Can beautiful email templates help your email marketing conversion rate?

A core feature of nearly every email provider is the ability to design great email templates. Well-known email marketing companies even make this a core part of their messaging with their tagline “Send beautiful email newsletters.”

I believe that these email templates are not only a waste of time, but also harmful to your business.

You should be surprised to hear this from me, since I am a designer by trade. I spend my time crafting elegant designs that I hope viewers will love. These designs can help build trust, show credibility, and create a better experience. I think they are incredibly valuable, but they shouldn’t be used in email.  


Let’s take a step back and look at marketing in general. The best way to market online is to teach, to regularly deliver valuable content to your audience so that they will trust you and eventually want to purchase from you. So when you send an email, what part of the communication delivers the most value?

That’s right, the content. So we should be stripping away everything else that isn’t necessary in order to focus on the content. Multi-column layouts, background images, logos, and all the other nonsense that typically fills marketing emails doesn’t deliver value to the recipient. Instead it is all about you, the sender. Flip that around and start delivering value.  

Emails that get read

Go look through the emails you’ve received recently that you actually wanted to read. They probably came from individuals. Not big brands or companies, but someone you have a connection with. Those emails certainly didn’t have a fancy template or design. They were just plain text, that got straight to the point.

Emulate those emails. Stop emulating the emails that never get opened or get sent straight to the trash.

The wrong focus

So maybe I’ve convinced you that email templates don’t add any value, but how are they harmful?

It comes down to focus.

Everyone who is handed a what-you-see-is-what-you-get editor and told to design or customize an email template jumps right in and starts customizing everything. Let’s ignore that usually, since most of these people aren’t designers, the results end up pretty bad. The true problem is that when crafting an email 95% of the time is spent getting the design just right and only 5% is spent on the subject and content.

Where does the value come from?

The content. So amateur marketers everywhere are using customizable email templates as an excuse to ignore writing the actual email (which is arguably the hard part).

By taking away the distractions you are forced to focus on delivering real value to your customers. If your email sucks it is because you wrote it poorly or had nothing to say.

Not plain text

Note that I am not advocating plain text emails. Clickable links, basic formatting (bold, italics, etc), open tracking, and click tracking are all really important. Take your existing email templates and strip out all the other design elements.
If your email looks like it could have been sent to a friend using Gmail, you are doing something right.
Author: Nathan Barry