Is responsive email design really worth it?

Designing, coding and testing takes too long. I can't convince clients to pay more. Besides, who's going to appreciate all that hard work, anyway?

As someone who's worked in an agency setting (and not just an office that smells of rich mahogany), I and likely you have heard all of the above. Sometimes, it's just hard to justify the time and effort that goes into a responsive design, just as it's hard to justify refactoring an otherwise image-heavy design, or even spending an hour on testing.

However, after reading this recent blog post by Email Design Review, I felt compelled to chip in with a little pep talk, a word or two to say, yes, it's really worth it.

For starters, as EDR pointed out:

"I think that it’s a no-brainer to look at providing a better experience for those users opening your emails on a mobile device. In fact, personally I find it a bit weird that we need stats before we think about this, but there we go."'A note on Responsive Email Design', Email Design Review, October 22, 2012

Nonetheless, the questions remain - are enough people going to benefit from a 'better experience' to make amending our stylesheets worth our time? Secondly, does a better experience actually lead to tangible benefits?

Your subscribers, now mobile

If you saw our earlier blog post on email client market share, then it won't come as a surprise that mobile now dominates. Not only do we now see iOS devices accounting for 35% of client usage overall, but Android usage growth clocking an impressive 90% increase over the course of just over a year.

The bottom line - a lot of people will benefit from a responsive experience now and more will in the future. In addition, the most popular mobile devices have native mail applications that support media queries, so support for responsive techniques is close to a sure thing.

Folks just like reading newsletters on their phones

The earlier email client usage stats tell us two things - not only are mobile clients commonplace, but people are increasingly warming up to using them. Jakob Nielsen's recent mobile email usability study recently observed a number of benefits that mobile users reported enjoying, the biggest being:

Mobile reading... (adds) one more super-benefit: the newsletters are always available. Furthermore, on a phone, interaction mechanics are substantially easier for email messages than for websites: scrolling through a newsletter is less work than navigating a website to acquire the same information.'Mobile Email Newsletters ', Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, October 22, 2012

Subscribers no longer have to wait until they return to their desks to get a message - regardless of your feelings on living in an 'always on' society, the pervasive feeling is that many people really like to read email anytime, anywhere. Providing a mobile-ready email newsletter multiplies this benefit, by providing an experience that requires 'less work than navigating a website to acquire the same information', by far.

Mo' conversions, mo' money

Finally, I know what you're all thinking - despite EDR's earlier opinion, stats speak. So, here we go. According to Jay Schewedelson at Worldata, email newsletters that are not optimized for small screens suffer from a '28% lower conversion rate' than emails that have been designed with mobile in mind. This is because of increased 'tap errors', or accidental use of links. As he mentions:

"Nearly one-third of all mobile clickthroughs are accountable as tap errors, and this can dramatically change the ROI of your email campaigns."'Email Trends: The Importance of Tap Errors, Alt Tags and Mobile Design', Chief Marketer, October 16, 2012

The short of it - eliminating mistakes makes for more successful campaigns. But the most juicy, client-pleasing bite of all?

"87% of C-level executives check the majority of their email via mobile. This means that both B2B and B2C marketers must make their emails mobile friendly if they want to succeed."

If you're not thinking about responsive email design, then it's time to get up to speed. We have a template builder for creating mobile-friendly newsletters in minutes - or, if you prefer a more hands-on approach, our responsive email guide is for you.

Have you seen an uptick in clicks since optimizing your emails for mobile? Or are you yet to be convinced that mobile uptake makes a difference? Share your experiences with us in the comments below.

Posted by Ros Hodgekiss

8 Comments

  • Splio
    8th November

    “It’s really worth it” -> We totally agree.
    Here is our infographic about responsive design, in case you could be interested: http://www.splio.com/responsive/
    Keep going Campaign Monitor, we like your articles :)

  • James
    8th November

    How do you educate the client though?
    A number of times we’ve done a responsive design and then the client turns around and says “It doesn’t look like it does on my email client”. We try to inform them that it’s been tweaked for mobile so it’s easier to read etc but they have none of it so we have then got rid of the mobile styles!

  • Ros Hodgekiss
    9th November

    Spilio, that’s a great infographic! Lovely that it resizes in the browser, too. Thanks for sharing that :)

    Hey there James, that certainly is a tricky one. Personally, I would show the client an unoptimized version of an email design in a mobile client, then an optimized version. Hopefully when they see that the optimized version really is easier to read and navigate, they’ll come round to your thinking.

    That aside, it might make for a good A/B test one day, if you have a lot of mobile subscribers. If the results show that mobile-toting folks are responding better to the optimized campaign (as suggested above), then that would be a win.

    While one would hope that results speak louder than the “but it doesn’t look the same…” argument, I can totally understand how difficult it can be to make progress - I’ve worked with clients who are *very particular* about sticking to a style guide or format. If you have any big breakthroughs on this front, be sure to let us know how you achieved them :)

  • Elliot Ross
    9th November

    (it’s late here so this may not make sense)

    Some of it is perhaps semantics too - if we define responsive design as media queries and fluid content, then it’s only a part of mobile optimisation (perhaps even more so in email).

    Sometimes we do come up against challenges getting clients to buy into ‘responsive design’, but you shouldn’t take that as ‘we don’t need to bother about mobile’ - there’s lots we can do to make a ‘regular’ email design more mobile friendly without using media queries.

    I think it’s a bit of a call you have to make with the client - often, my clients are keen on making sure their emails work in mobile, but then sometimes have challenges either finding budget or the time in the schedule to implement it.. So designing one version that has some basic mobile consideration is better than nothing in these cases.

  • David
    17th November

    We realized early on that Responsive design was a must in email. The numbers a year ago were compelling enough, but now the numbers are clear that mobile layout consideration is a must.

    We built a baseline template that has the CM dynamic fields built into it. So we just need to design the header/footer graphics and overall color scheme for the client then then can build out the content of the email however they want.

    By the time we do new graphics and custom images the template rarely looks the same as another clients, so we save time on development/design and the client gets a well de-bugged responsive design.

    An example, resize your browser down to kick in the media query for mobile (the breakpoint is set at max-width: 480px, for ease in debugging/testing in the browser):
    http://www.myfetchmail.com/t/ViewEmail/r/8B87A37CF59A9659

  • Allan White
    12th December

    @Splio - great infographic, but it’s almost hilarious as it’s a huge monolithic image, rather mobile-unfriendly.

    Consider at least a PDF (zoomable vector goodness, then I can print a poster too!) or follow your own guidelines and linearize as a series of images. ;) Keep it coming, & thx!

  • Allyson
    6th March

    Such a great article. Yes it’s really worth it. For getting responsive email design, you should have to implement three phase. 1) Design 2) Coding 3) Testing. Coding is most important part for any responsive email design. “One of our clients always says that not to worry about template but email design should be responsive or it should be compatible for mobile and tablet because it will give more conversions.”

  • Dhruv Patel
    23rd December

    Good informative post on getting responsive layouts. 3 things needs to be implemented for responsive template a) Design b) Coding & c) Testing. Design needs to fit all the devices therefore coding has to be perfect. After designing and coding final step is to test the design whether it is looking perfect in all devices or not. Above are the Key steps for responsive designing.

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