Photo of graphic designer fussing with color choices

Someone who subscribes to my twice-weekly emails wrote to me recently with a suggestion: Make the emails prettier.

My emails are text-only. No logo. No pictures. No colored text. No multi-column layouts. Just copy.

“Why pretty ’em up?” I asked.

“To make them more appealing,” she said.

“If I don’t make them pretty, will you stop reading them?” I asked.

“I’ll keep reading them,” she said. “I like them.”

Same goes for many of my subscribers.

I say this not to brag. I say this because too many people believe that email marketing success depends on design. That’s a myth.

Since I switched in January from a more traditional, heavily designed monthly newsletter to twice-weekly text-only emails, response has been great.

Open rates are up. Click rates are up. Direct-reply rates are up. Sales and conversion rates are up.

The reason, according to those who have given me feedback: The copy is relevant, interesting, informative and fun.

So much for pretty.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a well-designed email.

But here’s the simple truth: When it comes to email, design is overrated.

Email marketers tie themselves in knots designing the perfect graphic, which they drag and drop into the coolest-looking multi-column, mobile-responsive layout.

Then open, click, response and conversion rates stay the same or decline because the copy is neither relevant nor interesting.

Readers don’t care about the design nearly as much as they care about the copy.

So focus first on giving readers something they want to read.
Design can follow.

My recommendation for design: Keep it simple and clean. Don’t waste time on making it too fancy. That’s wasted effort.

Use a single-column layout (it will consistently look good on mobile devices and desktop computers). Make images or graphics full-width across the one column. Include plenty of white space.

If you want to put your logo on top of your email, no problem. Add some nice pictures or graphics? Go for it. One color for headlines, another for body text? Sure, why not?

But ultimately, write interesting, relevant copy and your readers will respond, regardless of design.

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