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What makes an email work? It isn’t one thing that convinces subscribers to open your email or click on a call to action; it’s a combination of things.

Like the human body, an effective email relies on a series of high-functioning components to thrive. Any weakness in the system takes a toll on the entire body. It’s the same with your emails. If the subject line is weak or the links are broken, your email can flat line.

To help you create emails that’ll get your subscribers blood pumping, we’ll dissect some real life examples and explain the anatomy of an effective email.

“From label”

The “From label” is the face of your email. Your face makes you easily recognizable, which is exactly what the “From label” does. It tells subscribers who sent the email. Use your company name so the “From label” is professional and instantly recognizable.

From name

Subject line

The subject line is the heart of your email. Your body can’t function without it, just like your email can’t function without a good subject line.

Like the heart, subject lines have a lot of power. Thirty-three percent of subscribers decide whether or not to read your email based on the subject line alone. That’s a lot of pressure.

subject line

How do you write a must-read subject line? Here are some tips:

  • Keep it short
    Subject lines should be 40-50 characters or 5-6 words.
  • Describe what’s inside
    Think of a subject line like a newspaper headline. It tells readers what they’re about to read by describing the article in a brief, interesting and descriptive way. A subject line should do the same.
  • Use urgent language
    When creating a subject line, use the present tense and create a sense of urgency. Use words that encourage swift action like, “Act Now” or “Join Today.”
  • Be creative
    A subject line that’s funny or maybe even a little weird can encourage subscribers to open your email. Don’t be afraid to be creative. Maybe even test our using emoji and see what they do for your open-rate.


The preheader of an email is like your posterior nares. The what? Most people aren’t sure where or what that is. It’s part of your nose that allows you to breathe. It’s a little-known body part that’s vital to your survival, just like the preheader.

preheader text

Take a look at the example above. The preheader text follows the subject line in the inbox preview pane. What’s so special about this little snippet of text? It gives subscribers more information about your email message. It’s one of three pieces of information (after the “From label” and subject line) that subscribers use to decide whether or not to open your email. Think of it as the wingman to your subject line, providing an extra bit of context to your subscribers about why they should open your email.

Email copy

The copy of your email is the brains of the operation. The text of an email is responsible for stimulating subscribers to think and act, just like your brain.

The text should be short and to the point. Convey your message quickly. Now isn’t the time for long sentences or super-detailed anecdotes.

If your message contains a list, consider using bullet points to keep everything organized.

What if you’re sending a newsletter? Newsletters are supposed to be beefier, that’s true, but you don’t have to include the entire article in your email. Take a look at the newsletter from Campaign Monitor customer Rolling Stone.

Their newsletter gives small snippets of each article with links to read more, rather than putting the entire content in the email.

rolling stone newsletter example

Consider using different fonts or colors to make certain aspects stand out. In the example above, the headline is in a bigger, bolder font to grab attention.


Remember to add a few links to your email. Hyperlinks represent the arms of an email’s anatomy. Your arms help you explore the world around you, just like links.

There isn’t a magic number of links that you should include in each email. You should do what works for each message. You can link to product pages or a page that answers frequently asked questions. There’s a ton of options.

Of course, always test your links before sending any email to make sure they work properly.


An email without an image is like spaghetti without sauce. It’s rare to have one without the other.

What part of the anatomy do images represent? Since we’re using food analogies, let’s say email images represent your stomach. Your stomach craves food just like subscribers crave visual stimulation.

There are two basic types of imagery. You can include an actual picture of a person, place or thing, or you can include artwork. The examples from Campaign Monitor customers below showcase both.



Need help obtaining images? Turn to sites like Death to the Stock Photo, Twenty20, and Stocksy for high-end images without super high-end prices.

Call to action

Every email needs a call to action. It’s an instruction that encourages action. The call to action is like your legs. You need your legs to get from one place to another, right? Well, the call to action should encourage subscribers to go from reading your email to the next stop on the digital journey.

It could lead subscribers to a company website, product page, blog article or social sites.

Take a look at this example from Mazda. And it’s well done. Here’s why:

CTA example from Mazda

  • Color selection
    The color red, which is used sparingly throughout the email, is visually appealing. It draws a reader’s attention to it.
  • Button creation
    The call to action is a button, which also makes it stand out. Consider using a button rather than using hyperlinked text for your call to action.

Social buttons

Your social buttons represent the mouth of your email. After all, social media is all about digital word of mouth.

Make sure every email has links to share your message on social channels and when appropriate, to follow your business on social media.


The unsubscribe option at the end of every email is like your fingernails. Your fingernails require maintenance just like subscribers do.

Every email needs an unsubscribe option. It’s actually the law. There’s an email law called CAN-SPAM that requires every sender to provide a clear, simple way to opt-out of email communications with your company.

The standard placement for the unsubscribe link is at the bottom of the email. Here’s an example from Global Fund for Women. It explains why the subscriber receives the message and provides a link to unsubscribe.

unsubscribe example

In addition to your unsubscribe link, consider creating a preference center that allows subscribers to change things like email frequency. It gives subscribers more control over their inbox, and could keep them from removing their name from your list altogether.

Wrap up

There’s a reason doctors learn anatomy first. They have to understand how the body works in order to help patients stay healthy. It’s the same with email marketing. By understanding the anatomy of an email, you’ll be able to keep your marketing in tip-top shape and treat any problems that come your way.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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