December 16, 2019

5 Email Design Best Practices for 2020

Reading time about 10 min

To help you plan for 2020 email marketing success, we’ve put together a list of our favourite email design best practices to increase opens, drive more conversions, and secure more customers for your business.

Research shows that in 2019, roughly 294 billion emails were sent worldwide every day. That figure is expected to reach 347 billion by 2023.

Yet many of these emails remain unread, or worse still – unopened. They get marked as spam, deleted, or completely ignored.

That’s why a well-designed, attractive email is essential to drive consumption and engagement. From the moment an email appears in your reader’s inbox, you want them to feel compelled to click through, at just a glance. Beautifully designed and informative emails result in greater ROI and fewer unsubscribers. 

Here are our top email design tips for 2020 and beyond:

1. Email design best practice begins in the inbox

First impressions count for a lot in the world of marketing, and your emails are no exception. 

You can spend all the time in the world crafting compelling email copy, but if your envelope content doesn’t hit the mark it’s unlikely that your target audience will click through.

Your envelope content consists of three key elements: sender name, subject line and preheader.


Sender name

We’re counting sender name as an element of email design. It’s a hugely influential factor when it comes to open rates – it’s arguably even more important than your subject line. Why? Because it’s inextricably linked to trust.

The first subconscious question readers consider when scanning their inbox is ‘Is this genuine?’ Your contacts generally look at the sender name first to determine whether the email is spam. 

The best way to reinforce trustworthiness and brand recognition is to incorporate your brand name into your sender name. 

This could mean opting for your company name on its own, or personalising it with an employee’s first name, for example, ‘Sarah at Sendinblue’. Including a name can be an effective way to engage your readers on a more personal level.

Many larger companies use a distinct sender name to differentiate departments, products, services, or types of emails to reveal key information about the message itself, for example, ‘Sendinblue News’ or ‘Sendinblue Automation.’

The most important thing is to make sure your sender name displays a real name, whether it be the company’s name or an employee’s name – not just an email address.

Subject line

Aim to make your subject line relatively short (to avoid being truncated) but as informative as possible to capture your reader’s attention. This means highlighting the most important information that you want to communicate upfront. Users tend to only take a glance at the subject line, so you need to grab their attention with the first few words!

Based on the character limits set by various email providers and a large mobile audience, aim to limit your email subject line to 50 characters or less.

TIP: Don’t overdo it with excessive capitalisation, special characters, or punctuation. Not only will this kind of messaging compromise your reputation, but your email could also end up being classified as spam.

Email subject line A/B testing is a handy Sendinblue feature that can help you drastically improve your email open rates. This is your chance to entice your prospect to click, so don’t waste it!

Preheader text

Preheader text is the short snippet of text that immediately follows the subject line when viewing an email in an inbox. Preheaders can add valuable context to your subject line and significantly boost your open rates.

Your subject line and preheader text should work together to start telling your reader a story. If you don’t customize it, it will read as the text that first appears in your email, which could be ‘View this email in your browser‘. Now that wouldn’t give a great first impression, would it? Get customizing!

Further reading: 5 Simple Answers to Email Preview Text FAQs

2. Design your emails using visual hierarchy

We tend to follow predictable paths based on natural tendencies when we explore content. Visual hierarchy is a powerful email design best practice that marketers can use in emails to exploit these tendencies.

Employing visual hierarchy not only allows your email content to be scanned and understood easily, but it also helps to direct your reader to the most important elements of your email. 

There are many methods to consider, such as the Z pattern:

Email example from Truecaller with arrows indicated the Z pattern of content

Z-patterned visual hierarchy (Source)

Or the inverted pyramid:

Inverted pyramid visual hierarchy (Source)

Whichever layout you opt for, your content should be arranged to tell a story that guides your reader toward the action that you want them to take. Email design aspects such as placement, size, colour, contrast, and fonts all play an important role in establishing visual hierarchy.

Your logo should be one of the first things your reader sees to establish a sense of trust and brand awareness. Our next email and newsletter design tip would be to add some hero content (this can be visual or text) that outlines the most important information and the purpose of the email. Together these should tell the reader everything they need to know and entice them to read on.

Here are some important factors to consider when mapping out your content: 

  • People tend to place a higher value on objects that are larger, so consider displaying the most important information as larger elements, in bigger fonts, or in heavier weights.
  • Elements higher up on the page are perceived as more important, so start your email with the most important information.
  • Contrast is key, especially for readers who are scanning your email. Important elements, like your call-to-action, should generally contrast with the rest of the email. 
  • Separating sections with white space allows the reader to understand where one element ends and the next begins. This helps to communicate information in a clear, organised, and attractive way.

NOTE Great visual hierarchy is also vital for accessibility. It’s important to make your email easily readable for all contacts, including those who are visually impaired.

3. Use interactive content in your email design

Interactive email design is a powerful way to boost engagement by enabling readers to interact with content without ever leaving your email. 

Interactive elements create a sort of gaming experience within the email that not only reduces barriers to engagement, but also provides a better user experience as readers can interact with content without the need to follow links or click through to your site. This is key to generate high intent clicks within your email.

Look at this example of an embedded survey in an email from Bellroy:

This means designing your email as a microsite within your readers’ inbox. Here are some exciting interactive email elements to consider in 2020: 

  • Animated buttons and call-to-actions
  • Hamburger menus and search options
  • Product carousels
  • Rollover effects to showcase products and offerings
  • Offer reveals
  • Accordion features to make your emails more compact
  • Add-to-cart functionality
  • Polls, surveys, and user-generated interactive content

Of course, you’re going to need skills in HTML and CSS to be able embed such interactive content into your emails using an email editor.

NOTE When you design interactive elements, keep in mind that not all email clients may display them correctly. You may need to create segments for email clients to ensure optimal user experience.

4. Feature user-generated content in your email design

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer Report revealed that only one-third of consumers trust most of the brands they use.

More often than not, people trust peer recommendations over brands. So why not let your customers have a say in your email content? 

Through skilful targeting and segmentation, marketers can streamline the UGC experience by delivering personalised content, like reviews or Instagram posts, based on subscriber interests and behaviour. 

Sprinkling relevant buyer endorsements across the email journey is a powerful method to drive conversions. Here’s an example of it in action:

User-generated email content (Source)

5. Get personal with dynamic content

As we move into 2020,  you can expect to hear less and less about B2B and B2C marketing and more about  H2H – human-to-human marketing.  

One of the biggest trends we’re seeing in email design is a move away from the one-to-many generic approach in favour of personalised one-to-one emails based on customer behaviour.

Advanced automation tactics such as lead scoring and segmentation mean content creation can be tailored to the individual like never before, resulting in the most dynamic, innovative, and relevant email design to date.

Effective personalisation goes far deeper than adding a first name. We’re talking about dynamically changing entire sections of content based on a user’s interests and behaviour, such as personalised product recommendations, offers, abandoned-cart emails, and customer surveys.

Personalized product recommendations (Source)

More and more, we’ll see email design centred around master templates that can be tailored with relevant content, resulting in beautiful emails which look and feel like personalised messages.

Put email design best practices to use with Sendinblue

Email design trends, like all others, will come and go. It’s easy to find yourself working on the latest shiny thing, only to discover it was another fleeting fad! 

That’s why it’s important to maintain focus on the end-user to keep your efforts centred on what matters most –  trust, personalisation, and effortless user experience will always lie at the heart of great email design. 

Sendinblue’s easy-to-use Drag & Drop email editor lets you create beautifully designed emails in no time at all. A free Sendinblue account gives you access to the editor, an extensive template gallery, and up to 9000 emails a month. Why not give it a try?

Design my next email with Sendinblue! >>

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