How to use email templates successfully

7 Tips for Working With Pre-designed Email Templates


Email templates. They’re a lifesaver for email marketing campaigns, right? They can save you loads of time while keeping your branding familiar and consistent.

But, as many of us have learned along the way, email templates aren’t foolproof. Many things can throw off a once-beautiful template – new images or GIFs, interactive elements, content flow, and videos.

Testing your template before every send can help find rendering problems that may pop up after you’ve customized the design elements. But we wanted to know more, so we sat with a few of our in-house experts and the template pros at MailNinja to learn how email marketers and developers can use templates effectively.

“There’s a lot of education involved around what can and can’t be done within a template and how to avoid breaking it.”

Doug Dennison, CEO and founder, MailNinja

Read on to find out seven HTML email template best practices and some general email-sending practices to set yourself up for success.

1. Edit your images

It’s important to understand the limitations of your template and resize images where necessary. Avoid copying and pasting an image without adjusting it. In addition, don’t try to crop the image or resize it before adding it to your template. Dropping in an image that’s 3,000 pixels wide will likely break your template and derail your whole design.

“A template is essentially a layout or framework – there are still restrictions to what you can do.”

Doug Dennison, CEO and founder, MailNinja

Keep in mind that some email clients will also block your images, so it’s important to make sure you include descriptive alt text. Alt text is also important for users who may be using screen readers to interpret your email.

2. Watch your content flow

Will the length of your copy flow into the template? If it’s too long, it can throw off the design. In other words, ensure your text and fonts will work across different screen formats. You can also have fall-backs font stacks in place. It’s also important to pay attention to whether the template has a column design. A two-column section may look a little strange if you only have a few lines of text.

Email template with an illustration on top of three text columns with CTA buttons.
Email template featuring three columns

Look at how the content is arranged in the template – will your content flow nicely? This template from MailNinja has three individual columns for text.

3. Take out the default content

Don’t forget about the filler text. Plenty of templates come loaded with some placeholder content (like “lorem ipsum” or “add header text”) or buttons that say, “add your Call-to-Action (CTA) here.” Ensure you’re scanning through the template and replacing all default content with your own or removing any default content you don’t need.

Checking default content also applies to images. Avoid reusing the default image that came with the template, and try not to reuse the same image across multiple campaigns. A subscriber will be more likely to engage if they notice something different about your latest email.

Remember, when you download or receive a template from an agency, it’s not ready for prime time. Your team will still need to customize the email layout and content before it’s ready to send. These customizations are why it’s crucial to test your HTML email template before you send it to the masses. Content changes, images, and branding elements – all have the potential to break the layout and cause rendering problems.

Check out this template created by MailNinja. Note how they use default content to fill out the text box. Don’t forget to change this!

MailNinja template for email hero section with placeholder text
Don’t forget to remove placeholder text (Lorem ipsum)

4. Check your personal tags

Dennison says, “When testing your template, double-check your personalization tags.” Ensure the tags pull the right information and don’t show your subscribers the default code, like “{contact: firstname}.”

5. Build out modules for the future

Futureproof your templates so they’re reusable and flexible. That way, you can rely on them in different scenarios.

“We’ll create something that’s seven-plus modules long, so it gives the client scope, but in the end, they’ll probably only use two or three modules.”

Doug Dennison, CEO and founder, MailNinja

Whether you’re creating a template yourself or hiring an agency to create it for you, be sure to build out various modules that may be useful in the future. Sure, you may not use all seven or eight modules at once, but it’ll be useful later. Having the right module ready can save you time and headaches from trying to fit content into the wrong layout.

6. Make it responsive – mobile-responsive

Remember, many of your readers probably see your emails on mobile devices. Don’t alienate them. Use responsive email design to create templates that adapt to different screen sizes. Improve readability and boost your customer experience.

As always, if you’re unsure about how your email will look, head over to our Email Preview tool and see your email message on different iOS and Android devices in real-time.

7. Remember to test

Above all, Dennison says, it’s crucial to test every template, every time. Sure, templates are a great starting point, but any change to the content in the template could throw off rendering.

User interface of the Email on Acid Email Preview Feature
Email on Acid Previews

Test your template, even if it’s one you’ve used before. We do it with our email newsletter every month. We do it with practically every campaign we send.

“Testing is often secondary to the importance of getting the email out [of] the door, but it’s so important to take that step in-between and test to make sure it looks right. To not test your templates is just crazy.”

Doug Dennison, CEO and founder, MailNinja

Complement your template with a winning email practice

Now that you have a great template with a beautiful email design for your audience, don’t snooze on good email content or your sending practices. Here are some best practices to keep the good times going:

  • Create an engaging email subject line that inspires your readers to open your message. Keep those open rates up! Not sure what works best? Try A/B testing your subject line.
  • Use email list segmentation to target sections of your audience. Don’t spam your entire mailing list with the same content. This sort of “spray and pray” method never works. Instead, hit targeted segments of your list with tailored content. Then, guide them to your landing page with a well-crafted CTA.
  • Take advantage of email automation and build better templates for all of your transactional messages and behavior-based emails. For example, you can integrate the Mailgun by Sinch sending platform with your application to take advantage of the benefits of email automation. Mailgun even has its own drag-and-drop email template builder.

Wrapping up

And that’s a wrap on email template design. Ready to get templating today? Regardless of the type of email that you’re sending, Mailjet’s template library has something for your needs. Or ready to jazz up your email even more? Try using interactive elements.

As always, before you hit send, test your emails with our Campaign Precheck tool to ensure your emails display as you intend! Try us out for free for seven days.

This article was updated on October 28, 2022. It was first published in October of 2018.

Avoid Making These Mistakes

At Sinch Email on Acid, testing is at the core of our mission. After you’ve finished setting up your email campaign design, make sure the email looks good in every inbox. Sinch Email on Acid helps you test your email across more than 100 popular clients and devices. Try us for free for seven days – make sure your email gets delivered and look good doing it!

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Author: The Email on Acid Team

The Email on Acid content team is made up of digital marketers, content creators, and straight-up email geeks.

Connect with us on LinkedIn, follow us on Facebook, and tweet at @EmailonAcid on Twitter for more sweet stuff and great convos on email marketing.

Author: The Email on Acid Team

The Email on Acid content team is made up of digital marketers, content creators, and straight-up email geeks.

Connect with us on LinkedIn, follow us on Facebook, and tweet at @EmailonAcid on Twitter for more sweet stuff and great convos on email marketing.