Why email marketers must mobile-optimize their messages
This is a 2 part series. The following is Part 2 of 2. (Part 1 can be found below this article.)
“Now is the time to test integration and explore user-behavior patterns,” Ms. Miller said. “It’s unlikely that all inbox activity will shift to the third screen, but there are some activities that might benefit both subscribers and marketers such as restaurant reviews, shopping lists, recipes, local sales and news for commuters.
“Marketers can encourage, optimize and nurture these opportunities now,” she said.
So what is the current state of mobile email marketing? For one, it is not just a business-to-business challenge any longer.
Consumers have smartphones in increased numbers, especially in Asia and Europe, and adoption is now growing also in North America.
So business-to-consumer email marketers have to assume that some of their subscribers are reading email sent to their personal accounts—a Web-based service like Yahoo Mail, Hotmail or Gmail—on a mobile device.
“Unfortunately, there is no ‘sniffer’ that tells the marketer that a subscriber is reading an email on a mobile device,” Ms. Miller said. “So marketers have to assume that their HTML version is being displayed, and this has a number of consequences.”
Open rates will most likely go up as mobile usage goes up.
“Since opens are tracked by image downloads, and there is no image suppression, some marketers may see a small pop in opens,” Ms. Miller said.
“Since images download, and the mobile browser renders to the ratios built for a PC-based client, the use of large masthead banners or logos at the top may contort the content or push the actual headline and call to action way below the fold,” she said.
As all good marketers know, user experience matters. Scrolling on a smartphone is not the same as scrolling on a PC-based email client.
Making sure emails render well across a wide range of mobile devices is still a challenge.
“While the Apple iPhone and BlackBerry clients render HTML quite well, there are many mobile devices that are very poor at handling HTML email,” Ms. Miller said. “Marketers can use a pre-header link to a mobile version in order to provide a better mobile experience—for example ‘Reading on a mobile device? Click here.’
“Optimizing for one or the other—PCs versus mobile devices—may result in a design that is sub-optimal for the other, or both,” she said.
User behavior is still unclear, and most retailers find that mobile commerce is still nascent, according to Return Path.
While an Exact Target study released in July suggests that many subscribers—88 percent—say they actually do go back to their PC to respond to email messages later, marketers may not be able to count on this behavior for the heavy mobile users on their file.
“We also don’t know how consumers’ larger Web habits will change if they move some activities from the PC to a mobile device,” Ms. Miller said. “Will email become more or less important?”
“Will the inbox become a repository for saved offers?” she said. “Will complaints (clicks on the Report Spam button) go down since there is no Report Spam button on mobile clients (yet)?”
Marketers beware: The laws on emailing to a mobile device, which is different than viewing the inbox of an actual email account on a smartphone, are more stringent than the FTC’s Can Spam rules.
“You must have permission to send commercial messages,” Ms. Miller said. “A safe way to avoid this is to just auto-remove any mobile email addresses such as email@example.com from your file (I am not a lawyer, please check with counsel).”
Return Path provided the following list of best practices for email marketers:
1. Try to quantify the impact to your business. Survey your subscribers. Provide a “Mobile Format” option at sign up, along with Text or HTML. Track clicks on the link to your mobile version in your header.
2. Know how you render in the top mobile devices. Use a rendering service to track various environments like Return Path’s Campaign Preview or Email Reach for small business, or get access it from your email broadcast vendor.
3. Since there is no standard for mobile rendering, be sure the first few lines clearly display the sender/brand, offer and a link for call to action. Consider adding a phone number here, as well.
4. Be recognized. Use a consistent From: name and emphasize the brand.