Mobile Email is Here to Stay. What Comes Next?

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Last year, we predicted that mobile would become the majority platform for email opens. As of December 2013, our prediction proved correct. Although Gmail’s new image caching rules recently forced mobile back down below 50%, it’s clear that mobile is no longer a secondary consideration—it’s a force to be reckoned with.

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So what’s next for email as more users move to mobile? What do we need to do to keep our campaigns relevant and accessible to increasingly mobile audiences?

Moving Beyond the Desktop

It’s clear that we can’t get away with building only for the desktop. Although B2B campaigns still have audiences tied to the desktop, consumers are flocking to mobile. Campaigns designed for the desktop offer mobile users a crippled experience—one that is entirely preventable.

Moving beyond the desktop

Admittedly, not every team can start building fully-responsive email campaigns today. Done well, responsive design requires a knowledge of techniques, strategy, and code that many teams lack. There are resources available to help close that knowledge gap, but it takes time for teams to get up to speed on responsive email design.

At the very least, though, email marketers should embrace a mobile-aware strategy—or use one of these great responsive templates from Stamplia.

A “Mobile Aware” Minimum

Mobile aware emails should become the baseline for most email campaigns. Unless your audience is primarily chained to their desktops, then you need to design your campaigns to be mobile-aware.

Mobile aware emails keep mobile devices—and the needs of mobile users—in mind from the start. Unlike responsive design techniques, they don’t require extensive HTML knowledge, and they’re easily implemented by just about anyone. Mobile aware campaigns ensure that the subscriber’s experience on mobile is a pleasant one, and typically improve desktop users’ experiences as well.

Mobile aware designs typically accomplish this in four ways:

  1. Using large, easy-to-read text.
  2. Using large, clear images.
  3. Keeping layouts simple (primary content in a single column).
  4. Using large, mobile-friendly calls-to-action.

Mobile Comparison
A non-mobile-aware email vs. mobile-aware emails on Android and iOS.

Using these four tactics, you can keep emails usable on smaller devices, without the overhead involved with learning, coding, and testing responsive emails.

A Responsive Future

While mobile aware emails are the first step in the future of email, responsive emails are the logical endpoint.

Responsive email design takes mobile aware techniques further by using CSS3 media queries to adjust styles and content on mobile devices, providing designers with more control over layouts and subscribers a highly polished experience on mobile.

There’s been a lot of talk about responsive email design the past few years, and a number of people have raised objections, saying that responsive techniques:

  • Don’t work everywhere.
  • Are hard to learn.
  • Take more time to code.
  • Take longer to test.

Some of these are valid objections, but they shouldn’t stop you from using responsive techniques.

Sure, not all mobile clients support media queries. Despite this, you can still take advantage of those that do. If designed well, your templates will degrade gracefully in clients that don’t support media queries, especially if you use the mobile-aware strategies outlined above as a base.

Getting started

Learning anything can be hard if you don’t know where to look, especially when it comes to email design. Fortunately, we rounded up some of our favorite responsive resources to get you started. And with the launch of the Litmus Community, finding answers to your responsive design questions is easier than ever.

Once you know how to implement responsive design, it typically doesn’t take longer to code than traditional, static email designs. The real time-sink can be testing to ensure that your designs work where they should and fall back gracefully where they don’t. Litmus allows you to test on a plethora of desktop, webmail, and mobile clients—significantly cutting down on QA time.

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Even now, despite some objections, it’s hard to find valid reasons not to design emails responsively. As techniques are refined, it’s likely that responsive email design will be a required skill for email marketers in the future.

The Subscriber Journey

The subscriber journey defines the experience of a subscriber from signup to conversion. Now that audiences are moving to mobile, their experience before they receive an email and after they click through on a link is more important than ever.

Making your signup page easy to use on small devices is vital to growing your audience. Forms that are designed and coded for the desktop are often frustratingly hard to use on mobile. Building mobile-optimized or responsive signup forms is the first step in reducing friction during the subscriber journey.

Once you have those subscribers and send them beautifully-crafted, (hopefully) responsive emails, you need to keep that journey a pleasant one when they click through to a landing page. Just like your signup page, landing pages should be optimized for mobile so that subscribers can read articles, sign up for events, or purchase products without wanting to throw their phones against the wall.

The Future is Bright

It’s clear that mobile is the future of email marketing. Consumers are expected to continue their switch to mobile, bringing their inboxes with them. It’s no longer enough to design solely for the desktop—if you do, you risk losing out on a huge audience.

You need to start “thinking mobile aware”—experimenting with and refining responsive email techniques—while doing everything you can to make the subscriber journey as mobile friendly as possible.

To help, we’ve put together a mobile readiness kit containing our best stats, infographics and articles on mobile. It’s a great introduction to the future of email marketing.

Further Reading