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A Guide to Responsive Emails: Tips, Challenges, & Examples

Mesan Ali

Have you ever wondered why an email appears differently on your mobile device than on a desktop? 

Do you think email designers go through the struggle of designing the same email twice? 

No, It's because most businesses have realized the importance of responsive email designs and capitalizing on them at full pace. Given that 47% of the users view their emails on a mobile device, this explains the rush to responsive emails. 

Unsurprisingly, optimizing your email for mobile devices can also increase the unique clicks by 15%.

What differentiates responsive emails is the use of CSS media queries. However, this does not mean that responsive emails are just a thing for programmers. Anyone with a non-coding background can design responsive emails. 

This guide takes you through a complete journey of what, why, and how of responsive emails. 

What's a Responsive Email?

An email that adjusts its content size and positioning for the device it is viewed on is a responsive email. It ensures that the email content does not break, and the images adjust to the screen size for the receivers to view it perfectly. 

Let's look at how you can view some elements differently on a mobile and a desktop screen.

Responsive email template viewed for three different devices.

If the email layout were the same for both devices, the mobile user would be sliding, swiping, and zooming in and out of their screen to get through the entire email. Chances are they would never do that and instead skip putting in any effort to see the whole email. 

This is where a responsive email rescues your user engagement. 

What Makes Responsive Emails So Important? 

With the digital atmosphere now relying heavily on mobile devices, emails are following the same footprints. For your email marketing campaigns to perform well and reach your desired goals, you must also optimize them for mobiles. This is what a responsive email helps you with and why they are so important in recent times. Here is how responsiveness impacts your emails:

Enhances UX

The experience of your users is not limited to a single device. If you deliver an email with un-clickable links, broken content, unadjusted images, and other issues, it is likely to be discarded by any user. 

Responsive emails help you avoid these inconsistencies and deliver an epic experience whether the user views the email on a smartphone, desktop, or even a tablet. 

Boosts engagement

When you deliver an exquisite experience to your customers, they find engaging with your email's content very smooth. The easier you make it for a user to interact with your email, the greater the chances of receivers doing it. 

Since responsive emails allow users to interact with the email fluently through all platforms, your engagement graphs reach new highs.  

Generates more value

Email is a highly valuable channel that generates an average ROI of $36 for every dollar spent. To maximize the potential that email marketing offers, responsive emails are your trusted tool.

With emails accessible and readable over different platforms, they are likely to get more clicks and generate maximum revenue for your business. 

Scalable/Mobile-First vs. Fluid Emails

  • Scalable email

A scalable email is an email that follows a single-column design approach. The same design rescales to different screen sizes and requires no changes. The image and text size is large enough to view perfectly across all devices.

  • Mobile-First email

A scalable email is often called a mobile-first email when it is initially designed to keep the screen dimensions of a mobile device at the front. While scalable emails work perfectly for various devices, they lack device-specific aesthetics. Responsive emails, on the other hand, have the ability to reflect design, text, and images uniquely for the screen size. 

  • Fluid email

A fluid email uses percentage-based sizing based on the size of the screen. With scalable emails, content may be omitted or cropped for a specific screen size. However, a fluid email does not let that happen because of the ability to adjust sizing for images, text, and other elements. However, the design layout remains the same. 

How Can You Make Your Emails Responsive? 

Media queries are your go-to solution to make your emails responsive.

What are media queries in CSS?

Media query is a CSS logical expression applied to your HTML code and denoted by "@media." This works as a conditional statement and helps determine the viewport on which your user will view the email and then apply the conditions accordingly. 

Media queries use screen width as a reference to determine what condition should be applied. This is what a media query ideally looks like: 

@media only screen and (max-width: 600px)

After initiating the query by the '@media' tag, the word 'only' determines the type of media that will follow it. In this case, the media type is 'screen', which is then followed by 'and' with a maximum screen width of 600px. 

Any conditions following this query will apply to display settings of any screen size smaller than 600px. 

How to use media queries for different screen sizes

Here's how you can write media queries to make your emails responsive to the size of the screen they are displayed on. We will see how a given template changes to different screen sizes. 

Desktop device

The following media query will help adjust your email to a screen size that is 620px or greater. The media query is followed by conditions that apply to different classes defined in the template. 

@media only screen and (min-width: 620px) {
  .u-row {
    width: 600px !important;
  }
  .u-row .u-col {
    vertical-align: top;
  }
  .u-row .u-col-50 {
    width: 300px !important;
  }
  .u-row .u-col-100 {
    width: 600px !important;
}

As this condition is met, the above code applies to prepare the template for a desktop screen. This is what it looks like: 

Email template gif as shown on a desktop/laptop device.

Tablet device

The following media query is applied to make the email responsive for a tablet device. With the maximum width set at 620px, the following conditions are applied for any screen size smaller than 620px and bigger than 320px. 

@media (max-width: 620px) {
  .u-row-container {
    max-width: 100% !important;
    padding-left: 0px !important;
    padding-right: 0px !important;
  }
  .u-row .u-col {
    min-width: 320px !important;
    max-width: 100% !important;
    display: block !important;
  }
  .u-row {
    width: 100% !important;
  }
  .u-col {
    width: 100% !important;
}
Email template gif as shown on a tablet.

After application, this is how the components of the email will reflect: 

Smartphones and smaller devices

Let's move on to an even smaller device. This media query applies to any screen with a width of less than 480px. 

@media (max-width: 480px) {
  .hide-mobile {
    max-height: 0px;
    overflow: hidden;
    display: none !important;
  }
Email template gif as shown on a smartphone 

The following image shows the result when the email is viewed on a smartphone with a screen width of less than 480px. 

Still too complicated? This is where Unlayer jumps in to help you out.

Why Use Unlayer to Get Started With Responsive Emails?

Unlayer is a drag-and-drop email builder that allows you to design and make your emails responsive swiftly. You design, and Unlayer will ensure the email is responsive. 

Is designing not your cup of tea? Unlayer still got you covered with a gallery of 1,500+ responsive email templates. Unlayer is a white-label SaaS tool that embeds in your application, making email designing a seamless experience. 

Design Responsive Emails That Convert

Pre-made Templates. Attractive Design. White-Labeled.
Email Templates

3 Top Examples of Responsive Emails

Some top email examples and their view for two different devices will help you analyze what it looks like when it is made responsive. 

HBO Max

The email below from HBO is a great example of a responsive email that showcases great design irrespective of the screen it is viewed on. 

Responsive email example from HBO Max

Fatherly

Fatherly is a platform helping men raise better children and sharing great content on parental advice. They have a great example of responsive email shared below: 

Responsive email example from Fatherly

Specialized

Specialized makes top notch bicycles for athletes and has a cool way around their responsive emails as you can see below. 

Responsive email examples from Specialized. 

While these examples are great to learn from, let’s walk you through some other tips to assist your journey with responsive emails. 

Some Best Practices To Help You With Responsive Emails

Responsive emails are set to solve a lot of challenges for you. However, it is also essential that you put them to use the right way to extract maximum juice. Here are some tips and practices that will help you make the most of your responsive emails:

7 tips that will help you design better responsive emails.

Single-column layout

An email design that follows a single-column layout works brilliantly for responsive emails. Single-column structures are easier to rescale and require much less shifting of elements, making responsiveness easier.

Font size

Responsive emails allow you to select a different font size for each view you are designing for. It is recommended that you use media queries for a minimum font size of 16px for mobile view and 14px for desktop. You should then set the email font size for headings and CTAs accordingly. 

Uncluttered links

If you add multiple links to your email, it is recommended that you don't place them too close together. While clicking a link on a desktop is easier, tapping the exact link on your mobile device is a challenge when two or more are placed closely. 

Image size

Image size in responsive emails can vary significantly for different devices. Use media queries to select the appropriate image size for each device you design your email for. 

Preview & test email

Before you send your email out, preview it for design and see if everything looks as you want it to for each device you target. Then, test that email for each machine to ensure it executes just as you want it to. 

Mobile first design

Starting with a mobile friendly design is the right approach to keep things simpler. That's because it is easier to scale up your design to a larger device than vice versa. 

Concise copy

People want to be able to view emails quickly. You must be concise with your copy and get your message across swiftly. Limited copy will also be easier to adjust with different design settings for different devices. 

Responsive Email Templates to Kickstart Your Campaign

Do you plan on starting an email campaign soon? If yes, you need some responsive email templates to get you off the ground. Unlayer's gallery of 1,500+ responsive email templates will make your journey smoother:

Template 1 - thought leadership

Are you on your way to become a thought leader in the industry? This email template is set to fuel your journey better. See how the responsiveness reflects for two different screen sizes: 

Thought leadership email template by Unlayer shown on two screen sizes. 

Use Template 

Template 2 - customer success

Make your customer success services more pleasing and attractive with the responsive email template below. 

Customer success responsive email template by Unlayer

Use template

Template 3 - insurance services

Market your insurance services with this amazing template that responds smoothly to your user’s device. 

Liability claims responsive email template by Unlayer. 

Use Template

Expected Challenges in Responsive Email Design

Every journey begins with a few barricades coming along to slow down your progress. If everything is working smoothly, you could be doing something wrong. So, expect challenges when getting started with responsive emails. Following are some challenges that you should be prepared for:

Challenges faced when creating responsive emails. 

Narrow cross-device compatibility

Replicating your images, text, and design across multiple devices can become a problem. Some elements may work for one device and not for another. The ideal way to go about it is to test your email across all devices and determine any possible errors. 

Lack of icons and images adaptability

Remember that icons or images in your email will be viewed across devices of different screen widths and lengths. It is vital these images resonate perfectly to different pixel densities and do not look blurry on any device. Using retina images can help you overcome this challenge. 

Limited support for CSS in email clients

Not all email service providers support all CSS and HTML features. It is suggested that you design your responsive email for the email client with the least compatibility and then continue to add advanced features for more resourceful ESPs. 

Difficulty in testing and debugging responsive emails

Compared to regular emails, responsive emails must be tested across different devices and for all CTAs, anchor texts, images, etc. This means more time is required for finding errors. You should plan your email campaign in advance to have enough time to test your responsive emails. 

Wrap Up

Responsive emails can change the game of email marketing for you. Your subscribers will get interactive emails irrespective of the device they're viewed on. Use this guide, follow the suggested good practices, apply the responsive email templates to help you leap the challenges and jump right into responsive emails.

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