The anatomy of a marketing email [+email design best practices]
You’re new to email marketing. A blank slate awaits, ready for you to create a marketing email masterpiece.
But … you’re overwhelmed and paralyzed because you either have no idea where to start, or too many ideas are bouncing around your brain. Or, maybe your eagerness has resulted in a jumbled mess of images and text.
In all of these cases, it helps to understand the basic anatomy of an email for marketing campaigns. Such a foundation serves as both a guide and guardrail toward making successful, compelling messages that spur click rates to a website. Not to mention boost your brand image.
In this post, we’re running through the anatomy of an email, head to toe. We’ll also give plenty of examples that do a knockout job of executing the framework and nail email design best practices.
We’re looking at:
- What sets email design apart
- The anatomy of an email marketing message (header, body, footer)
- Four final points to keep in mind for email design
What sets email design apart?
Like any marketing channel, email design for marketing has its nuances. You’re not going to approach it the same way as building a landing page or spinning a social post.
There are two things to keep in mind with email marketing design:
- Sometimes email providers have rendering issues. Gmail or Outlook, for example, can choose to interpret HTML code how they want, meaning images can be blocked or font styles look entirely different than intended.
- Attention spans are short. You’ve got about eight seconds to grab someone’s attention and convince them to act. So you want to make an immediate impact that drives the subscriber back to your site.
No. 1 is an easy fix: use an intelligent email design tool like Seguno, built to avoid common rendering issues.
Addressing No. 2 hinges on email design best practices. And those are tied to a set of structural norms — common frameworks for email marketing.
Email anatomy 101: The parts of a marketing email
All marketing emails have the same basic elements:
1. Email envelope
The components that preface the email message content, including the sender name, subject line and preview/preheader text
The topmost portion of the email that contains, at minimum, the brand’s logo
The primary copy of your email, including elements like the headline, a hero image, and at least one call to action (CTA) button that links to your site
The closing to your email
Find all you need to know about writing effective email subject lines in our 101 guide.
This blog post addresses the meat of your messaging: the header, body and footer.
The anatomy of an email header + best practices
The header is the most viewed spot for obvious reasons. It’s the first thing seen in the preview pane and when the email is opened. Therefore, it’s prime real estate that requires intentionality and is the starting point for a solid email anatomy.
The header section in Seguno is located in the Theme Settings tab.
The best email designs for headers are:
1. Clear: whatever you include, it should be on-brand
2. Concise: take advantage of the space without cramming in too much
3. Consistent: make the transition from email to your ecommerce site seamless
That said, there are different ways to go about designing the email header. We recommend three tactics: (1) logo only, (2) logo + menu, or (3) logo + social icons.
Opening solely with your logo is a strong branding technique and a great way to reinforce your brand. It’s a versatile approach for every email newsletter and, therefore, perfect for templatizing your email designs (hint, hint: “be consistent”).
KiwiCo, for example, places its bold and memorable logo at center stage. Because there’s nothing else in the header, readers have no other distractions and are led straight to the good stuff.
- Use a rectangular logo (not too big or small); square-shaped logos waste too much vertical space and push the body content too far down
- Add animation with a gif; a subtle wiggle is enough to grab attention immediately
- Make the background colors of the header and email body the same, so the logo appears as if it was incorporated into the design
See how to make a gif from a video.
Logo + menu
Incorporating a menu of clickable links into the header is helpful when your brand offers a range of product categories you want people to know about. It’s a great way to drive site traffic.
Blue Nile bolsters its header by featuring a bold background color that makes the logo pop. The streamlined menu is nestled between the logo and email content, creating a sense of structure.
- Include no more than four categories; they need to make sense for email and the audience you’re trying to reach
- Ensure category names are succinct
Logo + social icons
A header with a logo plus social media icons is the least popular option of the bunch, per our hunt for an example. Yet it’s an interesting spin for brands with a heavy social presence. This technique provides fuel for greater engagement with subscribers.
- Don’t include inactive accounts
The anatomy of email body content + best practices
The email body is the heart of your message and often includes multiple sections. We recommend mixing different email marketing components so you have a nice image-to-text ratio.
The body is made with Rich text in Seguno, located under the Sections tab.
The main elements include:
- Headline: the intro or title, ideally bold wording to support the rest of your message. This is the heading portion within Seguno’s Rich text section. Or, use the signature section to create a unique headline.
- Hero image: the eye-catching main image, which could be a static photo, illustration or animated gif. Skip the headline if your image includes overlaid text serving as a title. This is the Image section in Seguno.
- Copy: the portion featuring short text; we recommend no more than three sentences of copy. This is the text portion within Seguno’s Rich text section.
- CTA: the button that directs email subscribers to a particular place. The CTA is the action you want them to take. This is the Button section in Seguno.
Sticking to the bulleted elements above is the most straightforward path for creating on-point marketing email content. Of course, there’s lots of other features to spice up your message once you become more comfortable, such as countdown timers and image galleries.
And if you want a foolproof email body layout for your first newsletter, just follow the order above, top to bottom.
The great thing is that you can rearrange the marketing email structure for different configurations. Yes, we advocate consistency. But consistency doesn’t mean being stale. Not every message has to have the same flow.
There’s lots of ways we can slice and dice this, so let’s dissect one email newsletter example to see how it can play out in real life.
Jeni’s email skews more basic, but it works. First, you’ve got a mouth-watering hero image of its Buttercream Birthday Cake ice cream. In our opinion, it drives the entire success of the message. It’s followed by short and direct copy placed against a bright background. The single CTA button is not only direct, but the orange color makes it highly noticeable.
Jeni's marketing email is also inherently optimized for mobile viewing, as it’s a single column.
Need ideas for what to put in your email newsletter? We’ve got answers in 15 must-have newsletters.
Email design for footers
The last email section is the place for housing secondary information you want to repeat over and over about your brand. It’s usually the location for the unsubscribe link as well.
The footer section in Seguno is located in the Theme Settings tab.
It may seem that the footer is an area of little worth. Not so.
While not everyone scrolls to the bottom of your email, some will. These people are trying to find basic information, such as shipping standards.
Therefore, make what we call a “footer that functions.” Use the space to alleviate friction points, lean into your audience or niche, and reinforce your brand and what it stands for. Are all of your products vegan? Shout it out. Do you accept alternative forms of payment? Let them know it.
Any highlight can tip the scale when someone is deciding where to spend their money. Also, carefully crafted features can be the building blocks for establishing trust.
Below is an example from Concrete Minerals. We like that it’s bright and bold, and uses bands of color to create organized sections. The social icons are easy to spot, as are the brand values illustrated through icons (vegan, cruelty free and gluten free). The Afterpay co-branding is also smart, drawing attention to the pay-later option for purchases.
Finish strong. The footer may be the finale to the message, but it’s a valuable space deserving of your marketing attention.
Technical considerations for email design
Your email marketing provider will handle a lot of technicalities, such as responsive design for optimized viewing on different devices.
Otherwise, adhere to these technically-minded guidelines:
- Save images at twice the size of your maximum load width (for Seguno users, that’s 1200 pixels wide for full-width images) and no larger than 5MB.
- Use email-safe fonts, as some major email clients don’t support custom web fonts and will render them incorrectly or not at all. If you insist on sliding your custom font into a marketing email, we recommend creating an image with Canva.
- A 14 to 16 px font size for body copy is a good rule of thumb to align with accessibility standards.
- As previously mentioned, succinct copy almost always wins. Best practices say 200 words or less. Remember that the point of your email is to entice subscribers to your shop, so you’ve got to give them a reason to go.
- Be mindful of content length — copy and visuals combined. Too long, and the whole message won’t show. Once you hit 102KB, Gmail starts “clipping” your email and adds a “view entire message” link. (Seguno’s email clipping warning helps save you from this fate.)
Seguno bakes many of these best practices into customizable email templates for your convenience.
Four final points to keep in mind for email design and email anatomy
We have one more piece of advice to give you a boost of email design confidence.
Technically, it’s four micro pieces rolled into one. Consider each one of these four points before getting to work on that blank canvas:
- Know your goal for each email newsletter you create. What are you trying to accomplish? Is there a specific collection you need to clear out? Do you want to shine a spotlight on your environmentally friendly practices?
- Make it interesting. Don’t fall into the trap we see so many times from big-box stores. Sale after generic sale blends together and, after a while, messages get ignored because they’re seemingly the same.
- Make it accessible. Some subscribers who can’t see or have difficulty viewing content use web readers for interpretation, so use alt text for your images. This practice makes up for rendering issues when an email provider blocks them. (That said, never plop in one large image for your entire message; spam filters may flag the message as spam since it cannot “read” any content.)
- Keep it simple. Your email should not resemble The Cheesecake Factory menu. Resist placing a binder’s worth of information into your messages.
Remember, attention spans are short. Sticking to a basic yet impactful header, body and footer — and adhering to email design best practices — elevates your brand image and encourages subscriber engagement.
Looking for more guidance? Check out our course, How to design emails that convert.
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