Email Newsletter Design: Guidelines And Examples

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The email newsletter is a powerful marketing and communication tool that has various useful functions. It reminds your users about you; it informs users about your products; it tells them what you have been up to; and it helps you build a unique relationship with them. Users like email newsletters if the newsletters bring them value.

The fundamental rule for creating an email newsletter is to give it interesting, relevant and up-to-date information that is enjoyable to read. Users sign up for newsletters hoping be informed about things that they would not otherwise be able to find out about. In this article, we’ll discuss some guidelines for designing and distributing email newsletters. Each point will be accompanied by both good and bad examples.

Please notice: in this post we features both good and bad examples of newsletter design, so you can get a better understanding of the problems to avoid and good design decisions to make.

You may be interested in the following related posts:

Signing Up For A Newsletter

This is an important step in convincing users that your newsletters are interesting and that they would benefit from signing up.

Tell Users What They Will Get

Before asking users for their details, tell them what they will receive, and identify the benefits of signing up. If you mention that the newsletters will include exclusive offers and deals, make sure to keep the promise. In addition, let users know how often they will receive the newsletter: weekly or monthly.

On the Mulberry sign-up page2, the company promises to send users exclusive updates and offers. The Marie Claire UK subscription page3 clearly states that its newsletters include news, beauty buys, competitions and offers.

Marie Claire.co.uk newsletter subscription page4
Marie Claire UK subscription page

Reward Users for Signing Up

You may want to consider giving some reward to users for signing up; for example, a free gift, voucher or discount. To encourage users to sign up for his newsletter, Jamie Oliver5 offers a free £25 wine voucher that can be claimed after subscribing (on the condition that users spend £64.99 or more on the wine).

Jamie Oliver sign up page6
Jamie Oliver sign-up page

Jamie Oliver reward page
Jamie Oliver reward page

If you will give rewards, let users know as soon as possible in the process. James Perse7 gives users who subscribe to its newsletter a $15 online gift card. However, the reward is not mentioned on the subscription page, and the promotion code is sent via a confirmation email only after the subscription has been received. You would not have known that until you subscribed. The company is clearly missing a great opportunity to get people to sign up for its newsletters.

James Perse Subscription confirmation email
James Perse subscription confirmation email

Preview Your Newsletter

One way to let users know what they will get is to give them a preview of your newsletter. Hershey’s Kitchens8 has two different newsletters, and it offers examples of both types. The company even gives each newsletter a name and clearly indicates how often it will be sent out.

Hershey's Kitchen sign up page9
Hershey’s Kitchen sign-up page

Keep Questions Short and Simple

Users avoid filling out forms and submitting their details if possible. For a newsletter sign-ups, all you need is their email address.

Hersey’s Kitchens10 has 10 mandatory fields. MarieClaire.com11 has 8 fields, but only the email field is required. We have found from our studies, though, that people often miss the asterisk or do not know what it means. Users who are reluctant to fill in many details may well refuse to sign up in this case.

Hershey's Kitchen subscription page12
Hershey’s Kitchen sign-up page

Content Of Newsletter

Based on our user testing, we found that people look at three things when they receive a newsletter:

  1. The sender, to see if it is from someone they know.
  2. The subject line, to see if it is of interest to them.
  3. The date, to see if the communication is up to date.

Write an Attractive Subject Line

One way to encourage users to open your newsletter is to write a subject line that grabs their attention.

If you are offering some sort of deal in your newsletter, try to avoid generic appeals in your subject line (for instance, Game July newsletter subject line: “Sizzling Summer Deals”). Instead, mention specific offers, such as Dorothy Perkins November Issue: “25% Off Just for You”. Also, be realistic about your offers, and avoid making them sound too good to be true. Users are skeptical about subject lines like “Get 1000 Extra Points” because they know they will often have to spend a lot to get those points.

Provide Useful and Well-Written Content

A newsletter should contain information that users would not normally research on their own. Users take seconds to scan for topics of interest to them before deciding whether to spend more time reading the newsletter. If your newsletter, like Forrester13‘s, shows only one or two topics, users would less likely to find something of interest to them.

Forrester newsletter
Forrester newsletter

Furthermore, including links to your website in the newsletter is crucial.

Make Content Relevant to Your Readers

Make your newsletter’s content as relevant to your readers as possible, whether through offers, products or images. Superfluous content will add no value and simply be ignored. You could also provide customized content. Personalization can be done in one of two ways:

  1. Asking users for more (optional) information when they sign up.
  2. Implicitly recording what they buy and view on your website.

For example, Amazon14 sends newsletter with recommendations based on what its users have purchased. Recommendation-based newsletters can be highly useful, provided that your analytics are accurate.

Amazon customised newsletter
Amazon’s customized newsletter

Offer Exclusive Deals

You could always offer subscribers special deals or freebies. There are a few ways to go about this. H&M15 and Photobox16 ask users to present their newsletters at the point of purchase in stores to receive discounts. Clinique17 and Airparks18 include a promotion code in their newsletters that users can redeem when checking out online.

H and M newsletter with discounts
H&M newsletter

Photobox newsletter with discounts Photobox newsletter

Airparks.co.uk newsletter with promotion code
Airparks newsletter

Avoid putting these benefits so deep in the newsletter that users miss them. For instance, Clinique (above) puts its code at the bottom of the page, whereas Airparks puts its at the very top of the page.

In addition, make sure the rewards are relevant to your product and target audience. Take Inkclub19, which gives out a free blusher to customers who shop via its newsletter. Not only does this item have little relevance to Inkclub’s product line, but it may not be very attractive to the company’s target users.

Inkclub.com newsletter with promotion code
Inkclub newsletter

Newsletter Design

Design your newsletter to suit its chief purpose. If the main objective is to announce a new product or promote a particular service, you may want to focus the newsletter entirely on this product or service. Good examples are Apple20 in promoting its new iPhone 3GS.

Apple newsletter about new iPhone 3GS
Apple newsletter promoting its new iPhone 3GS.

To promote its latest exclusive offers, Ted Baker21 takes an easy and rather lazy approach: the whole newsletter consists merely of one big banner showing offers of 50% off, in the hope that users will click to the website to find out more. By contrast, Dabs.com22 showcases a number of its latest deals in its newsletter, giving users a rough idea of its product line and sale prices.

Ted Baker newsletter
Ted Baker newsletter

Dabs newsletter
Dabs newsletter

You could also adopt a catalogue style, like IKEA23, or create a summary of your e-commerce website, like Audible24, which teases users to visit its website with prices and a clear call-to-action button.

IKEA newsletter
IKEA newsletter

Audible newsletter
Audible newsletter

Keep it Simple and Straightforward

As reported by the Nielsen Norman Group in its Email Newsletter Usability Report25, the average reader skims a newsletter for 51 seconds. People never read: they scan for content that is of interest to them. So, don’t overwhelm them by squeezing too much information on the page. Make sure your content gets straight to the point, and write short paragraphs and bullet points.

The main purpose of Flybe26‘s newsletter is to present an exclusive offer on family trips to Disneyland. The value of this deal is lost among the long paragraphs. The message could be conveyed more effectively in bullet points for quick scanning.

Flybe newsletter
Flybe newsletter

Make Good Use of Images, Numbers and Colors

Users are drawn first to elements that are visually simulating, such as graphics. Use images to guide users to the most important content and messages.

Numbers also grab attention. Users tend to associate them with prices and savings. Use percentages and dollar values to show concrete offers. For example, Pixmania27 newsletter has a big “49% off,” showing how much savings are available: clear and appealing.

Pixmania newsletter
Pixmania newsletter

Color adds interest, too. But be careful, because inappropriate use makes for a messy, confusing newsletter. Take Rimmel London28‘s newsletter.

Rimmel London newsletter
Rimmel London newsletter

Tailor the Layout to the Content

A newsletter can be designed in a one-column or multi-column layout or a mixture of both. A one-column grid is easier to skim but might take up more space and increase the length of the newsletter. While people do skim email newsletters, that’s no reason to make them overly lengthy. However, some exceptions are the Design Hotels29 newsletter, which is long but well organized. Hotels are shown based on location, with attractive photos and deals.

Design Hotels newsletter
Design Hotels newsletter

A two-column layout is common for newsletters. Narrower columns is usually used for the table of contents and upcoming events, while the main content is given a wider column. Etsy30 uses a two-column design for its newsletter, but both columns contain photos and links, and the sections have no prominent divisions. The design makes the page look messy and it lacks focus, making it hard to figure out where to look on the page. By contrast, iStockphoto31‘s clear division between sections and grid design help guide the user’s attention to the left or right column.

Etsy newsletter
Etsy newsletter

iStockphoto newsletter
iStockphoto newsletter

Be Creative

Creativity in a newsletter is always welcome. Both First Great Western32 and Southern33 present their content using fictional characters, Bob and Loco respectively, who users can easily relate to.

First Great Western newsletter
First Great Western newsletter

Southern newsletter
Southern newsletter

Giving each edition of your newsletter a different layout or design is okay as long users can easily recognize your brand. Despite STA Travel34 using various styles for its weekly newsletter, certain elements follow their branding guidelines, allowing users to quickly identify it.

STA Travel newsletter issue 254
STA newsletter, issue #254

STA Travel newsletter issue 255
STA newsletter, issue #255

Unlike the rather uninspiring Tripadvisor35 newsletter, Top Gear36 gets creative with its hand-sketched design, which makes the newsletter fun to read and explore.

Tripadvisor newsletter
Tripadvisor newsletter

Top Gear newsletter
Top Gear newsletter

Be Wary of Table of Contents

Some newsletters include a table of contents at the top of the page, which can help users quickly scan for items of interest. A table of contents can be especially helpful in lengthy newsletters that have a lot of content, such as the one from MoneySavingExpert37.

MoneySavingExpert newsletter
MoneySavingExpert newsletter

Previous experience tells us, though, that some users do not understand that the links in the table of contents navigate within the newsletter. Assuming that the links take them to a website, they avoid clicking them altogether. One solution is to avoid placing the links in the left or right columns, as Foodepedia38 does, which is where external links and ads are often found.

Foodepedia newsletter
Foodepedia newsletter

Be Wary of Ads

If you have to include ads in your newsletter, make sure they blend in with the content. A good example of this is Lastminute.com39, and a bad example is PCMag.com40 which merely copies Google AdSense code directly into its newsletter, making the page look messy and the content unconvincing.

Lastminute.com newsletter41
Lastminute.com newsletter

PCMag.com newsletter
PCMag.com newsletter

Tools And Features

Make it easy for users to unsubscribe, but don’t remind them how to all the time. Also, tell users how they can change their email address, view the newsletter in a Web browser and quickly share the newsletter with their friends. Other useful features include: “Follow us on Twitter,” “Be Our Fan on Facebook” and “Watch Us on YouTube.”

After Sending Out The Newsletter

After sending out your newsletter, use an email marketing tool and list manager to track, monitor and measure the performance of your campaigns. Many email service providers are out there, such as MailChimp, iContact, Mailvivo, Mailing Manager and Atomic Email Tracker. The majority of them also provide templates to help you create your newsletter if you don’t want to get your hands dirty.

Showcase

MacHeist‘s Directorate newsletter grabs its readers’ attention with the price of its iPhone apps (£0.99). Then, it tells them what MacHeist does in a short paragraph and presents its features in a clear and appealing way via icons. Simple, interesting and effective.

MacHeist Directorate newsletter

Headscape‘s newsletter with large headlines and nice illustrations.

Headscape's newsletter42

Muji‘s newsletter has a tidy layout that allows for quick scanning. Each section is accompanied by nice product images and prices.

Muji newsletter

Howies might have a bit too much text in its newsletter. However, it organizes the content into different sections with big clear headings.

Howies newsletter

Apple‘s Christmas newsletter has a photo-related theme promoting its digital photo organizer software, iPhoto, and its photo books and calendar printing service.

Apple newsletter

HQhair.com gives its users an exclusive offer with a code. It not only emphasizes the word “FREE” but makes good use of the model to draw attention to the offer.

HQhair.com newsletter43

Bluefly cleverly divides its newsletter into two sections: “Offers” (the main section) and the right navigation section, using beautiful imagery in the process. Also, notice how it emphasizes the 80% offer and word “OFF” (in large font).

Bluefly newsletter44

Ambiance San Francisco takes a creative drawing-based approach to encourage users to shop with it.

Ambiance San Francisco newsletter

Disney Adventures‘ newsletter is another good example. Its beautiful picture gives users that holiday feeling.

Disney Adventures newsletter45

Good Life Garden‘s newsletter effectively uses the word “Free” to grab the user’s attention. The design is simple yet visually pleasing. Unfortunately, the content is repeated in the same newsletter.

Good Life Garden newsletter

Bite Card‘s newsletter has festive background imagery to evoke the winter season. It is simple, with a big banner at the top showing the product price, followed by cocktail choices and ingredients.

Bite Card newsletter46

The Squawk‘s newsletter attracts users with the beautiful book cover on promotion for that month.

The Squawk newsletter47

Cauldron‘s newsletter also has a tidy layout and clearly defines the purpose of each section. It tells users the subject of its next issue in the “Coming Next Month” section at the bottom, a nice tease.

Cauldron newsletter48

Mango‘s newsletter makes good use of bright, attractive colors.

Mango newsletter49

iStockphoto‘s uses a gallery to present its top eight photos of the month: neat and easy to scan.

iStockphoto newsletter

Threadless‘ newsletter offers “$10 per tee” in big clear type at the top of the page.

Threadless newsletter

Further Resources

You may also be interested in these additional resources:

About the Author

Chui Chui Tan is a User Experience Consultant at cxpartners55, UK. She loves being creative. Chui Chui has spent over seven years conducting user evaluations and designing usable and accessible user interfaces. She previously worked as a Mechanical Designer and received her doctorate in Human Computer Interaction. You can follow Chui Chui on Twitter56.

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Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/01/19/design-and-build-an-email-newsletter-without-losing-your-mind/
  2. 2 http://www.mulberry.com/signup/?
  3. 3 http://ebm.cheetahmail.com/r/regf2?a=0&aid=1577006489&n=6
  4. 4 http://ebm.cheetahmail.com/r/regf2?a=0&aid=1577006489&n=6
  5. 5 https://www.jamieoliver.com/sign-up
  6. 6 https://www.jamieoliver.com/sign-up/
  7. 7 http://www.jamesperse.com/index.jsp
  8. 8 http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/recipe-box/index-signup.asp
  9. 9 http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/recipe-box/index-signup.asp
  10. 10 http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/recipe-box/index-signup.asp
  11. 11 https://subscribe.hearstmags.com/circulation/shared/email/newsletters/signup/mhb-su01.html
  12. 12 http://www.hersheys.com/recipes/recipe-box/index-signup.asp
  13. 13 http://www.forrester.com/rb/tech_marketing
  14. 14 http://www.amazon.co.uk/
  15. 15 http://www.hm.com/gb/#/startns/
  16. 16 http://www.photobox.co.uk/
  17. 17 http://www.clinique.co.uk/
  18. 18 http://www.airparks.co.uk/
  19. 19 http://www.inkclub.com/
  20. 20 http://www.apple.com/
  21. 21 http://www.tedbaker.com
  22. 22 http://www.dabs.com/
  23. 23 http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/
  24. 24 http://www.audible.com/
  25. 25 http://www.nngroup.com/reports/newsletters/summary.html
  26. 26 http://www.flybe.com/home.htm
  27. 27 http://www.pixmania.co.uk/uk/uk/home.html
  28. 28 http://www.rimmellondon.com/default.aspx
  29. 29 http://www.designhotels.com/
  30. 30 http://www.etsy.com/
  31. 31 http://www.istockphoto.com/index.php
  32. 32 http://www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk/
  33. 33 http://www.southernrailway.com/
  34. 34 http://www.statravel.co.uk/
  35. 35 http://www.tripadvisor.com/
  36. 36 http://www.topgear.com/
  37. 37 http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/
  38. 38 http://www.foodepedia.co.uk/
  39. 39 http://www.lastminute.com/
  40. 40 http://www.pcmag.com/
  41. 41 http://www.lastminute.com/lmn/webcourier/en_GB/MSN/email.htm
  42. 42 http://headscape.co.uk/newsletter/Issue2.html
  43. 43 http://dotm1.net/cr.asp?i=575993460&CID=149548
  44. 44 http://www.newsletterarchive.org/2009/05/19/477591-BLUE+ROOM+SALE%21+Now+Up+To+80%25+Off+-+%27Til+Midnight%21
  45. 45 http://images.bfi0.com/creative/2008/disney/aug/abdwdig/
  46. 46 http://www.bitecard.co.uk/BiTEMe!/bite_email5_xc.html
  47. 47 http://news.penguin.com.au/rp//374/process.clsp?EmailId=55471&Token=20E9BD9C9FD8FD033AFBFE795AE898539
  48. 48 http://cauldronfoods.cmail1.com/T/ViewEmail/y/28430FC2A6B01A14
  49. 49 http://www.mango.com/rcsemail/newsletter/11-06-2008/MNG_086V_NLT1106COLOUR_in.htm
  50. 50 http://www.beautiful-email-newsletters.com
  51. 51 http://dzineblog.com/2009/08/25-impressive-email-newsletter-designs-for-your-inspiration.html
  52. 52 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2010/01/19/design-and-build-an-email-newsletter-without-losing-your-mind/
  53. 53 http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/11/a-guide-to-creating-email-newsletters/
  54. 54 http://www.shayhowe.com/resource/smart-email-marketing/
  55. 55 http://www.cxpartners.co.uk/about/people/chui_chui_tan
  56. 56 http://twitter.com/ChuiSquared

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Chui Chui Tan is a User Experience Consultant at cxpartners, UK. She loves being creative. Chui Chui has spent over seven years conducting user evaluations and designing usable and accessible user interfaces. She previously worked as a Mechanical Designer and received her doctorate in Human Computer Interaction. You can follow Chui Chui on Twitter.

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  1. 1

    Scott Hardigree

    April 12, 2010 9:12 am

    Here’s another submission that’s chock full of goodies including dynamic content blocks, social sharing tools, fail-safe animation and image rendering:

    http://www.indiemark.com/newsletters/0410/

    Thanks,

    -S.

    0
  2. 52

    Is it just me, or is that Southern “Loco” ad just a little racist?

    1
  3. 103

    Thanks for the post.The vast majority of email newsletters (or blasts as I prefer to call them) are advertising something, usually products on the sender’s website or promotions or whatever. In order to advertise those products, you NEED to use images. Those images should definitely use ALT tags, but unless the email goes straight to the receiver’s junk folder, those image WILL be displayed unless the receiver has manually turned that option off in their email app preferences.I recently unsubscribed from Jacob Neilsons Usability news letter. Why? He spneds 95% of his newsletter flogging his books, and seminars.
    samsung behold II

    -2
  4. 154

    A great post, Most informative.

    -1
  5. 205

    Well, I want to introduce, under the following

    -2
  6. 256

    ** If you cannot view this email, check the web version or maybe not your choice

    PLEASE EVERYONE
    Don’t use your first line up with crap
    This is the first thing I see on my mobile (iPhone) for a email preview. If I subscribed to your newsletter it’s not to go to your site, it’s to get it where I ask you to mail it!

    You want to cath my attention, start with something attractive!! I haven’t opended your email and already I think your idots not to be able to present me something tested!

    Nice SM! Bookmarked! (do people still bookmark?)

    -1
  7. 358

    How do you exactly send out a newsletter. I’ve just done a very basic html file using tables and just a few images – all of which live on an online server – I can send it as an attachment from my Mac and in testing it’s received on Macs and PCs with a variety of email clients, with no problems.
    However, the company I’ve done this for can’t send it without there being some problems in the final result – they use Outlook, Windows 2010 – sending as an attachment does not work and I can’t find any way to include the html file as a signature or theme.

    -2
  8. 460

    I love the list of examples… Well done

    -1
  9. 511

    …now try and build one, no end of grief if you thought designing for web browsers was hell…

    -1
  10. 562

    This is a fantastic resource for email newsletters. The design, creative, CTA’s (Call-to-Actions), content, etc all play a part. It’s not just a subject line or the color of the button that makes people “love” the email. It’s the entire process and experience, not to mention landing page from the email because that’s where the users covert.

    I’m actually working for an email service provider now, http://www.bombbomb.com . We provide video in the email as well as traditional HTML. We’ve found that video can be a huge catalyst to conversion as well as increased activity within the email send-over-send. There’s something about adding a human element to digital marketing that really does work.

    … and +1 on Andrew’s comment above mine. Developing for browsers can be hell, try coding for email as well. Outlook can be a complete nightmare!

    -1
  11. 613

    Love the creativity of your designs. I will follow through.

    0
  12. 664

    A very good article on email newsletters. Thank you.

    0
  13. 715

    Very informative and exhaustive information on the subject. Need not look further for more information on this subject. Thanks

    -3
  14. 766

    I don’t disagree with this blog

    -3
  15. 817

    this article is good for someone whos a developer but now someone came up with a software its called http://www.emailslicer.com/ so no need for adobe or other software out there expensive to buy. you should write an article about them. I do it myself and just add the optout and I m good to go. I worked with odesk and elance and hired html email coders but now since I found this tools I cant say how great full and stress free I m.

    0
  16. 868

    A very good article on email newsletter

    Thanks you

    0
  17. 919

    Marie Holdaway

    June 8, 2013 4:39 am

    For someone who’s new to designing newsletter emails, I think this is a great starting point for me–it outlines what makes certain newsletters work, and what makes other newsletters not work. Thank you very much for sharing and for the inspiration!

    0
  18. 970

    I wanted to know what is a good size of subscription list to start mailing the newsletter ?

    0

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