The 5 Email Design Best Practices Every Marketer Should Know

Think you know email design? Justine Jordan, Marketing Director at Litmus, fills you in on the five things every email marketer should know about designing beautiful, optimized email campaigns.

The following is a guest blog post from Justine Jordan, Marketing Director at Litmus and email design enthusiast. The recipient of the 2015 eec Email Marketing Thought Leader of the Year award, you’ll find her organizing The Email Design Conference or editing Litmus’ latest blog post.

1. Email is not a .JPG, print ad or a one-page website.

Reusing content across mediums is a smart way to maximize resources, increase efficiency, and apply takeaways from other channels. Taking the featured image from a successful print run and using it in your go-to email template may seem like a quick win, but is unlikely to perform to your expectations.

Email is a unique medium, with unique goals and unique considerations. While a print advertisement will catch attention with a bold-faced headline and intriguing photo, no one will see the beautiful photo in an email unless you convince them to open the message first.

It’s also tempting to approach an email like a one-page website. While both email and the web use HTML and CSS as foundational building blocks, most email programs only recognize a handful of the standards used for websites. If you’ve ever heard the term “code email like it’s 1999,” this is why: email apps often have better support for 90s-era HTML than the modern version used on the web. Outlook and Gmail are the most common offenders, and you’ll want to preview your email in these programs to make sure everything looks right. Just because it looks great in a browser doesn’t mean it will look great in the inbox.

2. Plan for missing images.

Nearly all email programs give subscribers the option to hide images. Some even disable images automatically, forcing the user to click a link or press a button to “turn on” photos and graphics. For example, here is how an email with a large hero image appears in Outlook:


Since image blocking happens in many popular email programs, you should make sure your email is still readable—and your call-to-action actionable—when images are missing from the design. Rather than using image-based buttons that will hide your CTA when images are turned off, try using a bulletproof button instead. This technique combines a background color with a regular text link, providing the illusion of a button that can be seen when images are on or off!

3. Optimize the second subject line.

Every inbox shows the sender (or ‘from’) name and subject line, and many also display a bit of text after the subject line, called preview text.


Preview text is pulled into the inbox from the body of your email and serves as a second subject line, giving you an opportunity to reinforce key messages or get your reader’s attention. In some inboxes, there’s actually more space reserved for preview text than the subject line—effectively tripling the opportunity to get your email opened. Get creative with your copywriting, and avoid using standard phrases like ‘view this email in a web browser’ or ‘having trouble viewing?’ near the top of your messages—these statements frequently appear as preview text and add little value to the inbox experience.

4. Battle blue links on Apple devices.

Ever noticed how your iPhone will underline the word ‘tonight’ in a text message? Or how phone numbers launch a call with a quick tap on your favorite site? Apple devices automatically detect phone numbers, addresses, and dates—transforming these bits of copy into blue underlined links that trigger phone calls and calendar entries. At best, this behavior clashes with brand and style guidelines. At worst, unintentional blue links can cause readability problems when subscribers are presented with blue text on a blue background:


If you’re savvy enough to dig into your email’s HTML, you can wrap affected text in styled spans. If code isn’t your thing, be aware of text that triggers blue links and plan ahead, leaving blue backgrounds for another day.

5. Know your audience.

Best practices are merely guidelines, and none of this advice matters if you don’t know who is reading your messages. While blocked images plague Outlook and Yahoo! readers, they aren’t a problem for Gmail or Apple Mail users. And if your subscribers prefer Android over iPhone, blue links are the least of your worries.


Understanding subscriber behavior can give you insight into optimization and testing opportunities that allow you focus your email marketing efforts and invest time in the strategies that will move the needle.



  1. Valdeir

    8/28/2015 3:34 pm

    “The money is in the list” Nice tips Olivia, you opened my mind! 🙂

  2. rahimi

    8/31/2015 11:16 pm

    Hi, There.

    I wanted to spam to lots of emails.

    some have a firewalls barracuda.

    It yours can sent my emails direct to inbox ?
    Not goings to SPAM ?

  3. Greg

    9/7/2015 10:54 pm

    It is really important to know your audience before you proceed with all the rest. It will make your email easier to do.

    Thanks for sharing.