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I’ve been reading a lot about marketing trends for 2016, and in email marketing, the hot topic is the moves toward personalization and automation. While these are exciting, I keep thinking about how many emails I get that just aren’t appealing, especially since I’ve transitioned to reading about 90% of them on my iPhone and iPad.

But not all brands have caught up with the mobile audience. So how much good will personalization and automation really do if your audience can’t read your emails? Let’s fix those issues first.

Movable Ink Q3 2015 study shows far more emails are opened on mobile phones and tablets now.

2015 was a real tipping point for mobile email. A Q3 study by Movable Ink showed that over 50% of people now open emails on smartphones, and another 15% open them on tablets. Not only that, but the study showed that once an email’s opened, about half of people spend 3 seconds or less viewing it – and that’s true whether they’re on mobile or desktop.

This makes it even more imperative that brands write and design emails to capture readers’ attention quickly.

Here are the top 5 mistakes I see daily:


1. Poor CTAs

Calls to action should be:

  • Short – 1-2 words is ideal
  • BIG – use buttons
  • Bright – use contrasting colors
  • Clearly organized by priority

Mobile readers are on-the-go and reading in various levels of lighting – they’re out in the sun, or like me, they’ve got the screen dimmed because the phone runs out of juice pretty quickly!

They’re also thumbing through on a small screen, so clicking on a tiny link in the middle of body copy is not as easy as a nice big button. If you want them to take action, make it really obvious.

CTAs should be big, bold buttons with contrasting type and fewer words than this one.

In this example, the white type on gray buttons, combined with long CTAs, is nearly unreadable on my phone. Womp, womp.

These are easy to fix. “View on web site” could easily be replaced by the more concise “Shop now” (because really, you want them to buy, not just browse!). White type on the blue or teal brand colors would make the buttons pop, too.


2. Missing or Misused Preheaders

The “preheader” text, sometimes called preview text, appears right under the subject line on a mobile phone – valuable real estate in our cluttered inboxes!

It’s usually taken from the first line of content inside your email, and unfortunately, that’s still where a lot of brands have copy that says something like “View in browser” or “Having trouble reading this email?”

Preheader text, or preview text, is a vital piece of your email marketing.

In the example above, you can see how all of Torrid’s preheader space is wasted.

And I heart shopping with Zappos, but “Goodbye, January!” paired with “It’s been real. XOXO,” gives me zero incentive to open the email and see what’s inside. Tell me in the preheader space what fashion trend is the must-have for February.

It’s also a real miss to repeat your subject line, like the preheader. Use the preheader to give readers additional reasons to open the email – tell me the deadline is at midnight, or what kind of products are on sale.

Depending on your recipient’s mobile email client, you get anywhere from 40-90 characters, so use that space wisely.


3. Wordy Subject Lines

It’s not that your subject line has to be short. It’s just that the most important info needs to be at the beginning. Whether on mobile or desktop, you’ve got to quickly catch the eye of a reader who’s likely skimming over a hundred new emails. Do it in the first 30 characters, which are about all that’s seen on mobile in portrait mode.

What’s “important”? Benefits. Personalization. Offers. Deadlines.

Email subject lines need to be quick and easy to read on mobile phones.

Kohl’s regularly sends emails about percent-off sales. But a subject line of “Just a few hours left to take an extra …” wastes my view with its wordiness.

Cut it down to “Hours left:” and get 20 characters back to capture me with real value.

Yes, we writers want to be creative, conversational and fun. Just make sure every “creative” word counts.


4. Tiny Type

Designers often do their work on huge screens so they can see every detail. And many business emails go through an internal review before sending. But does anyone on your team review those emails on mobile?

10-point body copy looks lovely blown up on a big screen.

On a mobile device? Not so much.

Readers will abandon anything that doesn’t look readable. Having to zoom in requires extra steps that most people just won’t take.

Body copy should be 14 to 16 points for good mobile readability.

Small type, especially in big chunks, can keep anyone from reading your email.

Massage Envy has great content … but their text is not only too small, the gray color makes it even harder on the eyes.

To fix it while maintaining the gray type, the body copy would need to be bigger than average to help readability. They also need to break it up into smaller chunks and use bigger images so it doesn’t feel like intimidating copy to a reader. Stacking the images over the copy would also work better than the side-by-side setup.


5. Poorly Organized Copy

So often I hear people complain that copy is too long. But those people are usually seeing big blocks of gray text. 100 words does look long in one chunk on a mobile screen.

However, great design and a few organizational techniques can make the same 100 words look short and appealing.

The key is to make the content digestible. Use:

  • Subheads
  • Bullets
  • Short paragraphs – 1-2 sentences each, at most
  • Simple modules combining each paragraph with imagery, color and buttons

Short chunks of copy with clear buttons are so much more readable and enticing to mobile viewers.

This email from State Farm actually contained about 120 words. But broken up into 6 modules (like the one above) of about 20 words each, it felt easy-breezy as I scrolled through on my phone.

Each module was perfectly sized for the phone screen, so I didn’t even realize I’d scrolled through 6 modules … until I counted for the purpose of this blog post, that is!

I’m sure you’ve encountered these issues, too. What other mistakes do you see brands making in email?