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Cutting an Email

I have had the privilege (or curse – it depends on one’s perspective) of having about eight years of professional experience in cutting email campaigns in various companies I have been employed. Within that time frame I have learned a few quirks to watch out for and ‘things to think about’ in approaching an email project. For this particular entry, I won’t go into any specific coding styles or technicalities involved with creating a campaign. I’ll save that for a later entry.

Tips for Preparing Emails

Vertical Growth

Ask yourself, “Does this design allow for vertical content growth without compromising the integrity of the email?” For example, if your content writer decides to use more – or less –  content then what your mockup originally showed, will it break the images? Will backgrounds move? Will any of your table cells get broken?

If you notice any of these issues you need to talk to the email designer and see if a compromise can be made. Typically, it’s just a matter of them having a better understanding HTML table behavior and email limitations so simple adjustments can be made.

Call To Action

Make sure that there’s just one call to action in the design. The general rule of thumb is that content and images generate interest and drive the reader to click on your button or other call to action. If you have multiple calls to action, you should rethink your email content. An email should guide the customer to a single, measurable action.

Plan Your Images

Make sure there are no gradients or images directly behind text content blocks. Emails can’t support background images. The background needs to be a solid background color, although careful design will allow for the use of graphics and gradients in other placements.

No Image Maps

Emails do not support image maps. Some email clients support them, but the majority do not,  so it is best to just steer clear.

No Forms

Forms are not supported in emails. I have seen designs that used form elements, but they were completely non-functional. If your customer demands that this to be part of the design, then make sure they understand there is no functionality behind the form elements. They can do nothing more than act as a simple link to a real form living on a webpage.

Total Size

The general rule for file size for a email should be about 50K. This number includes all imagery and HTML files involved. That’s everything total.


It would be best for font sizes to be something simple like Ariel, Helvetica. If the design calls for something fancy like Codex for example, the recipient of the email may not have that font in their font library. Remember, email clients are far more limited than web browsers. Keep it simple and you’ll have better control over what your customers receive.

Keep Vital Information Text

It is best if text is real text rather than text imbedded in graphics. This is often unavoidable due to email limitations, but planning a simple, effective design can make it possible to maintain this design rule. Text should be able to stand alone, even if images do not initially load in the email. Alternate text on graphics can be used as a last resort for text that must end up embedded in an image.

 Tables Live!

Your HTML must use table design and use inline styling.

Test Compatibility

The last is probably the most tedious. Make sure and do your due diligence by checking email client compatibility. Be sure to have several different email clients available to test in including: Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, Hotmail, etc. Better yet, sign up with Litmus and do thorough testing across the board before your email is ever sent.

There are other techniques and considerations in preparing emails for campaign use, but I wanted to give a very high level overview of what I typically go through. If you have other thoughts, ideas, or questions, please let me know. 🙂