Deciding How Many Columns to Use for Your E-Mail Marketing Message

By John Arnold

Columns provide an easy-access layout for your e-mail marketing customers and prospects. The familiar column layout helps your audience zero in on your message and find the important points.

Generally, you’ll want to stick with a one-, two-, or three column layout, but you can combine a one-column introduction over three columns with related information.

When you send a multi-column message, ask your readers to save the e-mail as their first action. Most people won’t read an e-mail with multiple columns and lots of content right away, so you want them to save your message and refer back to it when they have time to read it.

Sending a one-column marketing e-mail

Single column layouts are the best choice when your e-mail only has one grouping of content: a special promotion or event, a business letter, a press release, a card or announcement. For example, if you’re sending an e-mail with several closely related offers or articles, you can arrange the offers or articles to appear in order of priority in one column.

When using a single column layout:

  • Begin your main headline in the upper-left quadrant. Beginning a headline in the upper-left quadrant of a single column layout draws attention to the headline before the content in the body of the e-mail.

  • Include your main call to action in the main headline or in a subheading that begins in the upper-left quadrant. You can repeat your call to action later in the column.

  • Use white space, borders, and images to keep your text content from bunching together.

Using a two-column format for your e-mail marketing message

When you have two groupings of information, choose a two-column layout. If the content groupings are equally important, or if you have one grouping of content with two variations, use columns of the same width. If the content is of differing importance, try unequal columns and

  • Summarize larger bodies of information into lists in your narrow column.

  • Identify groups of related content — web links, testimonials, upcoming events or products — with short headlines in the narrow column.

    [Credit: Courtesy of, powered by Dunck Loyalty. Concept and design by Jordie van R
    Credit: Courtesy of, powered by Dunck Loyalty. Concept and design by Jordie van Rijn.
  • Place your most important content in the left column. Your audience is more likely to scan all the way across a wider column when it begins in the upper left, and down a narrow column placed on the left side.

If you’re using an equal, two-column layout:

  • Use the same layout for both columns. For example, if the left column starts with a headline and has an image on the right side of the column, make sure the right column starts with a headline and has an image on the right side of the column.

  • Use borders and white space to separate each column. You don’t want your content to appear to run together.

  • Place a single row that spans the entire width of both columns above your two equal columns. You can include your branding and a main headline to help tie both columns together.

    [Credit: Courtesy of Anderson-Shea, Inc.]
    Credit: Courtesy of Anderson-Shea, Inc.

Laying out multiple columns in your e-mail marketing message

Using three or more columns in a row under a single column is a good way to emphasize related content equally. Don’t make the whole e-mail three-column — readers don’t know where to start. Choose this layout to

  • Repeat a similar message with slight alterations. For example, use this for an event invitation with three locations.

  • Use the same design and layout. Make each column equal length and width, and have all images and text line up like a grid.

    [Credit: Courtesy of Wonderland Homes]
    Credit: Courtesy of Wonderland Homes

Because multiple columns aren’t likely wide enough to contain all your information, include links to more information in each column.