Dial up the design when e-mailing to cell phones

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E-mail and cell phones are two of the greatest inventions of the past quarter century. It makes sense that people want to marry the two and be able to send and receive e-mail on their cell phones. According to a 2006 M:Metrics Inc. survey of mobile phone users, 50.8 percent of smart phone owners use their phone for e-mail. That translates to about 17 million people. E-mail-enabled phones have become an important tool for busy people to stay in touch when away from their desktop PCs.

Because most smart phone users screen e-mail for later action on their desktop computer, marketers need to design e-mails that will work on both cell phones and PCs.

Here are some ways to design e-mails that work on mobile phones. First, move text to the top of the e-mail. Put text copy as close to the top as possible and get to the point quickly. Also, place text before ads. If you make subscribers scroll through long links of ads, they will delete it. Open your e-mail with interesting copy and place ads lower in the e-mail.

Add an ALT tag to avoid programming strings. Alternative text tags let a smart phone or PDA render the e-mail in a simple, readable format without affecting how the e-mail looks on your computer. Without this tag, e-mail on the phone will default to HTML and will show image codes and programming strings. Multi-part MIME won't help. Many smart phones and PDAs try to display HTML and end up showing a blank screen. Test your HTML e-mail on a phone before you send it.

Put a text line above the header telling readers why the e-mail is important. This might go unnoticed in the full rendering of the desktop view but will stand out in the handheld view. Once a subscriber has added you to her address book, stop asking. This message takes up the entire content area on a handheld. Instead, make this data an attribute and use dynamic content to send that note only to those who have not already clicked.

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