Walk down the street, sit in a hotel lobby or watch travelers at an airport, and you'll see many people paying close attention to their mobile phones. With everyone on the go, more people also are reading emails on these devices.
Here are some indicators that should underscore the growing power of mobile:
- Increased mobile usage is not just a business phenomenon; marketing agency Merkle found that 63 percent of mobile consumers check their email one to four times per day.
- A recent survey by ClickZ found individuals are not casual phone readers. About 70 percent read emails, 18 percent skim their emails, and the balance simply glance and delete.
- Many individuals report their mobile phone is within reach 24 hours a day.
Marketers need to consider mobile activity and how it may affect their email programs. Best practices in email design are changing to ensure a good experience for all recipients, regardless of how they access their messages. Life would be easy if there were a limited number of devices to design for, but there are a lot of devices and few standards. The mobile user experience ranges from good on an iPhone (although emails autoscale by default and fonts may be small) to terrible on older BlackBerry devices (where images do not display and URL links can run on for several lines).
Here are six tips on how to provide the best user experience and have your emails cleanly render on as many mobile platforms as possible:
1. Include a "view on mobile device" link in your pre-header. Image blocking has always been problematic with email and many marketers include a "View on Web" option at the top of emails. Because design rendering on the small screen can be an issue on a mobile device, it's a good idea to include an additional choice for "View on Mobile." Plan to track how many users click this option to monitor your trends.
For the "View on Mobile" option, most marketers show a simple text email formatted to a short width. It's possible to include simple HTML design that controls the font and allows for some bold text.
2. Reduce the width of all emails to no more than 550 pixels. If you look at email promotions and newsletters from leading companies, you'll notice they are slimmed down. To increase your odds that all readers will be able to see your content, compress the width of your emails. The maximum suggested width is 550 pixels, but it's even better to use a width of 485 pixels to 500 pixels.
3. Never include huge headers. The header includes your logo, navigation links and other information. Keep your header size to a minimum. The maximum size should be 110 pixels to 120 pixels. This is a best practice for all email marketers. Some companies get carried away and include a large positioning photo in the header, but all this does is push the actual content further down, making it harder for readers to see the "meat" of the message.
4. Be careful about columns and focus on the main viewing area. The days of three-column email design are over. At most, you can use a two-column design. But, if you do, put the most important information in a wider left column. Some mobile devices do not autoscale, or shrink, an email to fully display on screen, so it's likely that some recipients will not see the right-hand column and will have to scroll over to view. This takes work on their behalf. Your main content should be left and as high up as possible; only include supporting or ancillary information on the right.
Ultimately, consider using a one-column design at the top of the email where the most important information resides. Move to a two-column design after that.
5. Coupons come alive. One staple promotion for many marketers is the use of coupons for discounts on product purchases, events or entertainment attractions. They work well in email and even better in mobile. The customer can easily redeem the coupon by showing the email or coupon image at an offline venue. Some marketers even include a scannable barcode in their coupon emails.
6. Consider adding mobile alerts to the communications mix. Examine your Web and email analytics to determine how important mobile is to your audience. If you see increasing demand, you might consider adding mobile alerts to your communication stream.
Should you decide this is a worthwhile undertaking, plan to use an opt-in strategy. It's also important to notify potential subscribers that messaging and data charges may be incurred.
Mobile alerts may not be on your radar screen now, but it's worthwhile to sign up for a few programs to see what other marketers are doing. Companies such as Consumer Reports, JCPenney, Office Depot, Sephora and Oracle offer mobile alert options. In some cases, there is an app customized for specific devices.
We're still in the early stages of the email and mobile evolution. The Nielsen Company forecasted that smartphone penetration will reach 50 percent by mid-2011. That's critical mass! Now is the time to get poised to take advantage of this growing trend.