All you need to know about formatting email for mobile devices

As an email marketer, you know formatting email for mobile devices is a must. After all, you likely check your email on your smartphone.

Humans have been emailing each other since the 1970s, and that’s not going to change any time soon. As of 2019, there are more than 251 million people in the U.S. that use email each month. That’s a drop in the bucket when you consider that more than 2.2 billion people not only use email but check their inboxes through their mobile devices.

We’re all glued to our smartphones at this point, so ignoring mobile email design is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Let’s talk about why we should invest time and effort into learning how to make emails mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive. We’ll go over relatively hassle-free and effective practices that can immensely improve the way your emails perform on mobile.


Why is formatting email for mobile devices important?

It’s not just important, but essential. If digital marketers disregard mobile email design, email marketing won’t be as effective⁠—and marketers may find they’re less in demand. Yikes. Let’s not wait around for that to happen.

While it’s true that desktops and laptops are still around, they’re not as portable as smartphones. In fact, about 54% of all emails are first opened on a mobile device. That rate is so high it could soon be the norm to design email marketing templates for mobile and tweak them for larger screens, rather than the other way around.

Bottom line: If you care about executing successful email campaigns, you should look into how to make emails mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive.


Are “mobile-friendliness” and “mobile-responsiveness” different?

Mobile-friendly email design looks and works the same way all the time, no matter what kind of machine or device views the content. Obvious markers of mobile-friendly design include a simple navigation menu, static content, and images appearing smaller on mobile due to a compact screen.

Mobile-responsive email design goes the other way. Images and text will display in different sizes and dimensions. Some layout changes between desktop and mobile can be significant, such as going from three columns to one. In general, this feature is dynamic.   

If you have some coding experience, you may want to create a few responsive emails from scratch. Look into using personalization practices and fallback information with dynamic content if you’re interested in being hands-on. However, many email marketing services and platforms already offer mobile-responsive email templates.

What are some easy ways to make emails mobile-responsive or mobile-friendly?

Mobile email design began with mobile-friendly best practices. Most of these tried-and-tested tips became the foundation of our mobile-responsiveness standards today. 

It’s important to note that the internet, and everything in it, can change on a dime. Forty years ago, we couldn’t have predicted the longevity of email marketing. Twenty years ago, we couldn’t have prepared for the global takeover of the smartphone. Technology trajectories are rarely predicted with any kind of accuracy. For all we know, something more advanced than a mobile-responsive email design is right around the corner. 

With that in mind, we’ll keep these mobile email design best practices relatively simple (but helpful).


1. Lower the character count of the email subject lines.

A desktop inbox can display more characters than an inbox viewed using an Android or iOS smartphone. Email marketers often craft phenomenal email subject lines painstakingly only to find they need to prune it so it performs better with one or two of their segmented lists. 

If more of your subscribers interact with you through their smartphones, it may be worth limiting your subject lines to under 30 characters.


2. Choose bold, clean and simple fonts.

Font choice plays a huge part in formatting emails for mobile devices. Don’t pick anything that looks complicated, delicate, or intricate—at least for the main body of the email. If a font looks thin and hard to read on a desktop, it will likely be impossible to decipher on your phone. 
Font size is also an issue. Don’t go too small, and don’t be afraid to experiment and see how big your chosen fonts can be. Fortunately, you don’t have to guess how your email will look. Just use Emma Email’s inbox preview feature to get a sneak peek at your format and layout proportions.

use Emma Email’s inbox preview feature to get a sneak peek at your format and layout proportions.

Source: Campaign Monitor

3. Consider using pre-header text.

If you come from a traditional practice, or have been doing email marketing for a long time, you may not be familiar with pre-header text. Or, you know about it and overlook it due to its limited uses (if you’re working with a mostly desktop-based audience).

When formatting email for mobile devices, pre-header text can be a lifesaver. Here’s why: As the first line of copy in your email, it supports your subject line. It may make up for the smaller subject line character count for mobile devices, as it allows up to 100-character lines to appear right underneath your unopened email’s subject.


4. Avoid lengthy or fluff-filled email copy.

Have you ever tried reading one long email after another on your smartphone? That’s eyestrain waiting to happen. If there’s one thing you don’t want, it’s to make your subscribers tired of reading your content.

Craft concise and easily-scanned blocks of content by using short paragraphs, lists, and bullet points. Make it easy for your readers to look at your email and engage with your brand.


Craft concise and easily scanned blocks of content by using short paragraphs, lists and bullet points. Make it easy for your readers to look at your email and engage with your brand.

Source: Really Good Emails

5. Don’t use too many text hyperlinks.

It can be tempting to load your email campaigns with hyperlinks for your audience to click through, but there’s a danger of causing frustration among the smartphone-using subscribers on your email list. That’s not how formatting email for mobile devices works. Too many hyperlinks can also trigger option paralysis, causing the opposite of what you want to happen as an email marketer. 

If you put more than one or two hyperlinks, consider using large text or even image buttons. And try not to place two hyperlinks right next to each other.


6. Add images, but don’t count on them to load for everyone.

Here’s where mobile-responsive email templates shine. Beautiful and high-resolution images can add so much to your layout. However, they can also ruin the formatting or make the email look awkward if they don’t load correctly. Think about image file size, too. You don’t want to send out email campaigns that cause spikes in subscribers’ mobile data usage.

Plan for an audience experience without images, too. Some customers may not want images to load, so it’s best to stick to decorative images. You may also pair message-laden images with a descriptive email copy to compensate, just in case. 


You may also pair message-laden images with a descriptive email copy to compensate just in case.

Source: Campaign Monitor

7. Use email layouts with single columns.

We covered this when we learned about the difference between mobile-friendly and mobile-responsive email designs. If you’re in love with multi-column layouts, save them for desktop clients. 

Segment your list if you need to, but it’s easier to stick to one column. It’s worth mentioning here that on average, about 60 percent of email marketing campaigns reach subscribers on their mobile devices first. However, the right responsive email template can, in theory, convert multi-column emails into optimized single-column versions for smartphones. 

8. Emphasize call-to-action links and buttons.

When do you look at your phone, and what else are you doing when you’re checking your email or social media? Chances are, you’re multitasking. That’s likely what your mobile-using subscribers are doing as well.

Enhanced and emphasized call-to-action (CTA) elements help you get to the point as fast as you can. They let your subscribers know what your email is upfront.

You may put your CTA at the end of your email body—but when formatting for mobile devices, it’s often better to place a conspicuous CTA button at the top of your message. If you want to stick to putting it after your text, make your CTA button the focus of your email design by using a contrasting color or an unusual shape.


If you want to stick to putting it after your text, make your CTA button undeniably the focus of your email design by using a contrasting color or an unusual shape.

Source: Really Good Emails

9. Know what your email will look like on different smart devices.

This is perhaps the most crucial practice to remember when formatting emails for mobile devices. You can erase all your hard work in moments if you skip this. If an email has display issues, subscribers may have a harder time trusting it and delete, or junk, your message.

Before you send your emails, use a small test batch to see how your work displays across the various devices your audiences use.


10. Give text and images room to breathe. 

Here’s one of the easiest tricks in the book: Let your content breathe. We covered related tips above—concise writing, bold fonts, single-column layouts, etc.—but the power of simplicity bears repeating.

If, after countless edits and fixes, you still feel your mobile email design is clunky or cluttered, you can add more space. It’s that easy. You may increase margins and also add distance between your paragraphs.


You may increase margins and also add distance between your paragraphs.

Source: Campaign Monitor

Wrap up

Formatting email for mobile devices isn’t something for the future. It’s happening right now. 

Mobile email designs have evolved from mobile-friendliness to mobile-responsiveness, although either will do.

You’ll be well on your way to email success by following the key points:

  • Simplify your format by using fewer characters and bold, clean font 

  • Use layouts with single columns and consider using a pre-header text

  • Keep email copy to the point and avoid fluff

  • Limit the use of hyperlinks and add images 

  • Put focus on your call-to-action buttons and links

Even if you don’t have any coding experience, as a skilled email marketer using email marketing software, you can easily adapt and learn how to make emails mobile-friendly. Many mobile-responsive email best practices require only slight adjustments to traditional email marketing knowledge. 

Are you looking for a worry-free way to plan, craft and execute a mobile-responsive email campaign? Check out Emma Email’s collection of responsive email templates to get started. 

About the Author

Emma Email

Emma is an email marketing platform that gives you all the tools you need to send campaigns that really connect with your subscribers. With our​​ powerful automation and personalization features, you can create and send email campaigns that reach the right customer at just the right time. It's email marketing that works for you.

Visit Website More Content by Emma Email
Previous Article
3 Things your small business can do to flex powerful marketing muscles [with examples]
3 Things your small business can do to flex powerful marketing muscles [with examples]

Next Article
10 Event invitation email examples that win the inbox
10 Event invitation email examples that win the inbox

As a marketing tool, event invitation email examples are essential because this type of content is unmatche...

Want to engage your audience and grow your brand? Try Emma’s robust, easy-to-use product today.

Get a Demo