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What is an email template?

Illustration of email templates

If you’re brand new to the email industry—or even if you’re a veteran—there may be some confusion about what an email template actually is.

Is it a single email sent to a subscriber? Something saved in an email service provider’s WYSIWYG editor? A collection of code snippets to build new campaigns?

In this post (and the accompanying video below), we break down exactly what makes an email template, well, a template.

Defining a template

An email template is an HTML file composed of reusable code modules, making it as easy as copying and pasting your copy, links, and image URLs to create an email.

Let’s break that down.

An email template is an HTML file. HTML—or hypertext markup language—is the code that defines the structure and content in an email. It allows you to add things like images and links to an email and, along with cascading style sheets (CSS), lets you style the email to better reflect your company or personal styles.

The defining feature of a template, though, is its reusability.

Templates are distinct from one-off emails because they can be reused across multiple campaigns. They’re normally saved in your email service provider (ESP) or in a code editor like Litmus Builder—and provide a base on which to add copy, images, and links specific to your email campaign.

The benefits of using templates

There are several reasons why you should start using email templates.

Efficiency

Email templates give you and your team the gift of time, helping to produce campaigns faster and more efficiently, since the underlying code is already written.

Instead of having to rewrite an entire email from scratch for every send, you can simply add copy, images, and links to an existing template before testing and sending it to your subscribers. Templates are one of the key tools used by successful email marketing teams to stay agile and scale their marketing efforts.

And, with the reduced effort, you have more time to focus on crafting better content and copy for your email campaigns or other innovative strategies that drive more results.

Consistency

Email templates also protect your brand reputation by keeping your emails on-brand and error-free.

If you were to rewrite the code from scratch for every email, there’s a good chance that there would be variations or mistakes in that code—leading to broken emails and a bad experience for your subscribers. Typos can happen to even the best developers and, in the unforgiving email landscape, can lead to disastrous results for email marketers and your company’s brand.

That being said, while templates minimize mistakes before handoff, some ESPs introduce code that can break even the most well-tested templates. And different copy and images, although in the same email template, can cause problems, too. Running your campaign through Litmus Checklist helps ensure that your email works great in over 90 popular email clients and includes a spam filter test to see if any content tweaks affect your email’s deliverability or inbox placement.

Scaling

One of the best ways to scale your email program is to enable more people to create campaigns without the help of developers for every send. Templates allow you to do that, but only if everyone on your team can access and properly use them.

Be sure to document how to use your templates so your non-coders can build emails, too, in no time. You can create something as simple as a shared Google Doc with instructions on usage or go all-in with video tutorials in your company knowledge base and kick-off meetings to get everyone up-to-speed.

Litmus Design Library enables marketers to access not only pre-built templates but also reusable code (like snippets and partials) and brand assets (like predefined colors). And with the help of Visual Editor in Litmus Builder, anyone can easily create beautiful campaigns based on templates—without having to code!

Learn more about email templates

Want to learn more about how email templates can improve your own email marketing efforts? Our Ultimate Guide to Email Templates gives you the information and strategies needed to make the most of email templates and how to get started with your own.

Get the Ultimate Guide to Email Templates →

Do you work in the retail industry? We have a special version just for you! See how you can scale your email marketing and build better emails with the Ultimate Guide to Email Templates: Retail Edition.

This blog post was originally published on May 16, 2016, and has been updated for clarity and with new content on January 22, 2021.