Email Template Guide

Build branded email templates to send out more quality email campaigns

We wrote this guide to give you an overview of the benefits of using a template system for your branded marketing emails. It's written for all email marketing professionals (#emailgeeks), including email designers and developers, digital marketers, and marketing technology officers. If you're new to email marketing, have been doing work for a while, or are a long-time veteran, you will get something out of this guide.

Why use a template system?

A template system takes a modular approach to email design and offers a reusable framework for a more efficient workflow. It improves the quality and consistency of your campaigns while saving you time to focus more on marketing strategies and quality of interaction with your customers.

This guide is an overview of what's involved in developing a template for email campaigns with links to in-depth walkthroughs for each aspect of the process. It's divided into four essential steps:

The process may seem similar to developing a standard campaign, but each part offers ways to develop a framework for your emails for reuse and efficiency. While there is some up-front time for initially putting together, using a template will save you a lot of time and simplify your workflow in the long term.

Common email problems using a template system helps solve

  • Last minute requests
  • Lack of flexibility in making regular updates
  • Being dependent on a developer for updates
  • Reusability of assets
  • Design inconsistency
  • Work hours adding up

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Planning a templated email workflow

Email is a direct connection with your reader and should be about building a relationship with them. While informing readers, make sure to keep in mind their perspective on the emails they receive from you. Make sure what you send is relevant and valuable to them. Consider each email as part of an on-going conversation with your audience.

Starting a campaign

Set a goal

Every email should have a goal. Whether it's educational, to get sign-ups, referrals, purchases, or registration for an event/webinar, etc.

Who are you sending to?

What do you want them to do?

Measure success

Before sending out

Ensuring an open

Preflight checklist

Build a template to improve email production

Having an email template system allows you to reuse components and make your process more efficient, allowing you to build more emails, faster. A template can be made from a campaign's design. The design can be broken down into self-contained pieces, typically consisting of:

Marketing email template pieces
  • Modules in an email template Modules - stackable sections that go between the header and footer
  • Layouts in an email template Layouts - columns and rows of content areas
  • Components in an email template Components - pieces like buttons and titles that can be used anywhere
  • Styles in an email template Styles - variations of content areas to look a certain way

Keep these elements in mind and introduce them to your team to use whenever new campaigns are designed, when a design transferred to code, and when content is written. You may find that your team members have their own systems and libraries that they keep which can utilize. Having an underlying foundation allows everyone to better organize what they're already doing and to essentially speak the same language throughout your team's workflow.

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Designing a modular email template

Your company brand should have a style guide for all communications, both visually for your creatives and verbally for your copy. An email template would utilize the style guide and go even further in keeping your campaigns consistent in tone, quality, and overall user experience.

Elements that make up a good email template

These are tried and true parts of a standard email template. For a deeper dive into individual email campaign design tips and content considerations, see the additional resources below.

Modular email template example
Modular email template mobile example

Email design tips

Modular mindset

Using images

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Coding a template for reuse

There are many different ways to code your email template. Choose which way you're most comfortable with as that will become the most efficient way to do it over time. Learn by example by looking at other people's code. Take advantage of libraries, template systems and frameworks.

Different approaches to coding

Getting started with code

Email coding courses

Essential code snippets

Reset styles – add to global styles:

img { border: 0; height: auto; line-height: 100%; outline: none; text-decoration: none; }
table { border-collapse: collapse !important; }
body { height: 100% !important; margin: 0 !important; padding: 0 !important; width: 100% !important; }

Client-specific styles – add to global styles:

body, table, td, a { -webkit-text-size-adjust: 100%; -ms-text-size-adjust: 100%; }
table, td { mso-table-lspace: 0pt; mso-table-rspace: 0pt; }
img { -ms-interpolation-mode: bicubic; }

Preheader/preview text – add after opening body tag:

<div style="display: none; max-height: 0; overflow: hidden;">
Short line of preview text goes here
</div>

Guidelines for using images

Testing

Improving your development workflow


More options: Awesome frameworks, templates, tools, and workflows to build better emails →

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Managing emails based on your template

Utilizing the benefits of a modularized template for your campaign planning, design and code allows for better management of your overall content workflow. Your framework acts as a model and you begin to better visualize your campaigns and develop a set of guiding principles to focus your content production around.

Tips to writing good copy

Call-to-action

CTAs include buttons, links and highlighted text that give the reader an action to take.

  • Use clear and concise text
  • Have them relate to the goal of the campaign
  • Don't have too many in a single campaign
  • Make them stand out

Going further with your content

Personalization

Ways to personalize emails, normally by using variables/fields from list data.

  • Use reader's name
  • Based on reader's recent behavior
  • Use location-related data
  • Show/hide specific content areas based on data, using advanced techniques

Localization

For further personalization, translate your content into multiple languages.

  • Use correct special characters: Special Character Conversion
  • Consider culturally-appropriate images
  • Keep in mind buttons text length
  • Send based on local times

Using an editor to update content

It is recommended not using an editor to build your emails unless it plugs into your modular template code, like Blocks Edit. Here's why:

Email Service Provider Builder

x
  • Constrained design
  • Messy output
  • Clunky interface

Free-form Template Builders

x
  • Overwhelming interface
  • Too many options for us non-designers

Translating your design into a builder wastes a lot of time having to figure out how to get the design to work around the editor's format and limitations, compromising the design

Blocks Edit Interface Layer

y

You design and build a template based on best practices and enable content editing options that you control and fit around your template's needs

Further reading: The ideal way to edit content in your email template →

Additional resources

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