4 Email Design Mistakes Sabotaging Your Click-Through Rate

7/31/2017 Lisa Erdos

4 Email Design Mistakes Sabotaging Your Click-Through Rate

True or false: Your email design is geared to make customers do exactly what you want them to do.

If you answer anything other than “true,” you may be undervaluing the role of email design.

And ? not to pile it on ? this undervaluing is often accompanied by email design mistakes that ultimately stifle performance and ROI of your email marketing program. In the following, I’ve called out four of the most common:

Email Mistake No. 1: Overlooking the importance of ALT text

Let’s say the main image of your email is promoting a “40% off, today only” sale. Now what happens when that email arrives in a customer’s inbox where the default setting is set to “images off”?

A big blank space is what happens ? unless you’ve remembered to populate your ALT text.

ALT text (alternative text) is critical in email marketing. Despite how fundamental this may be, from time to time, a promotional email will land in my inbox without them.

ALT text is meant to be succinct, not paragraphs. These brief phrases should communicate what’s going on in the image before that image is rendered. This will ensure the intent of the email still reaches your customer, even if an image doesn’t.

Email Mistake No. 2: Exporting the wrong image types

Knowing how to export graphics for an email is a must. And you don’t have to look far to see why. Consider the differences between two important factors:

Screen type (standard vs. high pixel density; mobile vs. desktop). When considering screen type, your objectives are twofold: Will the creative look good on a high pixel density screen (e.g., Apple’s Retina display), and will the content be legible on a smaller display (e.g., mobile phone)?

Creating crisp, legible emails for any device can be achieved by embracing a mobile-first philosophy. And while building a mobile-friendly email isn’t rocket science, applying the appropriate scale and proportions can make all the difference.

Image type (JPEG vs. PNG vs. GIF). There are multiple image types out there and they all produce differences in quality, file size, and compression. Knowing these variations in format will ensure the right image type is used in the right scenario, while keeping your file size down. Check out this breakdown:



  • Great for photographs
  • Great for images with more than 256 colors


  • Discards a lot of data
  • Not good for images with sharp edges



  • Smaller file size
  • Great for icons, logos, and text images


  • Not great for large images
  • Not supported by all web browsers



  • Can be animated
  • Great for text images


  • Only supports 256 colors
  • File sizes have a tendency to be large

Email Mistake No. 3: Putting mobile anywhere other than first

Your email design should already be catered to a mobile-first experience. I realize not all companies are living this reality. The consumer demand, however, is there. Just look at the numbers:

  • 54% of email is now opened on mobile devices. (Litmus)
  • Nearly 51% of consumers report that they unsubscribe from a brand’s emails if their emails or website didn’t display well on their smartphone. And, 43% of consumers mark promotional emails from a brand as spam if they don’t work well on mobile. (Litmus)
  • 15% of B2C brands used mobile-aware designs in 2015. In 2016 that number grew to 27%. Conversely, the percentage of B2C brands implementing desktop-centric designs dropped from 43% to 23% in that same timeframe. (Litmus)
  • The average smartphone-owning American checks their phone 80 times a day or once every 12 minutes. (Asurion)
  • 36% of all online purchases in the U.S. were completed on mobile, a year-over-year increase of 20%. (Criteo)

In a mobile-responsive design, email layouts automatically adapt to the end user’s screen by resizing and rearranging visual elements. With a desktop-first approach, you’re essentially taking a full-width email and shrinking it down to scale for a smaller screen. This forces the user to pinch and zoom in on a mobile device ? weakening the user experience and your email’s effectiveness.

Email Mistake No. 4: Unremarkable calls-to-action

What’s the point of your email? If the answer isn’t obvious to you, a colleague or your customer, there’s a good chance your call to action (CTA) is unclear, buried, untouchable or missing. Today, the big buzzword around successful CTAs is touchability.

To make your CTA more touchable, stick to these best practices whenever possible:

  • If you’re not interested in big buttons, pad smaller CTAs with plenty of white space
  • Avoid placing links too close to one another
  • Lean toward simpler, less cluttered email templates to avoid drawing attention away from primary CTAs
  • Try A/B testing CTA placement, color, design, and language

Lastly, try creating your CTAs from code rather than a static graphic. This will allow CTAs to scale better in a mobile environment as well as remain visible when images aren’t rendering.

Tag, export, and touch your way to better mobile email design

With a mobile-first strategy, email design must focus on the most essential functions and priorities for a less-cluttered, more effective customer experience. Most importantly, we are always monitoring evolving mobile and email usage so we can improve.

Lisa Erdos is creative director for RRD Marketing Solutions.

RRD Marketing Solutions is committed to the creation of email layouts that are visually appealing and engaging on any device. If you would like to learn more about mobile-responsive emails that result in significantly better click-through rates, we can help. Contact us.

This post was originally published July 31, 2017.


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