Mobilizing Email: Are You Responsive Enough?

The inbox has migrated, and it is still amazing to me how few retail and media publishers have not adjusted accordingly. Many email publishers report that upwards of half their opens are occurring on devices. Meanwhile, at this week’s Email Insider Summit, a number of messaging executives reported that on weekends they are seeing most of their email being read off the desktop.

And yet even members of a panel devoted to the value and pitfalls of responsive design here admitted that they see too few of their peers leveraging responsive templates and other adaptive tools. Tyson Cramer, email marketing manager, Spark Networks; Talis Lin, acquisition marketing manager, The New York Times; and Adrian Olivera, senior manager, global Innovation, Dell all shared their best practices for optimizing through devices.

There are some good practical reasons why so many email publishers avoid or delay embracing mobile forms. Responsive templates take time to build properly and add a whole host of problems.  Cramer noted that changing to a responsive template can be as jarring to the user who is familiar with the look and feel of your messages as would be a redesign. He recommended not testing new responsive templates at the same time you are introducing radical new design concepts to users.



The entire panel couldn’t emphasize enough how much additional Q&A responsive templates require. “You need to look at how it looks on all devices,” said  Lin. Some of the obscure new platforms, especially on Android, just break the code and require that the templates go back to the coders.

“The templates are more important than ever,”  Cramer noted. “If you can test into a template that works, then updating the template with new content takes as much time as a static template.” To that end, images have proven an especially sticky point for email. Cramer found early in the template-building process that images needed to be cropped differently to accommodate desktop and mobile reading -- so build the template so it only requires a single image dimension.

Everyone agreed that an important change to testing mobile is to click through on all links from devices. “We learned to have better communication with those designing the mobile site and landing experience,” said Cramer. “Often the app or the landing page will not have all the features.”

On the reporting side, mobile remains a work in progress. Cramer warned that “you can optimize for mobile in ways that kill the performance on the desktop.” But if the reporting isn’t granular enough to recognize the performance difference, you may see the aggregate performance go up without realizing it is lopsided.

For Lin at the Times, a seamless experience between offers in the email and the landing page is critical to converting readers into long term subscribers. “There is a lot more Q&A going back to the coder and exploring on the links," Lin said. "The experience needs to be optimized to push conversions.”

What is still missing from many discussions of responsive design is how to incorporate the unique properties and signals that mobile introduces into the publishing mix. Too much of responsive design is about shrinking the desktop experience (or worse, elongating it) for a small screen. But mobile is not just an extension of the Web. Mobile impacts conversion and behaviors. We know that most of us use the email inbox to triage messages, pushing some to other boxes for later consideration. We know that sharing behaviors on mobile are different, usually enhanced. And that doesn’t even address the different modes of use  throughout the day and in different places. The next stage of this discussion really needs to be how mobile design is responsive to user contexts, not just screen sizes. 

You can see the full video of this session, along with other Summit presentations, posted to the agenda.

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