that primary tone
- An analogous color scheme using hues that are next to each other on the color wheel, like green CTAs on a blue backdrop
- Complementary and triadic color schemes that create a highly contrasting effect with two or three colors from opposite sides of the color wheel
Use color to hook a reader’s emotion
The color schemes above open up a lot of flexibility to use hues based on the feelings you’re trying to convey. You can also use them to decorate your email to convey seasonal and holiday moods.
Speak to your readers’ emotions with effects like:
- Red’s energizing, quick-to-attention impact
- Orange’s warmth and motivation
- Yellow’s cheerfulness and inspiration
- Green’s signals of growth, nature, and health
- Blue’s calming trust and dependability
- Purple’s imagination, intrigue, and luxury
- Pink’s romance and nurturing sensitivity
- Black’s sophistication and independence
Experiment with visuals
Imagery isn’t limited to photographs. Patterns, icons, infographics, and typographic designs offer a wide range of visuals — which can help organize, simplify, and clarify your message.
You can mix it up with animated images, too. While using a GIF in an email doesn’t necessarily improve the user experience, it does grab attention and add a bit of fun to your message.
Visuals help organize elements in your email design and grab attention. With a bit of creativity, images and animations can also serve as CTA enhancements.
Interact with readers through design elements that tease at their interests. Some of these features do require a knowledge of custom coding languages like HTML, but their “wow” effect can net you more conversions.
Create urgency with a countdown timer
In this example from Casper, the countdown timer is a more powerful CTA than any standard “buy now” button, creating a heightened sense of urgency for the customer to act.
Add an interactive CTA
Bose takes the classic scratch-off discount coupon and makes it digital, hitting the one-two punch of visual appeal and a highly motivating CTA.
Other interactive features aren’t CTAs on their own but work to amplify interest and raise click appeal.
Hang onto attention with:
- Flipping effects that you can apply to any email element, like a product photo that reveals more information when a user hovers over the image
- Rollover effects that let customers see more details and angles of products you’re showcasing
It’s easy to get carried away with these playful design elements. Make sure that your CTA stands out as Bose’s does above — by using a simple layout with plenty of white space, ample margins, and scannable organization.
Appeal to your readers’ curiosity
Static imagery can be just as powerful for building intrigue. In this example, Birchbox deliberately leaves out any product mentions or photos, which lures in their customers’ curiosity.
Your footer is where subscribers look for details about your brand, learn how to contact you, and manage their email preferences. It gives you the space to promote brand transparency and access while bringing your email design full circle.
Include useful information in your footer
Like the rest of your email layout, only include information that adds value to the reader. Common footer features customers look for include:
- A physical address for your business
- An easy way to unsubscribe to build trust, prevent spam complaints, and comply with opt-out regulations set by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission
- Contact information — such as a link back to your site, email address, or phone number
- Social media buttons to encourage subscribers to follow you or social share your content
Depending on your email campaign, you may want to include additional elements, like a:
- Forward-to-a-friend option
- Link to your preference center for subscribers to update options
- Short reminder explaining why they are receiving your messages
- List of details and restrictions about an offer presented in the email
- Branded sign off including details like an inspirational quote
Keep your footer design consistent
Use hierarchy to organize information so that your readers can zero in on exactly what they’re looking for. Stay true to your layout’s look and feel — like Headspace does in the example below — to ensure that the final design is cohesive.
Style your footer to match your design with:
- Clear headers and labels
- Icons to break up the text
- A background that’s complementary to your color scheme
- Padding to separate sections
With the right tools, you don’t have to start from scratch
For something that’s most effective when simplified, developing email designs that convert can get complicated — but it doesn’t have to be that way.
With Constant Contact’s email marketing platform, you can kick off your next email campaign with ready-made templates that hit all the marks. This gets your design halfway out the door before you’ve even started writing your message.
From personalization tools to drag-and-drop content blocks, email automation, and contact segmentation, you’ve got all the easy customization elements you need to forge real connections with your customers.
Get in touch to learn more about how email marketing can work for you with design tools that give a voice to your brand — or try it out for yourself.