Here's How to Use Science to Design Your Email for Optimal Conversion Listen to research when designing your campaign and to your gut when tweaking it.

By Katherine Halek

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Every email marketer's worst fear is that their carefully crafted message will wind up in the spam box before the recipient even clicks on it. Fortunately, knowing the science behind email marketing can help you create emails that not only get read, but lead to sales. Take a look at what we've found.

How to organize your email efforts.

According to HubSpot's Sarah Goliger, you can improve your email marketing through six main steps:

  • Sharpen your goals, from simply "reaching more people" to "increasing the number of site visitors who buy." This will give you more direction for the marketing decisions that follow.
  • Watch for the main types of responses that different segments of your email list have for the same email. Based on these, split the list into subgroups, so that each group will only receive content that has proven to interest them. This way, your audience sees your emails as relevant and as a result, people are more likely to click through to your landing page.
  • Determine from the previous results what kind of content is best at achieving your newly specified goals, and which recipients are most interested in this content.
  • Learn how to use personalization software, so recipients will really feel that you created your email with them in mind. (Because you did.)
  • Slightly modify email subject lines and content, and send the different versions to different email recipients. (For example, Group A gets a message titled "How is Your Lawnmower Doing?" and Group B gets "10 Ways to Increase Your Lawnmower's Efficiency without Paying a Mechanic.") Measure which test email gets the larger response. This will show you how to optimize every aspect of your design for the best conversion possible.
  • Step back and see how all this works for a while — then repeat the process as many times as needed. To stay ahead as a marketer, you can never stop innovating.

For more email tips and tricks, see Wishpond's steps for streamlining this email-improvement process with email automation.

Related: 6 Tried-and-True Email Marketing Tactics

How to grab attention with your design.

Now that you have a good idea of the process you should follow to determine what your potential customers want, you need to focus on email design. Good design will create interest in those who may not even be in the market to buy your product or service at that moment. Bad design, if it's bad enough, will drive away even those who are prepared to buy on the spot.

Remember, email design goes beyond just what's in the email. Once they've read it (and hopefully continued to your site), every piece of content that you've created and every page that you've designed has to back up their initial positive impression. The first page your recipients see after clicking through is crucial to the conversion process. Refresh your memory of the main components to focus on before we continue.

Sometimes good design has to be shown, not just talked about. Thus, we've included some links that display what good design really is — along with the bad design that results when the email is not created with a unified goal. Once you have decided the thrust of your email, everything that meets viewers' eyes once they click your subject line must match that one focus. Otherwise, you look scattered in your approach, and recipients who might have been customers will get frustrated when you advertise what they need, but you don't show them how to find it.

Once you've split your email marketing list into subgroups for maximum optimization, you now have an important new category to consider: the design preferences of your target audience. Different categories of people prefer different visual design and different wording, even if the message you're trying to communicate to all of them is the same.

  • Elders enjoy subdued colors, simple fonts, and pictures of multi-generational families. They don't like ads that are overly pushy, or that boast individual pleasure above values like honor and duty.
  • Baby boomers don't want to feel old yet. They enjoy marketing that appeals to an active lifestyle resembling a second youth, while still making subtle concessions to the fact that they need larger fonts and more conservative visuals. Since boomers have some of the greatest purchasing power in today's economy, successful marketers will want to make them feel like VIPs.
  • Design for millennials isn't hard to find -- it's everywhere. They want clean lines and minimal font, mobile compatibility, DIY-friendly messages, and irony that is simultaneously as pompous and unassuming as they like to think they are.
  • Minorities want to see themselves in more than just niche markets. They want to ads that feature people who look like them. They don't appreciate a caricatured or stereotyped approach, or one that lumps them into a too-broad ethnic group just because of their skin color.

Related: 7 Steps to Defining Your Niche Market

The whole point of making your email appealing is to get viewers to click the call-to-action button that will move them into your sales funnel. The key to designing an effective call-to-action is to reach through their computer screen and grab them. Not with flashing lights, threats or anything in poor taste, but by making the next step irresistible. Action words are huge, along with colors that stand out from their environment without clashing. Let them know there's something in this for them, and that it goes beyond a snippet of information that they could easily find through a web search. Be unique in what you offer and how you offer it.

Lastly, your call-to-action isn't going to do much good if it doesn't lead to an awesome landing page. You want it to have the same kinds of elements that make your email attractive: coherent design, complementary colors, and language that is decisive without being pushy, among other components. This is another aspect of your marketing process that may require some experimental testing before you know what layout and wording works best.

(Even though this article focuses on design, not copy, we've found some good resources to give your writing a jumpstart as well.)

Related: 8 Ingredients of an Off-the-Charts Email Marketing Campaign

How these tips will increase conversion.

Now that you've got email recipients on your site, all you have to do is let the conversions begin! Actually, not quite. There are probably still some rough navigational elements that will need trial and error to smooth them out. If your landing page isn't giving you the return that you hoped for from your revamped email design, try these suggestions to make it more user-friendly. The marketing blog at Unbounce is one of the best resources you can find when looking for strategies to increase your ad conversion. Their tips and tricks include the following:

Hopefully you now have a more optimistic approach to email marketing. It really is worth the time and trouble, and it can be done in such a way that people actually look forward to your emails. Key words: "Look forward to," not "unsubscribe from." Give this advice a shot and tweak your methods until your responses take off.

Related: 10 Questions to Ask When Choosing an Email Marketing Service

Wavy Line
Katherine Halek

Content Strategist

 Katherine Halek is the Content Strategist at, a leading online printer that works with thousands of small businesses around the country. Katherine enjoys writing about retail, marketing, and entrepreneurship. Connect with her on Google+.

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