Over half the U.S. and European populations own smartphones, and 87% of this group regularly check and send email with their device. It is likely that a substantial amount of email is seen on a mobile device first, and mobile user experience has a growing impact on response rate.

Last month, Bazaarvoice studied the effect of mobile-friendly design on email conversion. Real Buckle customers were observed first-hand as they progressed from the initial post-interaction email through to review completion, first on their own smartphone and then on a laptop. The same mobile-friendly email template and submission form was used for both devices. It became apparent that three factors play a major role in inspiring or discouraging reviewer contribution: timing, relevance, and ease.

Timing

In separate interviews we learned our participants, like most smartphone owners, use their phones to check email, notifications, and information all throughout the day. Inbox clearing is a morning regimen that two interviewees reported doing before even getting up from bed.

It may be that many calls-to-action are first seen on a phone, but response is thwarted when immediate reaction is impractical. One such case is when the call-to-action is difficult to perform on a phone. Composing long messages, filling out transaction forms, and completing surveys are examples. One participant said she bookmarks activities by keeping them in her inbox, but by the time she gets to a computer, they are pushed down by new email and she forgets about them.

Secondly, recipients are intolerant to email that takes too long to read. In a large-scale survey conducted by BlueHornet, 69.7% smartphone owners said they simply delete ill-formatted email. Only 7.6% expressed willingness to download images, pan, and zoom in order to read a message.

Enable your customers to react immediately to email by ensuring links go to mobile-friendly destinations. Check that users’ click-throughs will not be sabotaged by automatic redirect to the homepage of your mobile website. If your website is designed responsively, you’re already ahead. Avoid email template designs that assume users will download images, pan, and zoom. Simple, text-based, one-column email template designs are catching on. These things done, let recipients know in the email itself that action can be taken on any device.

Relevance

We were surprised to learn from our test group of 20-something-year-old Buckle shoppers that marketing email is welcome. Curation is key. Interviewees described themselves quickly eying over subject lines, deleting all the ones that look uninteresting (email clients facilitate this in different ways), and serving themselves a short list of things to read. The decision to or not to read an email is made in milliseconds, making a relevant subject line essential.

The plain and simple subject line, “Please review [insert product name]” works just as well as any. This follows Mailchimp’s recommendation to keep subject lines to the point. The experiences of our participants offer some additional explanation: email is only as compelling as it is relevant. A new denim fit may only be interesting to someone in the mood to shop denim, and an invitation to write a review is only likely to be accepted by someone with something to say.

Assuming recipients will not take time to interpret vague or “creative” subject lines, stick to something straightforward. If subject line re-wording has hit a ceiling, targeting and personalization are your best bet. Finally, accommodate consumers’ inclination to curate by giving them maximum control over their email subscriptions.

Ease

Participants’ expressions lit up when they clicked through to the mobile-friendly submission form. Each one expressed approval right away. A few tactics inspired by mobile design patterns were effective on desktop as well:

  • Disclose the form length. Users immediately noticed the four-step progress bar at the top of the form and estimated a quick submission process. A field count or short time-to-completion estimate may have a similar effect for a single-page form too long to be viewed without scrolling.
  • Create single-page forms. After completion, a couple interviewees said they could have finished the form faster were all the fields on a single page.
  • Keep form fields and hit targets sufficiently large for touch navigation. iOS recommends 44 pixel areas.
  • Use minimal textbox sizes. The physical space textboxes occupy is used by contributors to gauge the amount of effort form completion will require. In our prototype, textboxes were just large enough to hold 40 words, a few words short of an average-length review. Upon seeing these, participants made comments like, “Oh good. I won’t have to write too much.” The amount they wrote with their smartphone was near equal to the amount they later wrote using the laptop.
  • Imply ease of use. Participants seemed to hold the simultaneous expectation and belief that the form would be easier to fill out because it was designed for a phone instead of a computer (in fact, it was designed for both). This is, perhaps, a merit of mobile-first design.

Today user expectations of the mobile web are low, but in the near future mobile-friendly design will go from pleasant surprise to standard. For now, at least, sites that do offer a good mobile experience are notable and commendable. It is a very good time to be an early-adopter. You can request to learn more about consumer feedback integration in mobile app development.

  • http://mobile.bazaarvoice.com/ A. Litsa

    Thanks, Andrew! Yeah, I agree: it seems many specialists haven’t quite grasped how new techniques like responsive design relate to their field. I’m writing the blog-version of my MozCon talk right now. I think my talk did a decent job of demonstrating how new design techniques relate to marketing, but I could go deeper. Hmm…

  • Andrew Mitschke

    Hey A! Pretty sure I commented on this post some time ago but it appears to have vanished. Oh well. Just wanted to drop by and congratulate you on the Moz Community Speaker gig. I hope you will be presenting some of the Mobile Handbook material since a lot of marketers and SEO’s seem to regularly overlook responsive design (especially in email outreach). I’m looking forward to it! See you in Seattle.

  • http://mobile.bazaarvoice.com/ A. Litsa

    FOLLOW-UP – After this article was published, my team went on to perform live data tests. These tests lead to a 143% conversion lift! You can read about it in the Bazaarvoice Handbook for Mobile Design: http://mobile.bazaarvoice.com/uxdd/handbook.php?article=email-intro

  • http://mobile.bazaarvoice.com/ A. Litsa

    UPDATE – after performing these user interviews, we did a live data test. The results kind of blew our minds. Read all about it in our newly-published design handbook: http://mobile.bazaarvoice.com/uxdd/handbook.php?article=email-intro

  • http://twitter.com/a_litsa A. Litsa ?

    Mailchimp recently conducted user interviews with very similar results. http://mailchimp.com/resources/guides/html/email-on-mobile-devices/

  • http://twitter.com/AndyMitty Andrew Mitschke

    “Check that users’ click-throughs will not be sabotaged by automatic redirect to the homepage of your mobile website.” – This happens way more often than it should. I almost always change my decision to write a review for a product if I have a hard time reaching the actual review page.