5 Tips for Better Results with Mobile Email Marketing

Email Marketing 101

Picture this scene.

A reader of your blog and a loyal subscriber gets a new mobile device.

No problem: You’ve taken great care to make your site mobile friendly.

You’ve even taken the right steps to convert more mobile readers to your email list.

So you feel pretty confident that all your bases are covered.

Until your subscriber gets her first email from your latest marketing campaign. It’s all squished up on the screen, it’s impossible to click on any of the links, and the message overall is terribly hard to read.

Your loyal reader really wants to get the benefit of your great content. So she spends some time fumbling around trying to make sense of it.

But eventually frustration wins. She gives up and hit the red “delete” key.

Think this doesn’t happen? It sure does. I’ve seen it, more than once.

Mobile email marketing design is smoking hot. If you can manage to make sure your mobile readers are satisfied with those subscriber-based emails, then you have covered what may be the largest of your readership. And here are some tips to help you out.

1. Include a plain text version of every message

Including a plain text copy of every HTML message you send will help eliminate potential issues for those subscribers with mobile readers that do not support HTML.

Any good email marketing service lets you include a plain text version, make sure you’re using it.

2. Keep links uncrowded

If your email message has links that you want your readers to click on, such as navigation back to your main site (recommended), then make sure those links stand out on their own.

In other words, keep them uncrowded so it’s easy to click them within a very small space.

Imagine your loyal reader flicking around on a tiny screen to get to that link — and how frustrated you get when the links are so close together that you can’t land on the one you want. If you want clicks, make it easy.

3. Pull the reader in with your subject line

Hop on over and read Brian’s article on the three key elements of irresistible email subject lines.

Now … actually use those three key elements for your email marketing messages.

Like any headline, an email subject line has to capture attention quickly and drive the reader to click through.

By the way, the current best practice for subject lines for mobile devices is to keep it within 5 words. That’s right, you have about 5 words to grab the attention of your reader. Why? Because after about 5-7 words, the subject line gets truncated and thus it’s a lost opportunity.

4. Use the right tags for your images

If your email marketing message includes images, make sure you include an alternative (alt) tag to describe what the image is. (You should be doing this for any HTML content you create — mobile readers aren’t the only users who may not be able to see your images.)

Don’t stuff this tag full of keywords, it doesn’t work. Use it for what it was meant for — to briefly describe what the image is, in a way that lets your reader make sense of it if the image isn’t visible.

Many devices can display all your images correctly, but not all of them will, so it’s just smart to use alternative text to make sure every reader gets the message that image was supposed to convey.

5. Is your call to action clear?

People using mobile devices spend a little less time taking in the content due to the smaller screen sizes and the fact that they are usually on the go, so make sure your email marketing has a clear call to action.

Put it either near the beginning or somewhere where it will stand out. Don’t make it hard to find … after all, it’s the key to getting the response you want.

Last thoughts

You might be wondering how to know what your email message will look like on all these devices. Just because it looks great on an iPhone doesn’t mean it won’t be mangled on a Blackberry. There are some great simulators out there that let you see how things will appear on the various devices. A Google search for “mobile device simulator” will give you lots of options.

Whatever email marketing service you use, spend some time in settings area and explore the various options they have for delivery. Now that you have some tips to keep in mind, you never know what options they have that you just didn’t see before.

How about you — what experiences have you had with mobile devices and email marketing?

Check out the rest of the Email Marketing 101 series.

About the Author: Shane uses his Tablet Computer Geeks blog to deliver the latest and best iPad information, including accessory reviews, app reviews, and industry updates. Follow him on Twitter at tc_geeks.

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Comments

  1. Shane

    Excellent. I always look forward to mobile marketing tips.

    It’s like the wild west – just starting to have its potential explored.

    I think you were the one recommending the WP Touch WordPress plug-in. I see it now has a pro version. Have you ever used Mobile Detect? It has 5 stars out of 5 from WordPress users.

    Thanks for the great tips.

    Randy

    • Randy –

      Thanks! Yes it is like the Wild West – or I like to call it the “new gold rush”.

      I did recommend WP Touch and the Pro version adds some features that a lot of users will find valuable such as custom icon sets and iPad theme support.

      I have not personally used Mobile Detect and that is because I haven’t yet experienced any issues with WPTouch (yet). However, I would like to take a look at it as an alternative to explore a bit. It’s good to know what’s out there for purposes of recommendation.

  2. That’s what i was looking for. I also tried the wordpress plugin touch…its ok. Maybe try Mobile Detect.
    Matt

  3. Very simple tips,and straight to the point.

    I like it!!! Thanks!!!

    J

  4. This is a very useful post. It is really important to get a website readable for mobile readers but we often forget about the emails. Thanks.

    • Thanks!

      Yes and we increasingly live in a world where users choose to read content on their own time, otherwise known as “time shifting” so it’s very important to get your point across so it gets read and acted upon!

  5. Great post! I think #2 is crucial if you want success.

    • Thanks Akos,

      Yes #2 is crucial especially when people have a small screen. You want your links to be clickable as much as possible in a very small area :)

  6. I never thought of that before, about keeping links physically separate from each other on the page, thanks Shane. :)

    • Thanks Sonia,
      It is important because the screen real estate is so small and you want your call to action (or links) to be not just visible but accessible and usable as well. :-)

  7. I’m not sure mobile users reading my emails had totally crossed my mind before this. Thanks for the tips, Shane, I appreciate the focus on usability over “pretty.” Tips like “Include a plain text version of every message” aren’t sexy, but they are damn important – and exactly why I come to Copyblogger.

    • Thanks Daniel!

      Exactly! Sometimes usability trumps pretty because at the end of the day while we always say content is king; in the mobile world it’s just as true that usability is king as well since people are usually reading “on the go” or they are dealing with a very small amount of space to read in.

  8. Hi Shane

    I have an android phone and a very old version 1 ipod touch. Both of these devices have an app specifically designed for gmail so that reading emails is super easy.

    The advice here is sound if you’re marketing to people who are trying to check emails in a web browser on a mobile device, but personally I would have to say that most people checking e-mail on the move are using an application. If you have any stats around applications vs browser I’d be interested to know.

    The biggest thing to make me hit the delete key is crap content rather than formatting, so perhaps you should include that as #6?

    Andrew

    • Hey Andrew,

      Thanks! I can see that as a good #6. I will say this about the email applications. A lot of people doing email marketing also use autoresponders and services like aweber/mailchimp which send out email marketing. So, even in a situation where you are using an app to check mail – the way that mail is actually delivered and used is super important. Mobile users, as you probably know are usually reading on the go or during a “meeting”, so even then it’s important for #1 – 5..but..I agree 100% about #6!!!

    • And of course, the First Rule of Copyblogger is Don’t Publish Crappy Content. :)

  9. One issue I run into all the time as a Blackberry user is email newsletters that include important links, but never provide the URL in plaintext; the anchor text for the link is descriptive only (or with a call to action), and they don’t provide a plaintext URL. This is an issue because the native Blackberry email, and external email clients for the Blackberry, often support partial HTML email but don’t render these links clickable – so we’ll get the HTML version of your newsletter, but not many of your links.

    Blackberry users often get emails sprinkled with “Click here to read more” and then can’t. This issue has been around in various mail clients since the 90’s; it’s not difficult to accommodate. The old practice used to be putting the full URL after the linked action text – now with ubiquitous link shorteners that track clickthroughs, there’s really no excuse not to and it will make your mobile (and other!) readers so happy.

    • Yeah, this is a perfect example. I have used a Blackberry (pre 2007) and I would often run into the same thing where it would show a great call to action but I could not do the “action”. This is why it’s so important to also include a text only version – it may not be pretty like HTML but it is at least clickable on some platforms and if that causes one even one more conversion, the it was worth it.

      “Beauty is only HTML Deep” ;-)

    • Good example too, of not just throwing up our hands and saying, ‘Well who would use such a crappy device.”

      “The user should get a real machine” is a surprisingly common answer out there, and I can understand the impulse, but it doesn’t make us any money. :)

  10. Thanks for the reminder Shane. I especially appreciate your reminder to make all mobile emails “cross smartphone” compatible.

    • Thanks Catherine…yeah it took me awhile to take a walk out of the “walled garden” and discover that “there are actually other devices other than the one with the little apple on the back ;-)

  11. Shane

    Mobile marketing is something I’m just getting into – any chance you could do an article on Video and Mobile marketing?

    Paul

    Oh, good article by the way.

    • Paul,

      Thank you. ironically, video and mobile marketing are starting to really gain a lot more traction since there are newer publishing platforms out there which allow for the embedding of video that keeps the size compact and playable across platforms.

      I think an article covering all that sounds fantastic!

  12. Great post. I was just sending one of ours to someone on the same subject, in fact the titles are very similar. But of course, as usual, CopyBlogger nails it with fewer words. :)

    http://www.woodst.com/blog/category/wood-street-journal/mobile-experience/page/2/

    • I think the Last Thoughts are really where you get into the tricky part of mobile, testing and multiple platforms. HTML5 is going to help with this eventually but until then as some else put it, we are dealing with the Wild West.

      • Jon-Mikel,

        I agree – without dueling standards out there it is hard to really settle one specific way of doing things. HTML5 is being heavily pushed not just by Apple but several other big players and I’ve heard that developers using it do tend to like it better – especially for cross platform.

        Thanks for the thoughts!

  13. Hi Shane,

    I second the above request also,
    that you could do an article on Video
    and Mobile marketing.

    Can a blog or website be mobile-ready
    if it contains a lot of self hosted video,
    that is not necessarily on Youtube?

    What adjustments to the videos
    would be needed to play good on
    mobile devices?

    ~Robert

    P.S. I like the intro you give to your post..
    “Picture this scene…” Catchy!

  14. Maybe I’m in danger of keeping things too simple but why not include the option of receiving the emails in mobile friendly format? There’s an easy box that allows readers to choose their preferred format with Mail Chimp so I’m assuming other services have something similar?

    I take the point that if their device is a new toy then they won’t necessarily have signed up correctly at the outset but there is a link to update preferences. Would mentioning that in passing from time to time do the trick?

    Just thinking out loud really in the hope that it might be of use to someone. I’ve always just relied upon that mobile friendly format as being enough but maybe it’s time I looked again at what mobile subscribers receive.

    Many thanks. :)

    • Hi El,

      You are correct! Keeping ti simple is exactly one of the keys here. And yes, both Mailchimp and Aweber offer those as options, but a lot of people (I’m victim of this as well) just accept the defaults and forget about the text-only options, etc.

      • Thanks Shane :)
        I only became aware of the mobile-friendly option by accident really. Someone replied to an email I’d sent via Mailchimp and I saw it mentioned that it was sent in this friendly format (how cheerful it sounds eh? lol)

    • The service I use does not have a mobile option-I have to ask them today-Great ideas!

  15. Plain text is definitely key because html does not show up most of the time

  16. Hi

    I feel that Mobile/ email marketing is effective option of connecting with potential customers. It is certainly here to stay. We have got many new small business clients who use it.It is important that the business decides before hand what they want to achieve.
    By keeping simple text this type of marketing will give great results.

    Laks

  17. I have been using GMail on my iPhone 4 for a few months and these points are quite correct. One which was overlooked, however, is the mistake of having large images as links within the email.

    I get emails from a number of companies, which are basically newsletter catalogues – latest deals, etc. As my main interaction with my device is by touch/gestures, when I try and scroll down the page all too often I end up tapping on one of the image links and it throws me to another tab.

    I understand the idea of using images as links and all, but when I keep stumbling over them in an effort to make my way to the bottom of the message it is, yet again, a reason to give up and hit the delete button.

    • Thanks Luke!

      You bring up a great #7! Yeah, large image links are definitely annoying especially with mobile email marketing and not just because of the links but the fact that not everyone is always on a fast 3G network. It’s getting a lot better these days but regardless, a lot of people still throw in very very large images and if you try to download them just to get through the content – the whole thing will be deleted rather quickly!

  18. Thanks for the tips, Shane! I hope it’s okay to do this here – if anyone has any experience working with epub files, I’d really really appreciate some pointers! I’ve had quite a time trying to convert an e-book I’m selling on lulu.com. I’ve been wrestling with Calibre open source software and have figured out how to fix most of the formatting issues, but there are a few stubborn ones that seem bent on defying me. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position right now to pay lulu to convert the book automatically to epub. If anyone can help, I’ll buy you a virtual beer (unless you’re in the Boston area, in which case I could buy you a real one).

    • Thanks Shane!! It was really a very nice post.

      @ Laurie Holman .. I have worked with a company from India they are doing epub conversion. If you need any help then you can contact them by visiting there website suntecindia.com

  19. Whenever we write in plain text devices will thank us, but they lose a little showy, but really important is to the vital.

  20. I’ve been toying with investing some time and money in upgrading our site for mobile and I think this article has just tipped me over the edge. You don’t imagine that a whole bumch of people are coming to your blogs on mobile devices but I was on the tram yesterday and looked around and every single person had a mobile out reading something. Granted that most of them were probably not reading blogs but I read blogs on my phone so am guessing more and more people do.

    On the other hand I don’t know why but I don’t like reading blog posts in email. Just a personal thing but I feel like I am only getting a small amount of the content and not the full experience. Silly I know but email doesn’t do it for me

  21. Shane,

    Great advice. Every bit of it. I like how you focused on the physical aspects of what people will receive form us, rather than just the philosophy behind our approach. Most bloggers will just throw out random explanations for why we should e-mail our audiences and how frequently. Glad to get some perspective on the “other side.”

  22. Interesting, most people somehow assumes that everybody uses computer to read their stuff. Great points.
    Greg

  23. Just wanted to mention to the keen HTML email designers out there that there are simple optimizations you can make to improve the usability of emails on mobile devices. Some of these include:

    – Using the @media query for mobile CSS
    – Minimizing the chance of email breakage with a one-column layout
    Overriding the minimum font size on the iPhone and iPad, as these devices can mangle your layouts with their defaults

    Shane is on the money about making sure you send a plain-text version of your message. My tip is to ensure that it’s less than 60 characters wide to keep it readable on any device!

  24. Thank you very much for all of those tips. I agree that it is better to be able to appeal to the audience regardless of what she uses to connect to the internet. In my case, concerning mobile marketing, something I have though about was to convert one of my website for mobile phones.