Fortunately, much like "What is the proper height and width for an email template?" some other questions about email template design are also easy to answer. The question of one-column or two columns in your design is also a question that typically has a straight-forward answer. Of course, there are a few points you'll want to consider when determining whether to use a one column email format or a two column email format for your email marketing or newsletter template.
Which Email Format Gives You the Most Content Above the Fold?
The most important part of your email will be the top two to three inches (about 500 pixels) that displays in the email preview pane of an Outlook or web-based email browser. When evaluating whether you would like to use a two column email format or a one column email format, one of the primary things that you will want to consider is which email format allows you to display more content above-the-fold or in the preview pane. While this is entirely dependent on your email design, typically a two-column email format will allow you to break content display into segments or "boxes" in this key area to display not only more content, but also a larger preview of what the content below in the body of the email may be. Because a side column is typically more navigational in nature, you can display a table of contents or "in this email" list in the column to entice users to keep reading while still using the primary column to display your main message or offer. A two column email format typically will give you a greater opportunity to display content above the fold or in the email preview pane.
Which Email Format Has the Least Chance of Breaking?
Of course, you also want to design email templates that will not break in appearance in various email clients. All email service providers support the use of nested tables (the html code that will build a two column email format). However, if your code is sloppy, an email display will not be as forgiving as a web browser might be with errors in your html email template. It's much more likely that an html email template that uses a table to create two email columns may break, and finding the part in the html code where it broke may be more challenging than finding a bad line of code in a simpler, single column email format. While any pre-designed email templates provided by email marketing partner will certainly be coded to display properly across all email service providers, if you're designing templates in-house, base your one column or two column decisions on your html proficiency.
The Purpose and Content of Your Email
A final thing to consider is the purpose and content of your email. If your email is a single-call-to-action sales-based email, adding a second column full of navigational links may not be in your best interest. After all, as we've discussed, in a sales or marketing driven email the less options or opportunities for decision making that you give your readers, the better. If you are sending an email specifically to promote a product, sale, or other revenue-generating event, a single column email format may be better for you. It means that there will be fewer distractions from your main message and less of a chance that your readers will click to go to a page other than your primary landing page or offer page. While a two-column email format gives you the opportunity to present more information, a one-column email format will likely funnel users to your desired destination page more effectively.
Which side for your second column?
If you do decide to use a two-column email format, then which side should you put your smaller column on? Typically, a user will scan your email with their eyes in a downward diagonal pattern from the upper left-hand corner of the email to the lowest visible point in the lower right hand corner. That means that you want your most important information in the upper left-hand corner of the email.That information may be the table-of-contents or "what's in this email" section of the template. It may also be the larger column that has your promotion or headline in it. Only you can determine which column of the email contains the most important information. However, whichever column contains the information that s most important for users or readers to see immediately should be placed on the left side of the template.
So, One Column or Two?
The answer, actually, is fairly simple. If your email does anything other than promote a single call-to-action sale, event, or product, two columns is better. Why? You can fit more information into the email preview pane. If your email is a single call-to-action promotion or if you're designing your template in-house and have limited html skills, consider a one-column alternative.
Best Practices for Column Layouts in Email Format Design
Whether you use a one or two column email format , here are some best practices to keep in mind.
Most Important Content Goes on the Left: Regardless of which email format you use, the most important information in your email should be in the upper left corner. Users will scan content in a downward diagonal pattern from upper left to lower right.
Test for Breaks: Before you send your email, be sure to test it across multiple email service providers to ensure that the email format doesn't break. Don't just check for broken column format. You'll also want to check to make sure that your font style remains consistent in each table cell.
One Column for Single Call-to-Action Emails: If your email only features a single promotion or call-to-action, use a single column email format. There's no need to distract users with other content and options.
Two Columns for Information Emails: If your email contains a great deal of information or content, use a two-column email format in order to get more content above-the-fold or into the email preview pane.
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