Marketing emails are an effective way to keep in touch with your customer base, recommending relevant products and keeping customers informed about sales and special events.

With so many marketing emails landing in people’s inboxes, emails need to work hard to catch the user’s attention and communicate messages effectively.

This is partly about some great creative copy and visuals, but also about great usability. A marketing email is similar to a landing page in that it has to communicate its proposition clearly and make it as easy as possible for users to act upon it.

Here are some areas to look at to ensure your emails provide the best possible user experience.

Subject lines

Subject lines are key to sparking interest in your emails, and communicating the content to recipients.

According to Jakob Nielsen, the first 40 characters are key, as customers scan quickly and make a rapid decision about whether to click on emails.

It has to be descriptive, succinct, and capture the customer’s attention. It should also describe the contents of the email clearly, as misleading subject lines can lead customers to unsubscribe from future emails.

Template size

It’s recommended to keep any email design between 600 and 650px wide. This means emails will render properly across all email clients, and make them easier for customers to view.

Any problems with email rendering means a poor experience for recipients.

Use data to improve emails

Email is most effective when the content is personalized and relevant for recipients. According to the Aberdeen Group, personalized email messages improve click-through rates by an average of 14% and conversions by 10%.

Companies have lots of data to use to make emails more relevant, such as the recipient’s previous purchase history, the product categories they choose to browse, and personal data such as gender, age and location.

All of this can be used to serve up relevant product recommendations in emails, or content that matches the user’s interests.

It isn’t always necessary to personalise, but content can be made relevant to the time of year, the weather, or specific events.

Customers have come to expect more relevance in emails to the extent that some participants in Nielsen research considered generic, non-personalized emails almost as spam. Or at least indicative that the company hadn’t put the effort in to create relevant content.

Test your emails

There’s lots to test to improve email marketing and produce the best combination of user experience and performance. This includes:

  • Email rendering. There are so many emails clients, each with their own quirks and coding methods. Tools like Litmus and Email on Acid allow you to see how your emails will look across a range of clients.

  • It’s also important to do some manual testing with live email accounts across different providers.
  • Subject lines. Different aspects of email subject lines can be tested to fight the best performing variant. For example, you can test using the customer’s name, using urgency, or perhaps using emojis.
  • Timing. The timing of emails can make a big difference to performance. For example, cart abandonment emails often achieve the best results when sent within an hour of the customer abandoning a purchase.
  • Links. Links should be tested to check they’re working and going to the right pages.

Email layouts and readability

Emails are generally consumed relatively quickly by customers, so it’s a case of getting the main message across clearly and making it very easy for customers to scan and understand the contents.

This means that text heavy emails can be off putting to users as they are hard to scan quickly. Likewise, multi-column layouts have become less popular. This is partly due to the growth of mobile, but also because single column layouts make emails feel cleaner and less cluttered.

Calls to action

The aim of most marketing emails is to encourage the customer to click through and view or buy products, so calls to action have to be clear.

They should be as high up in the email as possible. Depending on the email client used, people will only be viewing a portion of your emails. The first part they see should carry the intended message and the CTA.

They should also be large enough to see easily, and with enough contrast to make them stand out against the background.

Another option is to repeat them throughout so they’re visible as users scroll, or to use sticky CTAs, similar to those that some retailers use on product pages (Curry’s is one example) which remain visible as people scroll through emails.

ecommerce mobile screens

Mobile email

Mobile accounts for around half (and perhaps more) of all email opens, so a mobile first mindset is the way forward to provide the best user experience.

Emails should be designed for mobile and adapted for desktop, rather than the other way around.

Email frequency

The frequency of emails can affect the user experience, and impacts on how a customer views a brand.

If customers think they’re being sent too many emails then they lose interest and may unsubscribe.

The tricky part is finding out exactly how many emails is too many. Most retailers seem to email a few times per month, but the key here is to monitor engagement and test to find the best frequency.

The unsubscribe process

Some marketers try to make unsubscribing trickier by making the unsubscribe link harder to find, or at least to make it stand out as little as possible.

Like this one, buried at the bottom in small text, with the link looking nothing like a link:

Perhaps the theory is that people decide not to unsubscribe after all if they can’t find it.

However, to avoid people having to resort to the spam button, and the damage this can do to sender reputation, it’s best to make links easy to locate, and clearly labelled.

Also, people should be able to unsubscribe with one click. It’s fine to give people a choice to say why they are opting out, or to change frequency, but as long as it’s optional.

In summary

For email marketing to be effective, users need to be able to view, read and react to email messages without any unnecessary friction.

Good UX here is about finding the mixture of relevance and ease of use, and also to let people opt out without any hassle if that’s what they choose to do.