Going Mobile

You see it everywhere, and probably, we all do it. People reading their email on their mobile devices, be it iPhone, Blackberry, or any of the new phones that are hitting the market. Making sure that our email is still effective and getting its message across in that very small number of square inches of display space can be a challenge.

With the increasing quality of mobile displays, HTML emails will be scaled down to beautiful microscopic detail, that’s very clever but can leave an email almost unreadable. And in today’s time pressured society, if it’s hard, people likely will not bother.  Text based is obviously a practical alternative, but it does take a lot of the life and passion out of your email.

A better understanding of customer behaviour, technical constraints of space, and the fact that we can detect different operating systems, ensure we can form and render messages in the most appropriate, effective and user friendly way. Some thoughts and tips:

Keep the Messages Short

The typical mobile screen will display anywhere between 30 to 40 English characters on the subject line. There’s no room for long winding subject lines so we need to get to the point quick. No one likes to scroll down with their thumb 20 times to find the relevant message, keep the message body short and sweet and if there is a real need to include a lot of text and images, put important things like calls to action near the top.

Make Everything Big
This includes images, icons, text, and especially links and buttons. What looks great on a desktop display may effectively disappear on a mobile display a tenth of the size. Many of us suffer from ‘fat finger syndrome’ at the best of times, this makes clicking on microscopic mobile links next to impossible. For the iPhone, if the text is too small it will intelligently scale it up for you, but at the same time it may break the layout that you’ve worked on for hours. If something is too difficult to read the customer will simply not bother.

Place Buttons Wisely

Whilst size is an issue when it comes to navigation within a mobile screen, where the link or button is placed is also something to consider carefully. We should avoid clustered links or buttons and placing a single button or link at the edge of the screen close to the mail client’s navigation buttons is also asking for trouble. Most users will hold their phone with one hand whilst reading their email, so also be careful not to place buttons close to the edge of either side and especially corners.

Keep Layouts Simple

That three-column layout that worked so well for desktop email will not work on any mobile phone, sticking to a single column is the safe way to go. That may imply having to remove some low priority content, but in our experience the return is always better when we place the user’s experience above less important content, especially on mobile.

Ensure Full Mobile Integration

We want our readers to click through on links, that’s perhaps the principle objective of sending emails. But when a reader clicks through from a mobile-optimised email to a non-mobile optimised website, it may take ages to load and still cannot be read properly on the mobile screen. Mobile email needs to be paired up with mobile friendly pages. The mobile email is only half the journey and half the experience and we want to provide customers with a full experience so it is important to make sure that at the very least, the first level landing pages of all the links on the mobile email are mobile optimised.

Always Test With Actual Devices

Emulators and preview generation tools are nice, but that is the bare minimum. To truly test the readability, usability and overall customer experience of your email you need to test it on an actual mobile device. Find out which mobile devices on the majority of your customers open their email on, and test them on those actual devices, you may be surprised how your designed experience differ from the actual experience at in-field testing.

Finally, Watch the Weight

Internet connection speeds vary on mobiles and often users are paying per kilobyte of data. If you load up your email with lots of high-resolution images and other rich content, it may slow down the loading speed to the point where the customer simply gives up. And they may be left with a rather unpleasant aftertaste when they get their mobile bill and realise how much your email has cost them to receive.

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