Mobile-optimized email: 3 common mistakes to avoid

This article is one in a series that discusses issues about email design today.

Remember: A bad skinny email is still as bad, just narrower.

As a designer working with a host of different clients using a variety of email systems, I know that a hot topic today is mobile-optimized email campaigns. But in reality, not everyone has the option of sending out mobile-optimized emails using responsive design. Either the platform or the operator knowledge might limit what can be executed, and the email campaign still has to get out the door.  But there’s a lot of confusion about what to do to make emails, especially HTML emails with graphics and type, more mobile-friendly.  I’d like to share three areas people most get into trouble when they attempt to execute mobile-optimized email, so you can avoid trouble and take small steps in the right direction of creating mobile-optimized emails that will perform more effectively.

Baseline: 590px wide is the new normal (width) for mobile-friendly emails online training tutorialsMake your email narrower, less than 590 px (pixels) wide, but around that width, so even if it’s not responsive, it will view on both desktop and mobile devices well without seeming awkward. You’ll find that if you have been using templates that are about 700 px wide, the adjustments to width don’t force you to completely redesign your emails.

So if creating a responsive email that adjusts to the width of the viewing device is not an option, go with a mobile-friendly fixed-width email. You are now on your way to a mobile-optimized email. But now it’s time to avoid some mistakes I see all too often.

Mistake 1. Forgetting that many people don’t see email images

I admit, this one drives me a little nuts, because the situation is not new, and anyone doing email marketing for the last few years should remember that for years now Windows Outlook’s default setting is images off. Today, still over half of the people using all email clients have images turned off. Campaign Monitor has a pretty sobering article that shows which email clients block images, and Google’s right there in the pack.  I’ve included an example of a colorful email comparing images off and on.


Images On


Images Off. A whole lotta nothing.

In the writing and design process for your mobile-optimized emails, keep that in mind, because a great number of mobile devices that use Google email (Android devices) have images turned off as well. So just because you are focused on mobile users doesn’t mean you can ignore the problem. Unless you are very careful about your content, email recipients will not only see big blank squares with red ‘X’s or ‘?’s, but the blank squares might appear as large as the images you meant to show in your email, and be long enough for someone to toss it.

How to avoid the problem:

Don’t put key copy in images. As the example above shows, there is very little that a reader gets out of the email.

Know what your email looks and reads like with images off and make sure that without images, the wording/text still makes sense to a reader, so you don’t lose over half your audience.

Mistake 2. Thinking large fields of beautiful images in emails will replace good text content on mobile or desktop

I’m going to risk being a kipollypie-mobile-optimized-email-bademail_625x967lljoy for all those designers out there that insist that a big, beautiful image is what every email needs. We are not Pinterest. We are marketers and mobile-optimized email is something we can’t ignore. No matter what we are communicating, if we depend on an image to tell the story, what happens if we’ve forced the person to scroll down, down, down to get to all our content. They ditch the email. Ugh! Yes — even if images are turned on, most people don’t thumb down past that big image, the attention is just not there. In addition, if you don’t trim down the file size of your images, which add to load time on mobile devices, and you lose even more readers who move on to other emails, sending yours into oblivion. Another problem relating to images happens when email marketers forget to keep their Calls-to-action high on the body of a mobile-optimized email design. All these factors surrounding overuse of images contribute to mobile-optimized email failure.

How to avoid the problem:

Stop using large images OR sliced large images. Slicing them doesn’t solve the problem. Restructure your email to offer text and images working together

Put your compelling content in text, not pictures, so you won’t risk that half your audience never sees it.

3. Believing that skinny is enough to pass for mobile-optimized email

farmerboys-mobile-optimized-email-bademail_635x2575Too often, I find examples like this one. The authors seemed to forget that most mobile viewers will not keep thumbing down your image several times to interact. People are busy, and an example like this one, which is over 2575 pixels deep, leaves only the words ‘Vote Farmer Boys’ in the first panel of either a mobile device, or of a desktop email client like Outlook or Gmail/Google. There is actually some great content, if you scroll down far enough. There are awards, copy (in the image, italic and reversed, which all drop readability and comprehension), and a link to a nice little TV spot for the advertiser. But there is no compelling offer, and the call to action to vote, while certainly big enough, isn’t a traffic driver that will convert to sales in a practical way. If this is supposed to be brand support, the strategy of using email is not being effectively executed.

How to avoid the problem:

During design, look at the first window.  Request a rough wireframe of your mobile-optimized email — even a sketch layout — and ask to see what will be viewed in the browser windows without scrolling down too much. And remember, your audience is not always so smitten and intrigued that they are going to thumb/scroll down 3 or 4 times to reach the end of your email and the content.

Before you design the email, define one single takeaway message. Only one. It’s scary, hard, and results in the best possible communications. I know marketers who don’t hone down their message, instead throwing all kinds of things into an email, an ad or a TV commercial. The result is a communication that talks a lot and says nothing memorable, instead of one point made with great impact within the piece.  By staying focused on one point, both the writer and designer can work towards a message that is compelling and memorable. That is the kind of marketing message that wins business over its competition.

There is so much that is exciting about email marketing, especially the impact of mobile devices and need for understanding how to execute mobile-optimized email. In addition to following my blog, I also recommending a good read on mobile email Trends from ExactTarget. The information it presents is useful and a reminder of the impact mobile has for email marketers now and in the future.

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I’m a creative problem-solver helping clients who use Direct Marketing but need more effective lead generation and deeper customer relationships. You can learn more about me on LinkedIn.