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Email Marketing Design and Development Best Practices

Email marketing is a tricky endeavor, with many limitations and several barriers between sender and recipient. There is no guarantee that a recipient will actually read a well-crafted, relevant message. By following design and content guidelines and best practices, you can at least get optimized messages past spam filters and into an inbox.

Stay On Brand (Visually)

Your emails should match your brand. The colors and font choices should be the same as your site. The tone of the message should read like the same voice as your web copy, social media posts, etc.

Keep It Simple

Grab attention quickly and follow up with a strong call-to-action.  If possible, keep to one main CTA and place it above-the Make sure the CTA is eye-catching and clear that you want your recipient to interact with it.

Understand the Limitations of Email Platforms and Clients

Unlike web browsers, there are no email standards. How an email appears in Gmail compared to Outlook can vary greatly.  Keep your layout simple to maintain consistency across clients, platforms and devices. 

Add Alt Text To Images And Buttons

Adding alt text to email message images helps users understand what they’re reading: in case the email doesn’t render properly or their email client blocks images by default, alt text can appear to describe what an images' subject is, in place of the actual image.  With alt text, readers will be able to read the action you want them to take and understand where to click.

Identify Yourself as the Sender

Sender names perform best when they’re personalized. Incorporate an individual's name into the sender line -- like "John Smith from Company Name."  Avoid generic sender lines like "" option -- it’s impersonal. 

Draw Engagement Through the Subject Line

Subject lines are the first text of your email that a reader will see. They need to convince a subscriber that your email is worth opening.

Things that do well in subject line:

  • Personalized with the recipient’s name
  • 30-50 characters in length
  • Action verbs
  • A clear value proposition that is consistent with teh messaging in your email body

Things to avoid in a subject line:

  • Spammy keywords (urgent, buy now, win, free)
  • Typos
  • Emojis
  • Deceptive subject lines that don’t match the email content

Take Advantage of the Inbox

Don’t forget the pre-header. Pre-header is the preview text that displays after the subject line in email clients inbox message lists. Pre-header text is often just the first lines of text at the very top of your email message. If you have an image at the very top of your email message, the pre-header text may render as the image’s alt text.  Test these and add some custom text to the top of your message.

Optimize For Mobile

Your email needs to be easy to read, view, and click in mobile devices: fast-loading with minimal scrolling.  Keep your email as short as possible, and balance text with imagery so there is less text to read. Make call-to-action buttons tall enough match the size of adult fingertips. Limit the width of your email body to 650 pixels so it displays nicely on most phones.  Most mobile email apps and clients will force the email content to wrap and/or scale to fit.

Avoid being profiled as spam

Spam filters manage questionable inbound messages – either by blocking them outright or directing them to a “junk” folder.  These filters analyze message properties such as subject line, body copy and sender address/IP. 

Avoid including anything in your email that can trigger a spam flag:

Maintain a clean and up-to-date mailing list: repeated sending to invalid email addresses can lead to a spam-association on your sending IP.

Prove to spam filters that you are a legitimate sender:

  • Include your physical address and other contact information in the message text
  • Provide an unsubscribe link

Leave out either of these and you are breaking anti-spam laws.

Encourage Sharing

Encourage recipients to forward your email to a friend or share through social media via a “share this email” buttons in your message.


Development for email marketing is a multi-pronged approach that requires diligence not only with your content, but how it's constructed. By keeping things simple and understanding how your email will render across various platforms, apps and devices, you do not need to sacrifice style for substance or risk being caught in a spam filter.

Interested in learning more about Neptune Web's email design and development capabilties? Contact us for a consultation.

Neptune Web is a full-service Boston-area interactive web and digital marketing agency with expertise in Website Design, Web Development, Digital Marketing Strategy and Execution.

We look forward to your comments and would be most happy to address and help solve any Digital Marketing or Website Design & Development challenges you may have.

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