When people talk about “design” for emails they usually talk about heavily styled newsletters with images, banners, icons, and basically, the type of emails templates that you can buy for a few dollars.
This type of email is consistently outperformed by “plain text” or “plain-text style” html emails that are simple text content.
The reason over-designed emails suck is not that end readers don’t take well to this kind of email, but rather that the focus of the person creating the email has shifted from “message” to “oooooh, shiny”.
The goal of any email you send should be to elicit a very specific response, i.e. to click through to whatever the email is about. Not, “look at how much effort went into the shiny”.
There are some companies using email very, very well. The vast majority do not.
When you distill it down, there are really three kinds of email that you’ll send to prospects.
- Type A: Emails to get people to buy things
- Type B: Emails to get people to click through to the next stage
- Type C: General newsletters to collect psychographic data
We’ll start with Squarespace, and type A (’cause that’s all we really care about).
This is the best designed email I’ve ever seen. Let’s see why:
- The headline provides a clear reason to keep reading.
- The sub-headlines provide key information for a scanning eye to focus on.
- The body text is broken up into short, easy to read paragraphs.
- It has a clear call to action.
- It provides two kinds of resolution – the obvious “upgrade” option, or the less obvious “extend the trial” option to catch those who aren’t quite ready to hand over cash.
- Even the layout of the paragraphs has been designed to draw the eye down to the CTA.
Helpscout are superb at getting that clickthrough.
- There’s a clear headline, to give a reason to keep reading.
- There’s an icon which certainly puts this email squarely into the “designed” category, and far from switching off the reader, should they click through to the article they’ll see the exact same image and title, providing a consistent experience for the reader, creating trust.
- There’s the short expander paragraph to support the headline, and reinforce the reason to keep reading.
- There’s a clear CTA.
Simple, yet incredibly effective at eliciting the clickthrough.
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Medium (& Exposure)
Last but not least, type C, the shitty newsletter. Eugh.
Before we go in to our two examples, let’s talk briefly about newsletters. Newsletters are for presenting general content when you don’t know much about your subscribers, in order to learn something about them. You should be tracking link clicks to collect data about which subjects your subscribers are interested in, and what prompts them to click through (i.e. image vs. hotlink title).
Newsletters & other broadcast emails DO NOT convert sales.
The best newsletter/digest type emails that land in my inbox are by Medium.
- There’s the super-obvious main feature.
- There’s also a related headline with an expander paragraph to encourage you to click through to the full content.
- There’re the non-featured articles, in case you weren’t intrigued by the feature.
- They come with a related image, a headline, and an expander paragraph, all of which hotlink to the content.
- The articles are also backed up with a CTA at the bottom, for anyone who gets that far.
- All the suggestions are based on reading history and the publications you follow, so it’s guaranteed to be relevant.
However, here’s a link to a live newsletter that doesn’t get it quite right.
The images are good, but the font is too small.
The paragraph after the header, i.e. the reinforcing statement, is way too small; so small in fact that it’s hard to read and as a result easy to skim over.
The images are too big, so for the most part the paragraph about the article it links to is below the fold, and it’s not clear which image relates to which paragraph.
But it is very pretty…
Email design is more than just “looks good”.
The bundled emails linked to at the top are shite. They’re trying to turn emails into landing pages, which is not what emails are for.
Emails should be short, direct, and intended to elicit a specific response. They should be clear, relevant and timely.
None of this has anything to do with how it looks, and fancy email builders distract people from the core purpose of email communication, which is why they’re out performed by plaintext.
Whenever you’re writing emails to your list, go through the following:
- Is the individual I’m sending this to actually going to be interested?
- Is it clear to them what I want them to do?
- Have I provided a clear, easy way for them to achieve this goal?
- Is this message relevant?
- Is it timely?
Once you ticked these off as a bare minimum, your email is ready to be sent. Always remember: it’s the content that converts.