The most important part of an email is the…

most important parts of email

Let’s dig into the question, “the most important part of an email is the..?” But what, exactly, is that most important part? Let’s look at the parts of an email.

The most important part of an email is the subject line

The subject line of an email is your first impression. It’s where people make a decision to open your email, ignore it, or delete it.

An engaging subject line is critically important to encourage the recipients to open the email. In a way, that’s a subject line’s only purpose: get someone to open the email.

Adding details to a subject line, like time sensitivity or any special offers, is important, while keeping it short. Time sensitivity adds a sense of urgency. That can help your email stand out from the pack when a recipient gets 20 to 50 emails per day.

When someone creates a marketing email the subject line typically gets a only passing thought. Instead, plan on spending as much time on the subject line as anything else. Does your subject line compel you to open it? Or is it generic and a candidate for deleting? Does the subject line stick out? Does it make you want to open the email and learn more?

Legendary copywriter Caples can teach you something about email elements
John Caples, legendary copywriter

If you only spent 5 minutes or less creating your subject line, go back to the drawing board.

Your email subject line is almost like a headline for an ad. The great copywriter John Caples, in his famous book Tested Advertising Methods, wrote, “…I spend hours on headlines, days if necessary.” That book was written long before email was a thing but the foundations are still relevant today.

Need ideas for a good subject line? Try these tested strategies to write a great headline and use them to write your subject line: Use something newsworthy, use a provocative question, quote somebody (in “quotes”), present a problem and solution, share a big idea or evoke emotions.

A good subject line is important when determining the most important part of an email.

No, the most important part of an email is the call to action

How important is the call to action instead of the subject line? Let’s dig into this important parts of an email.

What is a call to action (CTA)? It’s what you want the recipient to do. When the recipient opens your marketing email, you want them to act. That could be clicking a link to visit a product page, it could be making a phone call, it could be visiting a brick and mortar retailer, or it could be clicking a link to sign up for a mailing list.

For these reasons you want the most important parts of an email—the call to action—to be close to the top of the contents of the email. If the recipient has to scroll down a lot, or has to try to figure out what you want them to do, your email will likely fail its goal.

In most cases, a marketing email’s goal is to get the recipient to click through to a landing page on a website. Most emails are designed taller than they are wide. That means the recipient won’t see the email in its entirety without scrolling down. Look at your email as if you were viewing it in your inbox. Notice how much of the email gets cut off “below the fold.” That refers to everything you can’t see without scrolling down.

Where is your call to action?

Where is your call-to-action link? Is it still above the fold? If it isn’t, consider moving your call to action higher up in the email. Or at the very least, think about making an additional call-to-action link that the recipient can see without scrolling down.

Another important technique is focus. Keep your email focused on your main marketing goal. If you’re trying to market a specific product, make sure the first part of your email—above the fold—focuses on that one product.

Don’t forget time sensitivity in your call to action. Does the offer expire? Is there a reason for the recipient to take action right now? Don’t make it easy for the recipient to think they can come back to the email later.

No, it has to be the images!

You can make an argument the most important part of an email is with images. Let’s see if that’s correct or not.

First of all you need to maintain a good mix of copy to images. We like a ratio of 50:50, or half images, half copy.

most important part of an email: images

Second, make sure your email makes complete sense even if images are blocked.

Here is an example of an email where the call to action, products and even the company logo are all completely rendered as images. That includes important words like product names and product categories, all rendered as images.

Do you see the problem in this screen shot? Wow. You can’t tell what this email is about.

The problem with text in images is when people block images in their email program. That’s an increasing challenge when people are concerned with security and privacy.

email images don't download every time

In many email programs, like Microsoft Outlook for example, you can choose to download images from senders not in your contact list.

Also add alt text to your images. Many times alt text will show when an image won’t.

What about the preheader? Isn’t is the most important part of an email?

The preheader, or preview text, acts like a second subject line. It is usually most relevant when reading an email on a phone. By the way, most people read their emails on their phone. So, important.

The preheader isn’t visible when reading the actual email, it’s the first line of text you see when previewing all your emails. That’s if the preheader exists. If it doesn’t then the first sentence will start to show. You’ve probably seen thousands of preheaders and not realized what they wear. Take a look on your phone and chances are, most marketing emails have it.

The preheader code goes after the opening <body> tag of the email. Here’s an example:

<div style="display:none; font-size:1px; color:#{color}; line-height:1px; font-family:{font}; 
max-height:0px; max-width:0px; opacity:0; overflow:hidden; mso-hide:all;">
	Look in this email for great offers

Note that {color} is the background color of your email and {font} is the same font-family used in the email. If you use a specific template to build your emails, or if you use an email platform like MailChimp, you will probably have this built-in to your email. Don’t copy this code directly without knowing what you’re doing!

Isn’t total size the most important part of an email?

Size is important to a successful email. That can be either file size, the height of the email, or the width of the email.

Let’s start with file size. We recommend keeping your email under 200 KB total, including images. Emails that are larger run into problems with recipients with slower internet speeds. People don’t like to wait for a large image to download.

Emails with smaller file sizes have better deliverability rates, too. Also remember that most people read email on phones so large emails can eat up monthly data limits, possibly leading to complaints. We’ve seen marketing emails with huge images, up to 1 MB and larger!

Let’s cover email height. Remember a few paragraphs before this we talked about having to scroll down? There’s no actual limit to how tall an email can be, but the more someone has to scroll the less likely your email will be successful. Some versions of Microsoft Outlook can distort images over 1728 pixels tall.

A few thoughts on email width

Finally let’s talk about email width. Some recipients have basic laptop computers. Once you get wider than 1366 pixels you may be in trouble. Also, high-density screens may have a different dots per inch (DPI) specification than their pixels per inch (PPI) specification.

Most emails are either viewed in a preview pane, or in web-based email programs there isn’t much area for the body of the email. A good width for an email is maximum of 650 pixels. We don’t recommend going wider than 750 pixels.

On the other hand, if your email is narrower than 550 pixels it will look too cramped.

Smartphone displays are usually between 320 and 450 DPI wide. That doesn’t mean you need to limit your email to a width of 320 pixels. Best practice in email is to use responsive design so emails get automatically resized for the screen and touch interfaces render correctly. On iOS and Android-based smartphones, support media queries using cascading style sheets (CSS). That way, if your email is responsive in a browser window, then it’s responsive in an email viewed on a mobile device.

What about overall design and typography?

Yes, typography and the user experience (UX) are important parts of an email.

Here are useful tips: Don’t use fonts any smaller than 13px. The main text of your email should be around 15px to 16px. You can make the more important headlines 24px or more but be careful about huge headlines. Your line height for body copy should be at least 125% of your font size. Don’t use ALL CAPS in your body copy, headlines or subject lines. Be careful with symbols: don’t use too many and be careful with symbols that need to be coded. Pay attention to your design and colors and use complimentary colors. Don’t use light text on dark or black backgrounds, it’s harder to read. Give your text enough padding so it doesn’t butt up right next to other text or next to images.

So, the most important part is…?

It’s hard to single out the one absolute, most important part of an email. It’s a case where the individual parts add up to the whole.

Building a good marketing email forces you to look at the entire thing.

Fortunately there are many good templates online to get your email marketing started. Still, a template doesn’t prevent problems, use this list wisely and best of luck with your marketing email program!


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