Ditch responsive design and create mobile-first emails

By Clint Demeritt

Though email is one of the oldest forms of communication on the Internet, it is still one of the fastest changing subjects in the marketing world.

Just in the past few years, we’ve seen a huge transition in email messaging from the desktop environment to mobile devices. These days, about half of all emails are opened on a mobile device depending on your target audience.  

Many marketers are trying to have the best of both worlds by creating responsive emails that rearrange themselves depending on the platform. But more and more companies are ditching the desktop mindset and design emails specifically for mobile platforms.   

There are many advantages to the mobile-first philosophy: Emails designed specifically for mobile devices still look good on desktop email (though it may look a little skinny), and the principles that govern good mobile emailing emphasize quick, attention-grabbing emails that carry the message across many mediums.

So, when moving over to a successful mobile-first email strategy, marketers have to change a few habits they have formed around emails.

No more long, newsletter-like emails with lots of content and a multitude of topics– it’s time to leave out the kitchen sink and create sleek, direct emails. Messages should have a singular thrust or an overall theme.

Most of the time, marketers are lucky to get 20 seconds of (mostly) undivided attention in the inbox with their audience before they move on to something else. A series of shorter messages over a few weeks can be more effective than one long email sent out each month. Not only are those emails tailored to shorter attention spans, but they also have more opportunities to be seen in people’s busy inboxes.

The message itself isn’t the only thing simplified – layouts are cleaner as well. Emails should only be a one-column affair. Two- or three-columned emails should be avoided, and sidebars and panels have no place in mobile. 

Pictures should also be big and eye-catching to get people’s attentions on that tiny screen. Avoid filling your email with tons of tiny images; they will just become too small to make out and lead to nonsensical, cluttered messages. Also, pay attention to the file size and pixel count for your images. Make sure images have enough resolution to look good on a mobile screen but not use so much data that they eat up lots of bandwidth from people’s data plans.


If you want people to follow links onto their mobile browser, make sure those emails are also finger-friendly. You are no longer dealing with that precise desktop mouse. Make links into large, easy-to-press buttons to ensure a smooth journey for your readers. And if you are going to use a hyperlink, try not to squeeze a bunch of them together to avoid causing frustration if readers accidentally follow the wrong link. 


This article is brought to you by the DMA. Click here to register for Email Evolution Conference, March 30 – Apr. 1, 2016, in New Orleans.