Best Practices for Mobile Email Design

More and more people are choosing to connect to their email account through their smartphone. For some, a busy life dictates that it is easier to check emails when on the move, for example while taking a train to work or having lunch in a coffee shop. For others it is the “I want it and I want it now” attitude of modern society, where people simply don’t want to wait until they have a chance to log on to their computer to look at their emails – who knows what they could have missed out on in that time.

The trouble with smartphones is that not only do they come in a variety of sizes, emails will be displayed differently depending on how the user is viewing them – be it through their phone’s native email app, a dedicated app by the email provider, a third party email app, or simply by logging on through one of the many mobile browsers available. For those sending emails, it has therefore become increasingly important to think about incorporating a mobile-friendly design, as in the fast paced modern world, if it can’t be read now, many people will just delete it.

Think about the subject line

The subject line is the most important part of an email, as if it is boring or confusing, the email will simply go unread, in which case any efforts that have gone towards making the design of email itself compatible with a smartphone will have gone to waste. Creating a captivating subject line has always been important, however, mobile phones can typically display between just 20 and 30 characters on the subject line, making the task even more difficult. These 20 to 30 characters should be used carefully, to come up with a subject line that is interesting and intriguing enough for somebody to click on, as the email is just one swipe or tap away from the bin.

Don’t use too many visual elements

An email design with lots of visual elements such as multiple columns might look great on a computer screen, but on a mobile phone, they are just going to make the text small and look confusing. Concentrate on making any visual elements bold so that they are both easy to see and understand.

Sometimes, images are a necessity to show a point. When they are not, they are best avoided as many email providers hide them by default. Where they are not hidden by default, reading emails on a phone can be a frustrating experience for users not connected to WiFi, as they can take a long time to download, and will eat into their data allowance.

When reading an email on the move, nobody is going to want to sit and read through paragraph after paragraph of text. One of the common purposes of emails is to drive traffic to a website, so rather than bore the user with an essay, use a small snippet of text and a nice bold button linking to a web page where all the relevant information can be found. Buttons are preferential over text links for mobile users as they are much easier to click.

Use a responsive design

Previously, the iPhone width of 320 pixels was considered the standard for mobile screens, however, even Apple have now started heading towards larger smartphones. Scalable designs of the past were often based on a width of 640 pixels, allowing for exact scaling on a mobile phone. Scalable designs are popular as they are easy to implement and don’t adjust the widths of any tables or images used. The downside is their simplicity which means that for some Android users, the emails will not be scrolled, resulting in a poor user experience where it is necessary to scroll both horizontally and vertically across the screen. Whilst scalable designs aren’t necessarily bad practice, and are certainly better than not considering mobile users at all, they often don’t offer the best user experience.

A fluid layout is a step up from a scalable design, and allows the width of tables and images to adapt based on the screen size they are viewed on. These emails should look good on smartphones of all brands and widths. As they allow the content to flow, they work best where there is a lot of text; however, emails that are heavy on text are not always the best way of grabbing the attention of a mobile user.

A responsive email layout uses CSS media queries to change the layout of an email based on the size of the device, and can even use different text, images or buttons depending on whether the email is being read on a computer or mobile phone screen. Content can be moved around or hidden depending on the device, allowing mobile users to see the headlines whilst desktop users are delivered more text. If the time and skills are available to come up with a responsive email layout, it is without doubt the best way forward.

Freelance Web Developer - Tailor, Gym Rat and Mountaineer.

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