Illustration of an envelope and notepad

Looking for advice on HOW emails should be designed to maximize the chances of conversion?

Look no further.

We have gathered some of our best tips to answer the question.

You have captured leads for your email list and figured out when to send your emails, but how do we optimize the email itself?

As conversion optimizers, we talk a lot about numbers and statistics. So a natural starting point for this question is - what measurable numbers can we strive to optimize?

To summarize, you have 3 different values to work with here:

  • Open Rate for the email (OR)
  • Click-Through-Rate from the email (CTR)
  • Conversion Rate on the landing page (CR)

These are also the KPIs we will focus on in this blog post.

But, just because I mention these numbers now doesn't mean we will talk about "hard values" and data throughout the entire post.

This primarily provides us with a measurable starting point and a representative funnel of the intended customer journey that an email campaign actually entails.

Funnel with three steps: Open rate, Click through rate and Conversion rate

That said, let's start with Open Rate.

How to increase Open Rate on newsletters?

Open rate, or opening rate, is simply the percentage of recipients of your email who actually open the email in question (and not just press delete or mark it as spam).

An example of an email subject line

Generally, we can say the text above determines whether subscribers will open the email or not.

We can state that you have very little space to work with.

As if that weren't enough, our inboxes provide a significant noise that the communication must compete with. And surpass.

I think we can all agree that emails usually overflow with different messages and offers – this is what my inbox looks like daily:

Example of an inbox with a lot of unread messages

So reality check: we have limited means to work with, minimal attention span from our recipients, and enormous competition.

Those are the premises.

In other words, it doesn't look very bright... But don't lose hope.

How do we solve it?

The parameters we have to work with at this stage are: Sender, Subject & Pre-header, what "best practices" are there to adhere to?


Don't be afraid to be personal.

We A/B tested our emails in 2016 and found that emails with a personal sender not only had a higher open rate (+5%) but also a higher CTR (+6%).

In our case, "Lisa at Conversionista" tends to be more successful than just "Conversionista".

(BUT, a small disclosure, to know if this works for you too, you obviously need to test!)

Subject (subject line)

There are many tools to use here, all of which focus partly on psychological principles, but primarily on copy.

Tips for effective copy for your newsletters:

  • Keep it short
  • Start with an action verb – encourage action
  • Ask a question
  • Use psychological principles such as urgency or scarcity
  • Don't reveal the content, create curiosity (and motivation) to click further instead
  • Communicate some form of value
  • Personalize – read more about why here!

Pre-header (preview of the content)

Pre-headers are important.



  • They highlight your offer directly in the inbox
  • Complement your subject line
  • Facilitate delivery and reduce the risk of your email being classified as spam
  • Save you when your images are blocked

The copy tips for the subject are absolutely applicable also for the pre-header, but to be honest, we can continue to discuss principles and guidelines forever…

In the end, the most important thing is still to focus on increasing the motivation for your subscriber to click into the email.

This means that the reader must get the impression that the value is greater than the alternative cost in terms of time and attention they are expected to spend.

Can't deliver any value in what you send? Then maybe you should reconsider the choice to send an email in the first place. No matter how much you optimize for people to read your emails, you can't put lipstick on a pig.

This brings us to the optimization of the next measurable value we have at our disposal – Click Through Rate (CTR).

How to increase Click-through Rate for a newsletter?

You have reached the recipient and against all odds got them to click into the email, now what?

Here we reach another critical point.

The recipient has clicked into the email based on the promise of valuable content that you communicated with the help of a great subject line & pre-header.

But instead of a CTA to the enticing offer, the recipient is met with a "wall of text" like no other.

That, my friends, is a costly mistake that makes you lose leads, and in the worst case, get marked as spam.

So let's avoid that.

Do this to get the recipient to click further instead!

We humans are pros at quickly generalizing the content on a website (50 milliseconds - a little reminder there).

And honestly, the logic for an email campaign is not much different from when working with a landing page, so you can use similar thinking to optimize your newsletter.

An example of an email subject line

Keep the scent...

Landing page from email

The keywords for optimized CTR are Relevance, Value & CTA, and by that, we mean that a recipient should quickly be able to:

  • See a red thread in the copy you used in the subject & pre-header. "Keep the scent".
  • Draw a conclusion about what to do next.
  • Understand the value in the action you suggest.

Then you can also use a lot of methods to further convince the recipient to take action.

Our former colleague Sarah Hoof (who also deserves a lot of kudos for the basis of this post) did an excellent job with psychological principles in this plain text example:

Psycological principles in an email

Another very important thing to consider when optimizing the design of an email campaign is to place Relevance, Value & CTA "above the fold".

Because people still don't know how to scroll.

Yes, that applies to emails too. Period.

Illustration of above fold in desktop and mobile

Think about that limited attention span again. If you place your CTA below that red line (or fail to "break the fold"), you're done.

4 other layout tips for your emails:

  • Make sure to prioritize the space, don't let your header take up half the screen.
  • Use relevant images (but make sure the rest of your content can stand on its own without them - it happens more often than not that they don't load…)
  • Don't use double columns for mobile
  • Make sure it's easy to click through from mobile (i.e., don't have a tiny click area for your CTA or other links, it becomes very cumbersome on a touch screen!)

Okay, but now we're getting somewhere, right?

We have a message that motivates recipients to open the email.

What meets the readers is not a "wall of text" but a nicely designed email that matches the expectations built up in the subject line & pre-header.

Of course, with a clear CTA located above the fold.

BINGO! The recipient clicks through to your landing page…

How to optimize conversion rate on a landing page?

The last little trick we need to achieve is to ensure that the user actually does what we have been working towards since the email landed in the inbox.

And yes, it's easier said than done, and probably the most complex part of the entire funnel - optimizing landing pages is a science in itself.

To generalize something that we can actually apply our entire CRO methodology to, we summarize here just a few of the tricks that are applicable specifically for customer journeys that start from an email campaign.

It mainly involves:

  • "Keep the scent" – don't change the tone or expression from the language you used in the email. And for heaven's sake, make sure you continue to guide the recipient towards the CTA you have communicated from the beginning. The email and landing page should simply "match".
  • Confirm the promised value that you have communicated, and make it clear that the recipient has landed in the right place.
  • Increase trust in you and your offer. Use tricks like social proof or authority that increase the confidence that it is a good choice to take the offer you have communicated.
  • Clarify the next step. Like the design of an email, it should be easy to draw a quick conclusion about relevance, value, and what the user should do next.

So are we done now?

Well, maybe not, but we have come a long way.

Now it's time to reconnect to those numbers and statistics we talked about at the beginning of this post.

Because of course, you should make sure to UTM-tag, look at the data, and A/B test headlines and content. What works and what doesn't?

Make changes based on your observations, and then do it all over again.

And again.

In summary: How do you optimize a newsletter? The same applies as for all other CRO work, look at the data and never stop testing.