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Megan · 25 min read · Tips and resources · November 30, 2020

Newsletter design tips (+ bonus: best free resources)

How did your last email campaign perform? If you expected better results, it might be time to tweak different newsletter elements.

Your email marketing success isn’t based merely on a great subject line or the right delivery time, it's a combination of several elements working together.

In this article, we’ll look at 11 email elements, give newsletter design tips and sprinkle handy MailerLite tips throughout (we’ve wrapped these in boxes). We’ll finish strong with a bonus list of free resources to make your newsletters shine more.

When we talk about newsletter design, we mean the entire package, not only the aesthetics. Each element matters—from the subject line to the email signature. The email subject makes readers curious to click, the signature humanizes your brand and everything in between helps you reach your email marketing goals.

If you do want to learn more about design aesthetics, bookmark our ultimate guide to newsletter design (it’s packed with valuable tips):

We’ll share our favorite newsletter design best practices and give tips on how to use MailerLite to implement each one.

MailerLite campaign editors

MailerLite customers can create campaigns in 3 different ways:

  1. Drag & drop editor

  2. Rich-text editor

  3. Importing their own custom HTML

The instructions we’ll show throughout this article are for our drag & drop editor, as this is the easiest and most common way to create campaigns in the MailerLite app.

💡 Editor tip

If your app interface looks different, you can easily upgrade. Create a new campaign and use the new drag & drop editor instead to start building.

Let’s get into the 11 design elements.

Whether someone opens your email depends on a number of variables. One of the most important ones being the relevancy of the subject line. Is your email targeted to your audience’s desires and interests? Be descriptive in your copy, test different types of subject lines and deliver on your promise inside the email.

Some good examples of relevant subject lines are:

  • There are literally 101 free books in this email (catchy)

  • GDPR ≠ Gosh Darn Pretzel Rolls (funny)

  • Poll Results and Thank You Bonuses! (LOTS of goodies inside!) (gratitude)

  • Quick follow-up regarding Cookbook, plus a few little extras! (follow-up)

  • Sold out in 30 min but wait, there is hope! (sales)

  • It's decision time... Don't miss this (urgency)

  • Now, this is just getting weird… (curiosity)

  • A Welcome Gift! My #1 Wall Street Journal Bestseller is Free Inside (welcome)

You can find a lot more examples and strategies in our complete guide for writing effective subject lines, with tips that will help you improve your open rates.

💡 Email campaign tip

There’s no one formula for the best subject line, it’s all about what interests your readers. Use A/B testing to find out what works for your audience. Try different wording, length, emojis, personalization or other variations to test. Here’s how to set up an A/B test in MailerLite.

The preheader text is an extension of your subject line. If you don’t add a preheader, a default text will appear such as “View in browser”. Don’t waste an opportunity to get more opens. You can do so much more with preheaders!

A good preheader has the ability to increase your open rates. According to Litmus, it can increase click-through rates by 30%.

The preheader length can be up to 140 characters (or 2 full lines), though not all these characters are shown in each email client. Keep it short and sweet!

If you’re clueless about what to write, ask: What text makes the subject line more impactful? It might be a teaser, question, one-line summary, CTA or continuation of the subject line. You can also add dates when promoting an event or play around with personalization.

Here are some inbox preheaders that caught our attention:

Preheaders examples
💡 Email design tip

Do you see the blank space in the preheaders above? If you wonder how that’s done, here’s the answer. You can use this trick in our app too, though we don’t recommend it (it’s a hack, aka not bulletproof). To add your own preheader in MailerLite, click here for instructions.

When it comes to your newsletter layout design, we’re a fan of keeping things consistent.  Here are some email design tips to do just that.

For MailerLite that is: Our logo at the top, our signature green color, blue CTA buttons, generous white space and a clean, white background. You can see an example here. Because we always send emails in this style, our readers know when they’re looking at a MailerLite newsletter.

→ Follow the link if you need help with picking the best colors for your marketing emails.

Though we encourage you to play around with your newsletter design, always keep a couple of design elements the same. This can be the logo placement, fonts, background color, accent colors, button style, etc. Our free templates are a great base to start building from.

We love the email layout styles of Minted, a marketplace for independent artists. Their header, buttons, fonts, footer and email structure always stay the same, but the colors and images change.

Collage with 3 emails from Minted
💡 Header design tip

Your header is an element on its own that’s worth styling. Read our newsletter header design blog post to learn how to optimize the email header.

There’s a lot that can be said about newsletter content. Most of it, we explain in our guide on how to write email content that people care about

The most important thing is to define 1 goal for each new email campaign and create content around that. It’s easier for readers to commit to 1 thing. 

Use your email copy to help readers understand what you want them to do and give them everything they need to make a decision. For example, when your aim is to have people sign up for an event, include all the details and make it easy for them to attend. With MailerLite, you can use the 1-click subscribe feature for people to RSVP within the email.

If your goal is to strengthen relationships, the content might look different. Your email can then be more conversational to connect with the reader versus having them take action.

Let’s look at these examples:

Email subject lines examples

The first email from Ten Thousand Villages is a fundraising campaign to reach $200,000. Inside, you can read exactly why the organization needs support and how you can help.

Ten Thousand Villages newsletter

In the second example from Crocs, the goal of their promotional email is to remind people of their 24-hour 20% off sale. Click here to view the newsletter. All CTA buttons lead back to their online shop, helping their goal to drive conversions.

In the last email from Liz Moorehead, the “latest” text in the subject line makes it clear this is a roundup. However, there’s a lot happening! 

The subject line in its full length reads: “[THE LATEST] Dealing with isolation when always working from home, best digital marketing training resources, and inbound marketing vs. They Ask, You Answer (what's the difference?)”

The newsletter content is a mix of highlighted articles, personal stories, marketing tips, event dates and other recommendations. Though the email is unquestionably packed with information, a format like this can be overwhelming. 

Roundup email example

A clearer way to organize elements is by using visuals, short body texts and a table format, like Refinery29 does in this email.

With roundups, it’s best to test what works. Are your open rates better when you highlight 1 article in the subject line versus many? How many articles should be featured? Is it better to have all information in your email or to redirect people to a landing page that contains this information?

Takeaway: It’s tempting to put everything in your newsletter, but try to pick the most essential topics for your audience. Use your newsletter reports to see until where people stay engaged (e.g. click links) to estimate how long your email can be.

💡Newsletter design tip

#1: Large emails are clipped in Gmail. This happens when a newsletter exceeds 102KB. The full email can only be seen when the “View entire message” link is clicked.

The key to sending long emails in its entirety is to keep your email light… we mean, Lite ;). With our rich-text editor, you can send beautiful, long-form newsletters. This editor contains style options, image blocks, signatures and dividers to structure your newsletter design.

#2: For people using their own custom HTML, be sure to use web-safe fonts for emails to guarantee great readability in all email clients. MailerLite users can pick any font within the editor.

What’s the main action you want your email reader to take? People like to know what to do next, so make it easy for them to take the next step.

Whether you’re choosing a text or button call to action, make it pop. This can be done with color, size and making the element stand alone. For example, adding white space to visually separate your email elements makes the CTA easier to spot.

For the CTA text: Make it catchy and clear. Think about what makes you click through. Sometimes it’s a straightforward “Click here to read”, other times it can be an exciting “I definitely want in!”

We love this email from our customer Red Cap Cards. It’s simple, clear and the CTA buttons cannot be missed. 

Red Cap Cards email design example

See what your email design calls for, play around with different formats and test CTA variations. The cool thing about running tests is that we often think we know what works, only to be surprised at how our audience really reacts.

💡Email layout tip

To test the best CTA, create another email version and only change the CTA (e.g. the text, placement, color, size, etc.). It’s important to change 1 element at a time so that when there’s a difference (good or bad), you can safely say that change influenced it.

It’s one of the easiest and hardest things at the same time: Building relationships with your audience.

Easy because we’re humans writing to humans. Hard because we often don’t take the time and effort. We like to engage with our entire email list at once, but a simple “Hey {$name}” won’t do that.

Our best email personalization tips are:

  • Let your personality shine within the email

  • Address your subscriber’s needs

  • Target people’s needs by using groups/segments

  • Integrate platforms to have more information available

In our ultimate guide on using newsletter personalization, we’ll talk more about all these tips.

💡Newsletter layout tip

Use dynamic email content to show information that’s relevant to some of your subscribers, but not all. This is the easiest way to address different needs without having to create several versions of the same email.

Using different decorative elements (like dividers, icons and images) in your newsletter design is useful for 2 reasons: It improves readability by giving emails structure and guides the reader’s eye to what’s important.

If an email only has plain text, there’s no visual cue for where to look. A long text that’s not broken up can also feel a little mucho (like reading a school essay).

Dividers, boxes, images, colors, icons, emojis, etc. all add structure to your email body and make scrolling through easier.

📕 To bookmark

If you’d like to know more about email image usage, head to the blog where we’ll discuss the 10 best ways to use images in email newsletters.

Online course platform Skillshare creatively balances imagery with text, making their email look playful and easy to digest. Notice how they use icons to enhance the text.

Skillshare email design example

SXSW uses colored boxes and images to divide their newsletter design into sections. We love their bright color scheme! 

Our design tip would be to place a CTA button underneath the introduction text too, as the text link is harder to spot. Click here to see the entire email (and here to read about trend curator Rohit Bhargava making an appearance during our virtual workation).

SXSW newsletter design example

This email from crazy-soft-fabric clothing shop Lou & Grey shows how font sizes and background colors can make all the difference. The testimonials became part of the newsletter design and aren’t a plain-text element. View the complete email here.

Lou & Grey email design example

If you’re not sure how to structure elements, we recommend opting for the inverted pyramid structure. In this order, you start with the widest element (image) and end with the narrowest (CTA button). These elements can change, as long as the narrowest point is where the conversion call is at.

In this example from the New York Times, you can see the pyramid structure in action.

New York Times email design example
💡Newsletter design tip

Use the preview mode within MailerLite to see what your responsive email newsletter template looks like on desktop and mobile devices. Here’s how to find this setting.

In an ideal world, your newsletter images will display in each email client. In real life, it’s impossible to guarantee that.

Some email clients automatically block images from loading for security reasons. Users can also activate this setting because of bandwidth reasons, to save data when loading emails. As it depends on the email client and your subscriber’s settings, there’s not a lot you can influence.

Alt-text is a great backup option for these instances.

Alt-texts are useful for 2 reasons:

  • They’re a fallback option when images are not displayed

  • The text can be read by visually impaired subscribers that use a screen reader

When writing alt-text, make it descriptive and stick to 1 or 2 lines. Just think: “If a reader can’t see this image, how can I best describe what someone’s seeing?” It might be “female smiling while working on a laptop”.

💡 Email design tip

Click here to read how to add alt-text in MailerLite campaigns. You can use punctuation, like commas and periods, but stay away from quotation marks as these can break the code.

Yes, we advise you to put your social media icons in the email footer. However, this is not the design tip that will make a huge difference. 

The best way to integrate social media into your emails is by:

  • Embedding Facebook/IG/Twitter posts into your email

  • Asking people to share a premade Tweet

  • Inviting people to share your email on their social media

  • Motivating people to follow you

The more widespread people follow your brand, the more opportunities you have to promote it. This is how Stumptown Coffee Roasters uses social media in their emails.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters newsletter design

And this is how festival Lollapalooza promotes their virtual happenings.

Lollapalooza email design example
💡 Social media embed tip

With MailerLite you can directly embed any public social media post in emails. Click here to see this in action and head over to our article on embedding social media posts and events in email to see instructions.

Email signatures are not just for solo entrepreneurs but also work well in company newsletters. It adds personality and gives readers a face to connect to your brand.

At MailerLite, we use signatures to establish a more personal connection with readers. When we talked about Zoom in our remote newsletter, we added Ilma’s videogame background. Other times we added Jonas and his quarantine mood or Megan’s DIY overnight curls (when we talked about newly-found confinement hobbies). 

These signature tweaks humanize your brand and give customers the feeling that they’re not receiving just any generic corporate newsletter.

💡 Engagement email tip

A big part of building relationships is also to have conversations about things that have nothing to do with your business. In the example above, we asked people about their hobbies. People answered things like cross-stitching, bird watching and vegetable gardening. So much fun to read! To embed a survey in your next email, click here for instructions.

We often overlook the email footer, but it’s actually an important part of your layout. Make this element clear and practical. 

The footer is where readers navigate to for business information. It’s where they typically expect to find contact information, social links, sharing options and subscriber options such as an unsubscribe button or profile management.

Especially the unsubscribe option is a must. Though it’s sad to see people leave, it’s better to let them go. An unsubscribe page can help to collect feedback or attempt to change their minds.

In this example from Carharrt, you see the different information an email footer can entail.

Carharrt email design example
💡 Footer element design tip

In MailerLite, you can find 4 different footer blocks under Footer in the right-hand editor menu. To hide the MailerLite logo, you can upgrade to a paid plan. Here’s how to hide our logo in the account settings.

Would you like to see more newsletter templates to kickstart your own campaign? Then head over to our newsletter examples gallery.

Newsletter examples gallery

From free images that look nothing like your typical stock image to useful tools to create beautiful email campaigns—we’ve collected the best free resources. Happy browsing!

Free stock photography

Free icons and illustrations

Free background patterns

Other useful free tools

We hope these newsletter design best practices have given you fresh inspiration for your email design. Remember to keep the right aesthetic in mind, and keep your email copy and CTA as personal and actionable as possible. With these 11 tips, you’re well on your way to creating a newsletter that shines! 

Have you heard of any other newsletter tips? Let us know in the comments below!

Editor's note: This is an updated article. It was originally published in May 2020. 

Megan de Graaf

I’m Megan, Senior Content Writer at The Remote Company. Ever since I started working remotely, I pick my homes depending on the seasons: Europe during spring and summer, NYC for autumn, and winter escapes in Mexico.