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Email marketers adopt responsive design to drive mobile results

With mobile opens for email continuing to grow, savvy marketers are getting more sophisticated in their approach, adopting a mobile-first approach and other best practices to ensure their emails hit the mark.

Mobile email is a big topic for digital marketers in 2013 as mobile open rates continue to grow. One of the key ways that marketers are building successful mobile email campaigns is through the use of responsive design.

?A lot of effort is now going in to make sure users can scan and click on the email when it's on the small screen. If it takes a user to pinch or zoom to see the email, forget it  ? they're gone,? said Matt Caldwell, vice president of creative and agency services at Yesmail Interactive, Portland, OR. ?So one area of increased sophistication is in message design and coding.

?Responsive email design is probably the best example of increased sophistication,? he said. ?Responsive coding and design of email can be complicated and time-consuming, but because of this surging open on a mobile, we see many if not all, of our clients want to do it.

?Why? It will alter the email layout to a true mobile design when opened on mobile.?

Formatting for mobile
A recent report from Knotice forecasts that most brands will see at least half of their commercial emails opened via mobile devices by the end of 2013.

However, despite an increase in mobile opens, Yesmail found that many marketers are still not formatting their email properly for mobile.

?In our informal survey of more than 65 marketers over six months, we found that only 14 of 65 had properly formatted emails for mobile,? Mr. Caldwell said. ?Our test was, 'when opened on the mobile device, can I read every word and click on every link without having to adjust the email layout to make it bigger?'

?So we're still seeing many, email marketers are ignoring this important aspect of email ? how to design and code it,? he said.

In its 2013 Lookbook, Yesmail identifies a number of ways that marketers can improve their email design to drive open rates, click through rates and ROI.

For example, marketers can use a mobile scalable hybrid layouts, with one layout for big and small screens alike.

Another tip is to pull social content such as tweets, photos and comments right into the message.

Yesmail also recommends using a catch-all bottom navigation format to help get clicks to other category levels with a series of links at the bottom.

It is also important to include mobile calls-to-action in emails, such as enabling recipients to click to launch a smartphone app from within the message or to click to call.

Scalable vs. responsive design
Yesmail recommends marketers dive in and try either scalable or responsive email design or both.

?Scalable means ?the pumped up layout?  ? you keep your message with the same 600 pixels but you pump up your type  ? to a minimum 14 points  ? and you pump up your buttons,? Mr. Caldwell said. ?Why make it bigger? Because when the layout is reduced to have its size on the phone it can still be read and clicked.

?Responsive is using media queries to make your HTML email device aware,? he said. ?When it's opened on a small screen, it will load a different set of styles that can resize, reformat and delete to make a true mobile layout.?

One key learning from the Knotice data is that emails are not being viewed on multiple devices, meaning that if consumers do not act on an email when they open it on mobile it is highly unlikely they will reopen that email when they get home and can open it on a desktop device.

This underscores the need for marketers to have a mobile email strategy in place that ensures email does not render poorly on a mobile screen.

Matching PC performance levels
While responsive design can help address the need to get it right the first time, it does not address all the issues on mobile, such as matching performance levels on PCs, per Knotice.

?One trend marketers are now using to address this is responsive design for email,? said Patti Renner, director of marketing at Knotice, Akron, OH. ?This format strategy incorporates multiple content options built into the email, with the ability to adjust the email images and content served based on the size of the viewport when opened.

?While this is getting some buzz as a cure-all for dealing with device proliferation amongst consumers, responsive design is no silver bullet,? she said. ?Even the best responsive design on mobile may not match performance levels on PC.

?And it may not render as well on Android as it does on iPhone. Mobile optimization requires marketers to be open to testing, adjusting, testing, and then testing again to get it right for the audience.?

Marketers also need to pay attention to click activity across channels, as this is an indicator of how people engage with an email once they have opened it.

Currently, click activity remains much stronger on PC and desktop compared to smartphones and tablets. However, this could start to change as marketers start sending more mobile-friendly emails.

?The simple fact that click activity remains so much stronger on PC and desktop as compared to phone or tablet will likely shift when predictive design methodology is used  ? anticipating the device used based on a past history of email activity for that device, for that individual and designing around that,? Ms. Renner said.

?This is the trend we see coming for marketers  using your data for mobile optimization, while understanding individuals and the devices they use for the best mobile experience possible,? she said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York