39 Email UX Best Practices

by JAMIE UMAK May 15, 2020

In today’s post, learn about email UX best practices to design and develop emails that support your customer’s user experience and build relationships.

Modern customer journeys require an interconnected user experience across all touch points. With a return rate of $38 for every $1 spent (3,800% return on investment!) according to HubSpot, email remains one of the top revenue generators for businesses and organizations of all sizes.

Today, there are many ways that customers get information from businesses. Email is one of the first points in a customer journey, and is one they will experience long term.

UX email design doesn’t have to be difficult. By providing a great user experience, you will quickly discover the rewards for implementing email UX best practices into your messages.

Email UX design best practices

For nearly 10 years I designed and developed emails focused on the customer journey. I learned quite a lot about best practices for email UX. While this post doesn’t cover everything, I wanted to share what I’ve learned about UX email design. Read it all or jump to a section that most interests you!

  1. Start with the Opt-In Experience
  2. Keep it Going with an Engaging Inbox Experience
  3. Personalize for Meaning
  4. Effective Content and Messaging
  5. User-Friendly Writing
  6. Design of Email Messages
  7. Email Notification UX
  8. Email Design Development
  9. Opt-Out Email UX

Email UX Best Practices

Start with the Opt-In Experience

When it comes to UX email design, it’s important to remember that customers are real people like you. Companies must work to earn an email address, which is understandable. To provide a great experience during opt-in, there are many ways.

  • Don’t check “opt-in” boxes by default. When a user makes a purchase at your site, do not trick them into signing up for your email list. When customers opt-in themselves, you will ensure your email list consists of people who genuinely want to hear from you. This will help create a healthy list of engaged subscribers.
  • Use a reputable service to send messages. When you use a trusted provider to deliver messages, this ensures emails are deliverable while helping to avoid blacklisting.
  • Don’t buy email lists or add existing customers without consent. Aside from reputable service providers banning this, nobody likes receiving unsolicited messages. It’s also important to be aware of the laws in your country. Learn more about CAN-SPAM and GDPR for information on these subjects.
  • Give subscribers the choice of what emails they get. The choices offered depend on your business goals. Consider options to receive text-only versions, pick frequency, and what kinds of messages.
  • Some customers may prefer text-only emails for faster loading on slow connections, easier reading, and less data use on mobile.
  • Frequency is important because you probably have customers who want to keep in touch, but not necessarily every day. They signed up for your list, after all!
  • Providing a choice is advantageous because not only will customers receive messages about their interests, but you can personalize communications. When offering choices, keep things simple. Too many options is overwhelming, and they may never decide.
  • Link to a sample email on your opt-in form. Showing a sample helps to set future expectations by showing customers what you send. This builds trust while informing the decision to subscribe.

Engaging inbox experience

Keep it Going with an Engaging Inbox Experience

After a customer signs up for your email list, the next experience happens inside their inbox. Make sure to maintain your presence by sending meaningful content that they look forward to receiving.

Personalize for Meaning

  • Put the “UX” in UX email design by personalizing messages. Ideas include sending email exclusive offers to increase loyalty, adding their name to the subject line and pre-header text, providing a local store map with hours and contact information, and sending emails based on interests, past purchases, or geographic location.
  • Make it easy for customers to talk to you. Using a real “reply to” email address rather than “no reply” reinforces your willingness to help and provide excellent service. “No reply” addresses give the impression you really don’t want to help if questions or issues arise.
  • Make your email address, telephone numbers, and links to chat visible. Always be sure to answer promptly and thoroughly.
  • Clearly state contact information. Make it easy for people to find your business hours, phone numbers, email address, street address, social media accounts, and other contact information. Doing so gives you the opportunity to show the personal side of your business when your customers reach out to talk to a live person. Don’t make it a mystery!

Email personalization

Effective Content and Messaging

  • Only send content that is meaningful. While the types of content you send depend on your goals, engaging messages keep you in the inbox so you’ll become a sender they want to hear from.
  • Don’t only send advertisements. If your focus is eCommerce, don’t always send ads by creating supplementary content for balance. It’s not unheard of to receive several emails from a single big brand in one day. Usually it’s large companies that can afford to do this. If you are a smaller organization, it’s better to send messages with varied content and offer value while building a relationship, rather than sending repetitive ads.
  • Solidify trust by integrating social proof. Add social media content, product reviews, and customer testimonials. If you can include photos of customers using your products paired with their words, even better!

Email UX writing

User-Friendly Writing

  • As always, content precedes design. One of the biggest email UX best practices is to write messages in user-friendly language that sound human, are easy to understand, are accurate and free of errors, and quick to scan.
  • Use compelling call to action (CTA) buttons that encourage interaction. Your CTA should be engaging and honest, with one click that leads to a landing page matching expectations.
  • Write accurate descriptions that don’t mislead or falsely advertise.

Email UX design

Design of Email Messages

  • Be mindful of how many images you use. It’s better to send text emails rather than purely images. Emails that are image based take longer to load, make reading difficult, affect delivery rates, and are not accessible.
  • From experience, one exception are images that help customers understand the product. But, there should be additional text that displays if images are off. A good rule of thumb is to slim the amount of assets loaded.
  • Be conscientious of your customer’s internet speeds and download times. Mobile data costs money and is a luxury for some.
  • Use clear visuals that create connection, tell the brand story, and honestly demonstrate product value and features.
  • Implement decent text size, hierarchy, and contrast so it’s easy to read.
  • Use a consistent brand style throughout to show professionalism.

Email notification UX

Email Notification UX

  • Write clear, informative, and specific copy for all email notifications like receipts, confirmations, shipping notices, password resets, and other notifications. Plan the hierarchy and content of these utility emails around the entire user experience by matching them to user flows and journeys.
  • For shipping notifications, don’t require log in or manual entering of details to see tracking. For ease of use, link directly to the tracking page—or better yet, show real-time tracking in the email.
  • Test all email notification UX processes for broken segments in the user experience flow. For example, make sure password reset processes makes sense and work properly. Create a flow diagram to visualize how notifications fit into the process and context of the experience.

UX email design development

Email Design Development

  • Design messages for mobile so they’re comfortable to read. Leave enough space to tap buttons and links.
  • Use descriptive alt tags on all images. This is helpful if the user doesn’t have images enabled or they don’t load for some reason.
  • Use simple animated GIFs to keep file sizes small.
  • Always test before sending. This way you can fix display issues before it’s too late.
  • Ensure coordinating landing pages load fast and are relevant to the email your customers are coming from.
  • If you’re using a sign-up form to generate leads, use a service that excludes visitors coming from an email. It’s redundant to ask a user that’s already on your list to sign up again.
  • Link directly to featured products. We’ve all been there. You receive an email, a product catches your eye, and after clicking you’re directed to something unrelated. Frustrating! Make this easy. This is a simple fix and an instant win for email UX and conversion!
  • Incorporate UTM codes to see the dollar value of emails. Setting up UTM codes enables you to see an email’s performance using Google Analytics. In most eCommerce software, you can see which purchases originated from an email. Using this insight your marketing team and UX designers gain insight into the customer journey.

Email opt-out UX

Opt-Out Email UX

  • Always, always, always provide users with an effortless unsubscribe. Make this link clearly visible. Hiding it will only frustrate your audience.
  • Add a comment field for customers to tell you why they opted out. I’ve found that given the opportunity, users won’t hesitate to tell you what they think. Use this information to improve your business and reduce unsubscribes.
  • Don’t make users enter their email address or decipher a long form to opt-out. Provide a 1 click unsubscribe process to make this effortless.
  • Design a helpful opt-out page that invites the relationship to continue. It’s hard to say goodbye, but a kind farewell goes a long way.

What Are Your Email UX Best Practices?

Tell me, what email UX best practices would you add to this list? Let me know what I’ve missed by tweeting me at @jamieumak.

Image Credits: Featured photos in this post are from Haute Stock, Her Creative Studio, and Michelle Buchanan Photography.

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