Email marketing: 7 design & copy secrets to boost engagement

Email marketing is one of the strongest methods of customer engagement. Part 3 of this 4-part series shows how small design and copy changes can have a big impact on your open and click-through rates.

You’ve learned how to grow your subscriber base and entertain readers with awesome content. Now I’m going to help you polish your mailings with design and copy best practices. The goal is to improve your open and click-through rates, and ultimately boost your bookings.

1) Keep your subject lines short and snappy. Consider this: half1 of your subscribers will decide whether to open your email based on the subject line alone. Subject lines with 30 or fewer characters perform above average2 in opens, and even shorter subject lines - 10 characters or less - showed the highest open rate.3

It’s okay if you need more than 10 characters to sum up an email, but know that brevity is your friend. Be direct. Avoid jargon, vagueness and overly promotional messaging. Also, know that words like "free", "offer”, and "money", as well as excessive exclamation marks, misspelled words and subject lines written in all caps could land you in the spam folder.

2) Don’t neglect the “from” line. The "from” line is the field that tells your recipients who sent the message. To spark instant recognition, use your property or brand name here, not the name of an employee or, even worse, an email address. A subscriber will remember the wonderful time he or she had at Smith Hotels, but may mark an email from John Smith or John@SmithHotels.com as spam.

3) Embrace the preheader. The preheader is located above the headline in your email body. Use it to expand on your subject line and further entice the reader to open your message because most email providers show the first few lines of the email’s text in the inbox preview. The preheader allows you to control exactly what appears in this space, without altering your message. Sum up your message in 100 characters or less. Sell your email, don’t waste this space on generic wording like “having trouble viewing this email?” or “add us to your list”.

4) Have a clear call to action. This is the most important part of your note. What is the one thing you want the reader to do? Book now? Like your hotel on Facebook? Make sure your copy, images and design all support the call to action.

5) Use clear, consistent design. With just a glance a reader should know which information is the most important in your message. Use a strong headline and make subheads smaller and less prominent. Legal information and links for managing preferences should be small but legible. If your message is long, use subheads to break the copy into easy-to-scan chunks of no more than three lines per paragraph.

6) Don’t rely on images. Most email clients block images until readers allow them from a specific sender. Rely solely on images and you risk losing readers who have no patience for a message full of grey empty squares, or worse, you’ll land in the spam folder. Many spam filters are on the lookout for messages composed only of images. While I strongly recommend using vibrant imagery in your emails, be sure to also include HTML headlines, copy and captions.

7) Use bulletproof buttons. Bulletproof buttons are graphical calls to action (like “book now” or “learn more”) that are created from HTML rather than an embedded image. Because they’re part of the message’s code they appear even when readers haven’t enabled images to appear automatically.

Bonus tip: Test before you hit send. Create a list of employees or trusted friends to review each email before sending it to subscribers. Be sure your test list includes all the popular email clients, including Gmail, Outlook and Yahoo. And don’t neglect the mobile preview. Almost half4 of all emails are read on mobile devices. Make sure your message is legible on smartphones and tablets.


  • 1. http://blog.cmbinfo.com/in-the-news-content-/bid/76542/Brand-and-Subject-Lines-Fuel-Email-Opens-Clutter-Drives-Users-Away
  • 2. http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/33901/The-Ultimate-List-of-2012-Email-Marketing-Stats.aspx
  • 3. http://www.informz.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/Content/2012_Association_Email_Marketing_Benchmark_Report.pdf
  • 4. http://blogs.constantcontact.com/fresh-insights/email-on-mobile/

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Helen Anne Travis

Helen Anne Travis

Travel Blogger

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Last Updated: November 13, 2013