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7 Ways You May Be Getting Mobile Emails Wrong

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
15 March 2016

Mobile Email Marketing Wrong"Mobile" is a misnomer in email marketing.

Marketers have been exhorted to make their emails mobile-friendly, mobile-optimized or responsive. This is good advice, given that most B2C brands have mobile readership rates at or above 55 percent, and typical B2B readership rates are north of 35 percent. But, true optimization for mobile is much more complex – and that’s where mistakes can creep in.

Optimizing for Mobile: Not Just About Design, Layout and Devices

Design and layout are just the visible parts of the equation. Other variables are often more important: viewing context, mobility, product selection, purchase and payment processes, and the Web and mobile app experience.

It's not just "mobile versus desktop." It's "smartphone versus tablet versus desktop."

Subscribers on smartphones view and act on email differently from tablet users, and both of them have different experiences from your desktop users.

To make matters more complex, many of your subscribers and customers will interact with the same email from your brand more than once and likely on two or more devices. IBM's “2015 Email Marketing Benchmark Study” found email was opened an average 1.5 times, although emails from the top 25 percent of senders got an average 2.5 opens.

Wearables and Internet of Things: More Disruption Down the Road

You probably don't need a strategy today to manage message rendering on the iWatch, security system message screen, car dashboard or refrigerator door. But the picture might be different two or three years from now.

But figuring it out now is essential if you want to transition smoothly to a mobile-dominated population.

7 Mistakes to Avoid

Below are seven errors marketers and designers often make when optimizing email for smartphones, tablets and desktops, along with tips for avoiding these mistakes:

1) Underestimating the importance of mobile context 

Smartphones and tablets are mobile devices, but we use them differently. We "lean back" on our sofas, watching TV with a drink in one hand and the iPad in the other. This lean-back approach is ideal for long-form content consumption: shopping, reading articles, watching videos and browsing sites.

With smartphones, users often are in transit. They're walking down a street or dodging people in airports, waiting for elevators or standing in line for coffee. Internet access might be on a slower, less-reliable cell network instead of Wi-Fi. 

They don't spend the same way, either: According to a survey of U.S. shoppers, only 6 percent said they made impulse purchases on their smartphones, compared to 13 percent on desktops and 81 percent in stores.

The fix: Emails must get to the point, focus content and have fewer CTAs to capture smartphone users, who browse less and respond better than tablet or desktop users to relevant or focused content and offers. (Remember, they could be the same people, but their behavior changes by device.)

2) Not accounting for different screen sizes

The iPhone 5S has a 4-inch screen (measured diagonally), whereas the "phablet" Samsung Galaxy Note 3 is 5.7 inches. The popular iPad Mini is 768 x 1024 pixels, half the size of the regular iPad (3 and 4) at 1536 x 2048 pixels. Laptops and desktops have screens that are two to five times larger.

The fix: Increase font, button and image sizes on smartphone screens. This isn't a major usability issue on tablets and desktops, but on smaller screens, eliminating unnecessary content to let readers focus on the most important elements in the message is critical.

3) Making incorrect assumptions about subject lines and preheader text

The Gmail inbox in portrait view on an iPhone 6S shows about eight to 10 more characters in the subject line and preheader text than the landscape view of the same inbox on an iPad Mini.  Hmm. Smaller screen shows more characters? True, but the Mini's landscape view previews the email itself next to the inbox.

The fix: In a tablet inbox, a user can scan names, subject lines and preheader text but also glance at the top of the corresponding email to see the full subject line, preheader text and some of the email itself.  When designing with a responsive template, consider testing the desktop version for tablet users.

4) Building emails that are frustrating to navigate

We've all done it: tried to tap a tiny text link and either missed it completely or clicked the wrong thing. Emails that cram too much copy and too many images into a small space create frustration for mobile users who navigate using fingers, not mice.

The fix: Finger-friendly buttons, clear calls to action (CTAs) and plenty of space between hyperlinks are must-haves. Also, design your email in sections or chunks so that when a reader scrolls through your email, each scroll stop lines up easily for a fat-finger click.

5) Making the conversion process difficult

When they're in the office or at home, consumers will take the time to register accounts and fill out three- and four-step online purchase forms (mailing address, billing information, credit card, shipping options, etc.). Not so much when they're standing in line with their smartphones at a coffee shop.

The fix: Provide a quick and easy checkout process with alternative payment options such as PayPal. Short cuts like pre-registration, wish lists, “favorites” features and an “email my cart” option encourage customers to start the purchase process on one device and finish it later on another. 

6) Failing to accommodate inbox triage behavior

Most email users triage their email inboxes (scan, delete, unsubscribe, forward). Smartphone users likely do it more often, spending less time on each inbox interaction and using “From” names, subject lines and preheader text to make snap judgments.

If your inbox experience doesn't help your speed-readers sort their email easily, you'll encourage them to zip right past your messages in favor of those that provide better decision-making clues.

The fix: Give your readers enough information in the inbox. “From” names have never been more important. Choose wisely. Front-load subject lines with key information to intrigue recipients. Use preheader text to augment a truncated subject line.

7) Fragmenting the email experience across devices and channels

Desktop sessions usually start and stop on the desktop. Smartphone users often start their research on a mobile website or through your mobile app and then continue their research, reading or purchase process on laptops, desktops or tablets.

If you don't use triggered messaging to help your subscribers/customers make the transition, you could lose them. 

The fix: In your email message, have email links open content in your mobile app for users who have installed it on their mobile devices. Make sure your site redirects to your mobile site, or use a responsive website for mobile users. Add coordinated reminders and remarketing messages via SMS and push notifications based on Web, email, app, in-store and other behavior.

Taking Your First Step

Now that you know how the email experience can vary among smartphones, tablets and desktops, you can start optimizing each one. However, before you start ripping everything part, take a step back, and look at your numbers.

In this case, the numbers are your data: what you know about your email subscribers, your website visitors, your customers and prospects and the devices they use. Knowing how many tablet users you have, for example, can help you decide how much you need to optimize for different devices.

For retailers with a high percentages of tablet users, it makes sense to optimize their content for these different devices, while those whose emails see little or no tablet action might be able to ignore the differences.

Understanding these differences will help you choose which steps to tackle first and which you can put on the back burner for now.

More Mobile Marketing Tips:

1) White Paper: “The Marketer’s Guide to Mobile Engagement

2) Blog: “Building the Optimal Transactional Email (Infographic)

3) Tip Sheet: “10 Tips for Using Email to Drive Mobile Engagement – and Vice-Versa


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