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How To Optimize Email for Mobile Devices: Design and Content

mobile email optimization

There are a few things to think about when deciding to optimize your email campaigns for mobile devices. How often do you check email on your smartphone? How about on your desktop? If you prefer to read emails on your mobile device, then you should know that you are a part of the majority. Over 61.6% of US internet users frequently check their email on smartphones more than any other device. With this being the case, many designers have begun creating their emails with mobile readers in mind first, then checking to see if it also looks good on desktop. When clean design and email best practices are implemented, the results will show through increased click-through and open rates. The bottom line is, if you’re not optimizing your email marketing for mobile, you’re missing opportunities.

email users

After much research and deliberation, I’ve come to the conclusion that the easiest and best way to handle mobile optimization is to focus on improving your regular email design to be mobile-friendly. Ensuring that your emails look good on both desktop computers and mobile devices is a delicate, but crucial, balancing act, so here are a few tips to help get you started.

Keep it Simple

Clear and concise formatting is important for all emails, but especially for mobile versions considering the small screen size. Keep the design clean with considerable negative space so readers can easily distinguish the content. Since the whole email can’t be seen at once, put the essential elements at the top of your email, with things like social sharing buttons towards the bottom. Focus on functionality, since there is a limited viewing window on mobile devices.

Use a simple, stacked layout as opposed to a multi-column layout. A single column template is easier to accommodate for mobile devices. Keep the width between 500 – 600 pixels making sure never to exceed the 600 threshold or else your message will not display properly. You don’t want the user to do any extra work, like zooming in and out, just to view the email. This will make the message harder to navigate, not being able to see the effective call to action, thus having less of an opportunity for them to convert.

Incorporate Readable Fonts

Use a minimum font size of 13 pt for the body of the email, since anything smaller will be reformatted and potentially ruin your intended layout. The header size should be a minimum of 22 pt font, but of course a bigger font, like 30 pt, would show up better. Also take into consideration the color of the font against the background, since some smartphone users may have their screen’s brightness turned down contrasting colors make the words stand out and easier to read.

Test the Subject Line

email subject line chart

The subject line is the introduction to your email message and can play a large role in determining whether it will be opened or not. Having an enticing subject is important, but remember that each email client displays a different number of characters, Research which email client is most popular with your audience along with your past subject line performance to determine the optimal length. Generally, Gmail and iPhone are the most used, so the subject length could be between 41 to 70 characters in portrait mode. As mentioned, this can differ depending on the campaign and audience. Ideally, the effectiveness of your email subject lines could be measured using A/B testing to see which one resonates best with your specific audience.

Check the Pre-Header and Footer

Never neglect including pre-header text. This serves as a supplement to the subject line and usually displays directly underneath it. Pre-header text is your first line of copy and can be used to persuade the user to open the message. The header is also an important component of your message since it is generally the next thing users see, usually a company logo. To ensure that your audience can view the email as it was intended, the header should also include an option to open the message in a mobile web browser since some email clients don’t automatically show images. Not only is it helpful for the user’s viewing, but also makes it easier for them to link to your email or newsletter.

Regarding the footer, always remember to add an unsubscribe link at the bottom of your email. Although your goal is to keep your audience from opting out, it is unethical and illegal to exclude the unsubscribe button, particularly for promotional messages. There are several CAN-SPAM regulations that must be adhered to, such as including a physical address and valid header. Not only is this a legal obligation, but it’s necessary in keeping your business credible and trustworthy by following e-mail best practices.

Include a Clear Call to Action

cta button sizes

Focus on one call to action that has a clear message and emphasis on providing benefit to the recipient. Remember that users are most likely going to be using their fingers, so the button should be big enough so that they don’t have to struggle to click on it. According to Apple, the ideal size for a clickable area is 44 px, so the target area for these links and buttons should be at least 44 x 44 pixels That’s not to say that all buttons have to be 44 px, just that there shouldn’t be any buttons or links smaller than 44 px, otherwise you run the risk of a “mistap.” According to an MIT study the average size of an adult finger is 16 to 20 millimeters, which translates to about 45-57 pixels. So for the best user experience, use a CTA button that is about 57 x 57 pixels. Remember that ergonomically, you’re designing for people’s thumbs. Keep that in mind as you’re planning and placing these important elements.

Optimize the Images

Emails have become more visual, but that doesn’t mean you should stuff your message with only images. Some email clients are selective with displaying graphics – Apple’s iOS automatically displays them, but Android and many other platforms turn off displaying images by default. As a result, it is important to always add alt text, so if for any reason the image doesn’t show, at least a description will be displayed and give the reader a general idea of what should be there.

To fully optimize the graphics you decide to include, reduce the file size as well as the size of the image itself. The easiest way is just to run the image through a file optimizer, and then center it so it will be consistent on all devices. Otherwise, set the max width of the image in proportion to the screen it will be taking up, while setting the max height to "auto" so it will adjust in proportion to the set width. Always preview your emails to make sure the images, and alt-texts, are displaying exactly how you want them.

Have Meaningful Content

Just as any piece of content on the web, be conscious of your wording and spacing. Since there is less retail space in email, every word counts. Have your most important words in the beginning of your subject or message. Brevity is key. Users won’t spend more than a few seconds checking the email, so get to the point right away. The content should be concise, only focus on the essentials, and if it starts to become a block of text just break it up. Remember that you are competing with dozens of other emails in the recipients’ inbox, so have a hook and deliver intriguing content.

Choose Scalable or Responsive

scalable vs responsive design

Decide whether to use a scalable or a responsive design. Scalable design is the simpler format, since your emails will just be resized to fit a mobile screen. However, this can become an issue if you include a lot of content within your message. Responsive design may be complicated for a beginner, but there are tips to handling it. Some email clients already have predesigned responsive templates that can help guide you in creating an email that successfully displays on all platforms, not just mobile. Utilizing responsive design may be a larger investment of time and money, but it consistently renders your email message across all platforms, which can lead to higher open and conversion rates. Ultimately, you have to really consider which type of design will give you the best ROI.

Apply Best Practices

If your email doesn’t display correctly, a majority of recipients will immediately delete it, so use these tips to begin optimizing your emails for mobile devices to ensure that they look good. Before sending, test the email to make sure there aren’t any mistakes. It’s as easy as using an email previewer like Litmus. Most of the best practices for regular email design still apply. Keep the copy to a minimum, use images wisely, balance images with plain text, use alt text, and always include a plain-text version.

Knowing the right tactics to apply to your mobile email optimization efforts will help guide you in creating a responsive email that is free of mistakes. Be aware of your email’s design and content, since that is the ultimate factor in determining if your audience will continue farther down the conversion funnel. By making sure your email is reaching the right audience, as well as being viewed properly and efficiently, gives you the potential to continue growing your business’s audience.

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