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Why "Mobile" Email Templates Need to Disappear

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by: Adam Steinberg (@adams472)
11 January 2013

For the past year, digital marketers have been trying to come to grips with the fact that 35 percent of all emails are viewed on mobile devices and tablets. Marketers are asking questions such as:

  • How do I create an email template that looks great on an iPhone or Android device?
  • How do I know when a user is opening my email on a smartphone so I can send an email with the proper design?
  • How do I create design templates for each type of device?

At the crux of these questions is an ambitious goal: ensuring customers have the best possible user experience any time they open your email — on any device. However, the mobile marketplace continues to explode with new products, and it's now impossible to keep up with designing and testing emails across all the devices being released every month. Just recently, the iPhone 5, Kindle Fire HD and iPad Mini have been released —all with different screen sizes and resolutions.

Here's a brief rundown of mobile devices and their screen resolutions:

Device

Screen Size (inches)

Screen Resolution

iPad (retina)

9.7

2048 x 1536

iPad Mini

7.9

1024 x 768

Kindle Fire HD 8.9

8.9

1920 x 1200

Kindle Fire HD

7

1280 x 800

Microsoft Surface

10.6

1366 x 768

iPhone 5

4

1136 x 640

Samsung Galaxy

4.8

1280 x 720

Many digital marketers are under the impression that they need to create email templates specifically optimized for laptops, tablets and mobile devices. The reality is that the marketers I speak with don’t have the design resources to create different versions of each email for multiple devices, and they have even less time to manage this process. Relying on a device-specific email strategy is simply untenable.

Email Templates Must Become "Device-Neutral"
Digital marketers must break out of the device-specific strategy and develop an email design that renders beautifully across all devices and email clients. Imagine that, an email template that yields message that are aesthetically appealing on any device – whether it's a tablet, smartphone, laptop or any other related product.

Sound too good to be true?

Here are three steps to help you quickly ramp up your "Device-Neutral" strategy.

1) Use a One-Column Design
Emails that contain multiple columns are the most significant cause for headache in designing device-neutral emails. Multiple columns create problems when your emails are rendered on smaller screens, as the content within each column tends to get "smushed" together when the smartphone or tablet tries to display the entire template within a small window.

Transitioning to a one-column design as soon as possible will help ensure you’re completely in control of your design and your content appears front and center, no matter which device the email is being rendered on.

2) Simplify Calls to Action
The opportunity to create action from emails is varied depending on the device. With mobile and tablet users, you have even less time and real estate to capture readers’ attention. When designing your email templates, optimize your design for the one most significant action you want a user to take. Because we're now device-neutral, make sure your call to action is big enough for a finger to touch.

Simplifying your calls to action will also make it easier to fit your content within a one-column design. As an added bonus, focusing your calls to action is a smart practice no matter what device is being used to view your email.

3) Become Familiar with Media Queries
For designers that simply must customize their designs for different devices, media queries provide a way to dynamically optimize your design across multiple devices. Media queries enable you to change the size of text and lay out items based upon the resolution of the device on which the email is being rendered.

For many designers, it's not incredibly intuitive to start using media queries. However, more and more email clients are supporting media queries, providing an easier way for designers to dynamically optimize their content for different devices.

The bottom line? Break out of the "mobile template" mindset and focus on developing a library of "device-neutral" email templates. As more tablets and smartphones are introduced, your emails will continue to render beautifully. Your designers, and customers, will thank you.

Related Resources:
1) Video: "Mobile Context: What to consider when optimizing the mobile experience"
2) Blog: "3 Ways to Use Behavioral Marketing to Drive Mobile App Engagement and Monetization"
3) Blog: "Trilogy Interactive's Brian Sisolak Talks Mobile Optimization"

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