I can almost guarantee, depending on sector and other broadcast factors, that right now, anywhere between 10 and 30 per cent of email subscribers are opening their messages on smartphones and Tablets. This stat alone should prompt marketers into thinking about making sure their emails are displaying correctly and effectively on smaller screen sizes. Fortunately this is where mobile optimisation and responsive design come in.

First, here are some relevant trends to take into account. The first is that consumers are viewing  email campaigns on their phones right now. Since the end of February 2012, over 50 per cent of all mobile phone usage in the UK was carried out on smartphones. With smartphone users now estimated to account for half of the UK population, there are potentially over 26m mobile email users. 84 per cent of those users are on the mobile web, browsing and checking email on a regular basis. Out of these, 40 per cent are using their mobile for email almost every day. (Source: comScore Mobilens UK).
The second trend is that users are not viewing  email on multiple devices. Recent reports show that users tend to view emails on one device. This means that in general, marketers have one opportunity to grab the user’s attention and get them to click through or save for later.

Finally, mobile usage is only increasing. The Knotice Mobile Opens Report for the second half of 2011 shows that the audience grew by 36 per cent in just half a year.

Before doing anything else, brands should be testing their user base to determine mobile open rates. This is generally a feature provided by Email Service Providers or one that can be bought on an ad hoc basis from email analytics providers like Litmus.

Responsive design ?
But what do we mean by mobile optimisation? One phrase that is doing the rounds in the context of website development currently is ‘Responsive Design’. Essentially, this is a technique used to control the way content is displayed, based on the size of the screen that displays it. For example, you could have a newsletter that currently sits at a nice 600px width and has been designed to look good on a desktop PC. What happens when that same design is compressed to fit on a small hand-held device such as a mobile phone or Tablet?
In most cases the following issues will arise. The images are too big; there is too much copy; users cannot click on the calls-to-action easily; they have to zoom in and out to see content clearly; and they also need to scroll horizontally, as well as vertically.

Responsive design for email can help solve these problems and improve the user experience on smaller screens by dynamically hiding content; changing font styling, such as emphasis, size and colour; setting the zoom level to perfectly fill the entire width, thus removing horizontal scrolling; and subtly changing content flow to support a single column layout. Plus much more besides.

What I love about responsive design is that it enables us to create one version of an email for both mobile and desktop. This means we only need to create and set up one template, test it once and input the content once. As responsive design works on screen size and not on a per-device basis, there’s no need to create individual versions for iPhone, Android, Blackberry etc. All of this helps save time and money in implementation costs. As the email audience goes increasingly mobile, responsive design’s time, we feel, has come.