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(eM+C)—How would your business fare if you ignored half of your audience? If you haven’t updated your email program for mobile devices, you’ve done precisely that.

According to the Pew Internet & American Life project, 46 percent of Americans own a smartphone. In addition, nearly a fifth own tablet computers, a number that continues to grow rapidly. As a result, email marketers must assess the channel from a mobile perspective.

Why it Matters

Email marketers have said for years that consumers don’t read email, they scan it. While still true, they must add another dimension: consumers don’t read mobile email, they prioritize it. Mobile users perform two stages of mobile triage:

First, they scan the inbox for sender names and subject lines to determine whether they’ll open the email, save it for later or delete outright. They often only read emails with urgent subject lines or from people they can’t ignore (e.g., spouse, boss, etc.).

Next, they open the email and decide whether to read it, scan it or delete it outright. This second triage underlines the importance of having a design that works well in mobile. Emails that render poorly stand a greater chance of deletion.

Email marketers have two basic options for deploying emails that function well on mobile devices:

Approach No. 1: Mobilize your template. Marketers with access to good coding resources can tweak current templates to adjust for different browsers or email clients. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) can enable emails to hide elements on smaller mobile platforms while displaying them on larger PC-based or tablet platforms.

To optimize this approach, you need to determine which elements of your email belong in a mobile version and which belong in a PC version. For example, a marketer that uses a right rail in a PC-designed email might choose to hide the right rail in the mobile design to focus the recipient’s attention.

The template redesign approach has the advantage of making the most of each platform’s abilities. However, it does require resources to design, build and test. As a result, brands with modest resources or those that don’t have a large mobile-using audience may wish to create a universal design instead.

Approach No. 2: Mobilize your design. Brands can create a universal design — i.e., one that works well on both mobile and PC-based platforms. Simply put, the best practices for mobile email design closely match the best practices for email design as a whole. Strong calls to action, easy-to-scan layouts and brief copy tend to work well regardless of where the recipient views the message.

Naturally, the design must make a few concessions to the limited space of a mobile screen. The email should be no wider than 350 pixels. Action buttons should be at least 44 pixels high because mobile users click with their fingers, not a mouse. Images will scale down, so test to see which image sizes work best.

Both of the above recommendations come with a big caveat: test, test, test. If nothing else, make sure that your emails work well in Gmail on an Android phone and on the iPhone, the two biggest smartphone platforms.

Ben Rothfeld is director of marketing strategy for StrongMail.

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