How the mobile revolution changed email design

If you want to get ahead of the game, it’s time to make changes to your marketing

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Mobile domination is a fact. The number of handheld devices is increasing dramatically every single day, giving you access to applications, videos, pictures and the internet. Ever more frequently, busy people like to open emails while on the go but often delete emails that do not display correctly on mobile devices. So why do only 25 per cent of marketers optimise their emails for mobile?

Let’s take a look at why it is more important than ever to optimise for mobile. By the end of 2013, there will be more mobile devices on earth than people (Cisco 2013).

In the US, 59 per cent of adults now own a smartphone. Compare this with 40 per cent in December 2012 — an astonishing 47.5 per cent increase, with no signs of hitting a plateau [Fig.1].

And it is not just the quantity of devices that is changing the communications landscape but, more important, how consumers use them [Fig.2].

A recent study by eConsultancy found that checking email is the second-most-frequent task by smartphone users, just after making phone calls.

Mobile also drives a significant percentage of e-commerce. According to recent studies, mobile-commerce spending reached $4.7billion in Q2 2013, a growth rate of 24 per cent over the previous year. With the expected seasonal surge in Q4 spending, it is believed m-commerce will reach an astonishing $25billion for the year.

ComScore suggests that one out of every ten consumer e-commerce dollars is now spent using either a smartphone or a tablet, and that growth in this market segment is outpacing that of traditional e-commerce by a factor of two (e-commerce itself is growing at rates in the mid-teens).

Despite the importance of the mobile revolution to marketers, consumers often complain about the difficulty of shopping, reading or surfing on a small screen. In fact, 42 per cent delete emails that do not display correctly on their smartphone or tablet, and 74 per cent leave after waiting only five seconds for a mobile site or email to load [Fig.3].

The optimisation of websites and landing pages for mobile viewing seems to have happened rather quickly. But up until now, optimisation of mobile emails has turned out to be more challenging. Only recently, 25 per cent of marketers have begun to adjust for mobile devices.

If you want to get ahead of the game and generate sales, it is time to look at your business and make the appropriate changes to your email marketing programme. Here is a quick look at three popular methods of optimising emails. But be warned – all methods are not created equal.

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1. URL link to “Open this email on a mobile device”

One widely used method is to place an “Open this email on a mobile device” URL in the newsletter – a link taking the reader to a separate web page that displays a mobile-optimised version of the email. This approach has a couple of pitfalls.

First, the above-the-fold part of your email looks bad and requires an extra step (or more) for subscribers to read it. This certainly would have a negative effect on conversions.

Second, the email experience should be effortless and pleasant. Now that you have got your subscribers to open your email in the browser, why punish them by redirecting them back to the email client to read the rest of the message?

2. Segmentation based on history of opens

Another popular method is to segment your subscribers based on their history of email opens. Unfortunately, this is not ideal either.

First, while mobile phones are frequently used at wake-up time and while commuting, laptops and PCs are still commonly used throughout the day. And subscribers often switch between laptop and mobile phone when surfing the web or reading emails, depending on whether they are at their desk or on the sofa.

Second, subscribers often reopen emails on a laptop or desktop after previewing them on a mobile device. If you capture reader attention then lose it because of bad newsletter design, your brand image and sales could be adversely affected.

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3. Responsive email design

The best approach appears to be responsive email design.

It allows you to send your emails to various devices with no worries about rendering problems. You create a great first impression for all your readers with an attractive, eyecatching, appealing header section. Then you make it easy to continue reading and respond to calls to action – inside the email.

Since responsive emails display well on all devices, subscribers can reopen them on a laptop or desktop if they are more comfortable making a purchase there. Not only does that improve your chances of closing the sale, it also lowers frustration caused by bad email design.

Finally, no additional browser tabs are needed and CTAs are adjusted for the size of the reader’s fingers. This makes the experience enjoyable rather than troublesome – no need to pinch or resize the email, just scroll down.

The benefits of responsive email design can be summarised as:

  1. Improved user experience
  2. Better conversion metrics
  3. Bigger sales
  4. Lower unsubscribe and complaint rates

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Measuring the effectiveness of responsive emails

Ideally, email design should be tested and measured for proper formatting prior to distribution. If there is no apparent overall improvement in metrics, you can focus on subscribers that open your emails on mobile devices. Their experience should be vastly improved (especially on Android OS devices).

Despite the fact that responsive email design is essential for effective email marketing, it may generate additional costs. The good news is that responsive design has a positive influence on email marketing ROI to offset those costs. In fact, some email service providers now offer tools that make your emails responsive automatically.

So start searching for a better way to optimise your emails with responsive email design. It will put you a step ahead of your competition.

Michael Leszczynski is education expert at GetResponse
+44 (0)20 8123 3670