The share of email opens occurring on a mobile device keeps growing, climbing to 48 percent, according to a 2015 report from Litmus. Given the rapid growth in mobile email opens, it's only a matter of time before more than half of total opens will occur on a mobile device.
Marketers face a real challenge in finding ways to market effectively on increasingly shrinking screens. Savvy marketers know they need to think about how their email marketing is affected by this trend. Now, we're not just worrying about overcoming spam filters, we also need to consider how and where an email will be viewed, when it will be relevant, what action will need to be taken and on what device?
One thing is clear: With devices shrinking and the attention span of readers decreasing to a frightful eight seconds, email marketing needs to evolve.
Here are eight tips to help you produce better-looking email creative that's more accessible and will render for both desktop and mobile email clients:
1. Using Links: You can include a mobile-friendly URL link at the very top of an email, also known as the pre-header area. This would be a link to a hosted online text version of your email that is optimized for mobile users with limited text and images. This is considered the easy and safe default option, but it doesn't provide a rich and compelling email creative for the recipient. It also requires additional clicks by the reader, which has been shown to hinder response rates. Keep in mind, many template-driven email service providers may not offer options to host a mobile version. However, many do.
Avoid crowding URL links too closely together in the body of the email, which makes it difficult for fingers to press on the correct link. Use pixel padding (read more in Tip No. 5) to allow for space around or between clickable areas. Be sure to include links to important pages that support the email promotion or content. Always use trusted links, because users can't hover on a mobile device to ensure the link is safe.
2. Effectively Use Subject Lines With Pre-Headers: A pre-header is basic text that can be found at the very top of your email. There are two schools of thought regarding pre-headers and mobile devices, both of which should be tested. The first is that handheld devices make the use of pre-headers a necessity, because it's prime real estate where you want to include key information and offer specific details that entice the consumer to read on. Some marketers use text phrases (i.e. "click here if you cannot see images" or "add us to your safe senders list"). However, because this is likely the first thing a prospect reads, it makes sense to highlight your offer or promotion.
The second theory is to eliminate the pre-header text altogether, because it pushes the email creative down the screen and less of the email is visible.
The best advice and compromise is to keep pre-header text to one or two short lines, so the email creative is visible while still highlighting your best offer copy. Ensure that the subject line and pre-header text are working to support each other, and keep the subject line somewhere between 30 characters to 45 characters for mobile devices.
[Side note on wearables: While information on the new Apple Watch email client is still fairly thin, early predictions show that subject lines and pre-header text will be more important and relevant than ever. Even The New York Times announced it would begin publishing one-sentence stories and other content on various topics for the Apple Watch, enticing users to "hand off" or read a summary of a story or email on the Watch, then use another device to read the full article or respond to an email.]
3. Use a Single-Column Ladder Design: Sidebars and two-column designs are the gold standard for desktop creative, because you have two separate areas to feature your best offer copy so that it appears at the top of the email preview pane where it's more likely to be noticed. This is known as the "above-the-fold" area, and is commonly where your headline appears. However, a mobile device will likely shift the columns, text and images, and create overlapping areas, which create a poor presentation. The single-column design keeps it simple, with no rendering issues to contend with, no columns being pushed into text and images aligned as you intended.
Using a ladder system allows emails to scale down much more neatly. You want to avoid using tables or setting image size widths, in order to ensure that the email is "elastic" and adjusts to the size of the mobile screen. You'll also want to group multiple items, links and images on top of each other (like a ladder). You can then use background colors within the email itself to serve as dividers between the different sections. This stacking system allows for easy organization and alignment with limited rendering snafus. The goal is to lead your reader down the email, through the content.
4. Padding for Fingers in Motion: Point and click motions are fluid and precise when done on a computer mouse connected to a desktop or laptop; whereas, mobile devices use touchscreen technology and the bulky human finger becomes a factor. Email designers need to anticipate how fingers will navigate the clickable areas of an email on a touch screen. This means buttons and icons need to get a little larger and the surrounding areas need to be more padded to accommodate for fingertips in motion.
Allow for 10 pixels (give or take) around or in between any clickable area to leave space and make it easy for users to navigate and click to take action. Also, allow for about 20 pixels to 30 pixels around the border of the email for fingers to hold the tablet device. You don't want key information hidden under the user's thumb.
5. Font Sizes: Another design tip for clumsy fingers is to use a minimum font size of 12-point for body copy and a maximum headline size around 20 points. Any larger and you risk your email landing in the junk folder for desktop users, because some filters flag larger fonts used in email as spam. Keep in mind that the larger font means you'll have to keep your content brief. You'll most likely be able to fit 10 lines to 12 lines of text on a screen.
6. Flush Left: Set all text to align to the left so it appears on the left side of the mobile device, where it's easiest to read. This will prevent text from getting pushed to the center or right of the phone, forcing users to scroll in order to view and read the email.
7. Back to Basics: This tip might seem a little basic, but the core principles of email marketing will still apply in order for your email to be effective, so they bear repeating. No matter what the design, layout or offer, always ensure your "from" line and subject line quickly communicate two critical points: Branding (who you are) and Offer (the value in your email) The straightforward presence and recognition of both the sender and the email's value drive open rates and responses—regardless of viewing device.
8. Going Above and Beyond Email: You can't just stop at email. The most effective campaigns have a supporting landing page that reinforces the offer from your email promotion. So you've spent all this time, effort and energy creating a mobile-friendly email, which means the landing page will need to be optimized, as well. In fact, many marketers have a mobile-optimized version of their entire website. This is smart if you're looking to see some serious conversion rates for your email programs.
Making it simple to click through a well-designed mobile email that leads to an easy-to-navigate landing page can help improve ROI. Many of the tips provided above will apply to the landing page design, but you'll be working from a larger width for a landing page. We recommend 640 pixels wide, because it's cleanly divided by two and a good canvas to develop a mobile-friendly page that's easy to navigate.