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Why your email templates must be mobile-first

mobile first

As a society, we’re addicted to our smartphones. They’re the first things we look at in the morning. They’re in our hands, pockets and handbags all day long, and they’re on the nightstand next to us when we sleep. Heck let’s admit it, some of us even cuddle them under our pillows at night. Obviously not me of course!

Statistics in Adestra’s 2016 Consumer Adoption & Usage Study affirm this:

  • 39 percent of email recipients say they check their email from their mobile first thing in the morning, even before they’ve brushed their teeth. (You know you do it too!)
  • 84 percent check email at random all day long.
  • 50 percent check email when they’re bored.

Mobile affects email viewing

This mobile addiction has changed the way your customers and subscribers interact with your email message. Our study also uncovered these developments:

  • Consumers will delete email that doesn’t look right on their phones and less than 20 percent of your readers will try to read your messages if they don’t render properly. Yikes!
  • Email is looked at on multiple devices by consumers, but mobile is the primary platform. No longer does a single desktop computer rule the info-gathering process in a typical household.
  • Smartphone ownership is now mainstream among all age groups: 87 percent for teens under 18, 94 percent for Millennials (ages 18-34), and 65 percent for boomers and seniors. Tablet ownership is over 50 percent for both teens and Millennials, too.
  • Consumers – especially teens and Millennials – use their phones to clear out unwanted messages from the inbox, leaving only emails they’ll view later on their phones or another device. Boomers are the least likely (43 percent), while 87 percent of teens and 81 percent of Millennials say they “always” or “sometimes” do this.

Two decades ago, families shared one or two computers, and everyone had to wait a turn to read their messages (I’m showing my age here, I know!) Today, maybe Dad is on the desktop, Mom is second-screening on her tablet or clicking through on an Internet-connected TV, while the kids are zipping through messages on their phones.


This full-time, round-the-clock access to information has helped fuel the expectation that whenever we want to know something, we just have to pick up the phone and open our email, click on Facebook or just ask Siri.

Mobile optimization in template design

The statistic that shows how many consumers would rather delete than read a wonky-looking email on their phones should be a wake up call for marketers who haven’t updated their email templates in the last three to five years.

Why are they so quick to delete funky looking emails? Probably because we told them to do it. That is, we told consumers about spam, phishing and malware-bearing emails and said the best thing to do if an email doesn’t look right is to delete it.

Also, we now expect everything on our phones, from apps to mobile websites to look beautiful. If something looks bad, I’ll delete it because I don’t have time for it. It’s the culmination of our real-time culture combined with a lower patience level for things that are counter to my expectations.

Adding mobile increases the number of platforms for which you have to design emails that look good and function correctly. Switching to modular templates that you can adjust for different situations takes some drudgery out of the process.

Here’s the most important point: Optimizing first for mobile means you no longer have to design a standard version and then a mobile version for each message. That means less time in your production process and fewer emails deleted because they don’t look right.

No more pinch and zoom

Faced with all of this evidence, when I see emails that aren’t optimized for mobile, I can only assume marketers just don’t want to do it. Or, they don’t know how many of their customers are reading emails on their phones.

The mobile design community has been talking about the need for mobile-first messages for many years, but it still hasn’t completely penetrated all layers of email marketing. I still get way too many emails that I have to pinch and zoom to read.

If I have to zoom to read an email, you’re doing it wrong. The answer is moving to modular templates that look as good on the smartphone as they do on the tablet and desktop. What’s holding you back?

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