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How to Optimize Email for Mobile – Part I: 7 Best Practices

by | Nov 19, 2014 | Online Mktg. and Copywriting, Email Marketing, Content Marketing | 0 comments

I have a confession to make: When it comes to cell phones, I’m a bit behind the times.

For example, I don’t own a smartphone.

Mind you, I have nothing against smartphones. I just don’t really need one. I work almost exclusively from home, I have no commute, and I take my laptop when I work elsewhere. I surf the Web and take all my email on my computer. The only thing I need a cell phone for is, well… to make phone calls.

So, when my email service provider recently changed its response analytics interface, adding “opens by device” and “opens by email client” metrics, I got a big surprise.

I saw that 20% to 30% of Technical Response readers are opening my emails on mobile devices.

I realized I couldn’t ignore mobile any longer

Mobile email opens have risen 180% or more in three years.

You can’t ignore it either.

Recent studies have shown drastic growth in commercial email open rate on mobile at the expense of desktop.

Knotice, a data management platform provider, for example, has observed steady growth in mobile’s share of email opens over the past three years. Some 48% of the email opens they recorded in the second half of 2013 occurred on mobile devices. That’s a 17% gain over the same period in 2012, and a more than 2.5-fold increase since 2010. {1}

Percentage of Email Opens on Mobile Devices
Source: Knotice Email Opens Report {1}

Campaign Monitor’s figures are slightly more modest, but still impressive. They found mobile email opens have grown 180% in three years: from 15% in Q1 2010 to 42% in Q1 2014. {2}

And Litmus says mobile accounted for more than half (51%) of email opens in November and December 2013, though that figure has since fallen back to 48% in April of this year. {3}

Naturally, open rates vary by industry, as well as by mailing list and individual mailing. I found no stats for technology industries, but Knotice says mobile’s share of B2B email opens increased from 24% in the first half of 2013 to 37.6% in the second half.

Proper display is crucial for mobile users.

As I mentioned, I’m finding I get anywhere from 20% to 30% of my opens for a given mailing on mobile devices. And thanks to my service provider’s new preview options, I also found my emails weren’t being displaying well on mobile.

Not good! A recent survey by BlueHornet, 87% of respondents said they would delete or unsubscribe if an email did not display properly on their mobile device.{4} Yikes!!

That drove me to investigate the best practices for optimizing email for mobile, and to begin applying them to Technical Response.

And today, in the first of a two-part series, I want to begin sharing what I’ve learned with you. Below, you’ll find 7 best practices for optimizing your emails for mobile devices.

1. Use responsive templates

This is the single best tip I can give you: Invest in responsive (AKA adaptive) email templates.

Probably the biggest challenge in optimizing email for mobile devices is the lack of mobile email standards. Different devices and mobile clients simply behave differently.

You need to take these varied device behaviors into account if you want your mobile prospects to read through to your call to action. Responsive templates make that much, much easier.

Responsive design adapts your emails to the device on which they’re displayed. It adjusts width, scales fonts, and stacks elements vertically, so mobile readers can see more of your email more easily, without pinching, zooming or horizontal scrolling. This is a huge plus, both for them and for you.

In a study of newsletter recipients, MailChimp found, “People are more likely to read your links, follow through on your calls to action, and visit your site if your website is built with responsive design in mind, or if your newsletter looks like it’s designed for mobile reading.” In fact, 25% of the people they interviewed about mobile email mentioned responsive design. {5}

Ask your email marketing service provider about responsive templates – mine was able to recode my existing templates to make them responsive – or have your IT team or web designer build some for you.

Campaign Monitor provides a guide to responsive email design, and good templates are available that can be modified to your company’s branding.

2. Put it in one column

When responsive design is applied to a traditional (650 to 700 px-wide) two-column email, some mobile email clients will respond beautifully. They’ll respect media query protocol, stack content in a single column and scale automatically for width.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of standardization I mentioned, responsive design is not uniformly accepted across all devices and email clients. Some mobile operating systems (Android, most notably) do not scale email content to fit the screen.

This makes two-column layouts unpredictable. Some users may not see the right column.

That’s why Jenny DeGraff, Design Optimization Manager at Marketing Mojo, recommends a natively single-column layout with a maximum width of 640 px for optimum mobile performance across all platforms. {6}

Personally, I find that with a responsive, single-column design, one small pinch is all that’s needed to adjust an email to the screen width of an Android phone.

3. Divide sections clearly

As I’ve mentioned in this space many times, your online audience is task-driven and impatient. They want to find what they’re looking for and move on quickly.

Your mobile email audience? Even more so.

Like your website visitors, mobile email readers are scanners. Only more frantic. They’re looking at small fonts on small screens. They’re scrolling very quickly. And they’re looking for any excuse to delete your email. So your emails need to take these factors into account.


Design your emails with clear sections to assist with mobile-email scanning.

Use appropriately-sized article headers and section subheads, dividing lines, and plenty of white space between articles, announcements and other content sections. You may also want to consider adding a relevant image to indicate the start of a new section.

Clearly delineated sections with easy-to-read headers will assist scanners and draw them into your content.

4. Keep content concise

Prospects are contending with a small screen – and are likely to be multitasking – when reading your email on a smartphone. So it pays to be efficient with space.

Try to limit the amount of copy you include. And divide it into bite-sized portions wherever possible.

If you have the resources, you may want to consider tagging less important content to not display on mobile devices.

5. Keep paragraphs short

Emails that look inviting and reader-friendly are less likely to be deleted. Short paragraphs make any content appear easier to digest.

Keep in mind that a narrower column width will cause paragraphs to extend vertically on a mobile device. A paragraph that runs 4 lines on a PC monitor may run to 6 or 7 lines on a 4-inch smartphone screen.

So use any excuse you can find to break up paragraphs. My rule of thumb is: if there’s a shift in thought, hit ENTER.

Include single-sentence paragraphs from time to time.

Remember, you want white space. A white field, lightly dappled in black, is a lot less intimidating than a grim wall of gray.

6. Use larger fonts

My eyesight isn’t what it used to be. And I expect the same can be said for much of any B2B audience. So even if we’re not yet ready for those “large print” editions, we still need fonts that are big enough to read.

Fonts scale smaller on mobile. That’s why most experts recommend a minimum of 12 px for body copy. Apple recommends 17 to 22 pt fonts for mobile email.

Also be aware that iPhones will automatically scale smaller text to 12 pt, while other systems don’t. What you see on your iPhone is not what you’ll see on another platform.

I had been using 14 px for body copy in Technical Response, but I have now increased it to 16 px.

7. Left-align your paragraphs

Eye-tracking studies have shown that Western email and Web readers tend to focus more of their attention on the left side of the page. Hardly a surprise, since most of us read from left to right.

But most readability studies also have shown that justified text is more difficult to read than left-aligned, non-justified text – also known as “ragged right” – primarily due to its uneven word spacing. {7}

And from an ergonomic perspective – perhaps because most of us are right-handed – people find it easier to interact with elements in the lower left quadrant of their hand-held screens.

So use ragged right for most of your email text. Center or justify only in special situations.

Take-Away Points

When it comes to email marketing, you simply can’t ignore mobile any longer.

Chances are, anywhere from 25% to 50% of your opens are going to be on mobile devices from here on out.

And mobile email readers are finicky. They are highly likely to delete your message or unsubscribe from your list if your emails aren’t mobile-optimized.

So follow these seven best practices when optimizing your emails for mobile:

1. Use responsive templates

2. Use a single-column layout

3. Divide sections clearly

4. Keep content concise

5. Keep paragraphs short

6. Use larger fonts

7. Left-align your paragraphs

Next month…

I’ll have more mobile email optimization best practices for you in the December issue of Technical Response.

Next Steps…

Need content for a new, mobile-optimized email campaign?

Call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951.

Or drop me an email at:


{1} Knotice Mobile Email Opens Report: 2013 Overview, IgnitionOne and Knotice LLC, 2014.
{2} Email Interaction Across Mobile and Desktop, Campaign Monitor, 2014.
{3} Smith, Lauren, Email Client Market Share: Where People Opened in 2013, Litmus, January 2014.
{4} 2014 Consumer Views of Email Marketing Report, BlueHornet, Inc., 2014.
{5} Email on Mobile Devices: A MailChimp Study, Mail Chimp, May 2012.
{6} DeGraff, Jenny, How to Optimize Email Content for Any Screen Size, Content Marketing Institute, January 2014.
{7} Weber, Kai, Ragged-right or justified alignment?,, May 2010.

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