As you sit down to create your marketing emails, do you ever wonder, “What’s the best way to format this email?” or “Is this email looking good enough?”. Well, you’re not alone! Do we mean email templates and layouts when referring to email formats? Or do we mean the school-taught proper formatting of a written email? Let’s talk more about how to format an email when it comes to email marketing and what we really mean by it.
Email Format or Marketing Email Template Format?
I’ve been in the industry for many, many years now. And not often do I come by someone actually saying to format an email when we talk about email marketing. The phrase itself reminds me of the school days when one had to learn how to properly format an email (you know, with “Dear Sir or Madam”, when to use sincerely and when you cannot absolutely use sincerely and so on).
That said, understanding email formatting (the proper one), in general, is a good thing. It may be useful when writing an official letter, for example, a job post inquiry. But when I talk about email marketing email formats, I mean “templates” and all the fun stuff like spacing, sections, etc. So let’s see what email format (or email template format) usually looks like in email marketing.
How to format a marketing email (template)?
Your marketing email template format generally includes these email “parts”:
- the subject line
- the header
- the body copy (can be several sections)
- and the footer.
If we were to analyze a cold or more plain-text-looking email, it would follow a different email template format. But for now, let’s leave the formatting of such emails for another time.
If you look at the marketing emails you get, in each email, you will see the subject line (and hopefully some preview text). The email template usually has a preheader – even if it’s just a logo (some companies prefer to add a navigation top bar to match their website too). The preheader is often followed by a hero image, body copy (products, text, offers – depends on what type of email it is), and usually some disclaimers in the footer.
Here’s a very nice email example from atoms – do you see the clear template sections?
Should We Always Stick to the Usual Marketing Email Template Format?
Asking how to format an email is a great question, actually. While some sections of an email template have to be there (think the subject line and body copy, for example), more and more marketing emails are becoming unique in style and email format, layout, and design.
And that’s why we, email marketers, do a lot of A/B testing, segmentation, and copy and design variations – to find what works for our audiences and what doesn’t. And we need to stand out in the crowded inboxes, right? And an email format that works for one (company or industry) may not necessarily work for another.
So, while my opinion may be controversial, I say be creative and don’t necessarily follow all marketing email formatting that you see others do. OK, side note, please make sure you do follow your industry regulations and compliance/legal requests.
How to Format an Email: Let’s Review Email Template Anatomy
When we look at the email template anatomy, we will see some parts of the email that are must-haves. I will also give you some ideas on what to test when you next plan on your marketing email template format.
Subject Line: Always a Yes ✔
Your subject line is the first impression of your email. It needs to be clear, concise, and reflect the intent of your email. Think about the recipient and what would catch their attention. And please don’t be spammy and add things like “re:” in there. That’s not a good idea.
Preview Text: a Big Yes ✔
Use this space! Preview text is like an extended subject line, and every bit matters when it comes to helping your email be seen and opened in inboxes. Oh, and make sure the preview text isn’t the “Can’t see this email? View it online.” type. 😇
Preheader: Test It 👩🔬
Preheaders have become quite a thing in email marketing templates. That said, I encourage you to test preheaders based on what email look and feel you are going for. If you can, of course.
Your preheader may have some copy, a view online link, a logo bar, or something else, but you may not even want to include a preheader in your email template. Your logo may be incorporated into your hero banner, for instance, potentially eliminating the need for a separate preheader logo bar. This way, you’ll push your main visual creative up the email! Here’s a great example from Reformation. Here’s how they eliminated the need for a separate preheader in their email. Worth a test to see if it resonates with your subscribers? If it fits your branding, of course.
Hero Banner: Yes, But Worth A/B Testing!
Visuals in a marketing email are very important. I assume no one will argue that. When talking about hero banners, we talk about the main image that’s leading the email, typically placed under the preheader. As we’re discussing how to format an email here, let’s not focus on the best practices of images in emails for now.
I want to point out that the hero banner does not have to follow the typical template layout (preheader + banner). Your banner can take the lead instead of the preheader (like in the Reformation email example above). Or you could even code in your headline (and even CTA!) first and only then add your main creative. Here’s an example from Sling.
Contrary to official letter formatting rules, you don’t always have to start your marketing email with a warm greeting. First, you may not have first names in your database; second, not every email requires a “Hey you!“.
While personalization can help increase email engagement, there may be better ways to personalize the email than “hello %%firstname%%” in every single email.
Go with how the email feels. Does a salutation fit the email? Its purpose? Its tone? Run a few A/B tests to see if it increases your email engagement or not.
Email Body: Of Course! ✔
Your email has to have content; that’s where the term “body” of the email comes into play. Be mindful of your email’s length, and make sure to stick to the point. Balance is key; don’t overload the reader with information, but also don’t leave out essential details. Format the template based on your email goals and the type of email you want to build.
For example, in e-commerce emails, if you’re displaying multiple products, it may look better if you formatted your template into a 2-column layout. One product showcase may look better with a one-column template format, where you can focus on a larger image and have more copy around it.
Remember, your email body needs to have a call-to-action (CTA). Every email should have a purpose, and your call to action should reflect that. Whether it’s a marketing email or a follow-up, include a clear CTA so the recipient knows what action to take.
Again, unless you’re sending an official-looking email, sign-off is not required in marketing emails. If you want to add a signature, experiment with different types of sign-offs (for instance, with a signature image or without). Sign-off can come from a person (account manager, CEO, etc.), but it can also come from a company, such as “thank you, %%company name%%”.
You could also use your footer space for more fun stuff than dry legal language. Think social media icons, awards, or badges you want to show off. Or even a review or a slogan!
How to Format an Email: Find What Works For You
Yes, there are parts of your email that are must-haves. Your subject line, sender name, body copy, or footer. Other than that, you can format your email template in a way that works for your customers (and your industry regulations, if there are any). Try out different layouts, and move things around. Every test you run will help you learn!