Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Designing Emails for Mobile Devices – A How-To Guide

August 3, 2009 by  
Filed under All Posts

By Melinda Baxter (
July 31, 2009

Designing email messages for optimal performance on your subscribers’ computers and mobile devices can be challenging. Is it worth the effort? That depends on your subscribers’ viewing preferences and behaviors.

First, let’s take a look at the current state of the mobile design environment.

Mobile devices are still a complement, not a replacement, for computer screens for most email subscribers. Research my firm conducted on this topic for our Email Marketing for the Third Screen report confirmed this. The majority of subscribers in the report indicated they use smartphones as a convenient way to stay informed, but still use their home or office computers to access email most often. The mobile landscape has evolved since this research. Just consider iPhone’s rapidly increasing share of growth, for example. But the core design situation remains.

There are five important factors that influence how emails will display, and a combination of these factors adds complexity to how emails will display in subscribers’ inboxes. The factors include the following:

1. device manufacturer (screen size, resolutions, features, variances, etc.);
2. mobile data provider (size limitations that dictate lead message size);
3. operating system (each manages email uniquely, with different defaults);
4. email software program (lack of standards results in different contortions of intended design); and
5. HTML versions are stripped of images, displaying emails in a “text-like” view, but certainly not as a designer intended.

The inconvenient truth
While the truth is there’s no bulletproof solution that enables the display of emails equally across all of your subscribers’ dashboards, you can optimize the situation. Here are four solutions to consider before planning to have your emails appear on all of your customers’ devices:

1. Consider offering a mobile-only email preference choice. Here you can deliver a text version of an email — which works best on mobile devices — or an HTML text version.
2. Make sure your name is easy to identify and recognizable from sign-up and welcome. If your customers anticipate your emails, they’ll most likely keep you out of the delete/spam folder.
3. Be sure your subject line passes the “scanning eye test.” Mobile views are shorter, so they need to quickly tease subscribers to open or return later.
4. Add text messages in your pre-headers. These messages can play off subject line teasers to entice immediate opens. Treat subject lines and pre-header text as working couplets. This also helps strengthen the preview-pane view when viewing on a computer screen.

These solutions help quickly communicate intent or value and minimize clicks to the delete or spam folders. By the way, they’re also strong strategies for computer screen views.

Melinda Baxter is the director of marketing services at ExactTarget, an Indianapolis-based on-demand email marketing software solutions provider. Reach Melinda at


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