The Two Winning Email Designs That Are Taking Over Your Inbox


I have to admit something to you: when I started writing this article, the headline was something like “20 Email Designs from Businesses Who Know What They’re Doing.”

But, as I was doing my prep work – subscribing and reviewing my inbox to grab a couple dozen examples, I noticed something.

There are only two email designs any successful business is using.

This one:

And this one:

The first email design, on the left, is used by businesses. The second design, on the right, is used by individuals, consultants and influencers.

This article is going to break down the structure of these two email designs and why they’re so dominant.

The heavily-designed email template

This email design is very common among SaaS companies – those “young and hip” businesses focused on design, professionalism and attracting the eye of their email lists. It’s clearly automated, but their target market & subscribers aren’t expecting anything else.

This email template is characterized by a few primary elements:

  • The large, rectangular header image
  • Limited text (generally no more than a few sentences)
  • Prominent branding
  • Prominent social share icons
  • Less personalization. Many don’t have a signature.

Here are a couple examples from CrazyEgg and TrendKite:

email template examples

And here are are a couple more from Webflow and Optimizely:

email template examples

The breakdown:

  • The large headline matches your subject line, to tell recipients exactly what the email’s about
  • The link to website is smaller than the headline, but appears on all emails and (usually) offers a discount or promotional code/price on your products.
  • The high-quality, large graphic doesn’t just make the email more visually appealing, it also shows recipients that your business is a professional one capable of producing these images.
  • Short, body copy keeps your messaging super tight and to the point. Nowhere to add unnecessary fluff.
  • Large, high-contrast call-to-action button (or link) makes it clear on first glance where email recipients should click.
  • Social share icons make it easy for your email recipients to share the article you’re sending, even before they’ve seen it.
  • Unsub link and mailing address are smaller and below your main email box. Both are required by law, and having them below doesn’t distract too much from your email’s goal (a clickthrough).

The pros and cons…

  • The Pro: The heavily designed template is great to show off your professionalism and focus attention, squarely, on your email’s objective.
  • The Con: Can seem impersonal – a bit overly automated.

My recommendation: Use this email design once you’ve built up a bit of a reputation with your subscribers. Send the first 3-10 emails they receive using the personal-feeling email template.

These emails in a simple template (this is also the email template we use for our own onboarding):

email template examples

The personal email template

This email is used by consultants and solopreneuers – those people who are using their name and reputation to sell. If they were to use the beautiful (but not very personal) email template above, they would alienate people who are subscribing to their list to receive content from them.

Here are a couple examples from the CopyHacker, Joanna Weibe, and entrepreneur Hiten Shah:

email template examples

And here are a couple more examples from Noah Kagan and Derek Halpern:

email template examples

Eric Siu uses the same template, as does Mari Smith, Rand Fishkin, Neil Patel and others.

I’m going to break down Joanna Weibe’s email, because she’s the queen of online copy:

  • Subject Line: Includes an emoji, ellipses and a filler (um) – this is super casual, and sets the tone for the rest of the email.
  • From Name: [First name] at [Business Name] – this is best practice, and we’ve tested it against other from name styles and found it a winner.
  • Length:If you’ll notice, this email is about 500 words long. That’s long, but if it works, it works.
  • Structure: Super short paragraphs, never more than a single sentence.
  • Tone: Extremely casual – full of text in caps, ellipses, emojis, lingo (hella, “screw this copy,” “lemme,” etc) and incomplete sentence structure.
  • Links: includes a text link, though it’s a big, long text link. It’s just as high-visibility as the CTA button in the designed email example above.
  • The personal signature: Joanna signs off her emails “-jo :)” – about as personal as you can get. Any more and we’d get an XOXO.
  • P.S. A long P.S (and P.P.S.) signifies a shift in topic and subject.

The pros and cons…

  • The Pro: The personal template is great to build a relationship with your recipients. It’s also great if you’re capitalizing on your name and reputation in your initial communication.
  • The Con: Unfortunately, it can seem unfocused. It can be difficult for recipients to see the focus of your email without reading every word (and there are a lot of them).

My recommendation: Implement this email template in stages. Start out with more of the Noah Kagan example above (short-form with a single link). Start expanding (watching your email click-through rates the entire time) to see if you can pull off the Joanna Weibe style.


Hopefully this article has given you a bit of inspiration for your next email.

What do you think? Are you going to do a redesign, so you’re more like the templated email examples above? Or are you going to go personal, like the example used by the consultants and thought-leaders?

Let me know in the comment section!


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