According to some email experts, over 40% of users read email on mobile devices, and open rates on email devices climbed by over 30% last year. Obviously it’s time to make sure your email marketing renders well on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Or is it?

Although mobile email marketing should now be part of your program, with emails designed to render well on smaller screens, first be sure you’re adapting your emails in a manner that works for your customer. This includes taking into account when/how your customers see your emails, and how they interact with them.

When and How Do They Open Them?

Not everyone deals with every email in the same manner. Some emails are triaged first thing in the morning on mobile devices, while other emails are kept to be dealt with later on a desktop or laptop. Yet others are saved to be read later on the mobile screen.

You’ll want to know your customers’ typical behavior in order to know how to design. If most of your recipients are opening, reading and/or interacting with your email marketing messages at their desktop computers at work, you need to know this. If most of them are opening and interacting with these messages on mobile devices, you need to know this too. You even need to know if the majority is doing so on iPhones or tablets or Androids…or something else. Then you design for that majority first.

There’s little point in optimizing emails for iPads if only 3% of your customer base interacts with your emails on these devices. Your best bet is to design for the majority of your customer base then work your way backward from there. And it could very well be that your customer base is happiest clicking on your emails while sitting in front of a plain old computer.

How Do They Interact With Them?

As part of your research, make sure you know what types of actions you’re designing for. If people do click on the links in your emails on their smartphones and tablets, take that physicality into account. They won’t be using a mouse, remember, rather touching the actual screen to click. Although screen sizes are small, fingers can be big. Avoid frustration—and abandonment—on the part of your customers by ensuring your links can easily be clicked on. This means the links, whether buttons or text, are big enough and that the links have enough space around them to be easily clickable…without clicking the wrong link. Yet if the majority of your audience waits until they’re at a computer to buy from you or register with you, you won’t have to worry as much as about this aspect of your mobile rendering. Not that you shouldn’t consider it! But understanding your audience first will help you invest your resources wisely second.

When you design for mobile, you’ll want to check the guidelines and best practices now available as we figure out finger sizes and the usability issues of touch screens. You’ll want to make sure your buttons and links are big enough and spaced out enough that people can touch the link they intend to. But before any of that, before you design a button or link a word, you’ll want to look to your users’ behavior, because that more than anything else will dictate your design.

Just remember: behavior before buttons.

About the Author: Marco Marini is the CEO of ClickMail Marketing and an acknowledged expert in email marketing with over a decade of experience in the field. Follow ClickMail on Twitter: @ClickMail