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Jun 05, 2012
Case Study

Mobile Email Marketing: 53% higher clickthrough rate for mobile-optimized newsletter

SUMMARY: Mobile audiences are growing, as is the demand for mobile content. Are your emails ready for smartphones and tablets?

Find out how a health information website increased clickthrough rates 53% by launching mobile versions of its newsletters. You'll see key changes in the design and learn how the team decided it needed to go mobile.
by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter

Email marketers have heard mobile is "just around the corner" for years. That prediction finally came true for Medscape, an online resource for physicians and other health professionals.

Medscape offers free email newsletters on more than 30 topics. The company earns revenue through advertising and sends about 1 billion emails each year. Its newsletters reach more than 500,000 active physicians and an even greater number of other health professionals.

Erik Teng is the email marketing manager at Medscape. Last year, his team realized that between 10% and 15% of subscribers read Medscape's emails on a smartphone or tablet. The company launched mobile versions of its five most popular newsletters soon afterward.

The average unique clickthrough rate on those emails shot up 53% after launch. Medscape's mobile audience has since doubled in size, and subscribers are spending more time reading the newsletters, Teng says.

"We are realizing that a lot of our visits and clicks are coming from mobile devices; where six months ago or a year ago, it wasn't as high of a percentage. So we need to make sure that our emails are mobile-optimized."

The team took the following five steps to measure its mobile audience and give it a better newsletter.

Step #1. Monitor website traffic

Many websites are receiving more mobile traffic, but the size of the increase varies by industry and audience.

One of the first places Medscape caught wind of the shift was on its website. Smartphones and tablets have different Web browsers than PCs, so you can measure mobile visitors by tracking the browsers that access your site (see the "related resources" links at the end of this article for a list of mobile browsers).

Looking at site traffic early last year, Medscape realized a growing portion of its audience used a mobile device. Teng's team set out to understand what it meant for the company's email program.

Step #2. Measure mobile readership

The team could have estimated its number of mobile subscribers through site analytics, but it wanted more information. It wanted to know which subscribers were mobile and what devices they preferred.

The team bought a tool that provided detailed subscriber analytics. Two insights it provided:
  • About 10% to 15% of the audience reads emails on a mobile device

  • Apple products, such as the iPhone and iPad, were the most popular

The team also knew which subscribers were reading emails on a mobile device and which still used a PC.

Top four mobile platforms in U.S.

Since many marketers do not have clear insight into the preferences of their mobile subscribers, it's worth noting that Google and Apple dominate the U.S. market. Google powers just over half of all mobile devices in the country.

Here are the market shares of the top mobile platform providers in the U.S., according to March 2012 data from comScore:
  • 51.0% - Google (Android)

  • 30.7% - Apple (iPhone, etc.)

  • 12.3% - RIM (Blackberry)

  • 3.9% - Microsoft (Windows Mobile)

Remember: the demographics of your mobile subscribers will likely differ from those of the broader U.S. mobile population, especially if you market to an audience outside of the U.S. These stats highlight the most popular platforms, but do not assume that your audience mirrors them.

Step #3. Segment and select a sample

Some companies design one email that works across all devices, mobile and traditional. Medscape's team took a different approach. It created a new database segment for mobile subscribers and redesigned its newsletters for the group. The team continued to send the original design to subscribers who used PCs.

Focus on the top five

Medscape knew which subscribers used mobile devices for all 33 of its newsletters. The team started by designing mobile emails for the five most popular:
  • Cardiology

  • Family medicine

  • Internal medicine

  • Diabetes

  • Endocrinology

Focusing on the largest newsletters helped the team make meaningful impact without spreading its resources too thin.

Step #4. Design mobile-friendly emails

The team researched best practices in mobile-email design and used the company's extensive technology and design expertise to create the emails.

"We have an in-house team of producers who are pretty much the most talented people I have worked with," Teng says.

Key features of Medscape's mobile email newsletter designs:
  • Narrow, vertical format - articles are listed one by one down the page, which makes it easy for mobile users to scroll the message with a flick of the finger. The message is also narrower than a regular email, which prevents readers from having to scroll sideways to read a line of text.

  • Above-fold content - one article is emphasized with a larger link and image at the top of the email. The image, description and link to view it are above the fold (visible without scrolling). This gives readers instant content without forcing them to dig for it.

  • Fast and adaptable - the email is designed to render well across a variety of devices, and it uses images sparingly to speed load times.

  • Large fonts - the email's text is clear and larger than the original newsletter so readers do not have to zoom in to read.

  • Room to click - links and buttons are large and clearly marked, which makes them easy to click with a finger.

Step #5. Test, test, test

Teng's team wanted to be certain the new emails improved results before sending them to the entire mobile audience of the five newsletters.

The emails and later tweaks were first tested on random samples of Medscape's mobile segment. The winning designs were later incorporated into the email and delivered to the remainder of the mobile segment for each newsletter.

The largest improvement, Teng says, came when the team first switched to the mobile design from its original newsletter. The team tested two other factors that showed strong results:
  • "From" name - the team incorporates the title of the newsletter in the email's sender name. For example, the newsletter "CME Case of the Week" has the following "from" address:

    Medscape CME Case Study

  • Branding - the email's header image, "from" name and footer copy emphasize Medscape as the sender.

Want to learn more about email marketing? Sign up for our free newsletter.

Creative Samples

  1. Mobile email - Case of the week

  2. Original email - Cardiology

  3. Original email - News


comScore Reports March 2012 U.S. Mobile Subscriber Market Share

Wikipedia: Mobile browser list


WebMD - Medscape's parent company

Related Resources

Mobile Email Marketing: iPhone-targeted landing pages boost conversion rate 40% for Ritz-Carlton Destination Club

Mobile Search [Infographic]: 72% of smartphone users look for information on the go

B2B Marketing: A discussion about integrating mobile, email and social

Email Summit: Integrating mobile, social and email marketing channels

Mobile Marketing: Get your audience’s attention – wait till they’re bored

See Also:

Comments about this Case Study

Jun 11, 2012 - Kim Dushinski of Mobile Marketing Profits says:
Great information. I am confused about #3 though. It doesn't seem to me that people would always read their emails on one type of device or another, but rather go back and forth. Sometimes checking email on the desktop and sometimes via mobile. So, is it possible that part of the huge click through increase could be because the mobile subscriber list got easier to use emails regardless of whether they checked on mobile or their desktop? Lest there be any confusion, I am in total support of making emails mobile friendly.

Jun 11, 2012 - Lynn McLeod of Market Architects says:
re #3: Medscape knew which subscribers used mobile devices for all 33 of its newsletters... How? I can understand how they would know after a subscriber read and clicked through a prior email, but not before unless they asked when the person subscribed. Also, what happens if they get a different phone - like they switch from iphone to galaxy?

Jun 13, 2012 - Erik Teng of WebMD says:
Re: Lynn McLeod. Hi Lynn, we actually collected that data beforehand using litmus. We identified which of our subscribers accessed our content from which device. So we knew going in who accessed it through a mobile device.

Jun 13, 2012 - Erik Teng of WebMD says:
Re: Kim Dushinski, Hi Kim, it is definitely plausible that the user friendly design impacted the increase regardless of platform. We did take a look at a number of different metrics included with our multivariate testing, and with all things considered, the top 3 metrics we determined that impacted response rates were from name, branding and mobile optimization. When compared to our "control" version, the increase was evident in the newly optimized design.

Jan 08, 2013 - Manny Ju of BlueHornet says:
Great case study. I noticed the article mentions mobile-friendly emails that apparently did not incorporate the techniques of responsive design. Did I misread? Perhaps you can share with us whether you are starting to use it or if not, your reasons for not using it.

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