• This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn more.

Designing Emails to Force Open Rates

Hi guys.

I've spent the last 2 years at my company trying to undo my predeccessor's damage to our email designs. We send out a tremendous amount of newsletters and promotional emails to our database (maximum of around 250,000). They're a loyal bunch and do respond well to well-targeted email campaigns.

I code up my html email very well (clean html, compressed images, perfectly formatted, inline css) but my open rates are now lower than my predecessor's. I think this is due to the fact that she would design large images and plonk them in the middle of an 'html' page (and hyperlink the whole thing).

Obviously, open rates are tracked when a user downloads images, and because the user has to download the image (otherwise they can't see anything) to read her emails, her open rates were higher.

So my question is, do I sell out? Do I design my emails to force the reader to download images (and improve my open rates) or do I keep on as I am, secure on the knowledge that more people will actually see the message if the email is formatted correctly. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to get the best of both worlds? Obviously the subject line is important. Any tips also on improving clickthroughs too?

Thanks for your help!



Active Member
Hey Multimedia,

This is in fact a great post, I have been in the same situation as you, recently took on a client who was sending out large amounts of emails per week, They where sending out emails in simple html form circa 95 style using MS Word to format the eshot, just like your predecessor, massive images centred and linked, and the clients open rates where good.

Having applied best practise and executing the advise from the so called experts (those whom I consider know better than me in this field) I delivered an email campaign that not only looked leaps and bounds above the clients own solution, was super clean coded, worked across the board of email clients, and that both I and the client thought communicated the company message far better and more elegant than before, hell it even ticked everybox in the e-shot checklist...

To say the open rates where disappointing is an understatement, initial few e-shots where almost 90% down on the avg open rates... we preserved with several more campaigns, and with little or no feedback from the end users. But the results spoke for themselves, e-shot traffic died a death, unsubscribes went up, transactions went down!

Ultimately to retest and to draw conclusions we re-sent the new emails in the old style and it was obvious, the open rates shot back up, e-shot traffic return, sales started happening. The clients customers reacted far more positively to large images, big colour fonts and big links and little styling, which goes against everything the experts tell you to do.

Moral of the story..... You cant polish a turd!

So, to advise, I would suggest not changing the winning formula to drastically (Like I did) but rather introduce more sophistication over a longer period of time within your eshots, whilst paying great focus to your stats! as soon as you see the numbers going in the wrong direction, go back to the previous step, and then highlight another area in the eshot design to tweak.

Would be great to hear how you get on.
Thanks for your reply Sunburn.

It's a little depressing isn't it? Slap a massive image in the centre of the email, throw in a little bit of unsubscribe text and a disclaimer to fool the spam filters and the open rates are higher.

It's interesting that you mention unsubscribes went up though. I wouldn't have expected that.

It's a tough one as I have to justify to a director as to why this is happening. I might try just slightly increasing the size of my images in the intro, but keep the body text in html. So that the message is still there, but the user clearly knows there's more content behind the image download.
It would be interesting to see examples of both! You may have a bit of client secrecy issues, but if there is a way around that - I'd be interested to see the comparison visually, and the hits from each.


Active Member
Hi Chris, if i remember, on the next eshot ill send you a link to the current solution, and the one I did a while back.
In the mean time, the old and currently used design is white background, centerd text and images, garish font colour and large font sizes. :) ala web design circa 95! ... but hey it works for that client of mine.


Active Member
@ multimedia Novice, to be fair, the unsubscribe rate was marginal, perhaps 0.5 / 1% increase over the avg, but combined with the fact that open rates had dropped, seemed more than co-incidental. But in all likely hood the redesign probably had zero effect upon the unsubscribes, just we were more aware of any changes across the gamut of stats at point in time.


Senior Member
this is a nice interesting thread.

i understand the importance of coding to a high standard where possible, but if search engines won't be slapping you in the face if you don't code properly, and your accessibility is not dead on, but close enough, what makes such a difference?

just to clarify, i'm not promoting being lazy and not doing the proper job, i'd just like to see if there's anything important i'm missing or any big advantages i'm not understanding :)
Hi Tim.

It makes a difference when you need to start linking individual parts of an email. You can't use image maps when coding emails as Outlook 2007 doesn't like them (something to do with breaking lines of code on to a new line and messing up the links).

And you'll miss a load of mobile traffic. Blackberry's won't display images unless downloaded (which might take an age over a cellular network).

Also, over time, more images than text (and leaving photoshop labels on images, e.g. 'image_01.jpg, image_02.jpg') puts you on the spam 'sandbox' and ruins the credibilty of your IP.

I still reckon it's worth the effort. It's finding a balance that will hopefully lead to more open rates. But I still think the subject line is mainly responsible.


Senior Member
okay cool, so cross device compatibilty, keeping your emails away from spam lists, tracking and all that stuff.

cool, just making sure i understood :)