Five common design mistakes

15th February 2011 By Sam Burrows in Email design

Although it is tempting to go design crazy and make your emails as visually appealing as possible, there are several pitfalls that the novice email marketer needs to avoid on this front in order to create successful campaigns. 

Here are five handy tips to designing email marketing campaigns:

  • Less is more – try not to squeeze more than three articles in one email. It’s just too much for people to process. If you need to send more than three – let’s go with six, as an example - just spilt them across the month. Send three now then another three in a couple of weeks. I assure you that your open rates WILL improve this way. Also, go for a couple of lines for each article rather than a ton of text.
  • The curse of Outlook 2010 – It is widely expected that Microsoft Outlook 2003 will be phased out later this year. The good news is that if you’re still using this version, you will be able to upgrade only to Microsoft’s latest email software, Microsoft 2010. The bad news is that Microsoft 2010 gives your readers a tiny preview pane and will mark any sender not in your target’s contact list as ‘SPAM’ in the subject line. This could make email marketing much more challenging for you and me! To combat this, put the most important info first (see below for more on this) and use basic formatting to grab the attention in the preview pane. Bold, underline and italics are now your new best friends for designing the first six lines of you newsletters.
  • Make your header your footer – People make up their minds on whether to open engage with your campaign using the subject line and the preview pane. Don’t clutter this up with images (that often come up with little white boxes and red crosses before they load) or additional spaces. You have around six lines in which to capture your audiences’ imagination – don’t waste it! If you must have an image or other branding in there, stick it down the bottom.
  • Embed links into your headers – Thanks to Google and other search engines, people expect to find your links in your headings. Using a simple hyperlink manager should enable you to link these to your website with ease.
  • Size matters – if you need to hunt for it, people won’t find it. Make your call to action ‘book now...enquire here...sign up today’ larger and more prominent than the rest of the text and preferably weave it into the preview pane.

There are hundreds of ways you could improve the design of your e-newsletters, but these are a few pointers for those starting out. Can you suggest more? Email me at

Sam Burrows
About the Author

Sam Burrows

Sam is the lead designer for little green plane. A key driving force within the design team, he ensures any email templates and landing pages designed for you are fresh and engaging, whilst adhering to best practice guidelines and your existing brand collateral.