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You probably hear a lot about ‘mobile design’: designing your email messages so your subscribers can read and act on them easily on their smartphones and tablets.

This is important, given that more than 50% of business and consumer email gets read on mobile devices, and mobile click and conversion rates are closing in on desktop actions.

However, instead of limiting your design choices to mobile-friendly ones, you should first focus on two other factors: what you want to say and whom you want to say it to.

These are so much more important than any individual design choices, and each should guide every decision you make.

Emails are another form of user experience (UX). When you design for UX, you are giving your users a challenge – one that they can either accept or reject. The job of design is to make it as easy as possible to accept your challenge.

Three phases of reader engagement

When you present your content, you must consider all aspects of it from both your brand’s and your audience’s point of view. Your design must help your content answer these three questions:

  1. What is the main thing you want users to take from your content?
  2. Why should they care about that?
  3. How can they achieve that?

You’ll revisit these questions in the three phases of successful engagement:

  1. Give readers an easy headline – something they can consume quickly and that will interest them enough to move them on to phase 2.
  2. Persuade them that they were right to keep reading your content because they care about it and it’s what they want to read.
  3. Compel them to act based on your content.

Your audience will determine how you apply these rules. Look at who they are, what engages them, what convinces them to convert and how they engage with your emails.

That brings us back to mobile design.

If your audience reads your emails mainly on desktop, then mobile design doesn’t add value to their experience or move them to act. In the same way, having a mobile-unfriendly website can create a bad user experience and hurt conversions.

Optimizing doesn’t mean starting from scratch…

If we think back to removing blocks to make our challenge as easy as possible, providing a fluid, straightforward and engaging mobile email seems like a no-brainer. We like to use our mobile devices as effortlessly as possible, usually while we are doing something else at the same time.

That leads to content design that doesn’t force people to zoom and scroll to see it or induce frustration by using hard-to-find or hard-to-click text links.

The best and most effective emails are often the simplest. Single-column layouts, logical information hierarchy, big call-to-action buttons and engaging content and imagery will work everywhere no matter how large or small the screen.

Remember: your users are on a journey. Your email needs only to nudge them on to the next step of their journey. You don’t need to fill your email with every bit of information you have – guide them towards the next step and let your website do the rest.