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Article first published June 2013, updated April 2019

Given the buzz around responsive email design, it’s tempting to treat it as either an “extra paid service” or “free bonus” when quoting clients for an email newsletter or template.

In 2019 and beyond, is it really a question whether or not to make your email campaigns responsive? Do you even have a choice?

Why Does Responsive Email Design Cost More?

Read on to discover some of the work that goes into creating a responsive email template and what agencies should consider when deciding what to charge. We’ll also go over some email responsive design best practices and tips.

What goes into designing a responsive email template or campaign?

As Scott Riley pointed out in a post for Boagworld, the design process behind optimizing for the small screen deserves more consideration than simply calculating how long it takes to come up with a media query or two.

For a designer, building a responsive email template from scratch can provide a truckload of power over things like layouts, copy, how to display a call to action and more, but, with this, comes responsibility. As with most design decisions, the focus is always on what’s best for the client’s needs, while staying within budget and deadlines.

This responsibility to do what’s best is what Scott Riley focused on in his Boagworld piece. His argument against simply making responsive an additional line item on an invoice is that designing with mobile devices in mind has impacts on time and strategy that may extend further than the project brief. As it relates to email, some of these impacts may include:

  • Extra time testing a responsive email template across a range of mobile email clients (and money, if using automated tools)
  • Extra support – Are you willing to take into account how the email will display in upcoming email clients like Mailbox alongside Gmail for iOS, for example?
  • Consideration on whether it fits in with the client’s overall mobile strategy (or lack thereof). For example, if the client wants a responsive email but isn’t prepared to optimize their landing pages first, is the true benefit to be gained from an enhanced campaign really going to meet their expectations?

Scott mentions that, while testing (and planning) can eat up extra resources, implementing a responsive email design doesn’t necessarily take longer, especially if you’re using tools like our template builder to get started.

Whether or not you go down the responsive route shouldn’t be taken for granted or given the hard sell when it’s really a decision to be made with your client, based on their circumstances.

Email responsive design best practices and tips

Building a responsive email template involves much more than just adding a few lines of code. Consider these responsive email design tips and best practices to get started.

  • Stick with a one-column layout.
  • Keep images light. Large images eat up mobile data and slow down load times.
  • Don’t design your emails larger than a 600px width.
  • Play it safe with fonts. Many email clients don’t support niche fonts and, if they do, they might be difficult to read on small screens.

Why responsive email design costs more

Responsive email design generally costs more because it involves more labor and resources.

From a labor perspective, it takes considerable time to code emails that look as intended on every device, and that’s without even considering the time writing subject lines, copy, CTAs, and designing images.

Plus, email responsive design best practices constantly change as email client and smartphone technology evolve. This might not seem like a huge deal, but it means that designers can’t create one responsive email template and reuse it indefinitely.

The good news is that there are tools and resources that make it less labor intensive to design highly responsive and optimized emails. At Campaign Monitor, all of our customizable templates are fully responsive and pre-optimized for dozens of clients and mobile devices. We also offer tools for testing your campaigns across multiple devices and platforms.

Although these tools have become more accessible and affordable, they still cost money to use.

Is responsive design still an optional feature?

Consider the following facts:

  • More than half of all emails are opened on mobile devices.
  • Over 70% of people will delete an email in less than three seconds if it doesn’t display properly on their device.
  • Another 15% will unsubscribe from the sender instead of just deleting the bad email.
  • Designers need to consider the top ten email clients and any of the countless niche clients when creating campaigns, and that’s without even considering the device itself.

Designers could track which email clients subscribers use, break the subscriber list into segments, and code unique emails for each client, but what happens when a subscriber opens an email on two different devices?

The truth is that responsive email design isn’t an optional service anymore. It’s necessary for getting email campaigns opened, read, and encouraging readers to take action.

Wrap up

It makes perfect sense that responsive design costs more because it requires more labor and resources to create responsive templates that are optimized to display properly on every device.

However, responsive emails aren’t just “nice to have” anymore; They’re essential. Sometimes people open an email on their phone and open it again later on their desktop when they’re ready to make a purchase.

Brands need their emails to look perfect on every device 100% of the time. With responsive design, there’s no gap for potential error.

Do you need help creating responsive emails that look amazing in every email client? Our responsive templates are completely customizable.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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