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We are in the midst of a mobile revolution that demands marketers today rethink their email marketing strategy to account for where, when, and how people are actually engaging with the email campaigns they send.

The explosion of iPhone, Android, and tablet devices means that businesses must adopt a “mobile-first” mentality – or risk losing the clicks, opens, and conversions that deliver revenue back to the business.

If you continue to build your email marketing strategy for the desktop computer era, it’s a safe bet the audience you’re trying to reach will never open or read your email marketing campaigns. This guide will show you how to build beautiful, professional emails that look great on the devices your audience is using today.

Chapter 1

Embrace the mobile era - and win

The digital world has experienced a mobile transformation over the last decade. In the first thirty years since the birth of email 1971, desktop computers were the exclusive way people viewed and interacted with electronic mail. Until now.

In 2015, people are using their mobile devices more frequently, and for longer, than their desktop computers. In fact, in the last 4 years alone smartphone usage has increased 394 percent, and tablet usage is up a whopping 1,721 percent.

As people continue to shift away from desktops and towards mobile, the way they receive and consume email campaigns naturally shifts with them.

In fact, email opens on mobile devices have grown an incredible 30% over the past 5 years, to the point where they now dominate both desktop and webmail clients.

Email opens on mobile grew 30%

Campaign Monitor - Email Opens on Mobile
0% 20% 40% 60% 2010 2015 Web Desktop Mobile

The explosion of mobile demands that today’s marketer completely rethinks her email strategy. Optimizing your campaigns for mobile is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s central to driving opens, clicks, and revenue for your business. If you don’t lead with a “mobile-first” email strategy, it’s safe to bet the audience you’re trying to reach will not receive your messages.

Chapter 1

How to optimize your email campaigns for the Mobile Era

These are the 8 steps you can take to take to ensure you’re delivering email marketing campaigns that will be opened, clicked, and converted in today’s day in age:

1. Use mobile-ready templates

In order to maximize your open and click-through rates, it’s critical that your campaigns look great in all environments, and the best way to do this is to leverage email templates that have already been built for mobile.

For Campaign Monitor customers, the first step in building an email marketing campaign is to select an email template that has already been built and designed to look great across every inbox and every mobile device:

Campaign Monitor - Mobile Email Template

If you have coding skills (or a member of your team does), you can always opt to code your email to be mobile-ready, but this requires valuable time and skill – time and skills that many lean marketing teams simply don’t have. To test drive one of Campaign Monitor’s email templates for yourself, please visit our public template library.

As you can see below, Campaign Monitor customer Virgin utilized a template from the library, which enabled them to focus 100% of their time selecting the right images and copy – not worrying how it would render on every iPhone model. What’s more, they are able to see a preview of what the email will look like across desktop and mobile before they even click “send.”

Virgin - Utilize Mobile Email Templates

Because the template is optimized for mobile, the content tiles containing the various offers stack on top of each other when viewed on a smaller screen. This ensures the text and buttons remain a consumable size and make it effortless for subscribers to read the content and click-through on the calls to action.

2. Shorten your subject line

When it comes to a writing a compelling subject line, today’s reality is you have much smaller real estate to play with on a mobile device than what you’re probably accustomed to on a desktop.

While many desktop clients will display upwards of 80 characters of the subject line, our own testing shows that unless your subject line is under 30 characters it will get cut off when viewed on mobile devices.

On most devices, the subject line is formatted with darker, heavier text in an attempt to make it stand out among the other details in the email.

Birchbox - Short Subject Line

30 characters isn’t a lot of space, so be sure to write a concise, compelling subject line that will intrigue your audience enough to open the email.

3. Write compelling preheader text

The preheader is the short summary text that follows the subject line when an email is viewed in the inbox.

Birchbox- Compelling Header Text

Pre-header text is a critical component your subscribers consider to decide whether or not they open your campaign and engage with your content. This is a valuable opportunity to “sell” why your subscriber should actually open and read your email.

So how can you optimize your preheader text for mobile devices?

The first step is to understand exactly how much space you have to work with. According to research by our friends at Litmus, the following devices will display varying amounts of your preheader text:

Device Name Number of Characters Displayed
Android Native Email App 40
Android Gmail App Varies based on length of subject line
Android Yahoo App 45
iOS Native Email App 90
iOS Gmail App 50
iOS Yahoo App 50
Windows Mobile 40

As you can see, although it varies based on device and screen orientation, keeping your preheader text around 40-50 characters will help maximize its “selling” power.

It’s also important to think strategically about how it relates to the subject line and from name it appears next to.

Popular marketing blogger Derek Halpern does a great job of this in his announcement campaign for his latest webinar.

Derek Halpern - Preheader Text

As you can see, the subject line talks to a very specific audience (people who don’t yet have 1,000 subscribers) and while it makes the email appealing to those people, it does limit its appeal to others.

So he counters this by using the preheader text “Got more than 1000? Open anyway…” to address the other recipients who have more than 1000 subscribers already.

By using the subject line and preheader text together, Halpern makes the email appealing to a wider number of recipients and increases the chance they’ll open the email and click-through.

4. Optimize the ‘From’ Name

The From name is one of the most prominently displayed elements of your campaign when viewed on mobile devices. On most devices, it’s displayed with a larger text and heavier font to help people quickly identify who the email is from.

Given its prominence, it’s probably not surprising that 68% of Americans say they base their decision to open an email on the From name.

So how do you optimize this critical part of your campaigns? The key is matching it up with your audience’s expectations.

For instance, imagine you subscribed to an email newsletter from the BuzzFeed website. Would you expect to receive emails from ‘BuzzFeed’ or from ‘Dan Oshinsky’? Given that you’ve signed up for these emails from the BuzzFeed website, chances are it’s the earlier, even though it’s actually Dan who is creating and sending their campaigns.

Buzzfeed - Optimize From Name

On top of matching the From name to subscribers expectations, it’s also important to consider the number of characters you include in your From Name as most devices have a limit to how many they display.

Device Name Number of Characters Displayed
iPhone 6 32
iPhone 5 23
iPhone 4 23
Samsung Galaxy S4 32

As you can see, although it varies based on device and screen orientation, keeping your From name under 23 characters will likely mean it will display in full regardless of the device or screen orientation the recipient is using.

5. Balance image size & text

Research shows that the average time spent reading a newsletter after opening it is only 51 seconds.

Given this short attention span, and the fact that the human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text, using compelling images & visuals in your email campaigns can be an effective way to deliver your message.

However, when using images in your campaigns you need to consider how they will look when resized to fit on a small mobile screen.

Take this campaign for example:

Mobile Devices - Balance Image Size and Text - One

When viewed on the desktop the image shows at size it was originally intended, and does a great job of getting the message across.

However, when it’s viewed on a mobile device it becomes almost impossible to make sense of.

Mobile Devices - Balance Image Size and Text - Two

Because they’ve included a significant amount of text in the image and the image has been shrunk to fit the mobile screen, a majority of the text has become unreadable.

So while including images in your campaigns can be a great way to get your message across, you need to consider how they’ll look on a mobile device if you want them to have maximum impact.

The above example also reinforces the importance of using minimal copy in the email body itself. There is so much text that it becomes nearly illegible on a small screen.

Too much text in your email campaign can make it go on forever, particularly when viewed on a mobile device, and you’ll likely lose your subscriber’s interest. Assume your reader will scroll once, maybe twice, before moving on to the next email.

Instead, try emulating the approach Freshbooks took for the announcement of their Expense Import feature.

Freshbooks - Balance Image Size and Text

Instead of sending a long, text heavy email detailing all the capabilities of the new feature, they sent a short announcement campaign with a brief overview of the announcement and a call to action to learn more.

This then leads subscribers to a page on their website that contains further information on how the feature works and how people can get started.

By keeping the amount of copy in the email short, Freshbooks were able to get the key point across quickly and easily, while making it easier for those who want more information to click-through and obtain it.

6. Big buttons for big fingers

According to a recent MIT study, the average size of an adult index finger is between 1.6cm and 2 cm, which translates to between 45 x 45px and 57 x 57px on a mobile device.

Here’s a visual representation of that:

MIT Study - Mobile Call to Action Button

With your readers’ fingers taking up a significant amount of space on the screen, the worst thing you can do is make them try to click a tiny link in your email in order to convert.

Instead, you need to add big, well-contrasted call to action buttons to your email campaigns to make it easy for subscribers to click-through.

Campaign Monitor customer Litmus does an excellent job of this in their emails:

Litmus - Mobile Call to Action Button

The call to action button they’ve used here is large enough that it’s easy for readers to click, and the fact it’s set away from any other clickable elements helps ensure people won’t accidently click the wrong link and be taken somewhere they don’t intend to go.

If you’re a Campaign Monitor customer, you can simply drag and drop buttons into your email and customize them with whatever text & colors you desire.

Campaign Monitor - Mobile Call to Action Button

7. Use mobile-ready landing pages

Getting someone to click-through on your email is only the first half of the story. You normally want that person to then go on and make a purchase, read a blog post, enter a competition, etc.

In order to do that, you need to ensure the page they land on when they click-through to your website is also optimized for mobile.

Campaign Monitor customer Rip Curl do a great job of this with their announcement campaign for the new SearchGPS watch.

Rip Curl - Mobile-Ready Landing Pages

The mobile-optimized email campaign features a big call to action button that directs readers to a mobile-friendly online store where they can learn more about the product and purchase it straight from their device.

The streamlined, mobile-optimized experience that Rip Curl has created makes the process – from receiving the email to purchasing the product – incredibly simple and increases the chance their recipients will make a purchase and drive revenue.

8. Track email client usage

Modern email marketing tools like Campaign Monitor offer comprehensive reporting on your campaigns, including telling you how many people have opened and clicked your campaigns and on what devices.

If you’re a Campaign Monitor customer, the Email Client Report is where you will find this data.

Campaign Monitor - Track Email Client Usage

This report will show you all the devices your subscribers are consuming your campaigns on, and allows you to see what the most popular devices are.

With this information, you can further optimize your campaigns to ensure you are getting the best possible results from your email marketing initiatives.

Chapter 9

In conclusion

With mobile usage growing every day, more and more people are viewing your email campaigns on mobile devices.

So take the extra time when creating your campaigns to make sure they are optimized for mobile devices, as it could lead to a significant increase in opens and click-through rates that drives results for your business.

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