This was the year that mobile email began to take hold. More and more marketers began to see their mobile open rates increase. It was impossible to ignore the growing smartphone market as it began to outpace laptop and computer sales. And now that Apple is on to its second version of the iPad, the slightly-less-early adopters have jumped on the tablet bandwagon.
We’ve all been talking about mobile email for at least three or four years, but 2011 proved to be the year that a few companies started asking questions and doing something about it. We see brands testing mobile versions delivered to the inbox and building out better-than-text “mobile versions.” A few folks are even trying their hands at using media queries and fluid layouts to accommodate the changing landscape.
As with most strategies in email marketing, what works for one company doesn’t necessarily translate for another, making it so important to invest resources in testing to see what works. Here are a few ideas for design, copy and code to start thinking about your mobile strategy for the new year:
Design Optimized for Multiple Screens
It’s important to understand your subscriber base. Learn which operating systems make up your mobile opens. This year, the data we’ve seen from Return Path and Litmus has shown that opens on iPhones and iPads make up about 70% of opened emails on mobile devices. Understanding the habits of your subscribers makes it possible to choose the design options that will work best for them.
Scalable design options help ensure that emails are easy to read for the majority of the audience on iOS devices. Using larger buttons, fonts and fewer links leads to cleaner designs that work for both desktop and mobile versions. With a little coding magic, you can make your email scale appropriately. You can also scale fonts in multi-cell areas (such as your navigation), to keep the tables from breaking.
Presently, the Android operating system doesn’t scale HTML emails or allow pinch + zoom in the inbox. It also disables images by default. All our previous email best practices training continues to apply here, but with even less space, which means we have to be even smarter.
I’ve seen about a handful of companies use horizontal emails this year, and they actually work pretty well on both iPhone and Android devices. As always, the design needs to give the subscriber a reason to scroll. Use strategically placed images and design elements to let the subscriber know there’s more to the message.
Compelling Content that Can Beat the Pinch + Zoom
While email and social networking are the top two activities on modern smartphones, engagement with the inbox is very different when mobile users are on the go. According to a study conducted by Spring Creek Group, 38% of respondents admitted to checking their email before even getting out of bed in the morning. Throughout the day mobile users are performing “email triage,” where they are quickly scanning their inbox for items that grab their attention or need immediate action.
In a recent Research Brief Article about the Knotice Mobile Email Opens Report, writer Jack Loechner points out that 97% of your mobile openers never see the desktop version at all, meaning we need to invest in making as much of an impact in our mobile experience as our desktop experience. Our messaging needs to inspire subscribers to take action and to move through the user experience we’ve designed for them. Making purchases and filing out forms are the two most complicated actions for a mobile user to take, and mobile users know that! So you need to create messaging so enticing that a subscriber will endure all the taps and “pinch+zooms” to convert on your compelling offer.
The native mail apps on iPhone, Android and BlackBerry all use webkit to render HTML, which is the same web browser engine as Safari. This is important because they all can support slightly more advanced CSS than previously considered for email.
This year, we’ve seen email marketers take advantage of subtle animations achievable with CSS3 as well as media queries, where the CSS styles the HTML in the layout based on the browser window size. Subscribers using native mail apps get the special email, while the rest of the subscriber base get their regularly scheduled email.
The growing popularity of responsive layouts using media queries will only increase as marketers continue to optimize for multiple screens. Ensure your code team is keeping up-to-date with mobile web coding standards to keep your program innovative.
What It Means for Us
There’s never been a more exciting time in email marketing. We’re at the forefront of a new era, learning, adapting and writing new rules for the game. Spend some time next year coming up with a great testing strategy. Our ability to test, analyze and optimize in a short amount of time is what makes this industry so compelling and successful. Try something new in your email program next year -- and be sure to tell us about it!