Are You Choosing the Wrong Format For Your Emails?

When you first started your campaign, did you have a preset notion of what a marketing email looks like? If you did, that notion may have become your initial layout.

And that’s good – it gave you a place to start. But if you’ve stuck with the same layout ever since, we have good news for you.

There are several types of email layouts to choose from. Some are a natural fit for that next email you’re planning. (And some aren’t.)

Have you already chosen the best format for each message? Or would one of these be a better option?


Eating Wisely Newsletter

Newsletters are like a picture made up of several puzzle pieces. These pieces can be articles, suggestions, requests, offers or advertisements.

Their jigsaw nature means newsletters can be both informative and promotional, as long as the pieces fit together well.

Mequoda Group, a content marketing site, recommends a 60-40 ratio of helpful content-to-promotions. The helpful content should, however, have enough solid value to stand by itself in case readers aren’t interested in the offer.

Newsletters can be done in either HTML or plain text. HTML can be easier to read, though, since items can be separated with different colors or columns for easy scanning.


Set Yourself Freelance Letter

Letters are ideal for sending messages on a single subject with a friendly feel.

These can be either plain text or HTML. Plain text delivers a more authentic I-wrote-this-just-for-you vibe – it’s what an email from your mom would look like.

On the other hand, HTML lets you add an edge of glossiness – a logo, a background color, a signature – which can strengthen your branding.


Anthropologie Postcard

One large image with a bit of text is all postcards require. They’re simple to create and a quick, easy read.

A tip: don’t put your text directly into your image. Instead, put your words into a table and layer it over a background image. This lets your text display even if the inbox has images turned off.


Vosges Catalog

Catalogs are purely promotional. They’re made up of a list of your products, usually represented by small pictures, a name and a few details such as price.

Like postcards, their content relies heavily on images being turned on, so make sure your text elements provide enough information to catch readers’ attention without them.

News Alerts

Yee Shun-Jian news alert

News alerts are brief. They’re a tip, a quote, a bit of exciting news that answers the question, “What’s going on?”

Promotional content doesn’t fit in here. Instead, alerts are meant to really keep subscribers up-to-date with initiatives they’re interested in. They’re simple to create, so subscribers can get the news almost as soon as it happens.

Keep your readers in the loop, and they’ll appreciate it – and may even pay you back with purchases.


Filter Magazine digest

Sent to subscribers on a regular basis, a digest is like your campaign’s Sunday New York Times.

It’s a mega-newsletter that lists everything subscribers might want to know and links to all of your recent articles, blog posts and other activity.

With so much information presented, chances are good that something is going to catch each reader’s eye.

Which Should You Be Using?

Keep in mind, you’re likely to end up with different pegs for different emails. So each time you’re designing a new message, ask yourself:

  • What is my focus here? Is it thought leadership, selling a product, building relationships?
  • How much content do I want to send? Would pictures, links or paragraphs get my ideas across best?
  • What action am I calling subscribers to here, and how can I best highlight it?
  • Is this a regularly scheduled update that should always have the same format?
  • How much time have I scheduled to put this email together?

What Do You Think?

What formats have you been using for your emails?

Do they work well with your content? Do they help you accomplish your goals?

Can you suggest any other formats for marketers to choose from?


  1. Jonathan Thompson

    10/12/2010 12:47 pm

    This post reminded me that I need to revisit our follow up messages for our newsletter. The newsletter has changed overtime because I use it every week but I did a test last week of someone going through the motions of signing up for our weekly newsletter and I noticed the initial follow ups could use a remodel.

    We’re a real estate investment training company.

    1.I use the template “Modern” for our weekly newsletter. I’ve added to it and changed some stuff but that is what ours is based off.

    2.It sure does. We have about 70% content and 30% promotional. I put our featured products and featured properties in two of the four boxes on the right side. The rest is devoted to up-to-date real estate news and tips from our boss.

    3.I like my newsletter to have a large portion on the left side devoted to content. I like to have a much smaller portion on the right side divided by colors and boxes to blend promotional material with more content. I also have a large banner across the whole top that, when clicked, goes directly to our main website.

  2. Beverly Wallin

    10/12/2010 12:49 pm

    How do I start composing my e-mail for sending out a large campaign?

  3. Paul Guyon

    10/12/2010 3:11 pm

    First set your intention:

    This helps keep your email focused.
    – Ask yourself what you want to accomplish by sending the email
    -For Example: Sell 25 copies of a product in the next 7 days.
    -Motivate readers to tell others about your newsletter or offer?
    -Sign up for a 30 day trial?

    Next your email should answer 5 Magic Questions
    -Who Are You? Tell the reader who you are, be personable
    -What Do You Want? Tell the reader what you want.
    -Why Should I Care? Give the reader relevant answers and examples of why he/she should care.
    -What’s In It For Me?
    -What can the reader expect to gain by taking the desired action?
    -What Should I Do Now? Give clear, concise, specific, non-ambiguous instructions to the reader to take a specific action.

    When telling them what to do next consider all of the possible actions
    -For Example: Call our 800 number
    -Request a catalog
    -Download a free report
    -Visit our website
    -Fill out a survey
    -Purchase something now

    I hope this helps start the juices flowing and gives you some inspiration for your campaign.

  4. Amanda Gagnon

    10/12/2010 3:21 pm

    Jonathan ~ I like the division of tips and "featured products"!

    Beverly ~ Paul gives some good advice here! I’d also recommend this article – it walks you through planning your strategy.

  5. Harold

    10/12/2010 5:53 pm

    I enjoyed your tips and featured product. You information will assist me in putting up better email notices. I have not used your templates, I will start using a template. I will recommend Aweber to others.

    Once again thank you for the information.

  6. Kathy Kirk

    10/13/2010 3:54 am

    I appreciate the templates, but could use some help finding the right one for the job. Also they seem fragile. How get one designed for my company. Or perhaps a tutorial on how to use them. Thanks.

  7. Ivan

    10/13/2010 6:42 am

    Don’t forget to ask your readers what they prefer.

    I use the Broadcast option to ask my readers what they like, what needs to change and what I’m doing wrong…

    Sometimes you’re missing something very obvious.

  8. Amanda Gagnon

    10/13/2010 8:27 am

    Kathy ~ You might want to check out our email template gallery. Use the "Categories" selection to narrow down the selection. And here are instructions for using them!

    Ivan ~ Always. Always, always.

  9. Lalitha Brahma

    10/13/2010 7:56 pm

    Nice and informative article. Thanks Paul for an easy to implement step by step email series.

  10. Amanda MacArthur

    10/24/2010 8:29 pm

    Thanks for the link-love to Mequoda! This is a great overview of the different types of email templates (and pretty to look at too!)

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  12. arnie

    12/20/2012 6:31 pm

    My gmail settings block all images. I’m sure lots of other people do the same. How does that effect newsletter or html emails? Isn’t it safer to send plain text?
    Is there a way to display the proper format depending on the end user?

  13. Amanda Gagnon

    12/21/2012 8:26 am

    Arnie – I think the default for Gmail is to block images from each new sender initially, with an invitation at the top to always display pictures from that sender. If you’re sending to a lot of Gmail users (if you use AWeber, you can see that in your QuickStats), you’ll probably want to add text to that first email that invites your readers to click that option.

  14. Crystal Gouldey

    12/21/2012 8:32 am

    Arnie – If you set up both an HTML and plain text message, the one the subscriber accepts will be the one they see. This article reports that over half of consumers will turn on images for the emails they receive. HTML emails have also been known to bring more conversions than plain text.