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Does your email marketing work on a smart phone or device? If not it’s time to make changes because there is a revolution happening in the way we view our emails, and in particular the email newsletters we may have signed up for.

51% of email newsletters are now opened on a mobile smartphone or device


In Hong Kong smart phone penetration is at 61% of the population, according to data compiled by Tomi Ahonen Consulting Analysis in Wired magazine (Singapore 90%, UK 40%, USA 35%), and in January 2014, Litmus research indicated that 51% of email newsletters are now opened on a mobile device. This is up from 24% in 2012. But you don’t need the research to tell you what you probably already know if you have a smartphone yourself.

One reason for the change is of course the increase in ownership, but the second is the way we can now do our leisure browsing on the move (commuting, waiting in queues) or at downtime (first thing in the morning, last thing at night). In addition, so many of our desktop/web email softwares filter out email newsletters, in particular Gmail with its tabs for “important” vs “promotions”.  Most mobile devices don’t yet filter our emails and this is probably ok since we do tend to be browsing in leisure time. This change in behaviour also affects the best time to send out an email newsletter, but that is another post.

However, a quick browse through the emails newsletters I do receive and I see that many businesses have yet to adopt mobile-friendly design for their email newsletters.

Making your email newsletters mobile friendly

Ideally, your newsletter should work in both a mobile and desktop environment.


The main issues with non-mobile-friendly email newsletters are:

  • A too-small point size
  • Multi columns squishing up to make the text size illegible
  • Call-to-action links that are not finger-tip friendly
  • Photos not displaying (this also happens on desktop, but more so on mobile)
  • Too much text requiring too much scrolling before seeing the next news article
  • Too wide template requiring scrolling to left and right

Email newsletter - mobile and desktop viewSolutions


In this new mobile world it is important to look at your newsletter more as a content page rather than an actual newsletter. Just as a content page of a magazine, we often get an image plus a short snippet of text that wets our appetite to read more, and then the page number so that we can find out way to the main article. Your email newsletter is just the same except a link replaces the page number. But remember that it is no use clicking from a mobile friendly newsletter through to an old-style (non-responsive) website. If this is the case, it is perhaps better to keep the “content page” at the top of the email newsletter and use anchor links to jump the reader to the full content at the bottom of the newsletter.

…it is important to look at your newsletter more as a content page rather than the full newsletter itself.

Design architecture

I have been using the term mobile friendly as a cover all but there are two aspects to mobile friendly;  scalable design vs responsive design.

  1. Scalable – With scalable design, the layout of the newsletter simply scales between desktop and mobile without layout change. Because there is no layout change, the designer is careful with the layout, making sure that it will work in both environments. Typical tricks include a big point size, single column and finger-friendly big links for a call to action.Example of scalable designThe Martha Stewart email newsletter is an example of scalable design – but done badly. It is possible the designer is not aware that so many readers are viewing the newsletter on mobile devices.  Note that the layout does not change but instead scales between the two views. The point size is too small to scale well into the mobile view and the click link is difficult for big fingers. It would be better if the title of the news item was clickable instead.
  2. Responsive – The change between mobile and desktop views of the newsletter is a result of coding, and the result is more intelligent.  The coding will deliver different results depending on where the email newsletter is being viewed, enlarging typefaces and rearranging the layout and in some cases, hiding  design elements. The downside is that the CSS code that makes this all possible cannot be read on all devices but with the growth in mobile viewing, this will probably change.

Most people do not have the technical skill to code their own responsive architecture but generally, that really isn’t necessary. Major email marketing providers including Mailchimp, AWeber and Campaign Monitor support responsive templates, and Constant Contact (our preferred support for many other reasons) is testing a Beta version which you can access at this link. We are happy with it.

Functional design

  • Calls to action – as much as possible, make sure that it is easy for your viewers to click for more information/links to your website with their big fingers.
  • Photographs will not always display so make sure that you use the ‘alt text’ or ‘description’ option to describe the photo so that viewers will not miss anything if photos are not displayed. A good idea is to put some text that will tease the viewer to actually go and select the ‘display images’ option in their newsletter.


  • Simple content is best – treat your newsletter more like a content page driving readers through to the main article which should be hosted on your mobile friendly, responsive website.
  • Simple design is best,  whether you are using a responsive or scalable architecture.
  • Use an email marketing provider like Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, AWeber or Constant Contact* that supports responsive templates.

*Beta Version


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