Yes in bed!
I read the other day that it’s estimated that over 70% of smart phones users have read their emails first thing in the morning before even crawling out of bed.
Not unsurprisingly, as the use of sophisticated mobile devices continues to grow exponentially, the craving to keep informed, communicate and share has led to users checking email whenever and wherever they are; almost obsessively. Top locations include public transportation, bars, restaurants, coffee shops, waiting in line and even while working!
So what are they reading? Well it seems they are reading everything – over 85% of surveyed smart phone users say they get ALL their emails at once, work and home, on a single mobile device.
Furthermore, it is likely that before the end of 2014, mobile email, driven by convenience, will surpass desktop PC email use for the first time ever.
Analytic evidence for September 2013 suggests that 47% of all emails were opened on mobile devices. This represents a massive 10% rise over the last 12 months and at that same rate of growth 53% of all email will be opened on mobile devices by the end of 2013.
So if so much email is read on mobile devices, why are so many html emails still designed for reading primarily on PCs?
Research suggests that ONLY around 3% of users will view the same email on more than one device (mobile and PC), so it is crucial that designers, content creators and campaign managers create emails that impress users on ALL devices.
It is also important to remind ourselves that emails designed to look good solely on PC’s often fail spectacularly on mobile devices, with common issues being:
▪ small unreadable text
▪ narrow columns
▪ broken or wide layouts half hidden off screen
▪ unusable links
And remember that with an estimated 80% of users saying they will delete an email if it doesn’t look good on their mobile device, clearly a poor user experience means no response, no action and no ROI.
So how should mobile friendly emails be designed?
To answer this let’s take a brief look at websites – surely they suffer in the same way on mobile devices? Well no, most modern websites invest in a ‘responsive design’ that, together with fluid layouts, adapts to match the device it is being viewed on and provide the best user experience possible in terms of navigability and readability. See the example to the left.
And it follows that the responsive design solution is possibly the best option for optimising emails for viewing in all environments too.
So what is responsive design and what does it do? Simply the magic ingredient behind responsive design, ‘the CSS media query’, sets rules and tasks for specific screen sizes and is capable of altering design attributes such as:
▪ Font size
▪ Image scaling
▪ Swapping Images
▪ Increasing/decreasing space between items
▪ Altering layout
▪ Changing navigation
▪ Reordering content
▪ Revealing / hiding content
For example, a two-column layout on a PC screen could easily become a single column on a smart phone giving much improved readability over simply scaling the two columns to fit the smaller screen. In the same way a simple text link in the design on the PC screen could become a large friendly touch screen button on the smart phone leading to increased usability and potentially elevated click-through rates or a table of data could become a pie chart, etc, etc.
Sounds great… so if websites are built this way, why only now consider treating email design the same?
There are 3 key factors that have resulted in responsive email design only just starting to getting popular.
This is by far the largest factor affecting the implementation of responsive email design due to a fundamental lack of email standards within the industry. This has resulted in technologies such as the ‘media query magic’ used in responsive design not being universally supported by all email programs; with worst offenders being Outlook 2010, Lotus Notes and Gmail.
OMG so why even consider it? Well the good news is that the email software used by the majority of mobile users does conform to a standard that does enable the ‘media query magic’ to work.
• iPhone dominates with 50% of all mobile email opens – and is compatible
• iPad has 25% of mobile email opens – and is compatible
• Android represents 20% of all mobile opens – and is compatible
• The recent versions of Blackberry OS are compatible
• Windows 7.5 mobile OS is compatible
So we can say that at least 95% of all mobile email opens are on devices that are compatible with responsive email design and by the end of 2013 probably more email will be opened on mobile than desktop PC. So it follows that it is the growth in mobile email and the compatibility it offers that is driving the switch to responsive email design for all devices.
2. User behaviour
Marketing 101 – Know your audience. The importance of viewing, understanding and reacting to analytics cannot be overstated and through the use of this vital marketing tool, campaign managers can determine email recipients interests, motivators and environment. Put simply, analytics can determine the percentage of your database that is actively using mobile and that figure can vary greatly from the average. If the percentage is small then disregard responsive design for now. However, if it is large then responsive design has to be a given and should be implemented ASAP. It’s not unheard of some brands seeing upwards of 70% of their emails currently being opened on mobile.
Average email opens by device (September 2013)
▪ Mobile: 47%
▪ Desktop: 32%
▪ Webmail: 21%
If deciding to embark on a responsive design email template, a certain amount of extra investment should be allowed for. The process involves defining key screen sizes, usually: desktop, iPad, small tablet, large phone, iPhone; and designing layouts, buttons, navigation and graphics to suit each.
The costs are not much more than a traditional single viewpoint email design and with the process usually yielding templates, graphics and styles that are largely reusable. When viewed in context the investment is relatively small compared to the potentially greater rewards of a much improved user experience.
So what needs to be done to get emails working better
The big question is… if switching to responsive design, what do the other 50% of users with incompatible email programs see? The simple answer is when the ‘magic’ fails they see what they are seeing now – the email reverts to an unresponsive desktop email – so in effect they are unaffected.
But it is possible to improve on this.
By taking a ‘Mobile Aware’ approach to design and content strategy, and following some simple guidelines and techniques, the unresponsive fall-back email can be optimized and made to work harder to deliver a better email when viewed on incompatible email programs on both desktop AND mobile devices.
‘Mobile Aware’ Guidelines
• Design for mobile first – as mobile will soon be the majority case and has the most constraints, it’s easier to start here and work up to desktop
• Use single-column layouts, 500 – 600 pixels wide work best
• Links and buttons should have a minimum target area of 44 × 44 pixels
• Increase font size – minimum size should be 13 pixels
• Add contrast – consider reading on smaller screens, in poor lighting conditions and with distractions
• Add space between design elements to avoid clicking on unintended links
• Ensure key information and call-to-action are positioned in the top left of email
• Create engaging, concise content to give faster 3G download and to satisfy mobile user behavior – ie quickly scanning email for relevancy
• Design for the majority – if you only have 5 users on Lotus Notes it’s probably more cost effect to point them to the web version of the email than spending time and budget on a Lotus Notes specific version of the email
• Consider the full user journey – avoid creating a fantastic mobile email experience and ruining it by linking off to a mobile unfriendly website page
The way forward
We should remember that it cannot be predicted when or where a recipient will view an email. Email campaigns should deliver the ultimate in user experience to both desktop and mobile devices through mobile aware techniques, carefully considered well crafted engaging content, and if the user-base would benefit from it… a truly responsive design.
After all, happy recipients mean more response, more action and more ROI.
Mike Craddock, Digital Producer