How to ensure your email looks great on mobile

McKenzie Gregory

5 mobile design tips for email marketing campaigns 

We all live on our phones, so it’s unsurprising that’s where most people choose to access their inboxes. In fact, 54% of email recipients now open on mobile first. At this point, it's passé to even consider designing email without mobile in mind, but there’s a reason we come back to it over and over again: Brands STILL send emails that don't render properly on a small screen!
As responsible email marketers, we need to do something about this deficit. If your brand has fallen behind but you're ready to finally hop on board the mobile design train, here are a few first steps to help get your strategy on the right track. 

1. Don’t go crazy with columns.

Despite years of popularity (publishers and higher-ed marketers, we're looking at you), it’s time to abandon the multicolumn newsletter template for good. I’m talking emails that look like this: 
The reason? Those multicolumn layouts look terrible on a small screen.
In most cases, we’d recommend using a single column for email: It allows you to control the format of your content, rather than leaving it up to chance when it gets translated to a mobile client. Here's an example of what the switch can look look: Visit Philadelphia, the brand pictured above, happens to be an Emma client. We helped them revamp that multicolumn template into a single-column design, and here's the difference it made. 
Their newsletter still contains a ton of content, but it leads with a single piece and a tappable CTA button, then allows you to easily scroll and parse through the rest. If you’re worried about using a single column because it will make your email too long, don’t be afraid to embrace the scroll like Visit Philadelphia. They still get a ton of clicks on the content at the bottom of their mailings, which proves that recipients don’t mind scrolling if it means accessing more interesting, valuable content.

2. Avoid TEENY tiny text.

Make sure you’re using at least a 14px font size in your mailings to keep them readable on a small screen. Though most mobile phones will automatically “size up” your live text, you want to be in control. Don’t be afraid to go bigger, especially for headlines and dividers. And remember: You can also use tools like Litmus or Emma’s Inbox Preview feature to ensure your email design looks great on any device.

Some standard sizes to remember:

Headlines: At least 22px
Subheads: At least 18-20px
Body copy: 13px minimum, 15-16px ideally (see above)


3. Use a button for your primary CTA.

Text links are incredibly difficult to interact with on a small screen, so if you want subscribers to click on your CTA, you’re much better off using a button. Not only do they break up text and other images, they draw focus because they're literally a different shape, size, color than the rest of the mailing. Here are some guidelines to get you started:
FIND THE BEST SHAPE AND SIZE. Rectangular buttons are by far the most popular, but don’t be afraid to test other shapes and sizes if they’ll fit your design.
  • Apple recommends a button size of at least 44x44px to keep it tappable on a smartphone.
  • Round the corners of rectangular buttons. Our brains seek to avoid pointy corners.
  • Bigger is better. It should stand out, but not be so obnoxious that it ruins your design.
  • Test out a circular button. It just looks like it’s begging to be pushed.

We love this circular CTA button from Grammarly

TEST! Every audience is different, so you’ll have to test out different colors, copy, shapes and placement to find the right button combination that sends your conversion rate soaring.

4. Let your content breathe. 

In most cases, the purpose of your mailing is to elicit some sort of action, right? Well, emails that don’t provide a clear focus to the reader won’t do a very good job of capturing attention (let alone inspire conversions) in a crowded inbox. Eyes glaze over, recipients get overwhelmed – that’s why the bounce rate on mailings like this is much higher than those that are easier to scan and digest.

A simple fix? Add more white space to the design. Not only does it look better, but studies have shown that good use of white space between paragraphs and in the left and right margins increases reading comprehension by as much as 20%.

Pro Tips:

• The ideal line length sits somewhere between 50-75 characters
• ​Make sure you have at least 20 - 40px of space surrounding text content.


5. Create a cohesive mobile experience. 

Think of your email, call to action, and the path your recipient takes after they click-through as one, cohesive brand experience. If your email is mobile-optimized (we sure hope it is!), whatever landing page your call-to-action directs people toward should be, too. If your emails look a certain way, maintain that branding wherever you route them.
Perhaps most importantly, make sure wherever you send them actually fulfills whatever expectation you set in your CTA button. If it says, “Watch the video,” for instance, don’t send them to your Instagram profile. While you may think of your website design and your email design as completely separate things, your audience doesn't. They expect a consistent brand experience across the board, so give it to them, and make it a good one! 


Of course, these steps are just the very beginning of creating an excellent mobile inbox experience. If you'd like a more comprehensive consultation on your email design, from template creation to custom graphics, get in touch with our Design Services team

About the Author

McKenzie Gregory

McKenzie Gregory is a senior content manager on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.

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