Winning the Internet

Are you ready for mobile email?

After a great run, the Winning the Internet blog has been retired. However, you can still keep in touch with New Media Mentors here.

We’re in the middle of migrating several of our services to Salsa, so I’ve spent some time recently digging into email templates. I took the template from our current program to move it over and started looking at it and my OCD web design habits kicked in. Oh my god, this template uses tables for layout and it’s got inline style definitions everywhere. What a mess!

So I spent a little time cleaning it all up and then learned the hard way that there’s good reason for that clutter. A lot of email clients, and specifically big ones like Gmail, don’t respect anything within “style” tags. All that stuff I just cleaned up and neatly put inside style tags, ignored. This article is old, but most of the tips here still apply if you’re struggling with your email templates. It makes me respect email services that handle all this for you that much more, but alas integration is the greater good.

But there’s something else I’m not considering here, and I’d bet most of you aren’t either. Mobile email. iPhones, iPads, and Android devices all display HTML emails like your email client but they do so on much smaller screens. And across the web sites are reporting that mobile devices make up a much larger component of their visitors.

The way you deal with this is a design concept called responsive web design. It’s simply developing a site (or an email) in a way that the layout changes based on the screen resolution. Probably the most high profile site to employ this right now is Obama’s campaign web site. Check it out for yourself by changing the size of your browser window or viewing it on an iPhone or iPad.

But I ran across a great article from M&R Research Labs containing a lot of practical tips and resources on how you can tune up your emails to be mobile friendly. Why should you care? Well there’s some good research backing this.

So is the rapid rise in mobile email changing how subscribers engage with our email campaigns?

In 2011, we worked with several national non-profits to answer that question. We wanted to know how many people were opening emails on a mobile phone — and compared to those who opened an email on their computer, how many were clicking, donating, or taking action?

Mobile phones accounted for between 12% and 17% of emails opened. But on the day an email was sent, that number could be as high as 24% (with more opens coming from desktop users in the days following).

From there, we saw that mobile users were less likely than desktop users to take the next steps of clicking and donating or taking action. Mobile users were reading – but they weren’t engaging as much as desktop users.

For example, while mobile users may have accounted for 17% of opens for a fundraising appeal, they would only account for 5% of those who actually made a donation online.

So check out the article and the linked resources, then crack open your email program and start optimizing. Here’s to increased action rates for 2012!

About Raven Brooks

Executive director of Netroots Foundation and Netroots Nation.

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