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Tweak your e-newsletters so they look good on mobile devices

Reviewing The VOICE Online for formatting issues on my smart phone.

I use Constant Contact to publish diocesan e-newsletters, and lately when I log in it shows me warning messages regarding my e-newsletters’ potential readability on mobile devices. “65% of emails are read on mobile devices.” “75% of recipients will delete an email if it’s hard to read on a mobile device.” This is always followed by a link to a (paid) service to provide a custom template specialized for mobile devices. Is this really necessary?

While I do agree that effective online content should be readable on mobile devices, I don’t agree that it’s necessary to pay extra to achieve this. If you follow these simple steps – which would apply in all e-newsletter utilities, not just Constant Contact – you can convert your e-newsletter to be mobile-friendly for free.

Go to one column

Before you even look at anything else, you should forego using sidebars in your emails and go to a single-column format, if you aren't already. The reason is simple – there just isn’t enough real estate on a smartphone screen to allow two (or more) columns to display well.

Place images at right or centered

Small, “thumbnail” images that align left can cause unattractive formatting depending on how the text flows around the image. Thumbnail images that align right are more simply forgiving in this way. This is because we read left-to-right, and so disruptions on the left side of the text are more jarring.

You can also center images, but this general only looks good for large images that use the full width of the e-newsletter. Since it’s not a good idea to bog down your e-newsletter with too many large images, I recommend limiting this to a small number of key articles to which you particularly want to draw attention.

Avoid forced line breaks in the middle of text

It can be tempting to insert a forced a line break in the middle of text, particularly a headline, to make your text line up in an appealing way. The problem is that in design mode you’re working in the largest format, and the text may line up in a different way in a smaller mobile device format. Therefore I advise not inserting any forced line breaks in the middle of text at all, and allowing the text to flow naturally. If the last word of a headline is hanging off awkwardly by its lonesome on a second line and it’s driving your inner perfectionist crazy, rewrite the headline to make it shorter.

Test before sending

Before you send your finished e-newsletter to your subscribers, send a draft to yourself and look at it on at least one mobile device, preferably a smart phone (because they have the smallest screens). Pretend you’re seeing it for the first time and scan the whole thing top to bottom. If anything jumps out at you as glaringly awkward (and if you’ve followed the suggestions above, there shouldn’t be too many problems, if any) go back and fix it before you publish.

If necessary, consider switching to a free mobile-friendly template

Constant Contact does offer some free mobile-friendly templates (these are mentioned in smaller text after the eye-catching paid option). If your current e-newsletter template  is so "busy" or so rigidly formatted that it doesn't convert well, you may want or need to go that route. This does mean starting from scratch with a new template, which is potentially time-consuming, so it's worth giving the steps outlined above a try. If your current template is reasonably clean and sound, you may be able to give it that final push into mobile-friendliness with minimal effort.

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