Jun 28, 2019 by zkipster Editorial Team

The Modern Guide to Online Invitation Email Design

Online invitations open up a world of options: how to distribute invitations and other communications, segment your guest list, integrate with your guest management software, and much more. But online invitations with RSVPs sometimes get critiqued for coming across as less impressive than good old paper. This guide breaks down the do’s and don’ts of online invitations to make sure they carry just as much weight as anything in the mail.

How online invitations work

Getting Started

There are four key steps that go into successful online email invitations: the platform you use to send an email, the guest list you’re sending it to, the email itself, and last but not least, the client (like Gmail) your guest uses to open and read your invitation.

Let’s take a closer look at each one and what matters most from an RSVP perspective.


Your email sending platform

There are numerous tools out there for sending email, from humble Outlook to highly advanced tools that offer a lot more. Advanced tools might sound like overkill for an invitation email, but there are features you should keep an eye out for that can have a major impact on the success of your invitation campaign.

Of the platforms that focus on event emails, zkipster is optimized for invitation-only events based around a guest list, and other platforms offer different strengths toward ticketing or building custom event websites.

What to look for
  • An emphasis on events: Some tools are general purpose, and others are built for specialized audiences, like ecommerce businesses or non-profits. Picking a specialized tool for your specific purpose helps weed out suites of features that just aren’t relevant to your work.
  • User-friendly design tools: We’ve moved beyond the point where powerful tools can get away with being inscrutable to use. Be sure to test a tool with your real-world needs, and make sure it’s something you can comfortably use and understand without needing to be a specialist.
  • Active support options: There’s a world of technical systems that go into the creation and delivery of emails, especially in mass email campaigns. Even the best platforms will bump into strange situations with a particular email client or design need, but what separates the good from the great platforms is how responsive their teams are to helping you find solutions.



The guest list for your event

Who you invite, and how accurate your information for them is, can be just as impactful as what you send your guests. “I think the most important thing to running a successful invitation campaign is clean data,” says David Becker, CEO of zkipster – so make sure your database is up to date and regularly checked for errors and outdated info.



Email invitation design

The invitation itself is often your guest’s very first impression of your event, and clearly plays a significant role in your event’s success. In the next chapter, we’ll focus on the essentials that can make the biggest difference, whether you’re creating an invitation yourself or working with a designer to find the right approach.



Email clients used by your guests

After putting in all the work to create a great invitation and curate a perfect guest list, the last critical step is making sure your guests actually receive their invitation. Even though you can’t control what email client your guests use, you can and should take steps to make sure your invitations are optimized for many different ones. Every email client, from Gmail to Outlook, can bring up different considerations, but there are some universal guidelines, covered in the last chapter, that can help make sure your invitations get delivered anywhere.

What to keep in mind
  • Emails can appear differently: Each client renders emails in a slightly different way. Sometimes that affects fonts, images, or spacing between different elements. In most cases these are subtle, but it’s worth testing your important emails on a variety of clients to make sure everything is looking (and working) as intended.
  • Spam filters run on varying rules: Some spam filters, like for major corporate domains, are likely to be much more restrictive with emails they let through. A good habit to get into is checking your delivery success rates sorted by domain, and seeing if there are any guests you have particular trouble reaching.
  • When in doubt, simplify: Complex layouts with multiple columns, super high-res images with big filesizes, or embedded animations and code are all common culprits that can lead to deliverability issues.


Next, let’s get into the email design itself.

How to design successful emails

Visuals, Hierarchy, and More

Design can seem intimidating at first, but although it’s a big topic, just staying focused on the essentials can make it a lot more approachable for applying to online invitations.

When it comes to designing your online invitation, Catalina Gutierrez, a designer on the zkipster team has one piece of advice above all others: “Keeping it simple is better than trying to overdesign it.”

What does overdesigning look like? “A bad invitation is when there’s too much design, and everything is bright and calling for your attention. You’ve overwhelmed the reader and they have no idea what to read first, what to click on,” she says. That means making intentional design choices that help your reader clearly understand your event and what action they should take.

Let’s take a look at two versions of an example invitation: on the left, a version that doesn’t follow these guidelines, and on the right the same invitation that has been updated with these points in mind.

Tip #1: Let header images breathe

If you have strong photography or imagery to use, don’t be afraid to let it take the lead. Give it a clear place in your design to help it feel more intentional. Equally important is to make sure it’s neither too high-res (which can lead to large filesizes, slower loading, and lower deliverability) nor too low quality (which, like in the example, can easily ruin a strong visual). If you need stock images, Unsplash and Pexels are strong starting points for many types of photos.

Tip #2: Use font styles and sizes to create clear hierarchy

One of the clearest differences between the two versions of the invitation is the amount and variety of text. Short, important information, like the name of the event, date and location, and similar details can be big and prominent. Let other details be smaller and shorter, and the variety will help put even more emphasis on what matters. “Use colors and font size to guide the reader to information in the order you want them to see it,” Gutierrez advises.

Tip #3: Make sure the primary action is clear and not buried

When you’re guiding people toward a single goal for what you want them to do, keep it clear and streamlined. Try to avoid introducing lower value secondary actions, like visiting a sponsor website or looking at a profile on social media, until they’ve accomplished the main action you want them to take.

Tip #4: With colors, less is often more

Sticking with a simple monochrome palette and plenty of white space can make a pop of color much more impactful, such as on a button or key branded element to draw your reader’s eye.

Keeping those tips in mind, check out a few more event emails for very different kinds of events that rely on these principles, created using zkipster’s online invitation builder.

Once you do the hard work of establishing a design that fits your event, you can — and should — keep it up in any follow up emails. “Once you make a design decision, it’s good to be consistent in your subsequent emails,” Guiterrez notes.



Messaging and actions

As you put together the visual approach for your invitation, you should think in parallel about an equally important component: how you communicate it in words.

To begin, turn your attention to the very first step in getting your guests to open your email and RSVP: the subject line. “Use a really engaging subject line,” says Lauren Housley of Ryan Alexander Events in Chicago. While the subject line will vary based on the type of event you’re having, there are some best practices that will help you get more responses from your guests.

  • Make it actionable, not talking about yourself. Give people a clear cue, like saying “you’re invited”, to want to open your email.
  • Keep it short and sweet — you don’t want to overwhelm your guest with information before they’ve even opened your email. Use the preview pane to make sure the length of the subject line isn’t too long, especially for mobile devices.
  • Personalize your subject line so that you refer to each guest by name. They’ll be more likely to click if it feels like you’ve put in the thought and effort to customize each invite.
  • Use your words wisely. “Emotional phrases like ‘last chance, don’t miss out,’ work really well at creating FOMO [fear of missing out],” Housley notes. “FOMO is a powerful motivator because people hate seeing that they missed out on an event they should have been it.”

Right from the beginning of your email, take care to make it personal. Using the data you’ve collected, tailor the email as much as possible to the individual guest. Consider addressing them directly by using their name, for example, in the preheader or body of email, if you haven’t already done so in the subject line.

How to make sure your emails get delivered

Avoiding spam filters and other traps

After all the work that goes into designing an online invitation, the time finally comes to send it out. But before you do, there are some key considerations to keep in mind so that you make sure your message gets to your guests. We get into a much more extensive exploration of this topic with five data-proven insights collected from thousands of invitations sent on zkipster.

Clean data

One of the most important things to do before you send out your invite is to make sure you’re working with a good list — and that your data is good. And though keeping your data fresh and making sure your emails get opened may seem like a daunting task, following these simple steps can go a long way.

  • Be thoughtful about who goes on your mailing list — don’t annoy people who aren’t relevant for the particular email you’re sending. Use data from an email tool to check which users are actually opening your emails to make sure you’re reaching the right guests.
  • Consider creating sublists so you can send even more personalized emails to specific segments of your audience. Then, you can use specific subject lines to appeal to different groups, and make your emails feel even more personalized.
  • Go through your list regularly, checking for any typos or missed domain names. Make sure everyone on your email list has both a first and last name included. You can use an email tool designed for mass emails to assist with domain verification.
  • Don’t be afraid to call it quits. If your data indicates that certain people on your list aren’t opening your emails, send one more email seeing if they’d still like to subscribe, then scrub your list.

More Resources

This guide focuses on many of the essentials to creating and distributing successful emails, and getting a strong understanding of these points will help the invitation phase of every event. But if you’re looking to dive in deeper, read our guide Yes! The Art of the Event RSVP written in collaboration with Event Manager Blog, with 60 pages of more insights on online invitations.