I’ve heard from several small business owners who are experimenting with mobile apps, text messaging, online video, and other forms of digital marketing. Even with all these new tactics, there’s another one we can’t forget: email.

Old-fashioned as it sounds, email is still one of the most effective forms of outreach for small businesses. In a 2012 survey by ExactTarget®, 77 percent of consumers cited email as their preferred way to receive permission-based messages. However, smartphone usage is changing how we should approach email marketing in a big way. It’s estimated that 15 to 20% of emails are now being opened on mobile devices, so if you aren’t designing your emails with this in mind, you’re probably losing business.

Here are three ways to help get more mileage from your emails:

1. Think fingers

I recently received an email from a local health-food store that invited me to tap on a photo of its storefront. The store’s website then opened in my smartphone browser. This makes more sense than using a tiny “Click here” link. Why? People don’t click on messages received on smartphones — they touch. Use buttons instead of hyperlinks and make them easy to spot and press. You can also add color to help make the buttons stand out.

Scrolling is cumbersome on a smartphone, so keep your emails short, crisp, and to the point. Your headlines must deliver a knockout punch, and your call to action (CTA) should appear on the first screen. Consider placing the CTA both up top and at the end if your message requires scrolling.

Include social sharing buttons at the bottom of your emails so recipients can spread your message via networks like Facebook and Twitter. If your CTA links to a landing page, that page also needs to be optimized for mobile devices. Remove any JavaScript or Flash to help the page render properly.

2. Reach customers on the go

Messages created for people sitting at their desktops aren’t always suitable for someone walking down a street. If you have five seconds to grab a desktop user’s attention, you have less than two seconds to do the same on a smartphone. How can you make your email more appealing to someone on the go? Some recipients may not want to visit an e-commerce site but would stop by your business if the incentive is right. Consider a discount or other perk if the recipient visits within two hours of receiving the message.

If you offer a professional service, ask recipients to press a big tap-to-call number. Since your targets are already holding a phone, a CTA that encourages calls makes perfect sense. Last week my yoga studio sent an email reminding me that I needed to choose a new class schedule. I tapped on the call button and had it all done in seconds.

3. Simplify the design

I really can’t add up how many emails I’ve deleted simply because they’re unreadable on my smartphone. Unless I know they’re important, it’s not worth the effort! Here’s how to make sure your emails don’t suffer a similar fate:

  • Narrow the width so the entire email can appear on small screens. Most smartphones can handle a width of 480 pixels or less. Some devices automatically re-size emails to fit, but don’t count on this working perfectly.
  • Limit the number of graphics, as images may fail to appear on smartphones. Work around this by including a pre-header — text at the top of the email — that asks viewers to enable the images.
  • Develop a text version for recipients whose devices can’t display HTML. They can tell you which version they want to receive when they opt in to your email program. Always test the versions on various mobile devices.

 

How are you using it to increase sales and grow your business? I’d love to hear your ideas. Please share your experiences and tips below.