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Make These 6 changes to Improve Your Email Click-Through Rates

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

According to industry trends, you have about 3 seconds to capture your customer’s attention in an email… provided they even open it in the first place.

Email open rates vary by industry, however the average open rate on an email is between 17 – 20%. If you do manage to capture your subscribers’ attention within those first few seconds, the average time spent reading an email is a whopping 13.4 seconds, according to Litmus.

That’s not a lot of time to capture their attention, get your message across, and encourage them to take action.

So say you have done all the right things… you’ve followed industry best practices and everyone on your email list has double opted in… your subject line is flawless… the marketing gods have whispered in the ears of your subscribers to nudge them to click that unread email… and then it’s go-time! You have your 3 sweet seconds to wow them into a scroll. Fingers crossed that scroll isn’t heading straight for that unsubscribe button.

So as you can see, there is a lot of marketing magic (*ahem* marketing science) that goes into getting your customers’ attention. We’ve got them this far and we can’t drop the ball now.

This is where the next big focus needs to be – ensuring that we have optimized our email design.

Poor email design can make or break your email campaign and hurt your company’s reputation. Nobody wants to read a cluttered, disjointed, poorly organized email.

Whether you’re building an email in HTML or using drag and drop content editors, there are many factors that should be considered that are both unique and common to both of these options. Emails need to be both visually appealing and functional. Sometimes this can be a tough balancing act.

Today we are going to break down some of our top tips to make sure you’re successful at designing an email that is both functional and visually appealing so that you can nurture and move your clients successfully through your funnel.

Tip #1: Create Scannable Content

Given that the amount of time we have to capture the attention of our prospects is measured in seconds, it’s important to be clear and concise in your messaging.

Ensuring that you are only including the most important aspects of your message will decrease chances that your email will be overlooked. This is why it’s extremely important to create scannable content.

Getting into the nitty gritty of your message can be done elsewhere such as on your landing page, podcast, webinar or wherever you want your subscriber to eventually end up. People are inundated with emails and it’s also our responsibility to respect them by valuing their time and giving them only the key information we absolutely want them to know.

According to Hubspot, the ideal length of an email is between 50 – 125 words. Emails of this length had a response rate above 50%. A similar study found that emails with less than 200 words had the highest click through rates.

We don’t want the subscriber to feel like they need to put in too much effort to read an email. We need to trim the fat and spoon feed them only the most important messages.


Remember these tips when designing your email:

  • Put the most pertinent information up front so your main message doesn’t end up getting missed or lost

  • Consider hiring a professional copywriter specializing in emails to ensure that the copy is enticing, concise and attention grabbing

  • Use bullet points when possible to ensure the information is easily extractable

  • Keep your emails under 200 words


Tip #2: Carefully choose your layout

The optimal layout of your email will depend on the content of your email and your subscriber base. It’s important to consistently track and analyze your email performance and do A/B testing to truly begin to grasp the preferences of your subscriber base.

That being said, when designing your emails, it’s important to strategically consider your layout. An effective layout is one that visually grabs the readers attention and guides them through the sequence of information you would like them to consume.

One effective option is the inverted pyramid layout. This layout typically includes a nice header image, followed by the body copy and then the tip of the pyramid is the call to action button (more on CTA buttons below.)

If you have lots of information or multiple products, a zig-zag layout can be a great option. This can be achieved through using colour blocking techniques or flipping image/copy placement for each content block in your email. This can be less ideal for mobile-friendly viewing so I recommend that you always test for mobile legibility.

Another layout option is a simple one-column layout. This is a great option if you are able to see that the majority of your subscribers are opening your emails on mobile. This is the simplest and most effective layout option for mobile emails and is easily adaptable to desktop viewing. This option makes it appealing for it’s simplicity as it makes it very clear what you want your reader to do next.


Email layout should take into consideration the following:

  • Where the majority of your readers are opening their emails

  • The type of content that you are sharing

  • The variety of information in your email (i.e. one main message vs multiple messages/product showcases)

  • Keep the design simple so it’s not overwhelming for the reader


Tip #3: Consider Dark Mode

This new “little” feature has had big impacts in the email design world and should most definitely be considered when planning your next deploy.

For instance, it’s important to take into consideration that if you are using a black logo or icon, this will be lost in the transition to dark mode. Although a black/dark logo looks great on a white or light coloured screen, we also need to take into account that it will be lost in dark mode. Making sure you are taking the necessary precautions such as ensuring there is padding around darker colored logos or icons will ensure that the integrity of the elements you are using stay in tact.

Tip #4: Easy on the images

Although many rightfully believe that images are favourable in email as a way to elicit attention and increase readership, there are also other factors that play into imagery use as well. Although images can increase user engagement, they can also be improperly used.

Consider images with text overlay. These are great as header images but don’t work as well within the content of your email. This brings us back to the dark mode factor mentioned above as images will stay the same colour and the HTML/text portions of the email will change colours. This can create an incohesive look to your email as there will be a blend of images and text randomly with no apparent cohesion of design.

Although we don’t want to create text-heavy emails, we also need to be careful not to overuse images. Image-only emails can look really slick, however, they also have their down side and can create a poor user experience.

Take the example of an email created entirely of one image that was created with text overlays. If loaded properly, images with text overlays can give you more control when it comes to font options and other branding element considerations, however this doesn’t necessarily always result in a positive user experience.

If your subscriber has their images turned off due to either their own personal preferences or if their email client has a default setting that has already done this, your entire message will be completely lost. This isn’t just a small subset of the population that you need to worry about when it comes to this issue – according to Litmus, their research shows that 43% of Gmail users have their images turned off.

Furthermore, consider that more people than ever these days are working remotely and may not have access to internet speeds that would enable the images to load fast enough. Taking into account the small window of time we have to capture their attention, if the email isn’t loading in a decent amount of time, expect that your abandon rate will be quite high.

We always need to take into account all types of readers and we should be considerate of having proper accessibility to our emails. If an email subscriber uses a screen reader to consume your content, you’ve essentially alienated them by not including live text. If you do use imagery, we would recommend that your emails include a balance of both imagery and live text.


Although it is tempting to gravitate towards image-heavy emails as they can be much more visually appealing, we recommend a balance to also ensure the functionality is accounted for as well. To recap, remember these tips:

  • Avoid images with text overlays other than in your header image

  • Consider how dark mode will affect your images and how they will display

  • Ensure your email has a balance of images and live text to have the best chances that all types of users will be able to consume your content


Tip #5: Start with the End in Mind - CTAs

It’s important to start with the end in mind before you begin to design your email.

What is the purpose of your email and what action would you like your subscribers to take? There should be a clear call to action and ideally there is only one within your email.

When designing your email, we recommend creating a button image for the CTA. This will give the reader a mental stimulus to bring their attention clearly to this action. Buttons are a clean and simple way to improve conversions. According to Campaign Monitor, using a button for your CTA improved click-through rates by 28% as opposed to a link-based CTA.

The wording we use for our CTAs plays an important role in their effectiveness as well. Make sure that you are using action-oriented copy to entice the user to click. Words such as “Start My Free Trail”, “Reserve My Spot”, “Access My Discount” will increase the likelihood of them taking action on your offer. Furthermore, A study conducted by Unbounce found that using the first person for CTAs (i.e. “Access My Offer” vs. “Access Your Offer”) had a 90% increase in clicks.

Similar to what we mentioned above, the most pertinent information of the email should be presented upfront. Make sure that your CTA is clearly presented above the fold. Although we recommend only one CTA for your email, placing your CTA in more than one location within your email can increase the likelihood of a user clicking through.


Consider these tips for creating effective CTAs:

  • Start with the end in mind – be clear on what your end goal is and make sure there is one main action you are asking customers to take.

  • Visual draw the user in with the use of a button image as opposed to a straight text link

  • Make the CTA text large and legible

  • Keep the text short and action-oriented

  • Use the first person

  • Create a sense of urgency with words such as “today only”, “limited time”, etc.

  • Use bright, contrasting colours for your button


Tip #6: Don’t forget mobile

This should go without saying, but if you are not considering how emails display on mobile devices, you could be missing a huge piece of the puzzle. According to Litmus, 42% of emails are being read on a mobile device. Other research has shown that this is as high as 68%!

When designing for mobile, make sure you consider the following:

  • Test how your email will display on a mobile device through various email providers

  • Keep your CTA clear and short. According to a recent MIT study, the average size of an adult index finger is between 1.6cm and 2cm which translates to between 45 X 45px and 57 X 57px on a mobile device. Make sure that there is enough space for the CTA to be properly clicked on a mobile device

  • Mobile opens make it more important than ever to be clear, clean and succinct with your text

  • Consider using at least 16px size for body copy to ensure it’s easily legible on mobile


There you have it! 6 things you can do to improve your email design before it goes out the door. Because let's face it - email is a fantastic tool and it's worth it to get it right.

Need a little more help? I can help you through this entire process and provide a customized solution for your unique business needs from planning all the way through to deployment or anything in between. Get in touch!

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