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Best Practices for Building Better Email Templates

Written by Melissa Filich

Email marketing continues to thrive as one of the most popular and easiest forms of one-to-one communication for businesses to build long term customer relationships. But after almost four decades of being a marketing staple, the same question continues to get asked by people everywhere - what makes a successful email campaign? The easiest answer - an attractive template design and highlighted calls-to-actions! 

What are email templates? 

An email template is a roadmap for your email content. It paves the way, allowing you to easily create and convey a purposeful message to your subscribers. At its core an email template is made up of these primary elements: 

  1. A catchy subject line
  2. Relatable content
  3. Some form of call-to-action (CTA) 
  4. A CAN-SPAM compliant footer that includes a physical address and unsubscribe options

Beyond that, anything more you add is just icing on the cake that should be sweet enough to entice your reader to engage further. 

There are three types of email templates: 

  • Plain-Text
    • Containing text only, the Plain-Text version is about as simple as it gets. 
  • HTML
    • Fancy fonts and attractive images are the name of the HTML game. 
  • CSS
    • Looking to take your email template to the next level? CSS allows you to create interactive email templates. 

When creating your template it is important to have the message in mind. There are many different types of emails but it really boils down to four categories: 

Welcome emails are short and sweet, yet should hold a lot of power visually. The welcome email gives your new leads their first impression of your brand. Consider the inverted pyramid when creating your welcome emails. 

Newsletter emails: This informational email is designed to be sent regularly with the intent to keep subscribers updated about your brand and/or products and services. These emails usually contain multiple CTA buttons to different sources you want to direct your readers to.

Promotional and announcement emails: This is the email that is used to elevate your subscriber relationship from lead to customer. This email has a very strong marketing voice that should make purchasing enticing and easy.

Lead Nurturing: As marketing automation becomes more and more prevalent in the email marketing world, the need for personalized, automated lead nurturing email campaigns continue to grow in popularity.

Getting Started - Building Your Email Templates 

Email templates are like sweet delicious cakes, each sweet treat is made for a specific occasion (an event invitation, a welcome email, a newsletter, a promotional message, etc.). The first step is to decide what your occasion is, that will help you decide what kind of cake you need to bake... uh, email I meant what kind of email you need to create (chocolate, always chocolate cake!)

Once you have determined the purpose of your email it is time to create a template. One important question to ask yourself is - Do you want to use a ready-made template or create one yourself from scratch? 

GreenRope takes the stress out of choosing between a ready-made template and a custom template. Not only is an expansive library of templates available and ready for you to put your special touches on, but there is also an interactive fully customizable template builder available within every account. Don’t see the read-made template of your dreams? Why not create it yourself, easy-peasy! Remember - anytime you create a custom template using the Email EasyBuilder it is saved in your account and can be used time and time again for all your emailing needs. 

A good template design clearly identifies the different placement areas of your email. The key to the layout is building a clear path for your subscribers to follow at any speed, whether they take it slow and read every word or speed through skimming your content, the end result should be the same - they understood the intent behind your message. 

Templates can be broken down into two primary email layout styles, single column and two column layouts.  

Single column layout is probably the most common of the two; this style takes each element and stacks one on top of another in one singular column. The single column is great for mobile rendering as it makes for easy smaller screen viewing. 

The two column layout allows for the same stacking element in two side-by-side columns. Often used for newsletters that follow a zig-zag pattern for a better subscriber roadmap.

Content - The Ingredients You Need

If templates are like cakes, the content is the frosting. The content of your email is how you introduce yourself or how your readers get to know you further. 

Your content should contain the following elements: 

Subject line & pre-header: If your template is the cake and the content is the frosting well that makes the subject line the sprinkles on top! That one line is what will determine if your subscribers open your email or not. With more than 80% of email going unopened on average it is imperative that your subject line be alluring and not misleading. 

The body of your email: Why stop the cake comparison now? The body is the cake and filling and all the good stuff that you cannot wait to devour! Your email needs to get your point across with details that inform and drive readers to additional landing pages for more information. 

  • Fonts: Just like the inflection in your voice when you speak, the font of your message emphasizes your points and energizes subscribers to continue reading. Different font types and colors trigger different emotions in the minds of your readers so it is important to use that to your advantage when creating your message. 
  • Colors: Like fonts, different colors within your content also convey different emotions. The colors of your background, your links, any CTA buttons, all send signals to the readers telling them how to feel about what you are saying, almost more than what you are saying itself. Click here to read more about colors and the influences they have when creating CTA buttons. 
  • Images and Visual media: People are visual, so give them something to look at. Images should be on topic and personal in some way to your message and the reader. The perfect mix between text and images helps readers stay engaged which will lead to click throughs to your landing pages and additional interactions. Don’t forget - inside every active GreenRope account is a library full of stock images available for you to use anytime. 
  • CTA: Call-To-Actions need to be visually stimulating and easy to find. Your CTAs need to be actionable such as ‘Request a Demo’ or ‘’Download the eBook now” so your reader is persuaded to click through.
    • Placement of CTA button
      Almost the most important part of your content is the placement of your CTA. Putting it in the wrong location will likely result in fewer conversions. No pressure! Do you place it at the top so it is the first thing your readers see, enticing them to click? In most cases, your subscribers will want to read to learn more about your content, with the CTA at the top they must scroll all the way back after reading and there is a chance fewer people want to scroll all the way to the top to click the CTA button. Putting the CTA at the bottom of the content is the consensus among most marketers. But why not place it on the top and bottom? This is a great choice for longer emails that take 2+ scrolls to get through.  Wherever you decide to put the CTA be sure it is clearly labeled and makes the reader excited to click it. If you aren’t sure, try A/B testing to see which placement gets the best engagement. 
  • Footer: The footer is where you sign off and have your physical address and unsubscribe information to ensure your emails are CAN-SPAM compliant.

Current Trends in Email Design

More image depth: Almost 3D with their intense depth these images appear more realistic and intriguing. Similar to the 3D intensity the isometric image is just as popular of a trend recently.   



Futuristic images: Dark backgrounds, soft glows, vivid colors and gradients, movement, are just a few of the words we use to describe futuristic imagery. We might not know what the future holds, but we do not that futuristic images are all the rage and allow designers the unique opportunity to let their imaginations run wild!



Retro images: On the complete opposite side of the conceptual spectrum from futuristic we have retro images. Add some old school fun to your templates with classic images of days long past. 



Organic images: While geometric shapes continue to top the charges of popular shapes we have noticed an increase in designs using organic shapes with a fluidity that lacks straight lines and symmetry.


Click here to learn more about GreenRope’s creative services. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

The one-trick pony: the single picture email, a mistake that is old as email marketing. Email clients are notorious for temporarily disabling images by default. Sending a single image email is almost the same as sending a blank email. Add a line or two of text to catch their attention, then they’ll enable your images and engage with you even further. 

No CAN-SPAM compliant footer: Not having a footer that includes the specific information outlined in the CAN-SPAM act will get you in hot water. It will get you blacklisted and worse, fined, and if you are using an ESP you run the risk of having your account canceled immediately. 

Catfishing: Sending misleading content will cost you in spam complaints, unsubscribes, and your sending reputation. People do not like to feel tricked and will promptly remove themselves from your list and file complaints if they are. This behavior is also monitored by ISPs that will flag your email address as spam which will immediately impact your future sending abilities. 

Not testing: TEST TEST TEST! Always test your email in as many different email clients as possible to see how it is going to be presented to your subscribers. A small email based formatting issue can cost you subscribers. Also, just as important is A/B testings. Don’t presume to know what your subscribers need/want. A/B testing your email template lets you see exactly what works and what doesn’t.

With an understanding of the basics, key elements, trends, and common mistakes to avoid it is time to put your thoughts into action and create an amazing template that is perfect for your brand.


Additional Resources:

GreenRope’s Creative Design Services 

Email Marketing Cheat Sheet

20 Email Marketing Mistakes to Avoid


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