10 Best Practices for Email on Mobile Devices

We are seeing incredible increases in engagement and conversion as the result of work redesigning websites using Mobile First design. By taking a Mobile First design approach, we end up with websites that are clear, concise and incredibly easy to navigate, both on mobile and the desktop. But, what are we doing with our emails? How can we improve our messaging across so many devices and apps?

Mobile email opens now account for 42% of all email opens, a 366% increase since 2011, according to a Litmus survey. With that in mind, we put together this list of 10 best practice for optimizing emails for today's mobile world:

1. Choose a mobile first Design. Typically, there are two options to account for how an email is rendered on a mobile device: Responsive and Mobile First Design. While Responsive Design allows for greater customizability, it relies on media queries to determine screen resolution; functionality that is not supported across all mobile email programs. To ensure your email is rendered well no matter the program, use Mobile First Design. When constructing your email, consider the following guidelines:

  • Body copy: at least 16px
  • Headlines: at least 22px
  • Buttons: at least 44px by 44px
  • White space: at least 15px

2. Identify top 3 desired recipient behaviors and design your email around them. Each email you create should have a goal and the design of your email should support its goal(s). Just as you wouldn't include off-site links during the checkout process on an ecommerce site, don't distract your recipient with links that don't help you to achieve the ultimate goal of your email. Does your email include an "About Us" link? Chances are, the recipient has opted into your list and already knows who you are - you don't need it.

3. Keep copy concise and to the point. Mobile users tend to spend less time on web pages than desktop users. As a result, your window of opportunity for captivating a mobile audience is much smaller. If you're including copy, keep it to just a few sentences or bullet points.

4. Align important information to the left hand side. While iPhones resize images to fit their screen size, Androids do not. Instead, they align everything to the top left corner. Make sure the links related to the goals you've prioritized in (2) are on the left, so you don't lose any Android users.

5. Select From Names and Subjects that will display on a mobile phone. A mobile device can display fewer characters than a desktop. If you want your recipients to see the full From Name and Subject, they need to be less than 25 and 35 characters, respectively.

6. Include a targeted message in your preheader. Often this space is populated by text that reads something to the tune of "If you are having trouble viewing this message..."? That will not increase your open rate. The preheader gives you an opportunity to convey your message to the recipient and entice him or her to open your email - so use it! Generally, mobile email applications allow for 85 characters of text in the preheader, so in that space you might consider including a:

  • Call to action
  • Reminder
  • Special offer

Email programs generate the preheader by grabbing whatever text is at the very top of the email. To change the preheader, simply insert your message there.

7. Dial up the brightness and contrast. Anyone who owns a smartphone will tell you that screen brightness kills your phone's battery. To mitigate this, people will turn down their phone's brightness. Of course this means that when your email is displayed on a mobile device, it will lose some of its flair. Make sure the colors you use will shine even when the brightness isn't turned all the way up.

8. Do not include link clusters. What used to be convenient with a mouse has become quite frustrating with a finger. Having a list of links in one place is not a good mobile experience.

9. Consider the entire experience. When a recipient clicks on a link in your email, where does it take him or her? If you've created a Mobile First Design for your email, your landing pages should also be mobile friendly. Clicking a link in an email is often just the first step leading to a goal you have defined on your site (i.e. buying a product, filling out a form, downloading a whitepaper, etc.). Make sure the rest of the experience is just as mobile friendly as the first step. As a rule of thumb, try not to include the following elements on your landing pages:

  • Anything requiring Flash Player
  • Interstitials/pop-ups
  • Long forms

10. Test, test, then test again. This goes far beyond opening up a pop-up preview of your email and clicking the links to make sure they go to the right URLs. Find out what devices people are using to open your emails and preview what your email looks like on them. If you don't know what devices your audience uses to view emails, make sure you have the major players covered - iPhone, Android, and Blackberry. Once sent, monitor open, click through, and conversion rates for all your recipients (free programs like Google Analytics can track conversions from specific email campaigns). Next, look to optimize the email. Run A/B tests with the Subject, From Name, and Preheader to see if open rates increase. Do the same with the content and design to see if your click through rates increase. Chances are, you can improve your email's performance.

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