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The biggest design mistakes affecting your email marketing

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

A person testing their email marketing design

In the words of a famous wizard, email design can be a dark art 🧙‍♂️

If you get it perfect (or as near perfect as possible), you have one of the most powerful tools in all the marketing world.

However, if you get it email design wrong, you might summon some nasty stuff (I'm talking unsubscribes, emails winding up in junk and eventually, losing money on all that magic you've been putting into your emails).

So, what are potentially the biggest design mistakes affecting your email marketing? Let's take a look at five of the most common email design mistakes and what you can do to avoid them.

Mistake 1: Designing emails that are too long

According to Campaign Monitor, the ideal length of an email is between 50 and 125 words. This seems pretty short, right? Obviously, the length of your email will heavily depend on the purpose of the email. The stats presented in this study reveal that email with shorter copy results in higher response rates.

In short, it's recommended to keep content concise, to the point and easy to understand.

Another major issue about long emails is the potential size of these emails. Email providers such as Gmail will often "clip" emails that are too long (or too large). The length of an email could heavily impact the size thereof, so keep this in mind. Gmail will automatically shorten email messages that exceed 102 kilobytes in size. That's not a lot of capacity, so avoid using too many GIFs, images and long-form copy in the same email. You'll only encourage Gmail to clip your emails. Below is an example of an email clipped in Gmail, but I'm sure if you're a Gmail user, you'll have seen this before:

An example of an email clipped in Gmail

Lastly, and we've spoken about this in another blog, emails often need to be designed for the short-attention economy. Due to the popularity of social media and short snippets of information, there are far more people skim-reading emails than taking an in-depth read.

If your emails are too long, not only are you struggling to capture your audience's attention, you may be wasting their time.

Get to the point.

Keep it informative.

Don't waste a reader's time

Mistake 2: Not creating a visual hierarchy

Making sure you capture and keep your reader's attention is the main goal of your email campaigns. Doing this visually is almost critical.

How, you may ask? One of the leading ways to design emails that capture and keep attention is to follow principles around visual hierarchy, in particular, the inverted pyramid principle.

how to structure email hierarchy

The way that the inverted pyramid principle works is not near as complicated as it sounds.

Simply put, what the inverted pyramid does is direct your readers' eyes and minds in the direction within the email you'd like them to go.

This means creating a headline that promotes the key message of your email, before providing supporting information and imagery to support this message and ending off that section of your email with a call to action.

Here's an example of this in action:

example of email design hierarchy in action

As you can see in the above example, the reader's eyes are drawn downward, after receiving the message to a clear action. That's why this principle can be a game changer, especially when looking to create a sense of visual hierarchy.

Mistake 3: Not considering your email fonts

Email fonts can be, well, tricky...

What many marketers don't realise is that only certain fonts are accepted in the various email environments, and one of the major risks you run by using complex or fancy fonts is that someone's inbox is probably going to display those as an email-safe font anyway.

There are 10 fonts I recommend that are usually safe to use for any inbox (without them breaking). These include:

  • Arial

  • Helvetica

  • Times New Roman

  • Verdana

  • Courier

  • Tahoma

  • Georgia

  • Comic Sans

  • Trebuchet MS

  • Geneva

Now, it's tough to stand out or remain on-brand if you can't match customised fonts, right? The reality is that it becomes tougher to create good-looking, effective emails with fonts that break or revert in someone's inbox.

If you are going to use a custom font, you're going to need to realise the risk that comes with this on your design, but also the potential effort you're going to go through to have to use these, either by coding them into your HTML or adding them as image sections in your emails.

Try to keep things simple by finding an email-friendly font that closely matches your brand and message. This will avoid frustration and the risk of you needing to go back and edit campaigns that break when you test them.

In addition to this, make sure to:

  1. Stick to one font (two at most): This keeps your email neat and allows for easier comprehension and planning.

  2. Ensure your fonts are legible: Keep skim readers and visual impairment in mind. Your readers will appreciate this

  3. Ensure good line and word spacing: Yes, this is a layout caution, but having a font that is tough to read with the wrong spacing can make reading a nightmare. Test these on various devices too.

Mistake 4: Not designing for mobile

As of 2022, more emails are being read on mobile devices than on desktop devices (

This means that if you aren't optimising your email campaigns for someone's mobile device, you're potentially creating a bad experience for your readers, as well as costing yourself results.

why mobile-friendly email design is important

So, how do you optimise your emails for mobile? Here are a few quick tips:

  • Try to stick to a single-column layout: By doing this, you avoid the overlapping of columns, the unnecessary shifting of images, and overflowing text, which is typical of multi-column emails.

  • Keep enough white space in your emails: Less can often be more. If you want someone to click, especially with limited space on a mobile device's screen, make sure there is enough white space, especially around your buttons and links. The last thing you want is lost conversions because someone keeps clicking the wrong thing.

  • Don't use too many images: Yes, this may sound counter-productive because you want your emails to be visually appealing, but having to scroll on and on through tons of images can be a frustrating experience for someone reading your emails on their mobile phone. Images should support copy, not the other way around.

  • Pay attention to your font sizes: Though we discussed fonts in the section above, someone we haven't mentioned is font sizes. To ensure good readability and a clear message, try to aim for font sizes of 14-16 pixels for your body copy and 22-26 pixels for your headers.

Paying attention to these details can help you drive results and create an unsurpassed experience for your readers who are using their phones to read your emails.

Mistake 5: Not testing your email designs

Most email marketers have been there...You spend hours creating the perfect email, making sure you check all your links and text and hit the "send a test" button, only to find an absolute horror show of an email with broken images, weird stacking and a wall of unaligned text when you open the test. Now, imagine you didn't test your perfect-looking email and simply sent it straight to your audience because you're in a hurry and excited to get them reading. This is the danger of an untested email. The process of testing your email campaigns can seem rigorous but it's critical to making sure your audience gets the best email possible. No shortcuts.

an example of an email broken because it is all images

You can make this process simpler:

  • Use the right email tools: Various email platforms (I use TouchBasePro for this as their testing tools are amazing and they're super affordable) allow you to test what an email campaign will render like on various devices, including desktops, mobile devices and tablets. Don't neglect this function

  • Test various types of inboxes: The way an email displays in Gmail will be different to Outlook, Apple Mail, Yahoo and all the other inboxes out there. Try to test across as many of these as you can and as you begin learning what devices the majority of your audience uses, you can optimise for designs within those inboxes.

  • Test for images on and off: By default, most imboxes will render emails with images off, especially the first time you send emails. In the case of inboxes such as Outlook, images will remain off until you are added as a trusted sender or your reader elects to show images. Unless you're embedding inline images (which isn't the best practice either) your images will need to be "downloaded" to your recipients' inboxes, so always keep this in mind.

Avoiding the biggest design mistakes affecting your email marketing

By avoiding these mistakes, you're well on the way to creating email campaigns that will help you achieve your goals while keeping your readers happy and engaged. It's really not much more difficult than that. To offer a quick recap, here's what you need to focus on:

  • Don't design emails that are too large

  • Don't neglect your visual hierarchy

  • Not considering your email fonts

  • Not designing for mobile devices

  • Not testing your email designs

Yes, there are tons of other mistakes you can make, but starting with these basics and revisiting them when creating emails is your first step to email success. Which design tip has helped you? Let us know!

Before you go! Email design means nothing if you don't have a database! Learn the fastest ways to grow your email list today by clicking here or on the image below 👇

Free email database growth playbook

Want more tips like these? Get our expert email guide today! Click here to find out more

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