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The Ultimate Timeline of Google Algorithm Updates (+ Recommendations)



The Ultimate Timeline of Google Algorithm Updates (+ Recommendations)

Google is a fickle beast. Many businesses rely on their search engine for traffic, leads, and customers, so Google updates can break or boost a company’s success.

Google’s search engine is ever-changing. It’s the number one search engine in the world because it prioritizes user experience. This means that every one of the latest Google algorithm updates aims to meet its users’ needs and deliver the best possible results.

And as important as this search engine is, no one knows how the Google algorithm works (except for the Google search-quality team, of course).

In this guide, we’ve covered everything you need to know about the Google algorithm. We talk about essential updates throughout their history, and how your company can boost your search results.

Keep reading, or jump to the section you’re looking for.

While the exact number isn’t certain, SEOs believe there are certain ranking signals that Google considers when displaying results. These include factors like keyword usage, domain history, site usability, and more.

This is why, as businesses and marketers, we must optimize our on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO to make it easier for our pages to rank and so consumers can find our content.

Did you know people make over 4.7 billion Google searches every day? The search engine is by far the most popular among its competitors, which means the vast majority of your audience (and potential audience) is actively searching Google for information your website or blog can deliver.

How can you ensure your content ranks high enough on the SERPs to get your audience’s attention? By adhering to the latest Google algorithm updates.

Google Updates 2022

Helpful Content Update (August 25, 2022)

This update aims to improve the user experience. The goal of this content update is to increase the visibility of original helpful content in the search results. At the same time, it limits the results of content created solely to rank well on search engines.

Resources to help with the latest Google update:

Core Update (May 25, 2022)

Core updates are general updates. Their purpose is to make search results more useful and correct. This is a constant process because of changes in current events and the way people use the web.

Google makes thousands of updates to its search algorithm each year. They confirm core updates because these updates usually have some impact on search results. Some users notice changes within 24 hours of an update. Read here to learn more about core updates.

Most core updates address issues of quality and relevancy. This is the most recent core update, but the list below includes past core updates:

  • Core Update (November 17, 2021)
  • Core Update (July 1, 2021)
  • Core Algorithm Update (June 2, 2021)
  • Core Update (December 3, 2020)
  • Core Update (May 4, 2020)
  • Core Update (January 13, 2020)
  • Core Algorithm Update (September 24, 2019)
  • Core Update (June 2, 2019)
  • Core Algorithm Update (April 16, 2018)
  • Core Algorithm Update (March 9, 2018)

Product Algorithm Update (March 23, 2022)

This was the latest product review update. This update makes it easier to find high-quality reviews through search. Google’s team shared the reasoning behind these updates, “We’ve regularly heard through user feedback that people prefer detailed reviews with evidence of products actually being tested.”

For more details on product updates, see Product Reviews Update (April 8, 2021). There was also a product review update on December 1, 2021.

Page Experience Update (February 22, 2022)

This is the latest google update for page experience on desktop devices. For more on-page experience updates, see Page Experience Update (June 15, 2021).

Resources to help with the latest Google algorithm updates:

Google Updates 2021

Local Search Update (November 30, 2021)

This was an update to the way that the search engine finds and displays local search results.

Google Spam Update (November 3, 2021)

The spam updates helped the search engine recognize and filter out websites that:

  • Contain harmful or questionable content
  • Don’t add value
  • Use black hat SEO techniques

These updates help protect users from spammy sites and unwanted ads.

Other spam updates include:

  • Google Spam Update (November 3, 2021)
  • Google Link Spam Algorithm Update (July 26, 2021)

Page Experience Update (June 15, 2021)

This update aims to improve the user experience. It aspires to give priority to web pages with quick load times that stay stable as users scroll. These links from Google can help you learn more about how you can update your site for a better page experience.

Known Victims Protection (June 10, 2021)

For years, sites have attacked individuals with false, offensive, or damaging content. These sites are sometimes the top search result for these individuals. As a result, websites that post explicit images, mug shots, and other slanders often profit by charging victims to remove this content.

With this update, individuals can report these offending sites to Google. Then the search engine will lower the ranking for these searches.

Product Reviews Update (April 8, 2021)

This was the first of several product review updates. Before these updates, many product reviews on the internet were thin. Many came from templates or users with limited experience with the product.

This update focuses on finding quality product reviews that add value for users. Criteria for product review quality include:

  • Depth of analysis
  • Actual product use
  • Distinct information
  • Competitive product analysis

Passage Ranking (February 10, 2021)

The passage ranking update made it so that a section within a web page could be an extra ranking factor. This helps search engines better understand the content and serve better search results.

This update hoped to help users find better answers to very specific searches that can sometimes be hard to find. Instead of scanning the full web page, this update isolates passages on a page that can answer a user’s query.

Resources to help with the latest Google updates:

Google Updates 2020

Featured Snippet Update, also called Featured Snippet Deduplication (January 22, 2020)

Before this update, a website that had a featured snippet at the top of the search results could also appear in the organic listings following that snippet. After this change, a website could appear only once per search page.

The intent of this update was to make search results less cluttered and to make it easier for users to find an answer to their queries.

Resources to help with the latest Google algorithm updates:

Google Updates 2019

BERT Update (October 25, 2019)

The Google BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) update was an effort by Google to better understand the language in which people search. It’s like RankBrain and is an extra effort to understand searches; it didn’t replace it.

BERT was a significant search algorithm update. As reported by Google: “With the latest advancements from our research team in the science of language understanding … we’re making a significant improvement to how we understand queries, representing the biggest leap forward in the past five years, and one of the biggest leaps forward in the history of Search.”

In short, BERT helps Google users find useful and accurate information. The update allows Google to capture more of the nuance and context in queries and not lean so heavily on the use of prepositions or phrasing to clarify questions. (Check out some live examples of BERT here.)

BERT was also applied to featured snippets in over two dozen countries and languages.

Featured Snippets Update (August 1, 2019)

This update aimed to improve featured snippets. It was an update to surface snippets that would be better with frequent refreshes. It also helped to remove outdated snippets.

These three examples from Google can make it clear what snippets were the target of this update:

  • Regularly updated information, like a blog with new posts each week
  • Time-based information, like events or TV programming
  • News and current events

Core Update, also called Florida 2 (March 12, 2019)

This was a big core update. SEO experts didn’t notice anything unique about this core update, but its timing and scale prompted its alternate name.

Google Updates 2018

Core Algorithm Update, also called Medic (August 1, 2018)

The Google Medic Update was the third broad core algorithm update of 2018. The disproportionate impact it has on sites in the health and wellness industries is how it received its nickname. But it didn’t target those industries; it also had a large impact on websites in all other industries.

In general, SEO specialists theorized that the Medic Update was another update that targeted quality issues like:

Mobile-First Indexing (March 26, 2018)

The Mobile-First Indexing Update was another nod from Google to websites that are mobile-friendly.

Here’s how Google explains: “[Historically,] our crawling, indexing, and ranking systems have typically used the desktop version of a page’s content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is vastly different from the mobile version. Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.”

Core Algorithm Update (March 9, 2018)

Google put out this core update to better judge which sites were relevant for specific queries. This update was to help improve rankings for sites with useful content.

Google Updates 2017

Fred (March 7, 2017)

The Fred update targeted thin, ad-focused content. It used data from quality raters at Google to cut low-quality results from SERPs.

Intrusive Interstitials Update (January 10, 2017)

Technical SEO defines interstitials as “content that gets between the user and the content they’re looking for.” This might include:

  • Popups that mask other page content
  • Web pages that users need to dismiss to access content
  • Website layouts with interstitials above the fold

This Google update lowered the rankings of websites with mobile pages that had intrusive interstitials. This update did not penalize interstitials for cookies, legal verification, logins, or banners.

Google Updates 2015

RankBrain (October 26, 2015)

The Google RankBrain Update was part of Hummingbird. RankBrain is a machine-learning-powered component of Google’s algorithm that works to better understand searcher intent and deliver the most accurate, relevant SERP results.

Many SEO strategists believe it serves to measure how searchers interact with search results and then ranks the results accordingly. (This could explain why your SERP looks different when you search for the same thing multiple times.)

It has also been theorized that the RankBrain algorithm identifies relevance features for the websites that rank for a given query, establishing query-specific ranking factors and signals.

Mobile-Friendly Update, also called Mobilegeddon (April 21, 2015)

The Google Mobile Update (nicknamed “Mobilegeddon”) officially incorporated mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. The update prioritized mobile-friendly websites on mobile SERPs, and the sites that weren’t mobile-friendly were either penalized or removed from the SERPs altogether.

Mobilegeddon was another effort to provide the best possible search experience for users. Google said at the time of release, “When it comes to search on mobile devices, users should get the most relevant and timely results, no matter if the information lives on mobile-friendly web pages or apps.”

Mobilegeddon initially penalized websites that weren’t mobile-responsive and rewarded those that were. Google moved to mobile-first indexing in 2019, so the mobile-friendliness of your site now impacts how you rank for every query.

Google Updates 2014

Pigeon Update (July 24, 2014)

Google released the Pigeon Update to better calibrate the local algorithms with the core algorithm. The goal of this update was to reward local businesses that have a strong organic presence with better SERP visibility. It was also to answer user search queries with accurate local results influenced by traditional web search ranking signals.

Pigeon treats local search the same as traditional organic search, just with local cues. It considers searcher location when displaying SERP results, and allows searchers to treat Google Search and Google Maps the same. For example, you can search “best accountant near me” in both engines, and the results should be similar.

Google Updates 2013

Hummingbird Update (September 26, 2013)

Google released the Hummingbird Update to provide a more conversational, human search experience. Google wanted to better understand the context of what people were searching for — versus the specific terms within their search query.

The Knowledge Graph came out a year before, but Hummingbird improved upon this feature.

Hummingbird uses natural language processing that includes semantic indexing, synonyms, and other features to interpret queries and produce results. It weeds out keyword-stuffed, low-quality content to create a more personalized, exact search process and show SERP results that matched searcher intent.

Payday Loan Update (June 11, 2013)

The goal of the Payday Loan Update was to find and further lessen the impact of spammy queries and websites. It had a bigger impact in countries where webspam was more common.

Spammy sites are those that:

Other updates like this one include:

  • Payday Loan Update 3.0 June 12, 2014
  • Payday Loan Update 2.0 May 16, 2014

Google Updates 2012

Page Layout Update (October 9, 2012)

Page layout updates focused on websites that display ads above the fold or show content lower on the page due to ads. This practice can be distracting and impact the user experience. Because of this concern, this update lowered the rankings for ad-heavy sites.

Other updates like this one include:

  • Page Layout Update, also known as Top Heavy (January 19, 2012)

Penguin Update 1.2 (October 5, 2012)

The Google Penguin Update was released to combat black-hat link-building techniques, such as spammy links, link directories, and keyword-stuffed anchor text.

Google calls them “black hat web spam” and defines them as “techniques that don’t benefit users, where the intent is to look for shortcuts or loopholes that would rank pages higher than they deserve to be ranked.”

Prior to the Penguin Update, link volume — regardless of quality — was a heavy influence on how pages ranked on the SERPs. Penguin attempts to better understand how websites were earning their links. It also made sure that only high-quality trustworthy links were rewarding the sites they led to.

Google Penguin only affects inbound links — the links leading to a site, not away from it. Penguin monitors for black-hat link-building techniques and over-optimized anchor link text. This is when too many inbound links for one website contain the same anchor text, which can alert Google that the links aren’t natural or earned.

Other Penguin updates include:

  • Penguin Update 3.0 (October 17, 2014)
  • Penguin Update 2.1 (October 4, 2013)
  • Penguin Update 2.0 (May 22, 2013)
  • Penguin Update 1.2 (October 5, 2012)

Penguin was also added to the core algorithm in late 2016.

Exact Match Domain Update (September 28, 2012)

This update targeted websites with domains that exactly matched competitive keywords. Some sites used this practice to improve their search placement but had poor quality or thin content. This update lowered the value of these sites dramatically.

Venice Update (February 27, 2012)

This update pulled search results based on the user’s IP address or physical location. It also increased Google Maps (then Google Places) appearances in organic search results. This made it easier for users to search for local resources online.

Google Updates 2011

Freshness Update November 3, 2011

The Freshness update’s intent was to give users the most recent search results. For this update, Google narrowed its definition of freshness to figure out time-related searches like:

  • Recent events, like new or trending events
  • Regularly recurring events, like elections or sports scores
  • Frequent updates, like product searches on store websites

Panda Update February 23, 2011

Google released the Panda Update to combat:

  • Thin, duplicate, or plagiarized content
  • Keyword stuffing
  • Content farms
  • Websites with high ratios of ad-to-content
  • Other quality issues

It was also released to reward unique, high-quality content.

Google Panda gives every web page an internal quality score that attempts to mimic how a human might respond to and rank a piece of content. Then this score is factored into how each website ranks on the SERPs.

Other Panda updates include:

  • Panda Update 4.2 (July 17, 2015)
  • Panda Update 4.1 (September 23, 2014)
  • Panda Update 4.0 (May 20, 2014)
  • Panda Update (January 22, 2013)
  • Panda Update (December 21, 2012)
  • Panda Update (November 21, 2012)
  • Panda Update (November 5, 2012)
  • Panda Update (September 27, 2012)
  • Panda Update 3.9.2 (September 18, 2012)
  • Panda Update 3.9.1 (August 20, 2012)
  • Panda Update 3.9 (July 24, 2012)

Panda was originally introduced as a filter for search engine results, but in January 2016, it was added to the core algorithm.

Google Updates 2010

Caffeine Update June 8, 2010

Caffeine was a new system for indexing the web that made it more efficient to crawl and store data. This update also improved the freshness of search results.

Google developers shared at the time of release, “Caffeine provides 50 percent fresher results for web searches than our last index, and it’s the largest collection of web content we’ve offered.”

Google Updates 2009

Vince Update (January 18, 2009)

This update equated trust with established brand names. This made it easier for mostly offline big brands to compete with new online-focused brands.

A famous quote for this update from Google’s then-CEO, Eric Schmidt, is “Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.”

Google Updates 2005

Big Daddy Update, also called Bigdaddy (December 15, 2005)

The Bigdaddy update aligned with an upgrade to Google’s data center. It aimed to improve the quality and technical issues for improved search results. It also filtered out some websites with spammy practices like unnatural link building.

Jagger Update (September 1, 2005)

This update expanded the options for search to new documents and file types. Google’s main crawler at the time was Googlebot, and with this update, it expanded the way it scanned sites.

The Jagger update also looked at link quality. It penalized sites with:

  • Paid backlinks
  • Unnatural link building
  • Linking schemes
  • Scraped content

Google Updates 2003

Florida Update (November 16, 2003)

Among other things, the Florida update changed the way that Google weighed the value of backlinks. It was important because of the timing and impact it had on search results.

This update most affected retail sites using spammy SEO techniques like:

  • Keyword stuffing
  • Hidden links
  • Invisible text

This update was especially hard for these sites because it launched during the holiday season. This timing directly influences annual sales in retail.

How to Prepare Your Site for the Latest Google Updates

While every one of the latest Google updates is unique, the goal of every update is to create a great user experience for Google users. With this in mind, there are many approaches you can take to prepare your site for updates.

1. Create clear, useful content for your site.

  • Focus on creating genuinely unique content that provides value to your visitors and customers. Google provides 20+ questions to help you determine quality and value.
  • Use a site crawler like Botify or Screaming Frog to identify thin content on your website and blog. If you find any, consider combining or archiving those pages.
  • Remove or rework any low-quality or underperforming content. (You can identify this content based on low traffic and/or low conversion rates.)
  • Avoid writing for machines and create conceptual content, not just keyword-driven content. Expand your keyword research to include different phrasing, commonly asked questions, and similar terms.
  • Conduct competitive analysis by searching your keywords on a new Google SERP and see what related content and SERP features (like Knowledge Graphs or featured snippets) pop up.
  • Consistently update your content to reflect better grammar, syntax, and language.

2. Check your technical SEO.

  • Make sure to use structured data and metadata on both your desktop and mobile versions.
  • Rewrite duplicate content. Ecommerce sites are especially vulnerable to duplicative content. In these cases, use canonical URLs to show Google which version of each page to rank in the SERPs.
  • Make sure your off-page SEO and technical SEO are intact and that there are no underlying issues.

3. Create a great mobile experience.

  • Confirm your website is mobile-optimized. Here’s a blog post on how to do this.
  • Use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test tool to see how your website performs. This tool will show you how your site looks on a mobile device and alert you to any loading or processing problems.
  • If you have separate URLs for your mobile site (an m-dot site), confirm that your mobile page reflects the same content as your desktop site. (Google prefers to index your mobile URL.)
  • Read through Google’s best practices for mobile-first indexing.

4. Build quality backlinks.

  • Follow white-hat link-building techniques to build high-quality, relevant backlinks.
  • Don’t take part in Private Blog Network (PBN) link schemes, which often lead to site penalties.
  • If you hire an agency or freelancer for link-building, make sure you ask how they’re building links. There should be no exchange of money between the agency and the person or organization linking to your site.

5. Think locally.

  • Leverage on-page SEO and other tactics to ensure Google recognizes your business’s location and other local ranking factors.
  • Create content and media that associates your business with a specific location, such as a neighborhood, town, or city. This will help improve your local SEO.
  • Register with Google My Business to manage how your business information appears on Google SERPs. Create and manage profiles on other important directories. Check out this post for a full list of online business directories.
  • Make sure your location information is consistent across all your web properties, like your website, social media, and Yelp listings.

Grow Better with Google Updates

As a business owner and marketer, the latest Google updates may seem like a lot of detail and work. You’re not wrong. These updates and the changes you might need to make can be overwhelming.

But it’s important to remember that Google wants to create a fantastic user experience, just like you do. These algorithm updates prune out lazy, low-quality, and illegal content. That content isn’t just filling up your search queries, it’s competing with your business and marketing content.

In short, these Google updates are good things. It’s up to you to keep learning and use them to your advantage.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in August 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

SEO Starter Pack

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3 email marketing shifts to make in 2023



3 email marketing shifts to make in 2023

Whew! We made it to 2023! As we closed in on the end of the year in December, the finish line seemed awfully far away. Many marketers told me they were busier than ever. 

I myself was fielding calls for strategy help, working on business deals and managing the chaos all the way to the eve of Christmas Eve, something that rarely happens in my 20-plus-year career. 

Look back and celebrate, then move on

The first business for 2023 will be to step back, clear your head and take stock of all the great things you accomplished in 2022 despite the odds (i.e., coming out of COVID, going into a rebound and COVID round 2, moving into supply-chain shortages and other hiccups, facing down a potential recession) and how they affected the work you did to succeed.

And now it’s 2023. I hope you got your budget request approved and you’re ready to move ahead with a clean slate and new KPIs to hit. You’re probably wondering, “What can I do now to grow my program?

3 directional changes to grow your email program

Naturally, every marketer’s goals will be unique. We have different audiences, challenges, resources and goals. But I’m focusing on three major directional changes with my clients this year. Which of these could help you succeed this year?

1. Stop sending so many emails

Yeah, I know. That sounds strange coming from somebody who believes wholeheartedly in email and its power to build your business. But even I have my limits!

Email during this last holiday shopping season was insane. In my 20+ years in the email industry, I cannot remember a time, even during the lockdown days of COVID-19, when my inbox was so full. 

I’m not the only one who noticed. Your customers also perceived that their inboxes were getting blasted to the North Pole. And they complained about it, as the Washington Post reported (“Retailers fire off more emails than ever trying to get you to shop“).

I didn’t run any numbers to measure volume, isolate cadences or track frequency curves. But every time I turned around, I saw emails pouring into my inbox. 

My advice for everyone on frequency: If you throttled up during the holiday, now it’s time to throttle back.

This should be a regularly scheduled move. But it’s important to make sure your executives understand that higher email frequency, volume and cadence aren’t the new email norm. 

If you commit to this heavier schedule, you’ll drive yourself crazy and push your audience away, to other brands or social media.

If you did increase cadence, what did it do for you? You might have hit your numbers, but consider the long-term costs: 

  • More unsubscribes.
  • More spam complaints.
  • Deliverability problems.
  • Lower revenue per email. 

Take what you learned from your holiday cadence as an opportunity to discover whether it’s a workable strategy or only as a “break glass in case of emergency” move.

My advice? Slow down. Return to your regular volume, frequency and cadence. Think of your customers and their reactions to being inundated with emails over 60 days.

2. Stop spamming

In that Washington Post article I mentioned earlier, I was encouraged that it cited one of my email gripes — visiting websites and then getting emails without granting permission first. 

I could have given the Post a salty quote about my experiences with SafeOpt and predatory email experiences (“Business stress is no excuse to spam“) for visitors to its clients’ websites. 

Successful email marketers believe in the sanctity of permission. That permission-based practice is what you want to be involved in. Buying a list means you don’t hire a company to sell you one, whether it’s a data broker or a tech provider like SafeOpt. 

Spamming people doesn’t work in the long term. Sure, I’ve heard stories from people who say they use purchased lists or companies like SafeOpt and it makes them money. But that’s a singular view of the impact. 

Email is the only marketing channel where you can do it wrong but still make money. But does that make it right? 

The problem with the “it made us money” argument is that there’s nowhere to go after that. Are you measuring how many customers you lost because you spammed them or the hits your sender reputation took? 

You might hit a short-term goal but lose the long-term battle. When you become known as an unreliable sender, you risk losing access to your customers’ inboxes.

Aside from the permission violation, emailing visitors after they leave your site is a wasted effort for three reasons:

  • A visit is not the same as intent. You don’t know why they landed on your site. Maybe they typed your URL as a mistake or discovered immediately that your brand wasn’t what they wanted. Chasing them with emails won’t bring them back.
  • You aren’t measuring interest. Did they visit multiple pages or check out your “About” or FAQ pages? As with intent, just landing on a page doesn’t signal interest.
  • They didn’t give you their email address. If they had interest or intent, they would want to connect with your brand. No email address, no permission.

Good email practice holds that email performs best when it’s permission-based. Most ESPs and ISPs operate on that principle, as do many email laws and regulations.

But even in the U.S., where opt-out email is still legal, that doesn’t mean you should send an email without permission just because somebody landed on your website.

3. Do one new thing

Many email marketers will start the year with a list of 15 things they want to do over the next two months. I try to temper those exuberant visions by focusing on achievable goals with this question: 

“What one thing could you do this year that could make a great difference in your email program’s success?”

When I started a job as head of strategy for Acxiom, I wanted to come up with a long list of goals to impress my new boss. I showed it to my mentor, the great David Baker and he said, “Can you guarantee that you can do all of these things and not just do them but hit them out of the park?”


“That’s why you don’t put down that many goals,” he said. “Go in with just one. When that one is done, come up with the next one. Then do another. If you propose five projects, your boss will assume you will do five projects. If you don’t, it just means you didn’t get it done.”

That was some of the best advice I’ve ever received and I pass it on to you. 

Come up with one goal, project or change that will drive your program forward. Take it to your boss and say, “Here’s what I’m going to do this year.”

To find that one project, look at your martech and then review MarTech’s six most popular articles from 2022 for expert advice.

You’ll find plenty of ideas and tips to help you nail down your one big idea to drive growth and bring success. But be realistic. You don’t know what events could affect your operations. 

Drive your email program forward in 2023

The new year has barely begun, but I had a little trouble getting motivated to take on what’s shaping up to be a beast of a year. You, too?

I enjoyed my time off over the holidays. Got in some golf with my dad and his buddies, ate great food and took time to step back and appreciate the phenomenal people I work with and our amazing industry. 

What gets me going at last? Reaching out to my team, friends and you. Much of my motivation comes from fellow marketers — what you need, what you worry about and what I can do to help you succeed. 

If you’re on the struggle bus with me, borrow some motivation from your coworkers and teammates, so we can gather together 12 months from now and toast each other for making it through another year. 

It’s time to strap on your marketer helmet and hit the starter. Here’s to another great year together. Let’s get the job done!

Get MarTech! Daily. Free. In your inbox.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Ryan Phelan

As the co-founder of, Ryan Phelan’s two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies. His experience and history in digital marketing have shaped his perspective on creating innovative orchestrations of data, technology and customer activation for Adestra, Acxiom, Responsys, Sears & Kmart, BlueHornet and infoUSA. Working with peers to advance digital marketing and mentoring young marketers and entrepreneurs are two of Ryan’s passions. Ryan is the Chairman Emeritus of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board and a member of numerous business community groups. He is also an in-demand keynote speaker and thought leader on digital marketing.

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Promote | DigitalMarketer



Promote | DigitalMarketer

Up until now, any “promotion” your customers have done has been passive. But in the promotion stage, your customers actively spread the word about your brands, products, and services. They tell stories, make recommendations, and share your offers because they truly believe in them.

Active promotion may be an affiliate or commission relationship—or just a free offer for sending some new customers your way. The point is, it’s a win-win for both of you.

One thing worth mentioning before we dive in; Happy customers don’t promote, SUCCESSFUL customers do. 

Our biggest question in the Promote stage is: How are you going to turn your BEST customers into your marketing partners? 

If you don’t have a referral program, an affiliate program, or a valued reseller program … who is willing to drive your message to the organization you need to build out these programs? This is word of mouth marketing, and it is very important so start thinking about how you want to build this. 

Look to your most successful customers, they’re going to be the people who actively promote for you. But then, let’s think about our customers who already have our prospects but are offering a different product or service. 

At DigitalMarketer we are a training and certification company, we are not a services based company. What that means is we don’t compete with agencies or consultants. This also means that there is an opportunity for us to work with agencies and consultants. 

When we realized this we decided to launch our Certified Partner Program, which you can learn more about at DigitalMarketer.Com/Partner. This program lets us work with the largest segments of our customer base, who have customers that we want but they’re providing a solution that we’re not providing. 

When we train our customers, they are able to use our company frameworks to work with their clients. If their clients want to learn to do their marketing themselves? We’re the first education company they see.

So who is that for you? Remember, it’s not the happy clients that refer, it’s the successful clients. If you want to create more promoters, make sure that you’re doing everything that you can as a marketer to ensure that you’re marketing great products so you can see great results. 

How can our example companies accomplish this?

For Hazel & Hems, they can add an ambassador program to grow their instagram following and increase credibility with viral posts. 

Ambassadors can earn affiliate commissions, additional boutique reward points, and get the chance to build a greater following by leveraging the Hazel & Hems brand.

For Cyrus & Clark, they can offer discounted rates to their existing clients if those clients are willing to refer them to their strategic partners. 

For construction companies, this could be a home builder recommending Cyrus & Clark services to the landscapers, real estate developers, and interior designers that they work with to serve their customers.

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11 Email Marketing Design Tips to Drive More Revenue



11 Email Marketing Design Tips to Drive More Revenue

When you think about what factors and processes are needed to get the most out of your email marketing campaigns, you might consider these first: more sophisticated personalization, leveraging first-party data more effectively, or more precise targeting and timing. 

While those are all important, there’s another more fundamental aspect of email marketing that’s just as critical to success: email design. 

With more than 333 billion emails sent and received every day, and adults logging more screen time than ever before, it’s never been more crucial to have well-designed emails that can quickly cut through the overflowing inbox clutter, capture recipients’ attention and compel them to take the desired action. 

Whether you’re looking to supercharge your email newsletter or inject new life into your lifecycle email campaign strategy, here are 11 email design tips and examples that can drive site traffic, purchase intent, conversions and revenue.

“All aspects of email design – including accessibility, readability, layout and responsiveness – have a huge impact on open rates and conversions. In reality, email marketing design is the gatekeeper to campaign success.”

Samantha McGrady, Tinuiti Strategist, Lifecycle Marketing


Essential Elements of an Email

You might not consider all these quote-unquote “design” components, but they all play a central role in how an email is perceived and consumed. 

  • Subject line
  • Pre-header text
  • Header/headline
  • Logo
  • Color scheme
  • Images
  • Body copy
  • CTA(s)
  • Signature and footer
  • Unsubscribe button


The Eleven Keys to Effective Email Design

All elements of an email come together to create an overall design. Whether that design is cohesive or advances the objectives of the email depends on how well the individual elements are executed. Here are 11 tips for making email design work for you.

1. Responsive Designs Pay Off

Mobile-friendly email design is a must. While the exact percentage of emails opened on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets vary by source, it’s estimated that over half of all emails are accessed on mobile. That means ensuring an email displays correctly and can be read easily across devices, screens and resolutions are essential. If an email displays poorly, it’s likely to be deleted in under three seconds

Utilizing a responsive email template will automatically adjust your email to fit the screen it’s being viewed on, whether that’s a desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet. Most drag-and-drop email builders feature built-in responsive design templates, but you’ll also want to keep mobile formatting in mind when considering image size and the length of copy blocks within the email.  

2. Keep Accessibility Top-of-Mind

One key aspect of email design that goes hand-in-hand with responsiveness is accessibility. Accessibility refers to an email’s ability to be received and understood by persons with disabilities or using assistive devices. So just as responsive design ensures that emails can be accessed across device formats, good accessibility practices preserve an email’s usability regardless of the recipient’s circumstances.

An accessible email will have a logical flow and high readability in terms of descriptive subject lines, links and headers, and larger and well-spaced typefaces. It will also use high color contrast and utilize alt-text liberally. Perhaps most importantly, an accessible email will not lean too heavily on visuals or hide information in images, as adaptive tools like screen readers can struggle to convert them.  

Keeping accessibility top-of-mind is important for reaching the maximum percentage of your subscribers or target audiences and contributes to good overall email marketing usability.

3. Customize Your Pre-Header Text

Pre-header text used to be an afterthought, and many marketers defaulted to the first few words of email body copy. Now, because of the way emails are displayed in mobile and desktop inboxes, pre-headers are widely recognized as the second-most important text element after the subject line. Pre-header text indicates to the reader what the email is about; it’s essentially a visible meta-description of the email. 

As such, the pre-header text should complement the subject line and reinforce the critical call-to-action within the email. It should, like the subject line, entice the recipient to open the email and keep reading while also reading while offering an informative preview of the email itself. And it needs to accomplish all of this concisely in an abbreviated space. 

Crafting a compelling subject and pre-header pair can feel like writing poetry, but getting it right can significantly impact open rates and conversions. 

4. Use an Effective Layout

The layout is the most recognizable aspect of email design and likely what most people think of first when considering the design elements of an email. Layout determines the flow of your content and the order in which your readers consume information. The most basic principles of email layout are maintaining organization and logical consistency, capturing attention through aesthetics, and manipulating the recipient’s eye where you want it to go.

  • Organization: In essence, this means establishing a clear visual hierarchy. Try to display the most important information and convey essential details early on (higher) in the email.
  • Aesthetics: incorporate white space to give your content breathing room and lend a more elevated look. Clutter and “walls” of text are difficult to read and lead to email abandonment. Instead, utilize negative space to accentuate key points and keep the recipient reading. 
  • Guiding the eye: Use directional cues to draw attention to the most essential part of your email. Effective layout templates leverage natural reading and eye movement patterns to focus the recipient on desired email elements. 

Many email templates use the following common layout patterns, each of which guides the reader’s attention in specific ways:

  • Z-pattern layouts place a zig-zag of content within the reader’s typical sight line, starting at the upper left corner. 
  • F-pattern layouts emphasize the left side of the email, inviting readers to return their eyes to that side for most information. 
  • Inverted pyramid layouts, perhaps the most familiar layout, load critical information at the top and create a visual funnel toward a CTA at the bottom.

These principles are laid out in the following two wireframe examples of common email layouts. Notice how both lean on the reading path of the human eye while maintaining a recognizable hierarchy and putting vital information up top:

two examples of email design template wireframes

Remember to rotate your design layout to avoid using the same framework repeatedly – otherwise, your emails will be perceived as stale by your subscribers.


5. Choose Colors Strategically

Color scheme is an essential element in any design, and emails are no exception. The right combination of colors – or the strategic limitation of a color palette – can elicit emotion, direct attention to important content, reinforce brand image or distinguish a single email from a series or campaign. 

There is plenty of room for experimentation with color in email marketing. Still, good general rules of thumb are to avoid clashing colors or using too wide a variety of colors, use bright colors sparingly, and stay consistent with color usage across branded marketing assets. And as with accessibility and responsiveness, it’s also important to consider how an email is being viewed; for example, if being read on a mobile device in “dark” mode, pure black text can appear illegible. 

It’s important to remember that color isn’t limited to graphical elements or iconography in the email; the text color used and dominant color in embedded images or photographs should also be considered. These colors should work in harmony to support your content, brand and the purpose of the email.

6. Use Clean and Clear Text

An organized layout and strategic use of color will go a long way toward making an email readable and effective. Ultimately, though, the information you want to communicate stems from the email copy itself. One hard and fast rule for text in an email is to be clear and concise

Remember the 333 billion emails sent and received last year? Your target audience received some of those, and they almost certainly didn’t read every word of every email they received. So many of those emails were probably never opened, thanks to poor subject lines.

Emails should draw the eye with an attractive design but be easy to skim. Get to the point quickly, or risk ending up in the trash.


example of clear and concise email marketing design from Hyperikon


When in doubt, follow these guidelines:

  • Maintain a good text-to-image ratio
  • Keep the headline to two lines or less
  • Keep text on a simple background so that it’s easy to read
  • Bold or highlight keywords or phrases


“Reduce the cognitive load. We really want to create our emails to be clean and concise.”

Sammi Nutsongtat, Klaviyo Design Specialist

Portrait of Sammi Nutsongtat

7. Treat Email as a Brand Opportunity

Of all the potential touchpoints a recipient might have with your brand, the email you just sent them is unlikely to be their first. That makes it very important to keep email design consistent with your overall brand design. 

Incorporating strong branding – not just a logo or a tagline, but brand-specific colors, imagery, typography and content tone – helps email recipients identify the message’s source and provides a more cohesive experience from the inbox to the landing page. That can reduce your bounce rate as users interact with your brand across different channels.

A good branding evaluation question to ask: If I removed our logo from these email designs, would our subscribers identify our company?


example of good branding in email design from Bryan Anthonys and Diff


Your brand’s identity tells your story, so it’s important to be conscious of your email branding. Branding should remain consistent across all channels, whether email-to-email or email-to-website. 

8. Your Typography Style Matters

Using a consistent typeface in email design can reinforce your brand image and identity, though, like color, there is some opportunity for experimentation. The most important thing to remember about typography is that it should be easy to read at a skimming pace and shouldn’t detract or add confusion to the message.

Emails can also contain more than one kind of typeface, for example, one font that looks better at a larger size for headers and another that looks cleaner for entire sentences of body copy. That said, too many different fonts in an email can make it hard to read. A limit of three fonts per email is a good common-sense rule. Again, a drag-and-drop email builder usually has several typeface options and suggestions for specific email elements or sections. 

9. Personalize Elements of Your Emails

Personalization is one of the dominant themes across the marketing and advertising industries right now, as technological advancements and the rise in importance of zero- and first-party customer data have made true one-to-one, brand-to-customer engagement possible. Email marketing, which was perhaps the first marketing vector to make widespread use of basic personalization (think mail merge and auto-filled salutation lines), can also incorporate more sophisticated personalization techniques – and should. 

The goal of personalization should be to make an email meaningful and valuable to the recipient. That means incorporating bespoke, custom content blocks based on customer data, including insights like purchase history or position in the customer lifecycle or buying journey. Narrow segmentation can help target specific customers, and personal touches like incorporating profile information or preferences can help humanize your brand and create stronger relationships.

In short, you should seize every opportunity to include more personalized elements in your emails.

10. Always Use a CTA

This might seem like email marketing 101, but no list of email marketing optimization tips would be complete without addressing calls to action or CTAs. Usually rendered graphically as a button, a good CTA should concisely describe the exact action the email reader can expect upon clicking and be placed at a point in the layout where the next step is logically implied. 

Effective CTAs typically appear at the bottom of a section in a contrasting color to the email’s overall color scheme. Multiple CTAs can be used – some research suggests that having more than one CTA increases click-through rates – but only where the natural progression of the content suggests they appear. As with many of the design tips presented here, CTAs should be used in a cohesive, consistent manner. 

11. Avoid Abrupt Design Changes

Consistency isn’t just important within an email; it’s also important across campaigns. Design shock, or suddenly presenting drastically different creative to an existing audience like your subscriber base, can impact the success of an individual email or an entire campaign.

When updating your email designs, consider rolling out the changes in an iterative fashion or testing the new creative out on a small group of subscribers before rolling it out to your entire audience.


example of avoiding email design shock from Ritual


As the example above illustrates, gradually transitioning to a new layout while keeping many other design elements consistent helps minimize the effect of design shock. Keep this in mind as you embark on new email campaigns or make universal changes to your email marketing approach.

How to Use A/B Testing to Improve Your Email Design

 You can put as much thought and preparation into email design as possible, and the email might still fall short of performance expectations. The only way to ensure a successful campaign and maximize conversions is to engage in A/B testing by sending slightly different versions of an email to distinct segments of your audience. It’s a straightforward process that many email platforms support, but sadly, nearly  42.9% of marketers don’t know what to test.

When assessing an email design’s impact on an audience, there are various things you can test to help drive higher clicks, conversions, or overall performance. These include:

  • Call to action button styling
  • Overall layout
  • Number of products featured
  • Lifestyle vs. product imagery
  • Cheeky vs. simple copy
  • Animation vs. static


Once you know what to test for and have identified what you’re trying to prove, run a few test emails to sample groups, isolating one variable at a time over a series of weeks. Evaluate which works best for reaching, resonating with, and converting the most recipients, and you’ll gradually improve your conversion rates.

Resources & Tools to Improve Your Email Design Game

There is no shortage of email design tools available to help you get the most out of your email marketing strategy. Some are full-service email-building platforms, while others are helpful stock image sites or graphics libraries. Here are a few of our favorites:


Klayvio is a well-established, full-service email marketing platform optimized for ecommerce and featuring sophisticated personalization tools. Klaviyo’s robust library of customizable, responsive templates, support for A/B testing, and dynamic content capabilities can help users of all levels put email design optimization tips into action.

Tinuiti Performance Creative 

Need a more comprehensive and data-driven approach to email and lifecycle marketing? Our own Performance Creative offering is based on moments that matter and features integration with multiple channels and touchpoints throughout the customer journey.

Adobe Stock

It’s perhaps unsurprising that one of the biggest names in design software also has one of the most robust stock image catalogs available. Adobe Stock allows users to search for specific image types or browse by category, ensuring you’ll find the perfect photos or images for your email campaign.


Any design process – including email design – can be collaborative. Figma provides a platform to facilitate that collaboration that includes several email-specific features, including a library of visual assets teams can build themselves.

Final Thoughts

Design is a central aspect of email marketing performance, and getting it right can be the difference between a positive ROI campaign and a forgettable brand encounter. You can probably think of several marketing emails in your inbox that slapped a basic template together with uninspiring (and uninspired!) copy and called it a day. Or maybe not, because you deleted them without getting past the subject line. 

Your email campaigns can help solidify customer relationships and prospects through accessible designs that embrace solid layout principles, on-brand typography and images, a concise and catchy subject and pre-header, logical CTAs and compelling copy.  You’ll ultimately generate more opens, leads, conversions and revenue for your company, too.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published by Greg Swan in August 2019 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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