The Email Design Strategy That Gets 215% More Clicks

How do you know your emails are performing optimally? Are you happy with the amount of open and click-throughs you are getting?

Truth is, you won’t know if you’re getting the most you can out of your email marketing unless you do some tests. And you might find all you need is a new look that’s more appealing to your audience.

Such was the case for Michael Albany, a local photographer and one of our customers. He started to question the layout and look of his emails, and the change he came up with brought him incredible results. At that point, we decided we had to share his story and provide the tools you need to copy his test. Check it out…

Michael’s Story

Michael sends out a monthly newsletter for those interested in his services and photography in general.

Here’s a look at what they looked like prior to the change:

This design brought good results, but Michael had a feeling he could do better.

Time to Test

The photography business relies on images. With that in mind, Michael was able to make the safe assumption that his audience would like to see images in his emails. So now the question was how could he share his content and links while incorporating more images.

This made him think of Pinterest. The niche networking site is all about using images to share content – exactly what he’s trying to do. And so, the Pinterest-inspired email template was born:

Instead of text links to blog posts, Michael used clickable images to create a fun, image-ful way to interact with his emails.

So What Happened?

The new template payed off: Michael saw click-through rates increase by 215%. On top of that, his open rates are now averaging 100% higher than they were prior to the change.

Michael is continuing to use his new template, and his opens and click-throughs continue to climb.

His audience loved the changes.

Get His Look!

Loved the template he used and want to test something similar on your own campaign? The new message editor makes it easy to drag and drop images wherever you want in your message. Let us know what kind of results you get!


  1. Luis Chacon

    9/13/2012 8:33 am

    I read to some marketers that they prefer simple layout. How is yor experience aboout simple layouts or htmls layouts?

  2. Crystal Gouldey

    9/13/2012 12:43 pm

    Luis, I think it really depends on what industry you’re in. Photographers, artists and other image-based businesses probably find HTML layouts work best, like Michael found. I’m sure they’re not the only ones though. Simple, plain-text layouts can be in danger of looking spammy, since that’s the look a lot of spammers use.

    I encourage everyone to split test their emails to see what their audience responds most to.

  3. Sian Phillips

    9/13/2012 4:18 pm

    Wow that is a dramatic increase – and I agree the second one looks a lot better. Pinterest works well because of pictures so it makes sense that newsletters using pictures would too. Thanks for sharing on

  4. Michael

    9/13/2012 10:53 pm


    These are my news letters. My blast messages go out as plain text personalized to be a personal communication. What works best depends on what your message is for that email. Crystal is right, split test to see what works. But! Split test with all the different types of messages you send.

    Also I can say from experience no one makes it easier to split test that AWeber.

  5. Johnn Four

    9/14/2012 12:02 pm

    Nice template Michael. Love the simplicity and white space.

    A recent survey of my readers revealed they didn’t like my fixed width emails. On mobile devices, the fixed width caused bad line wraps and made my content harder to read.

    So I tested my own newsletter out on my iPad and iPhone (why didn’t I think of doing that before?) and saw the problem. Now I avoid sending fixed width emails.

    Just a callout to find out how your readers read your emails and to design accordingly.

  6. KJ

    9/14/2012 12:25 pm

    That’s a really good idea! It seems obvious to use pictures, but the layout is so important. I can see with Pinterest’s popularity that people would like to see photos arranged like that.

  7. Meg Collins

    9/14/2012 1:54 pm

    I would generally agree that images are always better except in the case of email.

    It’s my experience that few people have their email set up to display images, so instead what you get is an awkward blank screen full of ALT text and empty spaces that say “right click to download”. Any idea what percentage of people do end up seeing the images by default?

  8. Daphne Dangerlove

    9/14/2012 2:28 pm

    I would love to use images in emails but there are so many that require the recipient to enable images manually. I could see how this would work for a photographer, but I just think having emails that arrive with all those blank boxes looks terrible.

    Right now, I’m using the html without pictures so at least it looks nice without the reader having to enable images. I do love the new message editor though! I get through writing so much faster!

  9. Haroun Kola

    9/14/2012 2:36 pm

    We’re such visual beings that it’s no wonder that pictures draw our attention and make us more likely to be interested enough to take action…

  10. Big Jason

    9/14/2012 2:40 pm

    hey meg,

    that is only true if you send a crappy email that is primarily image-based without much text. This example here is a hybrid of text and images.

    and just because many email programs are set with images off by default, doesn’t mean you can’t give your readers a good reason to turn on images.

    using a hybrid of text and images “can” work (and work much better than just text) in many different niches including make money online, etc. (I’ve tested it).



  11. Crystal Gouldey

    9/14/2012 2:52 pm

    Meg and Daphne – Jason has a good point when he said it “doesn’t mean you can’t give your readers a good reason to turn on images.” I know when I receive an email from a company I know and love, the first thing I do is turn on images.

    It’s also good to include a link to a web-based version of your email at the very top, in case people would rather view it there.

  12. daphne dangerlove

    9/14/2012 3:04 pm

    I’m communicating primarily with writers. I do like the option of including an online version of the email. Things are always more interesting with images in them.

    I think I might consider trying images in my email sequence and then leave them out of more time sensitive ones. I just feel wary of sending an email with an empty box in it. I suppose I could also ask my subscribers how they feel!

  13. Michael

    9/14/2012 4:05 pm


    If the viewer is using MS outlook that will be the case, blank squares saying “Right Click to view images” but most other email clients automatically get the images when the approve HTML emails. And like Crystal says, enabling a web version is a good plain because there are those that do get the plain text version.


  14. haryanto cahyono

    9/15/2012 4:00 am

    We’re such visual beings that it’s no wonder that pictures draw our attention and make us more likely to be interested enough to take action!

  15. Alden Jones

    9/17/2012 1:39 am

    That was a great message transition! Of course, since Michael takes photos for a living, he needs to show it off (even at least only a few) to his existing and would-be clients. Email marketing has the power to create this transition, which can eventually lead to sales or relationship. Both are essential to be built!

  16. Andrew Woo

    9/17/2012 8:34 am

    If you’re on the fence about using images, how about trying an A/B test?

    My fiance is also a photographer and always uses images. She experiences open rates in the 90%

  17. sabbir

    9/18/2012 3:09 pm

    I prefer simple layout. great article I will try, also with my new technique for 250% clicks . 215 your and 35 % from my tricks

  18. Raederle

    9/23/2012 3:58 pm

    I would love to see survey results seeing what people say. Do they prefer plain text or newsletters with graphics? My personal inclination for e-mail is plain text, but I LOVE images on websites. I just don’t like the fuss of enabling images in e-mail. But how do MOST people feel?

  19. Crystal Gouldey

    9/24/2012 1:19 pm

    Raederie – That’s tricky because it really depends on each business’ audience. Subscribers following a photographer will expect images, but subscribers to a company in a different industry may not. It makes it hard to survey.

    Email Marketing Reports talks about this, and they say: “Fact is, image-heavy emails – in the right circumstances with the right execution – can outperform the alternatives.” You can read the full article here.

  20. Michael

    9/24/2012 2:41 pm

    Raederie – One thing to consider is to send plain text and create a blog post or HTML version that is out there. Then just ask your audience to view the graphic version. Now you have to have some good copy to entice them but it is an alternative.

  21. Jordy

    10/4/2012 3:10 pm

    This is an excellent post. I am going to learn how to create the same sort of design. I generally send simple text emails out to announce when a new article is posted. Only about 15% of my subscribers actually click the link to the article. Thanks for sharing, this is valuable information.

  22. Anna@Green Talk

    10/4/2012 8:14 pm

    I love his layout and wish it could be an automatic option for email rather than a manual one. Treehugger sends out their email newsletter this way and you can scan what you want.

    Crystal, is this an automatic option for those of us who blog alot?

  23. Crystal Gouldey

    10/5/2012 7:25 am

    Anna – What you’d have to do now is create the layout you want and then save that email as a template. You can then go back in, select that template, and replace images and text for the next email.

  24. cynthia ann leighton

    10/7/2012 11:00 pm

    Wonderful! Thanks for sharing Michael’s story. Showing exactly (including the pictures) is helpful for me. I’ve been focusing on overcoming a lot of health issues while rebuilding my life and business, so I chose to put the design issues aside ’til I get product and services in place.

    When I’m ready (soon!) will be back at this blog to show what I mean when I hire who I want to do the design and creative stuff for me.

    thanks –


  25. George

    1/10/2013 10:27 am

    Well, that was a very good change in the design of the e-mail: cleaner, eye-catching, probably faster to load too. What were the results with those e-mail clients which block the images?

  26. Michael Albany

    1/10/2013 2:57 pm

    George – To be honest I haven’t had any issues. Most of the people on my list have signed up for the images and therefore they don’t block the images. Almost all HTML clients that don’t auto load images have an override.