Why You Need to Use a Single Column Email Design

Posted / 15 May, 2015

Author / Enginess

single column email design

Single column email templates look great on every device and support skim reading better than other formats.

Together, these factors invariably improve your readability and thus the value of your email.

In Q2 2014, 48% of email was opened on mobile. In Q3 it was 53%, and in Q4 it was 66%. It’s pretty clear that people like to read their emails on their phones. Fortunately, making your newsletters and other email marketing look awesome on any device is easier than you think.

The benefit of the single column email

Single column emails are exactly what they sound like – email templates that are only one column wide, as opposed to two or three or more (although two is probably the only other column template we really talk about).

So why is it the best thing since sliced sourdough? There are two main camps: technical reasons and readability reasons.

Readability reasons

In the oft-quoted 1997 Nielsen Norman study, they reported that the vast majority of people don’t actually read online, but rather skim read a huge amount of information.

So if we know this to be the case, how can we increase comprehension of our email marketing? With single column email of course!

Single column emails are designed with the mobile user in mind. They’re built long and skinny, and are intended to be scrolled through quickly. This is great for a number of reasons.

  • Users are used to scrolling on a mobile screen
  • A single column email template puts information exactly where the user expects it to be

For example, imagine that you’re scrolling through an email. You’re reading in the F pattern because pretty much everyone reads that way.

In a single column email, all of your headings are going to be exactly where you’d expect. All of your sub headings and sentences are going to be where you’d expect. And to make this readability even better, the physical function of scrolling feels intuitive on a single column email. That is, it seems to be the exactly right thing to do.

Single column emails also give headings and fonts more space, so you can make them bigger. The increased size increases scrolling, for sure – but it also makes everything easier to read. And if you’re reading on a tiny screen, that increased readability is going to be key to getting your message across. After all, the best copy in the world is worthless if you can’t read it without a magnifying glass.

So single column emails enhance readability in a big way.

Technical benefits

There are a number of technical benefits as well that essentially all stem from the fact that single column emails are just too simple to fail.

They look great, no matter what device they’re on. This is a fantastic benefit, since most of your email is being opened on mobile devices (probably) and those devices are likely varied is size.

Single-column emails are a version of scalable design – they’re one table in HTML, and scale to fit whatever screen they’re on (compared to responsive, which use CSS and media queries to shuffle the content to fit the container). And the reason that scalable design is just so useful is because HTML is so simple that it displays well in every single email provider, no matter what.

Challenges to the single column

Like anything on the internet, there are of course naysayers to single column layouts.

“Single column layouts are a lazy fix”

The argument is that single column layouts don’t display all that well on desktop, since there is a much bigger space to fill and the email will simply expand to fill it. Common critiques include:

  • Too much white space on either side of the content
  • Buttons and text look awkward and huge

These are absolutely fair criticisms, but at the same time, on a desktop device readability and functionality are already enhanced – it’s simply easier to do stuff on a computer. Second, with mobile open rates continuing to increase, the focus should be to cater to mobile first.

And while desktop users are still important, a little too much whitespace is an acceptable price to pay for an awesome mobile experience. Plus, if your content is good, no one is going to care about a couple extra inches around it.

“Single columns require too much scrolling”

Here’s the thing, though: on mobile, there’s probably not going to be a lot of complaints about too much scrolling. If your email requires way too much scrolling, the solution is to rewrite your content so it’s more concise, not change the container so it fits better.

“Reduce above the fold content”

The argument is that a two-column email increases your space above the fold. And this is true – if your email provider formats that way. A lot of email that’s two columns simply gets stacked in mobile, so if you have a navigation bar in one column to entice users to read on, it might get pushed to the middle of your email, eradicating its effectiveness before the email’s even open.

Wrap up

Single column emails an easy way for to improve your ability to engage your customers on mobile devices, since that’s where they’re reading your email anyways. It improves comprehension of your message, prioritizing headings and font size, so it’s easier to read, and it looks good on any device.

There are, of course, alternatives like responsive templates that are readily available email marketing platforms. But even those are contingent on your content being rearranged in a perhaps uncontrollable way.

For a guaranteed experience that you can control, singe column is the way to go.

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