25 June 2018

3 UX Tips for Better Marketing Emails

Email marketing has evolved significantly throughout the years, but it still remains one of the most effective marketing tools, and maintains the highest ROI. In fact, 81% of small and medium business professionals mention that email marketing is their biggest driver of customer acquisition and retention. Email is widely used both for communication and marketing purposes, which leads to an enormous amount of email traffic. According to a recent study about 269 billion emails were sent and received each day in 2017.

That’s impressive.

However, only 30% of those emails get opened and only one in eleven gets a click-through.

So how can marketers break through this inbox noise and capture user’s attention?

The answer to this question requires joint effort from marketing and UX teams, because as Jakob Nielsen says;

“Email is a user interface. Design your messages accordingly, aiming for maximum usability”.

UX practices can tell us a lot about what can be done to improve marketing emails. In this way email marketing will become a part of an overall great user experience.

Now let’s see what are the main UX tips that can help improve the usability and overall quality of marketing emails.


Concise and To-the-point Subject Lines

Subject line is the single most important factor in terms of email open-rate. Thus, it is not solely a marketing and copywriting task, but also should comply with user experience guidelines. And what do usability heuristics have to say about this?

The interface and the system should match the real world in the best way possible. Nielsen Norman describes it like this.

“The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.”

While it is tempting to think of an ambiguous and catchy subject line to boost open rates, it is better to avoid it for a better user experience. As it turns out from an extensive Nielsen Normal study, people prefer more descriptive and specific subject lines that clearly reflect the content of the email. This allows them to make a quicker decision whether to open the email.

Let’s be honest. Nobody likes click-baits. Those are the best example of a bad user experience. It is better to avoid similar practices in your marketing emails. Instead, focus on delivering value with every single character of the email, starting from the subject line.

Here’s a great example of a straightforward and still very enticing subject line. It perfectly describes the content of this email. It is direct and even somewhat personalized, making the user feel more urge to open it.

Another example comes from Moleskine. Again it is very concise and descriptive. It delivers value by informing the user about a special limited-time sale, available to subscribers only. Who wouldn’t open that?

While above features two well thought out subject lines, it is important to avoid the following two common mistakes in an email subject line.

    1. Repeating sender’s name. This simply uses your subject line real estate without providing any value. The user already knows who the email is from, so do not repeat the sender name in the subject.
    2. Using default pre-header. The majority of email clients show the first few words or a whole sentence of the email even before opening it. And when your email starts with the default “If you cannot read this email…”, it is a lost opportunity and provides no added value. Take the time to write a brief summary that provides value to your users before they even open the email.

Personalization Beyond Your Subject Line

The importance of personalization in today’s UX is huge. According to recent research, 71% of people believe that personalized experiences influence their decision to interact with emails.
And more than half of consumers agreed that more targeted promotions and discounts would create a more enjoyable email experience.

However, personalization is not only about including a recipient’s name in the subject line or address it to them within the body. In fact, this has proven to create a negative effect, because users can spot the fake personalization of a mass email campaign.

So how can you personalize your marketing emails without using recipient’s name?


Make sure your email is extremely relevant, timely and tailor-made for the user at all times.

Below is a brilliant example from H&M. Pay attention to the copy. It starts with “You’re invited to a royal celebration!” (A tailored subject line). This came in just before the royal wedding weekend (A timely delivery) and offers 25% off occasionwear (Relevant for the time).

To achieve this level of email excellence you can leverage your existing user data; properly segmenting users based on their activity and behavior. From a segmented list you will then be able to send specifically targeted marketing emails to each group.

Additionally, the new GDPR rules can help as well. By keeping your email consent requests granular you can create separate marketing emails from other communication forms. Thereby allowing your emails to be relevant and expected.


Simple and Readable Layout For All Devices

When email marketing was still new everything was designed for desktop screens and there was ample space for a multi-column layout. While this approach was common ten years ago, today things are a little bit different. Particularly as 63% of users now check their emails via a mobile device.

The Nielsen Norman study, mentioned earlier, shows that today’s email users view the once popular multi-column layout to be very cluttered and busy. They tend to consider emails with big beautiful visuals and a single-column layout more valuable and compelling.

Mobile first design is more important now than ever before.


The Readability of your Marketing Emails

The next thing to consider is the readability of your marketing emails. Around 40% of users spend 3 seconds or less on a single email, which means they do not actually read it, but rather skim through it. Your emails should have a clear content hierarchy and structure to help users digest it easier and faster.

Here’s a good example from Apple.

Featuring a single column layout, high-resolution relevant images, concise copy and a clear call-to-action makes this email easily readable, while delivering the sales message and a clear path for the desired action.

Final Thoughts

Email is yet another touchpoint in a user’s journey. It is an integral part of a user experience, which is why you need to pay special attention to the design, usability and content of your marketing emails. Key UX principles should apply not only to websites and apps but email as well to keep things consistent across all channels.

Amar Trivedi

President and founder of AmDee, Amar provides insight of nonprofit technology through occasional guest blogs for AmDee and others. He has been a software developer and architect since the mid-1990s.