HTML Email Design Best Practices: The 10 Golden Rules

We get a lot of questions around email design. While there are always new tricks to try, there are some tried-and-true best practices that seem to stand the test of time. Use these as the baseline for any HTML email design or template to create engaging messages that perform well across devices and browsers. 

1. Identify Yourself

Include your brand name in the From Name field and use a recognizable From Address. This is not only a best practice, but will also help you remain compliant.

2. Size Matters

  • Keep your Subject Line and Preheader under 65 characters to ensure that they fit no matter what browser, email client or device is used. 
  • The ideal email width is 600px wide to render properly on all devices and browsers. 
  • Keep images crisp but optimize for load time with a resolution of 72 dpi. 

3. Design for Mobile Users

Utilize a grid layout so your email neatly stacks, scales and stays organized on mobile devices. Listrak Composer lets you set up both desktop and mobile versions with a simple click of a button.

4. Get More Clicks with The Right Buttons

Use eye-catching, high-contrast CTA (call-to-action) buttons to let subscribers know to click-through for the good stuff.

Try switching-up the words in your buttons. “Shop Now” and “Learn More” can work well, but play around with more creative options to build curiosity and lure users into clicking-through.

Maximize clicks by making your buttons “bulletproof.” This means making them HTML rather than images so they still display when images are turned off in someone’s inbox (which is usually about 50% of the time). Make sure to use a web-safe or Google font.

If you go the image-based-button route, make sure that when it shrinks for mobile devices, it’s still large enough to be legible and clickable.

5. Save Above-The-Scroll Real Estate

Keep the header area of your email clean and clutter-free. Most inboxes support up to 90 characters of preheader text, which is what you see after the subject line in inboxes.

On mobile, hide the preheader area to let your important promotional content shine. With Listrak Composer, you can set this up with a single click.

6. Pare Back The Navigation

Use a short navigation (max. 5 items) so you don’t distract from the most important parts of your email. Also consider (and a/b test) not using a navigation at all – not every email needs one!

On mobile, move the navigation to the bottom of the message and stack it neatly above the footer to save space while remaining clickable. Listrak Composer lets you choose this option and select different layouts for desktop and mobile versions.

7. Optimize with HTML Text

HTML text is good for copy-heavy areas to make sure it’s crisp and legible in all inboxes – desktop and mobile (HTML text will scale up and down depending on device width). Keep in mind, the minimum legible font size for most mobile inboxes is 13px.

When including a coupon code, type it out as HTML text so the user can copy and paste it easily, and so it displays when images are turned off in their inbox.

If you have to save copy as an image, send a test to yourself before you hit send to ensure that it’s crisp and legible.

Thoughts from An Email Designer

Typography is quite possibly the most important element in an email’s design, and here’s why: fewer than half of all emails are opened with images turned on. That tells us that incorporating live HTML text into an email design is a necessity in today’s multi-device, multi-browser world. While using alt text can help, leaning on HTML text is the most bulletproof way to deliver your important message to as many people as possible.

Unlike the olden days of email design, we’re no longer tied to simple fonts like Arial and Times as our only HTML text choices. We can now play with custom fonts and other web-safe choices to enhance our designs and stay brand-appropriate. This is great news for any email designer who wants to enhance the style of their emails while keeping user experience in mind.

8. Fonts Everywhere

The first rule of HTML text: every inbox will render fonts differently. In our technologically changing world, this is just something we designers have to get used to. But there are ways to make sure every recipient receives the best email possible, even if a custom font doesn’t render exactly as you’d hoped.

Web-Safe Fonts

There are a variety of stylish, user-friendly, web-safe fonts. Fonts that come preloaded on most computers render consistently over 90% of the time. Others have less wide support but still have their advantages and can be used in a font stack as long as you have a more supported font as a backup.

Sans-Serif Fonts

71%+ Renderability: Very Consistent Support
  • Arial
  • Arial Black
  • Tahoma
  • Trebuchet MS
  • Verdana

1%-70% Renderability: Average Support
  • Candara
  • Century Gothic
  • Gill Sans
  • Lucida
  • Lucida Sans

Serif Fonts

71%+ Renderability: Very Consistent Support
  • Courier
  • Courier New
  • Georgia
  • Palatino
  • Times New Roman

1%-70% Renderability: Average Support
  • Book Antique
  • Cambria
  • Garamond
  • Lucida Bright
  • Baskerville

Choosing Good Fall-Back Fonts

Remember what we said about fonts rendering differently across inboxes?

Inevitably, your custom font isn’t going to render perfectly everywhere, but don’t panic. There are ways to make your design shift subtly and purposefully as it hits less-supportive inboxes.

One great way is to control the fall-back fonts that will display when your custom font does not. Here are two prime examples:

sans-serif: Trebuchet MS, Verdana, Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif
serif: Georgia, Courier, Times New Roman, serif

Yes, the options are somewhat limited, but you can still make deliberate choices that support your optimal font and will help improve your conversion rate. Above all, remember that using HTML text is critical to your email’s success, so it’s worth having to put up with slight changes in styling.

When deciding, consider that some fonts have more space between letters, others have a thicker stroke, and there’s always the serif vs. sans-serif choice. Think about these factors and choose one that won’t vary too much as it displays in less-supportive inboxes.

As an example, here’s how one letter’s styling varies from font to font:

9. Background Images

If using a background image, keep it simple. Using a simple grid layout is best, and don’t include complicated graphics that distract from the copy on top.

Since background images won’t display when images are turned off (which is about 43% of the time), don’t include anything important to the goal of your email. Remember to include alt text which provides context if the image is blocked and assign a complimentary back-up background color to display.

10. Keep it Engaging

Even within the restrictions of a grid layout, you can get creative with interactive GIFs, engaging copy and layouts with angles and color blocking to intrigue. Use these elements to guide the reader’s eye to take an action and click through.

Interested in learning more? Contact your Account Manager for details.

SMS and Email: The Hidden Value of Multichannel Subscribers

The numbers speak for themselves: two-thirds of consumers shop in more than one channel – and those that do have a 30% higher lifetime value. It makes sense that multichannel shoppers are going to be your most valuable, but did you know they are also your most active and engaged?

We studied over 1.4 million subscribers that clicked-through at least one email during the fourth quarter of 2017 to see if multichannel subscribers – those who are subscribed to both an SMS and email list – are more engaged than email only subscribers. And the results prove that they are.

We started by comparing the number of subscribers who only clicked once to those who clicked two or more times and found that the number of multichannel subscribers who only clicked once in Q4 was 8.9% lower than email only subscribers. However, multichannel subscribers had 6.1% more multiple clicks in the same time period.

Breaking it down further, you can see that as the number of clicks grow, so does the engagement rate of multichannel subscribers. In fact, SMS and email subscribers who clicked-through emails 11 or more times in Q4 was 25% higher than email only subscribers.

An even closer look shows just how consistent increased engagement is for multichannel subscribers:
This added engagement boosts site traffic and conversions. We've seen SMS increase site traffic 3-4%, which leads to a 1.5% increase in overall site conversions on average. And the SMS visitors have a 6.4% lower bounce rate when compared to visitors who clicked-through an email, again proving that SMS subscribers are the most engaged. While email still reigns as one of the top conversion channels, SMS subscribers had the same conversion rate as the organic site traffic.

These rates are expected to rise as more and more consumers choose to engage with brands.

Who Will Adopt Artificial Intelligence in 2018?

Don't overthink it. Surrendering to intelligent automation.

If I had to predict what the 2018 landscape will look like, I would put my money on two groups succeeding this year: small shops willing to allow extreme testing to drive constant change in their marketing programs AND companies of any size that leverage intelligent AI-driven automation and personalization.

As an agile product manager who takes an iterative results-based approach to building products, I see great opportunity for the teams that take a similar approach to their marketing. At this point, anyone with a mobile device can set up a Google Product Feed, advertise on Facebook or create Shoppable Instagram posts. Small nimble teams can compete with much larger entities by gathering rapid feedback through near-constant testing and split-testing. After all, a small team that tries something new with each and every campaign (email, display, social or otherwise) gains access to rapid feedback simply not available to slower-moving mid-to-large companies that often take a rather templated approach to their marketing.

I also see great promise for companies that embrace intelligent AI driven automation and personalization. When I launched a new product this year that combined machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing and marketing automation I saw companies fall into 2 distinct groups: those ready for AI-driven automation and those that simply want faster ways to do what they've always done.

When I launched a new product this year that combined machine learning, artificial intelligence, natural language processing and marketing automation I saw clients fall into 2 distinct groups: those ready for AI-driven automation and those that simply want faster ways to do what they've always done.

In the first camp, the clients ready to let machine learning and AI takeover personalization so they are free to focus on other areas of their marketing efforts, I watched them send a few successful test campaigns, then turn the product on full throttle and never look back. For them, the product runs on autopilot and proves its ongoing effectiveness in campaign metrics.

However, in the second camp, users who simply want to do their current work faster, there is a level of hesitation in moving away from a human-curated campaign experience. I believe given the chance, the hyper-personalization possible only through intelligent automation will speak for itself in the form of higher engagement rates. In the meantime, I'll let the crawl-walk-run approach we baked into the product allow companies in this second camp to adopt AI-driven automation at their own pace.

Is intelligent AI-driven automation and personalization perfect? No. Is it better? Key performance indicators and campaign metrics on engagement seem to indicate it is.

I can only imagine that companies of all sizes will be faced with decisions about how and when to leverage AI, machine learning, and a data-driven approach to their efforts in the coming year. I believe those willing to adopt AI and execute quickly based on their results will move the furthest and fastest in 2018.

Wendy Huffman, Listrak Product Manager

Wendy Huffman
Product Manager

Holiday Shoppers Favored Mobile during Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday

We’re rounding the home stretch and heading toward the holiday shopping finish line. The results from Thanksgiving and Cyber Weeks are in for 2017 and eCommerce retailers and marketers should be thrilled. Online sales in the U.S. reached a record-breaking $6.59 billion on Cyber Monday alone, according to Adobe Analytics; this, along with a 16.9% increase in dollars spent online on Black Friday compared to 2016. There has been a shift toward online shopping for some time and now consumers are increasingly favoring mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) for their shopping needs, this year more than ever.

It’s no surprise because we’ve seen steady growth in both mobile site traffic and online revenue during the holiday shopping season the past several years. But, this year truly reached new heights as online sales from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday set the record at close to $20 billion, up 15% year-over-year YOY from 2016, according to Adobe Digital Insights (ADI). Mobile sales represented 33.1% of that revenue, up 22.2% YOY.

Why are we turning to our phones and tablets for our shopping needs? To me, the answer is simple – it’s easier. Mobile shopping is efficient and convenient. Shoppers already know what products they want and where to find the best deals for them, and can do so quickly without firing up their desktops.

"Consumers are now savvier and more apt to do their own product research. Comparison shopping is more convenient than ever before with smartphones. Mobile internet finally has a solid foothold in the digital landscape. Companies are realizing that it’s no longer an afterthought— it's a primary driver and delivering on a seamless user experience across channels and devices is crucial.” said Zach Trimble, Listrak Product Manager.

From a personal perspective, I rely on my favorite retailers to offer mobile optimized sites-- sometimes apps-- and more than ever, SMS coupon offers and discounts. It’s convenient for me and truly only as far away as my pocket. Companies such as Target, Macy's, Kohl's and Nordstrom have all been seen making investments in their mobile apps.

Convenience was key for me this year as I became a mother in September. With my brand-new baby in tow, I headed out for a shopping trip to Kohl’s for their pre-Thanksgiving Day sale to use a $10 coupon which was only redeemable in stores. I didn’t bring my stroller (I guess I skipped that day in New Mom 101) and had to lug baby around a crowded store and subsequently wait in long lines. After that, I decided to finish the rest of my shopping online-- from my iPhone that is.

It seems a lot of shoppers made the same decision I did this year. Kohl’s reported that its website had a “record-breaking” Thanksgiving, with roughly 16 million online visits that day, while JCPenney said online traffic had increased by “double digits” the week of Thanksgiving, with consumers using mobile devices to shop for gifts.

On Cyber Monday alone, mobile-driven revenue tipped the scales at $2 billion. So, what phones are shoppers favoring? The average order value for an Apple iOS user was $123, with Google Android users coming in at an average order value of $110.

Overall, more than half of Thanksgiving weekend’s online purchases were placed on mobile devices, according to data from Adobe Analytics, which measures online transactions by the 100 largest U.S. online retailers. Visits to physical stores dropped off as many retailers offered the same deals online as they did in-store.

I’m happy that retailers are realizing that in an age where we are all busy and looking for any little way to save time and energy, offering the same incentive online and in-store will please those of us mobile shoppers.

As the last big push for holiday shopping commences this week, it’s not too late to offer SMS incentives for your last-minute shoppers who may be turning to their mobile device to purchase those last few gift items on their lists.

If you’re new to SMS marketing, take a look at Listrak’s SMS State of the Industry infographic to gain a clear understanding of the current state of SMS. Listrak clients, take advantage of Listrak’s SMS offering by contacting your account manager today.

Lauren Eisenhauer
Marketing Manager

Next Level SMS Marketing Strategies: iOS Previews and Google Analytics Tracking

There is no denying mobile’s dominance. comScore found that the average American adult spends 2 hours, 51 minutes on their smartphones every day. And eMarketer expanded that report to include tablets and found the total time spent by mobile users is 4 hours, 5 minutes per day. Mobile now accounts for 65% of total digital media consumption. While the majority of our mobile time is spent in social networks, Informate reported that the average American smartphone user goes through 32 texts and 6 phone calls per day, accounting for a total of 26 minutes and 21 minutes, respectively.

An even closer look by eMarketer shows we spend 10% of our time interacting with email on mobile devices compared with 22% of our time texting.

The Importance of SMS Marketing
85% of consumers want to receive text messages from their favorite brands. Yet only 38% of businesses have adopted SMS as a way to reach their customers. When done correctly, SMS will increase engagement and revenue. And the fact that it is delivered directly to your customer’s most personal device provides new opportunities for marketers. For example, you can use SMS to re-engage subscribers who have become disengaged with email or you can reward your most loyal customers with exclusive offers. With Listrak’s SMS platform, you will be able to segment specific target audiences to create highly-personalized messages while coordinating SMS with your email, paid social and other channels. Best of all, because you are sending to a targeted list, your carrier CPM rates will be much lower. You’ll spend less but will drive even more revenue.

Whether you are considering adding an SMS marketing program or if you’re already sending messages, below are some tips that you need to know.

iOS Tap to Load Preview
Nearly one-third of mobile devices run on Apple’s iOS mobile operating system. Of those, 92% are running iOS 10 or iOS 11, which means you a large percentage of your mobile subscribers will benefit from this tip.

If your SMS messages include a hyperlink, an update to the iOS 10 operating system and carried over to the latest update automatically updates links that appear at the beginning or end of a message to a preview.

To get this to work, there are a few requirements you need to follow:
  • The link must be the first or last text in the message. If the hyperlink is placed in the middle of the text it will show up as a clickable link without the preview. Even one word placed before the link if it’s at the beginning or one word placed after the link if it’s at the end will eliminate the preview from being shown. However, you can place a period after the link, but nothing else. 
  • A preview will not be included if multiple links are included in the message, even if one of the links is the first or last text in the message. 
  • To show the preview, the link must begin with http:// or https:// but the domain (.com, .ly, .io, etc) does not matter. If the link begins with www or anything other than http.// or https.// the preview will not appear.· The preview feature removes the hyperlink and replaces it with a “Tap to Load Preview” image either before or after the text message, depending on if the link was at the beginning or end of the message. Subscribers must click the image in order to load the preview. Even though it looks like two messages, you are only charged once. Clicking on the “Tap to Load Preview” image does not count as a click. Subscribers must click on the actual preview to visit the website in order to count as a click. 
  • It’s important to note that even though the link looks like it was removed that it still counts towards your 160 character limit for SMS messages in the U.S. and 140 character limit in Canada. 
  • It’s also important to note that the preview only includes the host name of the domain and not the domain path. When the subscriber clicks the preview, the title of the website appears along with the host name of the domain but not the domain path. The minimum character count in the title is 54 characters with the maximum being 72 for vertical images, and 109 characters for horizontal images. 
  • You can control what image to show in the preview using an Open Graph og:image tag. If an image is not set using that standard, then no image will be displayed. If you don’t have an Open Graph image on the page you’re linking to, iOS 10 and 11 will display the favicon for the page. You can test og.image tags here: and you can test to make sure your page has a favicon here: A favicon is displayed in the image below:
  • Image sizes – if you want the image to be vertical, use a 400x542 pixel image, which allows for 53 character website page title. However, we recommend using horizontal images at 1,200 x 628 pixels, or 560 x 292 for smaller graphics. This allows for 109 characters in the page title. Because Facebook also prefers horizontal Open Graph images with the same dimensions, it should help streamline design time while keeping images consistent across channels. Keep in mind that Gifs aren’t supported in iOS 10. 

Note that iOS 11 on the iPhone X defaults to hiding text previews for all of your apps, automatically. Users can unlock that feature with Face ID. If you have any questions on this tactic, reach out to your Listrak Account Manager or Listrak support.

SMS Tracking in Google Analytics
Campaign tracking is one of the biggest challenges with SMS marketing. Listrak’s SMS platform fills in a lot of the gaps, giving you the ability to track short code level subscriptions, message volume, broadcast campaign metrics, keyword opt-in metrics, revenue attribution, contact management and integrated Google Analytics campaign reporting.

Including SMS as a traffic source in your Google Analytics reports is one of the most accurate ways to track the efficacy of your SMS campaigns. Using Google Analytics UTM tracking parameters, this is easy to do. For example:

Tracked URL:[insert source]& utm_ medium=[insert medium name]

…And filled out with information:

The bold text contains the parameters and their values. This would tell Google Analytics that whoever entered the website via this link has come from the source ‘Listrak’ and the medium ‘sms’.

The good news for Listrak users is that the Listrak application will take care of adding Google Analytics tracking code automatically for you by creating the utm parameters and append them to your links. By default, Source is Listrak and Medium is sms, but this can be updated in the Short Code settings:

Listrak will also automatically add the Campaign Name and Campaign Content based on the Google Analytics fields when creating a new SMS campaign:

Additionally, Listrak will add the utm_term parameter using the link URL so that activity in Google Analytics can be tracked to a specific link.

Adding the UTM to the URL will provide the ability to track SMS as a source in Google Analytics. However, it adds a lot of characters to the URL. And when you’re already limited to 160 characters, every character counts. Listrak’s SMS platform includes a URL shortener to minimize the character count of your links and will hide the UTM parameters as part of the redirected URL so that they are hidden from the message and do not count against the character limit. 

Whether you have been sending SMS messages or if you are just getting started, these two tactics will take your campaigns to the next level. Questions? Reach out in the comments section.

Megan Ouellet
Director, Product Marketing