At Illinois State University, we have a large audience base. As such, we rely on emails to correspond with our audience, an audience base that is becoming more mobile with each year of new graduates. We have seen a trend in recent years of emails being read on mobile devices. According to Return Path, mobile email open rates increased 34 percent in the second half of 2011, this is at the expense of desktop email open rates. As a result, we have researched and experimented with designs to find the best practices for email marketing to a mobile audience.
- 320 pixels width. With the introduction of the iPhone, and then Android smartphones, screen widths ran approximately 320 pixels wide and 480 pixels high. Sticking with a conventional width of 550 pixels causes the email to be shrunk down, rendering the text smaller. If you wish to target both desktop and mobile, consider a locking the width to 450. The benefit of keeping your width around the lowest common denominator is that you ensure the rendering of text in the email maintains its readability.
- Above the “fold”. The prime real estate on any website is “above the fold.” A statement known by any web designer. The same statement holds true in mobile email (and email in general). Keep you primary message to the top 200 pixels of the design. And since you only have about 3 to 5 seconds to capture the readers attention, keeping your message above the fold will ensure that it’s received.
- Clear, concise, call-to-action. Make sure the action you want the recipient to take is not only above the fold, but appears in a clear, concise way–with the ability to act. Have the words “Learn More” or “Buy Now” high enough in the layout to be seen and clickable so that the reader can take action. If you utilize a graphic for your action, make sure there is a link in the text as well.
- Images and alt tags: With mobile, images need to be kept to a minimum. As a user accesses their email, they are utilizing their data. If your images are large or you use too many of them, you are wasting your audience’s data plan. Images should be kept under the traditional 60/40 image to text ratio and each individual image should not exceed 20k. Also, try to keep your overall file size lower than 70k. The alt tags should be utilized so that text is placed while the image is being delivered, ensure your message will be received.
- Intro text. The intro text is usually the first 1-2 lines of direct mail and contains the offer or actionable steps to take. The rest of the copy reinforces why a receiver should act now. The same rule should be applied to your mobile email. Downloaded before the rest of the email, the intro text is the the first thing prospects read before they even consider downloading images.
- White text and fonts. Avoid using white text in your layout. Some email clients strip the background color out. As such, your white text will be displayed on a white background. As for fonts, stick with the web basic fonts like Arial, Tahoma, or Times New Roman. You minimum body copy size should be 12 pts (maybe 14 if you are designing for mobile and desktop). Your maximum font size for headlines should be 20 pts. Deviating from these rules could get your email tagged as spam. Another thing to be cautious of is the color Red (a problem for Illinois State University). Red fonts were historically used by spammers and now the spam filters use that in their decision tree for isolating spam.
- Style sheets, flash, and Java. Forget them. Email clients like Gmail strip out the contents in the head, including your style sheets. Some inline styles can be applied, but it is safest to design without them. Simple HMTL works the best, and that includes tables instead of layers. MS Word should be avoided altogether for creating emails. Going old school might make you cringe, but it will allow your email to render successfully across all email clients and pass the spam filters.
- Learn the ‘spam’ trigger words. All email clients, and email servers, contain spam filters that weed out unwanted and unsolicited email messages. These filters look for words and phrases to determine a emails validity. The traditional spam words are: free, risk-free, guaranteed, or even multiple punctuation (!!!). All caps can even trigger some filters. When composing your email, perform a simple Google search to discover which words and phrases to avoid.
- Measure. If you haven’t discovered Google Analytics yet, then check it out. Google Analytics allows you to place campaign codes on the links in your emails. Open rates are important, but if your mobile audience is not taking your desired action, then you just lost them. The campaign codes will let you know how many in your audience is clicking on your action items.
- Subject line. The most important part of any good email design, mobile or desktop. More on this topic later, but for now, let’s just say keep it simple and concise. Just like your call to action.
The short of all of these tips is keep it simple. Your mobile audience is checking email while they are engaged in other activities. The easier you enable them to digest your message and take the appropriate action, the easier it is for them to engage with your brand.
Let me know your thoughts, and your suggestions for email designs with the comment box below. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.