Designing a Mobile-Friendly E-Mail Marketing Message - dummies

Designing a Mobile-Friendly E-Mail Marketing Message

By John Arnold

In designing your e-mail marketing messages, keep in mind that your audience may access your message on both a computer and a mobile device. Consider how your design will work in all formats — you have three basic design choices:

  • Build separate e-mails a mobile-friendly e-mail for mobile users and a computer-friendly e-mail for computer users. Choose this option when customers tell you they read e-mails only on mobile devices and never on their computers. You can solicit preferences via your e-mail list sign-up form:

    [Credit: Courtesy of]
    Credit: Courtesy of

    The wide variety of mobile systems and applications means that you’ll have a hard time achieving total clarity and functionality in every system. Try to determine which systems the majority of your audience uses and design to those.

  • Build all of your e-mails for use on a computer and live with the fact that most of your e-mails will have limited capabilities for mobile readers. Go this way if your customers only read e-mails in front of a computer, but they check their e-mail on mobile phones to decide what to read later. Let readers know that your e-mail is best viewed in front of a computer.

  • Build your e-mails for the best possible use on both a computer and a mobile device. Choose this option only if you’re willing to sacrifice some features you would otherwise include in an e-mail designed specifically for one environment or the other. As devices and programmers start to adhere to standards that make HTML e-mails easier to navigate on mobile screens, this option may become your first choice.

The most critical factor in mobile e-mail design is the positioning of key content to make sure the e-mail’s message is displayed prominently on a computer screen or a smaller mobile screen. Your audience members need to be able to take action on your e-mails using their mobile devices and their computers.

Most, if not all, mobile devices display e-mails beginning with the upper-left portion of the e-mail, which means that the most important content should either begin or should be placed entirely in the upper-left quadrant of your e-mail. Content that works well when positioned there includes

  • Your brand: Your audience members are more likely to read your e-mail when they recognize the source of the e-mail. Make sure that your business name, logo, and other brand-identifying design elements appear somewhere in the upper left.

  • A main headline: A main headline doesn’t have to reside completely within the upper left, but it will get more attention if it begins there. Some e-mail programs automatically fit headlines into the small screen and others allow the reader to scroll sideways or zoom. Either way, keep your headlines to four words or less.

  • A main call to action: If your e-mail contains valuable offers, make sure your main offer is contained — or at least referenced — in the upper left. If your e-mail’s main intent is to get your audience to read the section of your e-mail containing your main call to action, use the upper left to prompt your audience where to look.

  • Strong visual anchors: Visual anchors can reinforce your audience’s perception of your most important content. A strong visual minimizes the time your audience spends trying to figure out what content is important enough to read.

    Images draw attention, but if you include an image that takes up most of the upper-left quadrant, your audience may miss text associated with that image. If you use an image in the upper left, make sure that it’s small enough to allow the inclusion of the first few words of a text headline.

  • A pointer on where to look next: If your e-mail includes important content below the screen, use navigation links and directions to help your audience find it. For example, you can put a table of contents in the upper-left quadrant.