Email Marketing Guide

4. How to Create a Compelling Email Design For Your Small Business

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Small Business Marketing

How to Create a Compelling Email Design For Your Small Business

Jun 22, 2023 • 9 min read
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      Email is a fantastic marketing tool for small businesses to promote growth and brand loyalty. However, knowing all the ins and outs of email design can seem daunting and complicated. 

      Thanks to email templates, email design is easier than ever, but there is still plenty to learn so you can get the most out of your email marketing strategy, and there is still some degree of customization that has to be done to make your emails on-brand. Plus, once you’ve added the content, you have to ensure everything is well-formatted and functional. Here are some tips for all the different elements of email design to create a beautiful and effective email template.

      Subject Lines

      The subject line is the first thing a subscriber sees. It shows up in their email inbox and plays a significant role in determining whether they’ll open the email or not. Needless to say, having a strong subject line is important.

      Subject lines should grab attention and tease what’s in the email. They should be intriguing enough that people want to open the email, but shouldn’t be so misleading that readers are confused or disappointed once they read it. In fact, a misleading subject line can get you in trouble with the FTC. This means your subject line should have some amount of relevance to the content of the email.

      Another important element is the preheader. This is the line of text that appears below the subject line in your inbox. The preheader is another opportunity to hook subscribers and get them to open your email. 

      You may make your subject line more creative and the preheader more direct. For example, if you’re launching a new product, like sneakers, you might make the subject line “NEW NEW NEW!” with the preheader “Meet our sneakers: your new everyday BFF.” The subject intrigues people to see what’s new while the preheader tells them what to expect. 


      Your emails should be consistent with the rest of your branding. This means you should include your logo(s), fonts, and colors as possible. 

      The header is a great place to include your logo. You can use your brand colors throughout the email template design. While you might not be able to use your fonts directly within the email, as most emails use a specific set of web fonts, you can use them in any graphics you create.

      This also means your emails should sound like you. If your brand voice is helpful and professional, your emails shouldn’t be humorous and casual. You can play with different angles, depending on the content, but the voice should feel consistent with your overall brand.

      Email Structure

      Now that we’ve covered subject lines and branding, let’s go through the main elements of email structure.


      Headings guide readers through your emails. Remember: most people skim emails, so larger elements like headers and images are important markers for them to know what content is where. Similar to subject lines, headers should be intriguing, but easy to follow. Disperse them throughout the email to keep readers engaged.


      It’s best to keep text to a minimum in emails. Emails with long blocks of text are going to lose readers quickly. They’ll see a wall of text and decide to read another email without even seeing what the text is about. Remember: short attention spans! Keep it short and sweet, focusing on the most important and relevant information.


      Every email you send will have at least one link to your website. After all, email is meant to drive traffic and, ultimately, sales. Ensure all links work and are formatted correctly. You might include links on images, in hyperlinks, or in buttons. Links should be obvious if they’re not in a button or an image. Hyperlinks are generally blue and underlined. Check all links before sending the email. You might be surprised how easy it is to add an extra character when including a link, which leads to a broken link, which makes for a poor user experience.

      Graphics and Images

      Images are also an important part of emails. You can include either pictures or graphics (including gifs) to display new products or to keep the email visually enticing. Ensure all images and graphics are sized correctly and displayed as they should. Some email platforms are finicky about resizing images for mobile, so be sure to check your test email on both desktop and mobile. If you’re linking any images, test those as well. 


      Getting email spacing right is just as important as the email content itself. Too much spacing will look strange and make the email unnecessarily long. Not enough spacing might make the email hard to read and look cramped. Balance both your text and images with white space. Additionally, make sure your email is the right size. Most emails are 600-700px wide. If your test email looks warped in certain mail clients, double-check the spacing. 

      When it comes to email design, consider the overall visual. Remember that readers make a snap decision if they’re going to keep scrolling to read and click on your email, so it’s important that the overall look strikes the right balance. A good rule of thumb to follow is to alternate text and visual information, so that there isn’t too much of one type of content in a row. 

      Calls to Action

      Every email you send should have a clear goal. This goal will inform the calls to action (CTAs) that are included. Keep the total number of links low, but you can include the same link in multiple places. For example, if you’re promoting a sale, you’ll likely include the sale link on the header, in the body of the email, and on one or a few buttons. 

      But, if you include links to several different products, traffic will be diluted. If you find yourself including more than three to five different links, consider sending separate emails to keep the content focused. 

      The first CTA should be near the top of the email, but there can be a few throughout, so that, if someone keeps scrolling and then decides to click, they will still reach your intended link. 

      Whenever you include a CTA, it should be clear and have a logical flow. Users should have some idea of where they’re going when they click. If you’re talking about a service, but link to a blog that isn’t related, that’s a confusing user experience. 

      Click-through rate is ultimately what translates to sales and growth. That’s why it’s so important to have clear and logical CTAs.

      Including the Option to Unsubscribe

      While it may seem counter-intuitive, every email you send out must have the option to unsubscribe. Why? Because the CAN-SPAM Act mandates that all emails include an opt-out with a “clear and conspicuous explanation.” 

      The footer is a good place to include your unsubscribe information. The opt-out information should be part of the template you use for every email sent. This will include a hyperlink to the opt-out page. You are also required to include your business contact info in the footer. You can configure this through your specific email content platform.

      Mobile Email Design

      With nearly 50% of emails being opened on mobile, having a mobile email design is critical. Most email platform builders are designed for desktop, but you must ensure your email templates are responsive on mobile. This means the design adapts to a mobile screen and doesn’t look like a shrunk-down version of the desktop design. While most email design platforms do this automatically, you’ll want to double-check all images and links on your test mobile email. 

      Email Design For Small Businesses 

      With these tips in mind, you’re ready to start designing your first email! Use all the tools and resources at your disposal to create a template that you love, feels on-brand, and is easy to replicate for different purposes. 

      If you have questions, it can be helpful to contact your email platform’s customer service, or they might have additional resources to help guide you through your first send. With practice and a little patience, sending out emails will start to feel natural and easy for your small business.

      About the author
      Maeve Ginsberg

      Maeve Ginsberg is a copywriter & storyteller. She is a marketing strategist a Picante Collective where she helps businesses with marketing strategy and brand voice.

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