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Effective Email Marketing

By June 20, 2022March 28th, 2024No Comments
Effective Email Marketing

Email marketing is one of the most effective outbound digital marketing channels. A targeted and personalized email can get a prospective customer’s attention, your product noticed, and help drive revenue and growth.

An email that engages, informs, and is retentive will be opened, clicked, and remembered. An engaging email requires a great narrative and an eye-catching creative. While web browsers support scripting, animations, and video, the vast majority of email clients support only a subset of HTML content. Most email clients do not support Javascript, embedded audio and video, HTML forms, or custom web fonts.

The lack of full HTML support in email clients means that a creative from a digital marketing campaign cannot be repurposed. A creative has to be specifically created and customized for email marketing. In addition to the HTML restrictions, email clients may further restrict how the email shows for a prospect. Images may get blocked and not show and be replaced by click-to-download buttons and spam checks may deliver the message to the prospect’s spam folder.

Email marketing automation platforms simplify the creation and delivery of messages. These platforms provide no-code drag and drop editors to create email templates, allow you to manage and segment subscribers, send out mass emails, and provide detailed reporting on the effectiveness of the campaign.

Email marketing automation platforms provide drag & drop editors, subscriber management, scheduled bulk sends, and reporting.

With the limited HTML support in email clients, how can a designer build something that is eye-catching and memorable and that will show up in a prospective customer’s inbox rendered exactly as designed? And if it was delivered and rendered exactly as designed, was it effective, and did it meet campaign objectives? To answer that, as Kai Ryssdal from Marketplace reminds us, first let’s do the numbers.

Let’s do the Numbers

Most designers that I know like to stay away from data. Designers think of design as that of conceptualizing and visually articulating the concept. Marketing, though, is about getting results, and to measure results, you need data. Email marketing automation platforms provide all sorts of reports and summary data for an email marketing campaign. The data can overwhelm you, but there are only two metrics that should really matter to a designer — how many opened the email, and how many engaged with the email?

Designers should focus on the Click-to-Open Rate (CTOR) metric

The email campaign data shows that almost a quarter (23.84%) of the prospects opened the email and of those who opened the email, 8.58% interacted with the email. An interaction is counted when a prospect clicks on a call to action (CTA) button in the email.

Email open rates are determined by the quality of the target subscriber list and the email subject line. The target list typically includes marketing qualified leads with the target audience properly segmented. The copy and creative is only seen once a prospect opens the email. The copy and creative do not determine open rates. What does improve open rates is a targeted and personalized subject line that stands out in a cluttered inbox.

While the copy and creative do not determine the open rates, they do determine the click-to-open rate (CTOR). CTOR is a measure of the engagement that the prospects have with the email. It is measured by the ratio of the unique clicks on the message to the total unique viewers of the message. For the designer, this is the only number that matters. A high CTOR indicates that you had the prospective customer’s attention and is a measure of the effectiveness of the copy and the creative.

The question then is what is a good CTOR? CTOR may vary widely between business verticals. Most email service providers publish average CTORs by business verticals. While the averages are a good guide for what to expect, there will be wide variations within a sector and these numbers should be considered more illustrative than representative.

Mean and median CTORs by industry (

WYSINWOG (What You See Is Not What Others Get)

Email marketing automation platforms include drag and drop editors that make it easy to put together images and HTML elements to build out the email message body. These tools allow you to create templates that can be reused without writing any HTML or CSS. Still, email design is a challenge.

Most email marketing automation platforms support Image Maps. Image Maps make the email interactive allowing for multiple CTAs within a single image. These Image Maps have to be created outside the platform, using tools like Adobe Dreamweaver, and the HTML code copied into the campaign.

An Image Map with marked clickable areas

Many email clients don’t load images in HTML emails automatically. The prospect may have to explicitly choose to download the images. When the image is not displayed, if ALT tags are set for the image, the ALT text is displayed. This is another problem for the designer, as an abbreviated copy has to be added as an ALT tag. Spam filters look for a balance between images and text in an HTML email. If the email is image heavy, the message is sent to the spam folder and the prospect might never see the mail.

People move between desktops and mobile devices and the email content needs to display properly across devices. Image Maps are not responsive and may not render properly on mobile devices. On some devices, as the image is scaled down to fit the device, the text may become unreadable and the CTA links may break.

Image Maps may get blocked, sent to the spam folder, and may not scale down correctly on mobile devices

For an effective campaign, the email must display properly on all devices. A responsive template that balances images with text and that adjusts to the user’s device will ensure that the message can be read, navigated, and clicked.

Designing Effective Creatives

An effective email is one which is responsive and does not have its images blocked. As a general guideline, this requires the email to have relatively more text than images. The figure below shows how the same Image Map can be recreated with HTML text blocks with the CTAs as HTML/CSS buttons.

Balancing images with text blocks makes the creative responsive and will render as designed on all devices.

Keeping the right balance between images and text and using a responsive template ensures that the copy, creative, and the CTAs are rendered correctly on desktop and mobile devices. Any branding and brand specific fonts should be embedded into an image.

Animations in the creative can boost engagement. While email clients do not support Javascript or embedded videos, most do support GIF images. Animations in an email can grab attention and can be used to reinforce your message, highlight certain features of your product or service, and increase engagement. One thing to watch out for is the GIF image file size. While animations do get attention, big file sizes increase load times and may test a prospect’s patience.

An animated GIF image can highlight features of your offering

An Example that Works

A good example of an effective email marketing creative is the email newsletter from Medium. It segments the users and creates a personalized daily reading list. The subject line is the title of the article that they think would be the most relevant for you. The header branding which uses a custom font is created as an image and the rest of the email has a balance of text and images. The CTA allows you to customize your daily recommended reading list to increase relevance.

The Medium email newsletter

The Medium newsletter checks all the boxes for an effective email:

  • It has a targeted and personalized subject line
  • It balances images with text
  • Branding and custom fonts used are embedded into an image
  • It includes a CTA to customize the newsletter to make it more relevant


Email marketing can be one of the most effective outbound digital marketing channels when used and designed right. As a designer, know your industry’s benchmark Click-to-Open Rate (CTOR) and keep a running track of your campaigns CTORs. This will tell you which creative templates are working for you. Keep a balance between images and text and add GIF animations if it reinforces the message. Understand your target audience and personalize the copy and creative towards that audience segment. A relevant message will get the subscriber’s attention, get your product and offering noticed, and lead to increased revenue and growth.