How to Create Marketing Emails Both Readers AND Inboxes Love

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Corey Wainwright
Corey Wainwright



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As an email marketer, does it ever feel like it's impossible to make your readers and their inboxes happy?

There are so many different factors to consider -- subject line, optimization, alt text, unsubscribe options, message copy, design -- it seems like almost every email is going to get sent with at least one fatal error.

But if you have a visual checklist to remind you what to do (and what not to do) when crafting your email, it's easy to always do a quick reality check before hitting 'send.'

If you're unsure whether your emails are up to snuff for your recipients and their inboxes, reference this visual guide to creating an inbox- and reader-friendly email, complete with explanations for why all of these factors matter so much for your deliverability, open, and click-through rates.

What an Inbox-Friendly Email Looks Like

good email marketing layout


Why These Elements Work

1) Short Subject Line: Under 70 characters, to be exact. This is critical so it displays clearly in inboxes without getting cut off. And if you want your subject line to appear fully on mobile devices, you have to get even shorter -- best practices recommend you aim for fewer than 20 characters.

2) Clear 'From' Field: Marketers are split on whether it's best to send email from a company name, a person's name, or both. And for good reason -- the results are different for everyone! In fact, you may find the results even differ based on list segment. Whichever way you choose, just be sure it's clear to the recipient who the heck you are so they don't get confused seeing your name in their inbox. That's a serious bummer for your open rates.

3) Real Reply-to Address: You know when you get a really wonderful, personal email from a company? The kind that makes you feel like they know you. The kind that makes you feel like you aren't part of a list? The kind where they're even asking you for your feedback on something? Those are awesome. So you hit the 'reply' button -- you know it's silly, but the email was so personal it just feels right -- and you see your message is going to Yeah, not good. Take the time to set up an email address that's actually functioning so your recipients don't feel like one in a million (and not in a good way).

4) Browser Version of the Email Is Offered: Emails don't always render the way they should in the inbox. We all know that. It doesn't mean your recipient doesn't want to see your email message in all its glory, though, especially your loyal recipients who know your content is typically fantastic. Give them (and yourself) a second chance by including the option for recipients to view your email in their web browser. With most ESPs (like HubSpot, which we used to create the email pictured above), it's as easy as selecting a checkbox to include this option as you're crafting your email.

5) Dynamic Tags Work: It's a little scary to include dynamic tags in email for fear they'll backfire. Greeting your recipient as "Hi [FIRSTNAME]" isn't really putting your best foot forward, after all. If you're using dynamic tags in your content, make sure your ESP has some safeguards in place to ensure that, if a field is left blank for a particular contact -- let's say I didn't provide my first name and (somehow) still got on this email list -- it's filled in with a default word or phrase that makes contextual sense.

6) Minimal Images With Relevant Alt Text: There's nothing like a little visual stimulation to break up the monotony of text. And the image included in this email is great because it's related to the subject of the email -- the email about downloading an ebook shows, well, the ebook. And you can't see it in this screenshot, but the alt text for the image is "download your complimentary ebook." So if that image doesn't render for some recipients, they know exactly what they're missing, and no meaning is lost. Learn more about optimizing your emails for HTML and plain text in this blog post.

7) Short Message With Short Chunks of Text: If you're trying to get someone to read a novel (or, ahem, an ebook) it's not wise to put all that copy in the email message itself. People have an inbox full of other messages to get to; if they want to read more from you, they'll click through and read it later. You know, after they've finished clearing out their inbox. But to make their experience reading the little copy you do have in your email better, make sure you break up chunks of text like you see in the screenshot above so it doesn't become overwhelming for the recipient. If your message looks like it has a ton of copy -- even if it doesn't -- readers won't make it far enough through your email to actually convert on your call-to-action.

8) Fonts and Colors Remain Simple: This email doesn't overwhelm the reader with too many fonts and colors, and the ones that are used are very compatible. Much like a ton of copy looks visually overwhelming to email recipients, opening an email with clashing colors and six different fonts is just too much to handle. Try to stick to three complementary colors, and two to three fonts of similar size for a smooth reader experience.

9) Clear Call-to-Action: Readers may not be thinking, "Gee, I wonder where the call-to-action in this email is located?" Well, unless they're marketers. But they are thinking, "What am I supposed to do with this?" Make it easy for readers to figure out what their next action is. This email makes the CTA big, bold, and blue -- it's the biggest thing in the email, in fact, except for perhaps the image. Oh, but that image also leads to the same landing page as the big blue text. See how that works? ;-)

10) Social Sharing Made Easy: Did you know that, according to Econsultancy, emails that include just one social sharing button have 30% higher click-through rates than those without social sharing options? Did you know that when you offer three or more, that 30% higher click-through rate jumps to 55%? Make your recipients' lives easier and your marketing more effective by making social sharing of your email content easy with the inclusion of those social sharing buttons!

11) Physical Address: You could make the case that the inclusion of a physical address in your email message helps the reader. Hey! Now they know you're a real company! But it's pretty unlikely readers actually scroll down to that little tiny text in the footer of your email. This is purely to keep you compliant with CAN-SPAM laws. Just make inclusion of your company's physical address in every single email part of your routine -- in fact, you can just craft email templates with this so everyone who sends email for your company is covered.

12) Straightforward Unsubscribe Option: Nothing is more frustrating than trying to unsubscribe from an email and being unable to find the option. Don't use weird language like "Alter your preference for communication." Just use the word we're all looking for, "Unsubscribe" and include it in the footer of your email. If you make the process easy on recipients, you won't suffer retaliation -- like being marked as SPAM -- when the recipient can't quickly opt out of your emails.

What else makes email marketing great for inboxes and readers alike?

Image credit: Lel4nd

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