Planning your email marketing campaign

In this article Rebecca Grainger, director of Goldilocks Marketing, gives us her top tips for email marketing planning, design and content.

Timing: when to send your campaign

  • This depends on who your audience is. Your website analytics may help with this decision – it makes sense to send your email at the most popular day and time for visits to your website.
  • Email marketing provider Mailchimp says more people open email during the day than at night. The most active time is between 2pm-5pm. More emails are sent during the week than on weekends, with Tuesday and Thursday being the highest volume days. Thursday has the highest open rate (19%).
  • Seasonal content is always a great way to improve open rates. December is the most active email marketing time, so you may see reduced results because there’s simply so much email in most people’s inboxes.
  • Make your content targeted to holidays, seasonal fashion trends, trends in your industry, or other time-related or seasonal elements.

Edit it!

Before sending your email use a spell checker obviously, but also ask colleagues to read it through to ensure it makes sense and gets your key message across.


  • Before you send an email to your entire list, send a test version to a test account using each of the big email providers (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail/Live/MSN and any account using an Outlook client). If there are any significant segments of your list using another email provider, test it as well.
  • Test across devices and browsers as well as email providers.
  • Many email marketing providers, such as Campaign Monitor and Mailchimp, provide this testing facility for a small fee.

Wear your recipients’ shoes

Put yourself in their position as a recipient of your email when you write your all-important subject line. If you were them, what would trigger your interest and make you want to read more?

Check out the competition

Sign up to your competitors’ newsletters and ‘borrow’ the best bits. However, the one caution would be that you may be receiving a specific email based on a list segment that you are falling into. For example, if you have a dummy account at a competitor from which you’ve made one test purchase, or no purchases, you may be getting different email content than their best customers do.

Designing an effective email

Size matters

  • No more than 600 pixels wide.
  • Design for what your email will look like in a 600 x 200 pixel space without images loaded.
  • Get your value proposition and at least one link into the first 100 pixels of height. Avoid heavy use of email graphics in this area.
  • Consider a secondary column on the right or left hand side in order to get more information above the fold of an email preview pane.


  • The most important information in your email should be in the upper left corner. Users will scan content in a downward diagonal pattern from upper left to lower right.
  • One column for single call-to-action emails, two columns for information emails.
  • Use style rules within the email, such as font and p tags to produce a far more consistent design and display. CSS (even inline) does not always work across email providers.
  • Add a text only version of the email onto your send.
  • Don’t copy and paste from word! Always copy your content into notepad or similar before inserting it into your email template. Then use your email platform’s html to format headlines, fonts, etc.


  • Use bold tags, font colors and font sizes: within your individual text blocks, use bold tags, font colors, or even various font sizes to highlight keywords and trigger words.
  • Underline links to improve click-through activity.
  • Break-up your content by using larger, bolder headlines to convey to users what exactly each section is about.
  • Use small blocks of text that then use strong calls-to-action to have users click to your landing page or website for the full content or information.
  • Use a readable font. Arial and other non-serif fonts in a ten or eleven point font size are often considered the best fonts for email templates. Stay away from heavy serif fonts, script fonts, or novelty fonts.

Writing your email content

Effective subject line

* The subject line is the only part of your email that all recipients will see so it is probably the most important part of your email.
* Write it last to reflect content.
* Size – depends on what devices your email will be viewed on. Short (up to 60 characters) for mobile devices. Longer for widescreen computers.
* Be clear about the key offer or benefit of your email. Communicate that and only that in your subject line. Be factual and not mysterious.
* Spam free – avoid capitals and exclamation marks.
* Test it: Experiment with email marketing by using two different subject lines. Test which gets more opens and more calls to action.

Writing copy

  • Emails perform better when you use a first name or user name in the subject line and body of the email.
  • Use under 750 words total.
  • Use shorter text blocks of 100 to 200 words that have a strong call-to-action to click-through to your landing page or website for more information. You’ll get the double benefit of a more text-friendly email as well as increased web traffic.


  • Many (if not most) of your recipients will not see the images included in your email, which means that every image you include can be wasted space.
  • Never send an email that is simply one big image and certainly don’t put any messaging in an image that a user must see to complete the action you want from an email (i.e. “click here” or “order now” messages).
  • Make sure that ALL of your images have both alt text and title text as different browsers will read those two types of text differently (Alt text and title text are the text messages that appear when an image doesn’t load or when somebody hovers over an image with a mouse).
  • Make sure that all of your images are actually links to your landing page or website. This way, at a minimum, your potential image dead space can still drive traffic to your destination.


  • Include lots of obvious links (at least one per paragraph of text) and make sure that your links look like links.
  • At a minimum, links in your email should always be underlined. Ideally, links will be formatted in a blue font and will also be bolded. If your style guidelines prohibit links from being bold or blue, make sure that they are underlined.
  • Don’t only use images or buttons to denote a link.

Unsubscribe link

You must include an option to unsubscribe in every email. However, it’s still legitimate to ask someone why they wish to opt out so consider linking the unsubscribe option to a feedback page on your website.

Add to contact list link

Conversely, remind users they won’t miss out on the valuable information that they love receiving from you if they add your send address to their email contacts list. The more people you get doing that, the better your deliverability will be.