How to Design Emails that Get Engagement

How to Design Emails that Get Engagement

The perfect email: Like a leprechaun, dragon, or unicorn, everyone’s heard of it, but no one can say exactly what it looks like. We may never create the perfect specimen, but there are industry best practices that can make your emails more successful and drive engagement.

First: What is Engagement?

Engagement – it might be the most-used term in marketing. It’s what we’re trying to do: drive engagement. But to accomplish what? This is the question that needs to be answered when designing emails as part of an overall campaign. If you’re sending webinar invitations, offering a whitepaper download, or simply want to tell your customers about a product or service, you need the recipient of that email to understand what you want them to do – and to do it!

Email engagement is a measurement of two activities: opens and clicks. Both are important and should be considered when designing your emails. Opens are generated when a recipient downloads images, specifically the tracking pixel in the email. A strong subject line that tells what’s to come (in 40 characters or less) will encourage not only opens, but further reading and clickthroughs. Make it relevant, personal, and short.

The Clickthrough is the bread and butter of email marketing. It’s what email design should encourage and is what we look at when defining success metrics for an email campaign. Every email should have a clickable call-to-action so the reader can continue the journey that you have begun. Even informational emails should contain an element that drives engagement and can be measured.

Best Practices

Understand your audience.

Knowing who your customers are, what is important to them, and how they interact with email will help you to build a stronger email strategy over time. Industry standards and best practices are there to guide you, as is the information provided here, but ultimately, testing email design with your audience is just as important as testing subject lines and timing. Examples of tests to try:

  • Button placement
    • Above and below the fold
    • In the hero graphic
  • Textual Links vs. Text vs Button Links
  • Feature boxes
    • Highlighting important copy or your main call-to-action with secondary colors and/or a button.Feature Box
  • Colors

Code for thought:
Like ’90s fashion, anchor links are making a comeback. For example, newsletter emails can be one of the most difficult emails to design. There is a lot to tell in a small amount of real estate. Anchor links can help the reader navigate to content that interests them without scrolling, avoiding fatigue.


We all think what we have to say is super important and that anyone who receives our emails will want to sit down and enjoy with a cup of tea in front of the fire. But the reality is your audience’s attention span is about 13.4 seconds. The good news? This is an increase of almost 29 percent over the past 7 years! (Litmus, The State of Email Engagement, 2019)

Make it easy for your readers. Create copy that is succinct, provoking, and just enough to entice them to learn more, register, or whatever the call-to-action is for your email. Design your email so the copy doesn’t push the call-to-action below the fold, out of the view of the browser window or phone screen without scrolling. It can be challenging, but it will be worth it in the end.


Ah, the call-to-action. An email without a call-to-action is like sending direct mail. There isn’t a good way to measure success or understand whether the email resonated with your audience. Even if your email only needs to convey information, include a brief introduction in the message and link to a landing page where the rest of the information is hosted. From there, you can further engage your audience through associated content or links to your company website.

The call-to-action should be visible and clear, either through textual links or buttons. Most important, there should be one clear call-to-action in your email. Think about it like a restaurant with a massive menu. Everything looks so delicious that you don’t know what to order. You don’t want to overwhelm your audience. Help them understand what they should do with your email by making it crystal clear. Having multiple links within an email is OK, but they should all point to the same place. This will help in measuring success as well.

Designing Engaging Emails - Image 2

Optimizing for email clients

When building emails, testing your design across different email clients is important. Emails render differently in Gmail then they do in Outlook, so it is important to use elements that are “bulletproof” and will work well across the majority of email clients. For example, animated GIFs, background images, and some coded buttons do not render well in Outlook.

Today, many of us consume email on mobile devices. Although this varies from industry to industry, it’s best practice to optimize your emails for mobile. Responsive designs with calls-to-action that are easy to click are key.

Deliverability and Images

You’ve designed and sent a beautiful email, but it doesn’t reach as many inboxes as you would have hoped, or clickthroughs are low. What went wrong?

The number and size of Images in your email can affect deliverability and open rates. Images help tell your story and make your emails look pretty. But there are some best practices to keep in mind to increase deliverability and engagement.

  • Keep the number of images in your email to a minimum (2-3). Image download time can affect deliverability. Interested in learning more about email deliverability? Check out our ebook.
  • Use alt text behind any images that have important data or calls-to-action in case the reader has their images turned off.
  • Don’t use a flat image, such as a jpg or png, for call-to-action buttons. Buttons should be hard-coded in your emails so that even if images are turned off, the reader will see them as you intended.

Industry trends, audience preferences, and email clients are constantly changing. Remember to keep testing and making adjustments. You never know – you might find that unicorn email after all.

By | 2019-07-22T13:24:41+00:00 July 22nd, 2019|Design, Email Marketing|0 Comments

About the Author:

Jen is a Senior Marketing Cloud Consultant with over 7 years of digital marketing experience specializing in Integrated and Email Marketing on both the client and vendor sides and an MBA with a focus on Social Media Marketing. Born and raised on the Jersey Shore, she spends time traveling, exploring local shops and restaurants, and indulging in super hero movies.

Thank you for subscribing!
Subscribe to our Thought Leadership Today