How to Design an Engaging Email Layout for Your Subscribers

You probably already know that email marketing can help any business grow. But all email marketing is not created equal. You need the right approach.

Your job is to make sure your company is creating emails that stand out from the competition. As a marketer, you want optimal metrics, such as click-through rates, open rates, and conversions. These performance metrics tell you if you are truly engaging with your subscribers. 

Let’s cover how you can create more effective emails by showing you current best practices for an email layout.

Understanding email layout design

When we talk about email layout design, two things come into play: email design and email structure.

Email design is what the email looks like and how it’s visually composed. This is where you get creative and decide the overall appearance of your email, like which colors to use or what images to include.

Email structure is how the different email elements are arranged. These elements include:

  • Subject Line
  • Sender Information
  • Preheader text
  • Content
  • Call to action

Email design is important, but if no one opens your emails, no one will see it. Your first goal is to make sure people open your email. To do that, you should work on optimizing the first 3 elements:

  • Subject line
  • Sender information
  • Preheader text

These are the first elements people notice when an email lands in their inboxes.

So, how do you increase the email open rate? 

Let’s see. When you sit down at your desk in the morning and start going through your emails, how do you decide which emails to open and which ones to discard? What is the first thing you see?

Something like this maybe?


Email recipients will open an email based solely on the subject line. The question then becomes how to create a subject line that whispers in your customers’ ears “click me…

1. Personalize subject lines

Something special happens in our brains when someone calls our name. The same principle applies when you read your name in your head if you see it written somewhere. Names are very important in business.

You might be tempted to include names in all your subject lines from now on. But you don’t want your subscribers to get tired of you using their names deliberately. Make it special and be creative. Change where you position their names in the subject line and don’t send emails too often or you’ll be ignored. 

Take into account that using names is not the only way to personalize your emails. While personalizing your subject lines can increase open rates, you have plenty of other options to consider. 

For example, if you start segmenting your subscribers and building up their persona over time, you will get to know them better. Then, you can also use information like their location, demographics, and interests to add a personal touch.

Remember that personalization is a powerful email marketing tool, but don’t overdo it or it will lose its effect.

2. Optimize for mobile devices and keep the subject line short

Consider how we read emails. You probably check your emails on your laptop when you’re at your office, or on your phone when you’re on the go.

Optimizing your emails for mobile is a must. Make sure the email software you are using does this automatically.

Also, keep in mind that when you read an email from a laptop, you can see up to 80 characters in the subject line. On the other hand, your phone only displays the first 30 characters. You want to keep your message short enough for people to get the full picture on the smaller screens. The sweet spot seems to be around 6 to 10 words for higher open rates.

Retention Science

3. Personalize sender information

When the sender’s name sounds familiar to the recipient, opening rates can increase. For a company’s newsletter, you can add a more personal touch by including the name of a team member. Whichever sender name you choose, keep it consistent, so the name becomes more recognizable. Try not to use different names from the same company.

4. Include a preheader text

When we check our emails, apart from seeing the subject lines, we also see the first few words that the email contains. This is known as the preheader text.

This text is basically a preview of what your email will be about. Use this text to build curiosity and give people more reason to open your emails. Here’s how to optimize this section:

  • Confirm that your email service provider allows you to include a preheader text to display. Otherwise, a default snippet will show up in its place.
  • Mobile devices display a preheader text of 30 to 80 characters and this limit can go up to 130 for desktop computers. While there’s no magic number, the recommended length is between 45 to 100 characters. 
  • Convey the most important points of your message in these characters. Subscribers want to know “what’s in it for me?” so try answering this question.
  • Use the preheader text as an extension of the benefit presented in your subject line. You can use a call-to-action, create urgency, mention a special offer, or even include your subscriber’s name here instead of including it in the subject line.

So far, you’ve learned the most important principles to make people want to get to know what you have to say. Now, it’s time to prove they made the right choice by clicking on your email. To keep them engaged and get them to take action, optimize the elements that come up after someone opens your emails: content and call-to-action (CTA).

5. Content

Improve your content for ideal readability by following these best practices: 

  • Keep the width below 600 pixels. Who likes scrolling side-to-side to read an entire email? Most people would just pass because you’re making them do something extra. Follow this rule and you’ll ensure that everything is there for your subscribers to see.
  • Make your content scannable: People don’t really read content; they scan them. Get readers’ attention by using descriptive headlines and bullet points. This technique will allow them to get your message within seconds. 
  • Email content hierarchy: Whether you want to communicate something or get your subscribers to take a certain action, make it as easy as possible for them to get it. Maybe you want them to read a blog post or leave a review on your company’s socials. Whatever it is, position this message where the reader can easily find it. Use appealing colors, buttons, bold fonts, images, and text size to achieve this goal. 
  • Don’t overuse images: You don’t want to overwhelm subscribers with several images in one email. It’s better to have their undivided attention on the most important sections of your email.
  • Write valuable content: We talked about personalizing subject lines; do the same for your content. Since creating engaging content is a whole topic on its own, we won’t dive deep into it. Just make sure that your content can educate, engage and empower your readers.

6. Add a call-to-action (CTA) that gets clicked

You’ve persuaded your subscribers to open your email. You’ve even optimized your email to make their experience enjoyable. Now, it’s action time! Your subscribers will now get to make a decision based on your previous effort. 

In email marketing, a CTA is like the final lap of the journey. While technically a CTA is also part of your content, it needs its own section.

Double-check that you’ve added the correct link to your CTA. You don’t want to find out that you’ve optimized every part of your email just to have a CTA button that doesn’t properly work.

Your CTA should be the star element that will increase your conversions and click-through rates.

Final Step: Split test your emails

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to email marketing. Just like you never know if something works until you try it, you never know what works best until you split test it. 

As a rule of thumb, when it comes to split testing your email campaigns, change only one variable from two identical emails. It can be your subject line, the color of your CTA button, or even the size of it.

For example, to see what subject line performs better, create two emails that are exactly the same and only change the subject line. Then, send email A to half of your test group and email B to the other half. You will have a winner that can be sent to the subscribers that were not part of your test group. 

Measure your results by analyzing which emails bring more open rates, click-throughs, or conversions. And repeat this process for other variables. All the different email elements we’ve discussed are there for you to test. So look at your overall layout, see what works best for your audience, and keep doing more of what works.

About the Author

Paola Stoncius works in Content Marketing and SEO at MailerLite. She has traveled throughout South America helping Latino, North American, and European startups with digital marketing. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.