Email marketing is as prevalent as ever and remains an essential element in the marketing strategy of many brands, particularly when it comes to building and maintaining relationships. However, a cursory glance at the high volume of email marketing campaigns we receive every day and it becomes apparent that many brands are not optimising their email marketing campaigns for mobile devices.

As discussed in our recent Top Trends of 2014 blog, over 50% of all website visits are from a mobile device, therefore having a website that is accessible and responsive across all devices has never been so critical.  In 2014, responsive websites are pivotal for enhancing the user experience so, surely it is a sensible suggestion to ensure that all marketing activities and communications are optimised for mobile devices too?  Yes, however, less than half of brands are doing so and according to Econsultancy’s Email Marketing Census 2014, 19% of businesses have no plans to optimise their email marketing campaigns for mobile devices.

With the continual growth in mobile usage, emails designed for mobile devices have become a vital consideration for any serious marketer in 2014, in order to enhance the user experience, prompt action from consumers and increase conversions.

So, what is Responsive Email Design?

Applying the rules of responsive web design, responsive emails make use of CSS media queries to automatically alter the structure and look of the email for easy viewing from small mobile devices through to large desktop computers (and even beyond).  In recognition of this technological shift, email clients should support CSS media queries, however, not all do.  Of course Apple are on top of this trend supporting responsive design through their iOS mail app, as are Android with their 4.x Email app, Windows 7.5, Blackberry OS7 and Blackberry Z10. Whilst strangely, responsive emails are not currently supported on the Gmail app across both Android and Apple devices, but I’m sure this will be one to watch to see how they react to shifting consumer behaviour.

Why should Email Marketing Campaigns be Responsive?

The number of emails opened on a smartphone have continued to grow over 2014, following reports that 65% of email marketing campaigns were opened on a mobile device in 2013 (48% Smartphone and 16% tablet). Studies show people check their mobile phones 150 times a day and 80% are estimated to delete an email if it doesn’t view correctly/look good. Therefore, as technology changes, brands should also consider adapting their marketing strategy in line with technological advances.

Checking emails is one of the most popular mobile activities and 56% of Smartphone users who have made a mobile purchase stated it was as a result of an email marketing campaign. Taking this into consideration, think about the impact this could have on conversions/sales if your emails are suitably adapted to display responsively.

Top Tips for Responsive Email Design

To ensure campaigns can be viewed cross-device, the campaign development process will have to be adapted.  Below are some top tips for best practice.

Firstly, if a traditionally designed email is viewed on a mobile device, the user will be required to scroll both horizontally and vertically, as well as zooming in and out to view the content. For correct display on a smartphone or tablet, the email should be built on a single column template as this ensures content will be displayed vertically enhancing the overall user experience. In addition, recommended width range differs across devices and can range anywhere between 320-500pixels wide. The key for success is to make use of responsive design techniques and test across all devices you expect your email to be opened on to ensure correct display.

Secondly, the font size should be larger than it is on a traditional email, to avoid illegibility, fonts should be at least 14 pixels. There are no restrictions on which fonts can be used however as there are only a handful of fonts available on mobile devices, if the chosen font is not available on the users device, they will not see the content in the way you intend them to. The sensible approach is to stick to web safe fonts and steer clear of gothic and script fonts.

Although 4G was introduced in 2013, this advance has not yet led to a faster internet connection as hoped and is taking time to establish across wider locations.   For responsive viewing, image size should be lightened and content streamlined, so as to minimise download time as this can often be an irritant to customers and lead to high bounce rates.

It must also be noted that when viewing on a mobile device, the traditional computer mouse is substituted with touch technology and fingers, thus buttons should be large enough with adequate space to facilitate this interaction.

As with traditional email best practice, the subject line of all emails is key to success and should be kept short and descriptive.  Studies suggest that subject lines with 4-15 characters have the highest open rates however brands must test a range of lengths and wording to determine the best practice for their business. Emails with subjects that are straight to the point can grab the readers attention resulting in clicks whilst subject lines with words indicating urgency can also attract attention. Fashion brands such as ASOS and House of Fraser excel at subject line creation - to be expected considering the high volumes of emails and recipients they deal with.

Next Steps...

Firstly, evaluate the importance of email marketing to your organisation. Next, consider your audience - while your Analytics may suggest that your users do not visit your website via a mobile device the vast majority of consumers in the UK do access emails via their smartphone. If mobile/responsive email design is on your agenda in 2014 take note of those that are doing it well and learn – Dominos Pizza, ASOS, Playstation and Expedia. Optimise your emails and test different versions to find the most effective approach. Finally, key to ongoing success is measurement. You can discover what devices your emails are being viewed on, what subject lines are converting, which images encourage clicks and so much more from a good email marketing system. This will allow you to tailor future email campaigns according to the elements that are most effective for you.