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Tips for optimising your email campaigns for mobile

Author's avatar By Expert commentator 05 Mar, 2014
Essential Essential topic

6 practical tips to improve response from emails read on mobile devices

With the current growth in use of mobile devices, from smartphones to iPads and a variety of tablets, mobile email design has become a vital consideration for 2014 if you want people to be able to read and respond to your email marketing campaigns

In fact, according to these Litmus mobile open statistics, 51% of email opens are on a mobile device, and some brands see upwards of 70% of their emails opened on a mobile, while 80% of people will delete an email if it doesn’t look good on their phone.

Yet even with all this growth in mobile email, 58% of email marketers are still not designing for it, and MarketingSherpa reports that 31% of marketers don’t even know their mobile email open rate.

Design your email marketing for a mobile device

So bearing all that in mind, here are a few tips and tricks for designing an email marketing campaign that looks good on a mobile device, what your options are when it comes to pre-designed templates, and why you should be paying attention to mobile email design in the first place.


  • 1. Font Size and Type

For mobile devices, fonts should be set larger than traditional emails or web fonts. To avoid illegible fonts, strive for a body copy font size of 14px minimum, and headlines should be at least 18px - 22px.

Technically you can use any font you like in an email, but if your subscribers don’t have that font available on their device, they are not going to see it. The web ‘safe’ fonts are;

  • Arial/Helvetica
  • Courier/Courier New
  • Georgia
  • Times/Times New Roman
  • Trebuchet MS
  • Verdana
  • Tahoma

Although it's worth noting that mobile devices have a much more limited set of fonts than desktop and Android use their own font family called Droid to render everything.

  • 2. Email and device screen width

While iOS devices zoom to fit your email to the width of the screen, most other operating systems don't, so you should consider trimming the width of your emails.

The recommended width ranges from 320px to 500px wide but make sure you test this on an iPhone and an alternative smartphone to see how they differ when received.

  • 3. Images

Even in this day and age not everyone has a super speedy internet connection, especially if the recipient is on 3G. So for images to load quickly make sure they are, as always, a file size that’s as small as possible to avoid any delay in loading.

It's worth noting that every mobile device platform except iOS and the Gmail App blocks images by default, and provides a prompt for the user to turn images on.

  • 4. Layout

Usually emails for desktop viewing are built in 2 or 3 column format. However, a single column layout is best for reading on mobile devices as it allows more flexibility for varying screen sizes. This also means that the recipient won’t need to scroll left and right to view your whole email.

  • 5. Finger Size

When it comes to mobile email design the finger replaces the mouse which means you need to take into consideration finger size. Because the screen size is considerably smaller, make sure any buttons and hyperlinks aren’t too close together and increase them in size to give your design some breathing room and allow for fat fingers.

  • 6. Subject lines

As always, keep your subject line clear and concise, and ideally to 50 characters or less.

Mobiles range from displaying a maximum of 27 characters on an Android, 41 characters on an iPhone and 42 characters on a Windows Phone.


There are two common design options for pre-designed mobile templates - scalable or responsive.

  • Scalable: A scalable email layout is readable and clickable no matter what size screen it is being read on. There is only one version (one HTML file) of the email, but the email scales to fit on both desktops and mobile devices.
  • Responsive: Responsive email designs use CSS3 media queries to render two different layouts depending on the size of the screen the email is opened on. CSS media queries can auto-adjust the layout, content and text size of an email depending on the screen size. In addition, images can be swapped out or completely disabled, images and buttons can be resized, and colours can be changed.

Mobile Responsive Design


There are a variety of reasons why some marketers may be unaware that their messages are being viewed on mobile devices; inability on behalf of their email service provider (ESP), a lack of tracking analytics or even blatant oversight. However, after all of the focus that marketing experts have placed in recent months on the importance of mobile as it surpasses desktop viewership, your mobile open rate is a crucial number that cannot be overlooked. If this metric is being disregarded, there will be a large gap in your email marketing reports that will not be accounted for.

Not only should your ESP be able to tell you how many mobile opens your email marketing campaign has received, but also exactly what device the recipient was on; iPhone, iPad, Android device etc.

This will allow you to better target and design for the device your recipients most prefer. According to Litmus, the top ten most popular email clients of 2013 were:

  1. Apple iPhone - 26%
  2. Outlook - 14%
  3. Google Android - 12%
  4. Apple iPad - 12%
  5. Apple Mail - 8%
  6. Gmail - 6%
  7. Outlook.com - 6%
  8. Yahoo! Mail - 5%
  9. Windows Live Mail - 3%
  10. Windows Mail - 2%

These figures were calculated from 321 million opens tracked by Litmus Email Analytics in December 2013, and not surprisingly, three of the top five are mobile email clients and three of the top five are Apple based email clients.

Market Share

Further evidence that focus on the mobile user is crucial, MarketingSherpa found that newsletters that focused on mobile optimisation saw an increase of 53% in total click through rates. Furthermore, according to a retail case study, the cookie bouquet company.

Cookies By Design, was able to increase their click through rates by 75% through mobile optimisation - a few simple tricks and a new mobile responsive template saw a dramatic increase of 145% in their click-to-open rate.

The Exact Target 'Email Open Rate on Mobile Devices' report shows that the industries with above-average open rates for mobile email opens are:

  • Educational Services (64%)
  • Banking (61%)
  • Retail (55%)
  • Real Estate (53%)
  • Utilities (51%)

It’s important to note that an email open is recorded as mobile based on downloading email images.

Image download (i.e. show images) is not a default setting for every operating system or mobile email client. This means the reported number of opens may be lower than the actual number of users viewing or reading the email. This is the case for all opens regardless of whether it’s on a mobile or desktop.

Although, with Gmail's new 'show images by default' policy (rolling out early 2014 for Android and iOS), we might soon start to see an increase in these open rates - the Gmail App is about to become every email marketers new best friend.

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