Silverpop - Guest Expert: Alex Williams on 11 Things that Need to Die in Mobile Email
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Guest Expert: Alex Williams on 11 Things that Need to Die in Mobile Email

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
15 August 2013

One of the biggest challenges for email marketers right now is delivering an optimum experience for customers across a range of devices. I’ve covered the topic extensively this year through blog posts, videos, white papers, Webinars and other presentations, and interest remains strong.

To further assist digital marketers in providing today’s multidevice customers with an excellent viewing experience – and driving increased engagement and conversions – I’ve put together a three-part blog series in which I invite other experts in the field to share their thoughts on how to best approach email design in a multiscreen world.

In this first installment, Alex Williams, creative director at Trendline Interactive, offers his insights on the topic.

Alex Williams, Trendline InteractiveResponsive design isn't just a magic line of code that can keep the email the way it was made and just make it look different on mobile devices. This list shows 11 items that don't work in mobile as they were originally intended, so you're better off just leaving them out:

1. Link to the "mobile version" in the preheader

Your readers are on their mobile phones. They don't expect to have to click to see a mobile version.

What makes it worse is when marketers use a text email or default text version from their email software for the "mobile version." When users click on the mobile version, they get a much worse experience. If you've ever seen a text file on a Retina Display device, it looks really out of place.

The “mobile version” link comes from the time when the BlackBerry was 50 percent of the market, and the BlackBerry simply couldn't make an email look right.

2. Whitelisting request

This might ruffle the feathers of some deliverability people, but I haven't put a whitelisting request in an email in years because it's a self-serving solution for the sender.

I don't think subscribers really want "” in their mobile phone address books. That doesn't have a positive aspect to the subscriber. There are better ways to get your email delivered than adding a random corporate email address to your subscribers' address books.

3. Large header

In mobile, it doesn't work to put so much information in the header. That's not how people use mobile devices. They aren't interacting with the top 50 pixels. That's a carryover from the early days of email marketing, where the header had to match the website or have a certain structure

Having the logo, the "phrase that pays," seven navigation links, the whitelist request and multiple messages makes some sense on the desktop. But especially with responsive design, the area is too small, and the real estate is too valuable to do that on mobile.

4. “The fold”

It's not so much the idea that you won't get clicks on your call to action if it's not "above the fold" (the old newspaper term meaning the top half of the message).

Rather, in mobile, your message has to be interesting enough above the fold to get people to scroll down to your call to action. Scrolling is an important barometer of engagement in email. Does someone care enough to read what we're trying to say?

Also, the fold is not as predictable as it used to be. It can be in so many different places on different screens. It's not just the top 300 pixels anymore.

5. Meticulous, multi-paragraph copywriting

People don't read on mobile devices the way they do on desktops. The more dense copy you have, the less chance that people will read it. You have to say more with fewer words.

It's all about succinct copywriting. It's not just being short, but being able to say what you want to say in fewer sentences.

6. Low-contrast typography

The mobile device presents considerations we haven't had to deal with before, such as what brightness level the screen is set at or how much contrast the reader uses. Is the reader on a beach or somewhere else in high daylight? Having copy that's hard to read and barely legible doesn't help your cause.

Using a light, non-contrasting font in a small size with a lot of words is a formula for getting your email deleted. So is using a cursive font because it can get dense. You're looking for white space and high contrast to get your message seen in all environments. You want it to breathe a bit. The more there is in one space, the harder it is for someone to interact.

7. Link clusters

These are stacks of links— think 10 helpful links with no space between them. The problem is that people don't know if they will touch the right link.

This goes back to the origin of email newsletters as direct descendants of paper newsletters. You're no longer designing a catchall message with every link you can think of. People want you to curate your material and give them only the things they should click on.

Only about three things can happen in an email. Focus on what you want to happen in your newsletter, and rank and prioritize those three elements.

8. The magic button

The days of the big glossy image button (the magic button) that can save your conversion is over.

These buttons don't scale well in different screen sizes. HTML buttons are important for usability. As an email designer, you can scale and manipulate them across different screen sizes. When the magic button scales down, it's almost illegible.

The idea that the big, cool, shiny call-to-action button does all the heavy lifting in your email is over. The headline, imagery, call to action — think of those as one thing. One piece can't do all the work.

9. Perfection

There's a new email client every day, whether, desktop, mobile or tablet. You can do your best to make the experience hold up across devices, but you can't make it perfect across devices.

Suppose you look at your email in Lotus Notes through a browser on your corporate network and see a little rendering bug. The bug might affect less than half a percent of a million people, so why make changes for one small device that, statistically, isn't going to have much impact? Also, those changes can potentially affect rendering in other clients.

Ask yourself if the message holds together and is a good brand experience overall. Focus on how your email renders in the main email clients your audience actually uses.

If we know a large percentage of the audience is in Yahoo, we're going to spend more time making sure those emails render beautifully. If no one uses Windows Phone on your list, don't obsess about a few out-of-place pixels on those devices.

10. Magazine-ad emails

Your email should look more like a mobile app than a magazine ad. Once again, we're talking about letting go of perfection, of having control over every pixel. An email is not a magazine ad or a flyer.

Being clever is exhausting and not sustainable. Think about why people sign up for your emails. To get special offers? Discounts? If that's why people are signing up, display your offer as best you can. You don't have to be clever. You just have to deliver on the promise you made them when they signed up.

11. Standard email metrics

We see this scenario a lot: We update the email program for different screen sizes. With the first A/B test, the responsive version gets fewer clicks than the control, and the email team gets concerned. Classic email stats are important, but they aren't the best way to measure holistic email effectiveness now.

Instead of asking about opens and clicks, ask "How did the mobile audience react?" and "What's the ultimate measurement we care about?" To measure how effective an update for mobile was, you have to find out whether mobile readers interacted better than the desktop people.

Have a little patience. Things change month to month, and we need to have a little faith that the numbers will eventually level out. Did you come out of the gate with a new responsive email that does roughly what the old one did? Be ecstatic, not upset because it didn't beat the control.

Related Resources:

1) White Paper: “Multiscreen Maturation: Email Design Strategies and Tips for Connecting Across Devices

2) Video: “Mobile Context: What to Consider When Optimizing the Mobile Experience

3) Blog: “3 Questions to Drive Your Multiscreen Email Design Decisions


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