The New Rules of Email Marketing

Does email marketing still work?

In a word, yes. Despite the daily crush of email we all receive, email marketing is still the fastest response, highest ROI and easiest to implement of all forms of marketing.

Whether you're looking to generate sales leads, fill job orders or just strengthen your company brand, email is the second most critical component in your marketing (your website is #1).

But email marketing today is very different from what it was just a couple of years ago. It's harder (much harder) to get email opened. Clickthrough rates have plummeted. And mobile completely dominates.

So what are the new rules of email marketing?

Design Rules

Don't worry so much about the "fold."
Users are used to scrolling, thanks to the ubiquity of tall websites and content on mobile devices. However, be aware that the further down a piece of content is, the less likely a reader is to see it.

Big Calls To Action (CTAs).
Apple recommends a target size of at least 44 x 44 pixels for interaction points on mobile devices, but even this may be too small. Make your buttons big enough to stand out without becoming an eyesore.

Keep the copy on CTA buttons short and sweet.
You don't want the text to split onto two lines on narrower screens.

Larger font sizes.
The recommended size is at least 16px. Don't make people strain to see your email. Also, be aware that fonts that are too small are auto-adjusted by devices like iPhones, and this can lead to a broken email.

Design responsively.
Considering options for different screen sizes from the largest monitors all the way down to smartwatches.

Minimize the use of images.
In the past, email design used images for everything, even to create white space. With many email clients blocking images by default, this can lead to a broken-looking email. Many of these same effects can be created using just code and will display properly with images on or off.

Keep alt text in mind.
If images are disabled in a reader's email client, you can still get information across to the reader by providing alt text for the image.

Don't place a navigation bar at the top unless it is absolutely necessary.
Most email newsletters feature curated content, and that content needs to be the primary focus of your email. Having a navigation bar above the content may distract readers (and take them away from your content) before they even begin reading.

Emails don't have to look exactly the same in every single email client.
Some email clients, like Apple Mail, support very modern code, while some like Outlook for Windows rely on outdated technology—sorry Microsoft, but you have not kept up with the times! This means there are things that can be done in Apple Mail that you simply cannot in Outlook no matter how hard you try.

Rather than designing for the least common denominator, use progressive enhancement. Make your email look good and be functional in Outlook, but also step it up a notch where you can. A good example of this is with full-width background images or animated gifs. Outlook really struggles with both while Apple Mail and Gmail handle them with flying colors.

Animation and interactive email are the next big thing, but have a backup plan.
Interactive support is few and far between as is animation done through code, but animated gifs are more widely accepted, working everywhere but on Microsoft Outlook for Windows clients. If you are using a gif, ensure that the first frame of the animation has all of the important information you'd like to show because Outlook will display that frame as a static image.

Subject Lines and Preview Text

  • Subject lines set the stage for the email content.
    Don’t mislead readers. Get them to open the email and keep them interested with the content.
  • Keep subject lines straightforward.
    Some of the most effective subject lines are some of the most boring, but they tell the reader exactly what to expect when they open an email by respecting the reader’s time and not being vague. (Mailchimp subject line comparison:
  • You can use emojis in subject lines, but be careful.
    Support for emojis is nearly universal, but they will display differently on Mac, Windows, Android and iOS. Emoji should be used to bolster a point rather than replace an actual word in case that particular emoji is not supported by a reader’s device.
  • Use preview text to enhance your subject line and entice readers.
    Preview text is hidden from the reader in the newsletter itself, but will show up in the inbox, next to or below the subject line. Keep preview text short. Email clients won’t display more than 140 characters, with some displaying as few as 35. Preview text is not supported in Outlook 2003, 2007, 2010 and BlackBerry.


  • Your email must be mobile friendly.
    The vast majority of emails today are viewed on mobile devices. iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad make up 45% of the total market share while Gmail (which doesn’t differentiate between mobile and web in analytics) adds up to another 16% (
  • Design mobile first.
    While half (or more) of your readers will see your email on mobile, don't forget about desktop (and tablet) viewers. Start the design process focused on the mobile screen, and test to ensure it looks just as good on larger devices. Emails should be designed to be responsive.
  • Columns are okay!
    Columns are not to be feared in email design and can appear as normal on desktop while stacking for narrower screens.


  • Every email client will render email code differently. Test, test and test again.
  • Make sure it looks good and works across the board.
  • Make sure your subject line and preview text work how you’d like them to.

Need more response to your email?

We're here to help! Whether you're looking to drive sales or attract talent, we can provide the content, design and technical expertise you need. From our award-winning HaleyMail email and content marketing service to our custom blog writing and newsletter services, we can provide the support...and need to make your email marketing a success.

Contact Us