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How to Optimize Your Emails for Mobile Devices

In last week’s post we touched on 5 very important email marketing strategies, however we neglected to talk about the big mobile elephant in the room:  Mobile marketing – specifically optimizing your outbound emails for mobile.

Like we have said previously, mobile email opens have seen an explosive growth recently.  They currently seem to be holding steady at around 45% (this is of all email opens spanning across all platforms), three years ago mobile only accounted for about 11% of the overall open number.   Do the math folks.  That’s a whopping 309% increase since 2011.

This number in itself is remarkable, however the bigger shocker is that not only are mobile opens growing but they are dwarfing desktop opens.   Desktop opens have decreased 53% in the past three years and now only represent 28% of total opens.

So should you jump on the mobile band wagon?  Honestly, only you can answer that question.  Keep in mind though, if you are going to take the leap you should arm yourself with the knowledge needed to increase your efforts to become “mobile optimized.”

For all you number crunchers out there, here are some further statistics to ponder:

Mobile Success

When it comes to churning out successful email marketing of any kind, it’s all about knowing your audience.  What type of content are they interested in?  How often do they read your emails? Which email programs and/or devices are they using to read your emails?

When it comes to email marketing knowing the answer to the last question is key.  However, I personally have found that a great number of marketers and/or business owners haven’t a clue what their real numbers are.  To further prove my findings MarketingSherpa found that only 31% of marketers know their mobile email open rate.

This is where it’s important to have a good email platform.   Take a look at your analytics to see which devices people are most opening your emails on.  Then focus your testing and optimization efforts on the devices the majority of your subscribers are using to read your emails.

Reader’s Needs

By discovering where your audience is opening your emails, it further enables you to design for your reader’s needs.   If  you build it .. they will come!

Once you have nailed down which email clients are the most popular for your list, the next step is uncovering the ins and outs of those clients.  What techniques do they support?  What are the do’s and don’ts of each?  etc.

For example, if you find that you have a high percentage of Apple Mail opens, you might want to consider HTML5 video backgrounds.  But if you are seeing a high percentage of Outlook opens, it’s best not to use background images or shadows, since these aren’t supported.

Go with what you’re majority is, but always have a fall back so that the minority of your readers will still have a great experience.

Mobile Optimization Tips

If you have found that mobile is a big chunk of your audience, then it’s high time you optimize that audience.  With 80% of readers reporting that they will delete an email if it doesn’t look “right” on their mobile device, it’s essential to optimize your content for mobile readers.  Here are some tips for making your emails look great on mobile:

1)  Reduce image file sizes.

As MDG Advertising points out in their infographic,  94% more total views on average are attracted by content containing compelling images than content without images.   With that being said, mobile download speeds have been increasing each year, but if your images are chunky and oversized, they are still going to load slower on mobile devices as opposed to a desktop.  Lack of speed in mobile = kills!  Every second delay results in a drop in conversions.

Optimize  your emails by using smaller images.  Services such as FastStone Photo Resizer and JPEGmini can reduce the file size of your image without reducing the quality.

2)  Enlarge Fonts

Tiny text is hard enough to read from 2-3 feet away on a desktop computer, let alone attempting to read itty bitty text on a mobile screen.  To avoid your reader’s eye squinting, it’s recommended to use 14px as a minimum size for body copy and 22px for headlines.  It’s also worth noting that iOS will automatically resize fonts under 13px larger, this might cause text to wrap differently than anticipated.

3) Single-Column responsive layout

Traditional two-column emails are set at a width of 650 to 700px , which displays well on desktop and most tablets.   However, with certain mobile operating systems (specifically Android) this layout will not scale content to fit on the screen.   Android uses a standard median width of 480px, therefore will display only the left half of an email designed with a two-column layout.

So what’s the work around?  A responsive web design (RWD).   No this isn’t some new buzzword being thrown about that can be ignored.   RWD is the way to go when optimizing email or web for mobile.  But what is it?  RWD is defined by wikipedia as:

“a web design approach aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from mobile phones to desktop computer monitors).[1][2][3]

A site designed with RWD[1][4] adapts the layout to the viewing environment by using fluid, proportion-based grids,[5] flexible images,[6][7][8][9] and CSS3 media queries,[3][10][11] an extension of the @media rule.[12]

RWD is not just about adapting to screen sizes though.  For example, the site can display a sans serif font when on a browser screen but when printed it will display a serif font.  In the context of email and web marketing, the primary principle is that RWD can create a whole host of opportunities for a site to adapt to the visitor’s viewing device.

(It should be noted that responsive web design is also referred to as media queries.  This is the technical term for the technology and standards used to make RWD work on the internet.)

4) Larger CTA’s (call to action)

Your call to action (CTA) is probably the most important part of a marketing email.  It should be eye catching, well placed, and usable.    It’s recommended to put the CTA front and center, and if you are using a button, to have a minimum space for the button of 44px x 44px.  That’s not to say that all buttons have to be 44 px, just that there shouldn’t be any buttons or links closer together than 44 px. Otherwise you run the risk of a misclick.

5) Brief subject lines

Just as we touched on previously in our 5 Effective Email Marketing Strategies, the subject line is one of the email marketer’s most effective tools in an ever growing inbox.  Keep them short and sweet.  Depending on the platform, you may have as few as 27 characters available for display for each subject line.

6) Pay attention to the fold

Although there is much debate (even in the OfferVault shop), on the idea and importance of “the fold,”  it could be easily argued that the screen real estate places even more importance on the significance of a vertical hierarchy.   Your most important CTA’s should be placed as close to the top of your message as possible.  If they are not immediately obvious, there is a greater chance they will not be noticed or used.

7) Provide a plain text option

Just as in your desktop versions, it’s general practice for CAN-SPAM compliance to create a text only version of all your email campaigns.  This of course translates in an even bigger way to mobile marketing, since not all mobile users have capable HTML email viewing devices.


Technology moves fast, but only 11% of marketers have responded to one of the biggest trends that’s shaping our landscape: the rate of mobile adoption. Don’t lose valuable opportunities over something as simple as unresponsive emails.

Get ahead of the pack and optimizing your email marketing for mobile devices with these tips.

How are you preparing to optimize your email marketing for mobile devices?

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