Understanding the anatomy of an email

For marketers, email continues to be one of the most effective ways to communicate with your audiences. In the UK alone, the approximate return for every pound spent on email marketing is £38.33. Email is a cost-effective marketing method and outperforms other forms of marketing such as pay-per-click (PPC) and even social media advertising when it comes to generating revenue. 

But success isn’t always guaranteed. To achieve a good ROI from your email marketing campaign, your email is going to need to be carefully designed to help ensure maximum appeal. 

Think you know how to write an email that lands? Take a look at our handy guide to the anatomy of an email and find ways you can improve your marketing communications.

Image Credit: Unsplash under Creative Commons

The anatomy of an email

Emails can be mainly broken down into two main elements:

  • The Envelope: The envelope is the content that is seen before it’s opened. This includes the sender and subject line, and may include a preview, depending on the recipient’s email client.
  • The Body: This is the main part of the email that’s seen after opening. 

While both elements make up the anatomy of an email, you can leverage them separately to make an impression on your customers and encourage them to take action.

The subject line of your email

Let’s begin with the subject line. The subject line is one of the most important elements of your email. An attention-grabbing headline will help you convince people to open the email and see what you have to say. 33% of email users will decide to open an email because of a catchy subject line. By crafting a line that will hook people in, you stand a better chance of your subscribers taking the next step.

But crafting the perfect subject line is easier said than done. While one tactic may work well for some companies, it may not necessarily work as well for you. Finding the email subject line tactics that work for you will be a process or trial and error, with A/B testing vital for establishing what works. 

Some of the tactics you can use to improve your subject lines include:

  • Use personalisation.
  • Keep it short.
  • Make announcements.
  • Promote discounts and special offers.
  • Drop a name.

Consider the types of subject lines that pique your own interest – what makes them stand out, and what prompts you to open them?

The preview content

The preview is the snippet of your email that provides a little more information to your reader. Preview content needs to be short and to the point to have any kind of impact, but can be another tool in your kit that helps convince the recipient to read on.

Email previews can serve as a continuation of the subject line, providing a little more information, and even providing a more personal message to the reader. They can also be used to help the reader distinguish the message from spam or phishing emails. 

It’s important to remember that not everyone will see your preview content. It can depend on the email client being used, while some people may have chosen to turn them off altogether. 

The body of the email

The body of your email refers to the email itself. This is the space you’ll use to communicate your message and provide a call to action for your readers to follow. But as email users receive dozens and perhaps hundreds of emails a day, you need to ensure that your email stands out by being engaging and informative. 

Marketing emails generally have a set formula, which helps companies structure their communications in a way that makes sense and is familiar to readers. The components of your email body include:


Your header is the first thing people will notice when they open your email, presenting you with an opportunity to capture the attention of your readers. Headers can take up a lot of page space, so it’s important to make them count.

Some things to consider when creating an email header include:

  • Make it eye-catching. Your message should be bold and catch someone’s attention easily.
  • Keep it on brand. Your customers need to establish some familiarity. This could simply be your logo, or you could incorporate a hero image to draw attention.
  • Be concise. Your header should be a headline, something that lets the reader know why you’re getting in touch and what you’d like them to do with the information they receive. 

Some marketers choose to include a menu in their header that redirects to the website. This can replicate your website’s main navigation, or it could feature some standalone menu items, including sale links or links to specific categories.

Main content

Now onto the main content of your email. This should provide further information and clarity about why you’re contacting your readers. From special offers to introducing new products and services, this is the space where you’ll place the majority of your sale copy.

While the main content is a vital part of your email, it doesn’t mean that you need to go overboard. Your copy should be concise, with short paragraphs that are easy to read. You can break up the main content of your email with bullet points and images, or even use lists to convey your main points. 

Don’t forget, your readers have short attention spans, and may not make it past your first paragraph. This is where you’ll want to add some weight behind your font, helping the key message to stand out. 

Your footer provides the final section for you to convey further information, including a final call to action, and information such as your privacy policy and of course, the unsubscribe button. While you may not think the footer has much value, there are ways you can use it effectively, including:

  • Information about your shipping rates.
  • Payment information.
  • Key selling points of your business such as next day delivery, dispatch dates, special offers and more. 
  • Social media handles.
  • Contact details.

Adding this key information can help to build trust with your readers, while helping them find any key information they’re looking for. Sometimes, these small reminders of your services and USPs could be just the thing that’s needed to get your customers to click through to your website and make a purchase. 

How knowing the anatomy of a good email can help your campaigns

So now that you know the anatomy of a good email, you can use this information to help you improve your email campaigns. Understanding general email structure can help you design your communications accordingly, providing a structure to your campaign that takes into account consumer behaviour and preferences. 

Understanding email anatomy can help you:

  • Identify your key campaign messages to help you create attention-grabbing subject lines, previews and headers, helping you to front-load important information.
  • Design body content that holds readers’ attention, ensuring they find out what they need to know about the product or service you’re promoting. This is where you’ll add more detail, as well as the key links and calls to action that will encourage conversions.
  • Create eye-catching designs that feature your branding, creating familiarity and building excitement amongst your readers.

How to optimise your email for marketing campaigns

The anatomy of an email shows how important each component is for an effective marketing campaign. By considering each component individually, you can create email marketing campaigns that appeal to your customers and drive those conversions. Some key tips for optimising your email marketing campaigns include:

Create attention-grabbing subject lines 

Grab your reader’s attention with the help of a catchy subject line. From highlighting a key selling point, like a special offer or an exciting announcement, the aim is to make your email stand out from all of the others that land in your customers’ inboxes.

Personalise your messages

Adding personal touches to your emails, based on what you know about your customers and their preferences and behaviours can resonate better with your readers, providing them with valuable content.

Consider the hierarchy of your email

Plan your email so that the key information is focused at the top of your email, benefiting from readers’ initial attention spans. You can add further detail in the body and later sections to provide additional information.

Be creative with your content

Your emails should engage and entertain your readers. Pay attention to your email’s visuals – make them eye-catching and attractive, whilst featuring your business’ branding to help establish familiarity.

Make your call-to-action (CTA) clear 

Finally, ensure your CTA is clear, giving it prominence to help draw the eye to your main message. Keep it clear and concise so that your customers know exactly what you want them to do next.

Crafting the ideal email marketing campaign involves optimising different elements of your email to develop a single, clear communication. Whatever your objective, you can use the anatomy of an email to help you design communications that will engage your customers and encourage those important conversions.

If you’re interested in learning more about designing impactful email marketing campaigns for your business, it’s time to try Instiller’s white label email software. Start your free 14-day trial today and see how our innovative email solutions can benefit your business.

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