Forget About Clicks, Design Emails With Purpose

By Pluralsight    |    May 15, 2015

Here at Code School, we spend a lot of time thinking about, designing, and analyzing our emails. They’re not only a great way for us to communicate with the Code School community, but they’re also some of the most viewed “pages” under the Code School brand. In April alone, 4 of our emails were opened by over 200,000 people. Over that same time, only 2 of the pages on our site were seen by that many unique users.

But with great power comes great responsibility — we understand and respect that the inbox is not something to be abused. Over the last year, we’ve spent countless hours perfecting our messaging and email structure to give our users information when they they need it, in a digestible, easy-to-skim format. So today I want to go over a few tips we’ve discovered that work well for us.

The Anatomy of an Effective Email


This should go without saying, but subscribers should be able to read emails no matter the device, browser, or email client they’re using. This isn’t as easy as it seems, though. There are a bunch of best practices covered in our HTML emails course, Unmasking HTML Emails, that will help you make your emails bulletproof. At Code School, we use Duo for local browser testing, and Litmus has an outstanding tool for testing nearly every email client.


Most people think about clicks when they try to measure effectiveness of an email, but this shouldn’t always be the case. Clicks are usually just a proxy for a more important metric.

So for instance, let’s say you’re announcing a new feature. An email describing the new feature with supporting images should be measured by how many people used said feature after sending the email. An effective email should be able to communicate without needing to click to the site to view more information.

On the other end of the spectrum, a promotional email measured by clicks can also be the wrong approach. Say Email A gets sent to 1,000 users, has a 10% click rate, and a 1% conversion rate. Email B gets sent to 1,000 users, has a 5% click rate, but a 10% conversion rate. Email B would result in 500% more conversions than Email A.

Point being, emails should not be just click bait — they should be optimized toward an intended outcome or goal.


“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” — David Ogilvy

What does this teach us? That spending most of your time on the headline of your email will produce better overall results. You can save the witty copy for the body of your email and make sure your headline lets users know exactly what the email is about and why they should care.

Of course, the same can be said for subject lines. At Code School, the subject lines of our launch emails can often be enough to get users to log in and check out a new course. While it’s difficult to precisely measure this, we’ve seen anecdotal and correlated data to support the point.


Images will be your most viewed element of the email aside from headline, so use them to support the main goal of the email and to visually represent the copy.

We’ve found screenshots and GIFs work better than abstract illustrations. Images that distract the viewer from the main content are not ideal.


This goes along with point 2, but let’s dig a little deeper. Your call to action should be a hatch that allows users to complete the intended action of the email. As we’ve evolved our email strategy, we’ve found that 1 CTA, placed in multiple sections, works very well.

For example, our course launch emails are structured to provide an introduction to the course immediately followed by a “Play Now” button. Below that button is more information about the course, its levels and badges, and then the email ends with another link to play the course. By doing this, we’re providing multiple opportunities for users to check out our recently released course.

Not sure how to write your call to action? A surefire technique goes like this: Think, “I want users to _____,” and fill in the blank with the intended action. You could say something like claim the deal, view the feature, or play the course — whatever action you’re trying to encourage. Turn that into your call to action, and you’re good to go.


The footer is an often overlooked element of the email, but it can be used to make users aware of other information you don’t want (or can’t fit) into your body copy. We use the extra real estate to provide links to the Code School iOS app and social accounts, and average around 400 clicks to each of the prominent links in our footer every time we send an email. It’s a great way to use the space you’ve got, without taking away from the message of your email.

Like most things in marketing, these tips should not be taken as universal truth, but as inspiration to test and improve your campaigns. Just remember, your emails are likely more important than you realize, and with a few tweaks, you can get even more out of them. How do you handle your email initiatives? Let us know what you think, or any tips and advice you have, in the discussion section below!

About the author

Pluralsight is the technology skills platform. We enable individuals and teams to grow their skills, accelerate their careers and create the future.