Creating an Effective Visual Hierarchy for Your Email Newsletter

A really great subject line might get someone to open your email. Once that email is opened, however, the really heavy lifting is done by the design and content hierarchy.

Most people scan emails rather than reading them word-for-word. One of the best ways to make readers care about what we send, therefore, is to use a strong visual hierarchy that draws the reader’s eye to key, valuable content.

If your newsletter is reduced to nothing but a header, footer and big chunks of copy, it’s not going to perform well. Creating an engaging visual content hierarchy isn’t always easy to do, but it’s a key way of preventing the reader from doing quick-pass scans of your content without retaining any key information.

A strong visual hierachy pulls the reader in by their eyes and focuses their attention on the most valuable and relevant content.

How do you know if your own email newsletter has a strong visual hierachy? Try this simple exercise:

1.  Open the latest version of your newsletter.
2. Close your eyes and recall the  piece of content that you remember most clearly.

What stands out? Is it the most important piece of content ( a special offer, a call to action) – or something else? Did anything stand out? 

And did you know how to act on the information? If not, it’s time to rearrange until the most important message stands out clearly, concisely and with an obvious call to action.

Did you know that iContact email from Vocus offers 670 pre-designed email templates? Click here to see more.

If you’re still scratching your head about this strong visual hierarchy business, here’s a few examples of emails newsletters pulled directly from my personal inbox:

Example 1: Private fashion sale site MYHABIT sends daily emails highlighting new collections and items for sale, with a $25 credit for inviting five friends to join the free service. The daily email is clean and polished with lots of great product shots. That $25 credit is a limited-time offer, and it occupies top placement in the visual hierarchy of the design.

Example 2: With the final holiday shopping push upon us, retailers like Country Outfitter are promoting big savings and guaranteed Christmas delivery for orders. They display two big offers prominently: an offer to save $25 on a purchase of $160 in the left panel and a banner for the 12 Days of Christmas. Note the urgency: 48 hours remaining plus a value-add with new inventory.

Example 3: In the non-profit space, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s latest newsletter pairs a direct fundraising appeal with the personal story of one of their constituents. “Donate now” buttons in the header and footer along with several calls to action in the body of the letter. A good example of a newsletter that understands the impact of a single image.

Your creative and copy should work together to make the purpose of the message immediately apparent, and draw the reader’s eye exactly where you want them to fall. Take a look at your own email newsletter and consider this: if you don’t like your newsletter’s content and design, how can you expect your subscribers to do the same?

For  email marketing that looks great and gets results, check out iContact from Vocus here.

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