What’s Hot in Email Marketing: Responsive Email Design

As an account manager at Return Path, I get to talk to clients about what’s hot in the email world. I have lots of conversations with clients about the newest trends, and what’s not so popular anymore. So what’s the next new thing in email marketing? Responsive email design!

Have you ever noticed that your carefully crafted email doesn’t always look great on the small screens used for tablets and mobile devices? Historically, email marketers have designed for the typical 1024 x 768 screen and, because of the typical email preview pane size, have been advised to keep email width around 650 pixels. However, with the growth of smart phones and tablets, this one-size-fits-all approach isn’t necessarily best practice anymore.

Here’s where responsive email design comes in. Using CSS3 coding technique called “media queries,” you can design your email to automatically re-format and re-size itself to optimize for whatever screen size your recipient is using to read your email. It can also be used to hide non-essential elements of the email from the mobile reader, thus making sure the main call-to-action of the email is easily found, and can change various other elements of the email, including text size and color, background images and background color.

So how can you think about this in terms of your own emails? The most basic use of responsive email design is your email layout. Let’s say your typical email format is a 3-column layout. Using responsive email design, you can now design two other versions: a two-column layout for tablets and a one-column layout for mobile devices. This will ensure that your reader is always seeing the most important parts of your email, no matter what size screen they are using.

Of course, as with any new email trend, it’s important to understand the impact and test the effectiveness of responsive email design. First, use a tool like Return Path’s Campaign Insight to ensure you have a large enough mobile audience to justify the additional design work. If you do decide to move forward with responsive email design, use a rendering tool like our Campaign Preview to ensure your responsive email formats correctly in desktop, webmail and mobile views. One thing to note is that responsive email design works only in the native mail apps in the iPhone and Android. Recipients reading emails on their mobile devices using either the mobile browser or proprietary email apps (for example, the Gmail app) will see the desktop version of the email. And finally, don’t forget to track open and click-through rates so you can quantify the impact this new technique has on your email metrics.

Have you already tried responsive email design? We’d love to hear more about it! Please leave a comment below with your feedback, learnings and successes.

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