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7 Tips for Creating a Functional Email Experience


Delivering relevant messages is a key to email marketing success. While relevance is typically talked about in terms of targeting and personalization, relevance is much bigger than content and targeting.

The Hierarchy of Subscriber Needs, which we debuted in The Viral Email report, provides a big picture view of relevance and illustrates the need for marketers to create a subscriber experience that is Respectful, Functional, Valuable, and Remarkable.

While marketers must respect their subscribers’ wishes by only emailing to those that have opted-in to receive communications, your emails can’t be valuable or remarkable if they are not first functional. Functional email experiences are key for your subscribers to easily read and interact with your campaigns. If your emails aren’t functional, you run the serious risk becoming irrelevant to your subscribers.


Functionality is all about quality assurance. Or put another way, it’s about eliminating friction that can degrade the effectiveness of your messaging, erode the subscriber experience, and ultimately damage your brand image.

To create functional email experiences, ensure that:

  1. Your emails display appropriately across mobile, web, and desktop applications that your subscribers primarily use. You can use Litmus’ Email Analytics to determine where your subscribers are most frequently opening your emails. Then, use Checklist to verify that your emails are displaying as intended in those email clients.
  2. Text is legible, particularly in the uncontrolled lighting environments where mobile rendering often takes place. For example, if you don’t use at least 13px font sizes, iOS will auto-adjust anything under that size, often breaking navigation bars.
  3. Links are spaced far enough apart so they can be accurately clicked with a mouse or, more importantly, tapped with a finger.
  4. The content is clear and free of errors. Read—and re-read—your emails before sending. Also, it never hurts to have a second or third set of eyes look over it, as it’s more difficult for you to catch errors if you wrote the text.
  5. Any special email functionality has a good fallback for when that functionality isn’t supported by a particular email client. Using advanced techniques, like HTML5 or CSS3, should have proper fallbacks in place.
  6. The links in your emails take subscribers to the intended destination. You can either manually click on all of the links in your email to ensure they are going to the correct landing page (and that they are being tracked), or you can save time by using Litmus Checklist.
  7. Email landing pages greet subscribers with wording and images from the email so they know they’ve arrived at the right place to continue the interaction.

Litmus Checklist

Instantly preview your email in 50+ apps and devices, validate that your links, images, and tracking work properly, test your email’s load time, and more–all before pressing send.

Run a Checklist →

Creating a functional email experience requires a sustained effort because of the patchwork and non-standardized environment that is email inboxes. Unlike the web, there are no standards for email coding support. So CSS coding that works in Apple Mail may not work in Outlook 365 or Gmail, for instance. And support is subject to change without notice.

The email environment is further complicated by the number of devices that can now read emails—which currently include desktops, laptops, tablets, ebook readers, phablets, smartphones, and the Apple Watch, which recognizes a new version of HTML, watch-HTML. And thanks to the Internet of Things, email reading devices may eventually include your car, refrigerator, toothbrush, and light bulbs. (I’m exaggerating, of course, but time will tell just how much I’m exaggerating.)


Clicks are a primary gauge of determining functionality in email messages. If your emails have broken links and images or have text that’s too small to read on mobile devices, clicks will suffer.


In this post, we covered functional email experiences. If you want details on all four subscriber needs in the hierarchy pyramid, check out our guest post on the Convince & Convert blog.

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