Get a handle on your email design4. June 2021
Does dark mode harm email engagement?6. June 2021
(Don’t) Be Afraid of the Dark
Up to 25% of your readers view their emails with inverted colors!
A shadowy danger is instilling fear in email marketing specialists and is threatening to horribly invert their lovingly crafted emails… dark mode! And yet, the feared enemy of email marketers makes quite a cool and contemporary impression: In an increasing number of apps and email clients, dark mode is establishing itself as an eye-friendly and battery-saving alternative to the traditional interface display mode. A light text on a dark background is the trend right now. Unfortunately, though, dark mode can drastically disfigure painstakingly created email designs.
In this blog post, we explain where the problem lies and what possible solutions there are. But, above all, we answer the underlying strategic question: Is it worth the effort? To do this, we investigated how many recipients actually use dark mode.
Dark mode – what does it do and what are its advantages?
To put it simply, dark mode turns everything that was originally light dark – and vice versa. Because most email designs use dark text with a light background, the background becomes dark and the text becomes light. The dark design reduces blue light exposure and therefore reduces eye strain, too. Apart from that, dark mode has the advantage, at least with OLED displays, of using less energy and therefore saving battery. Apart from these benefits, many users simply like dark mode’s cooler look.
The trend began in 2019 with the iOS and Android operating systems, soon followed by apps such as Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail. Since 2020, dark mode has also become increasingly popular in email clients. Smartphones with Android 10 and iOS13 automatically switch to dark mode in the evening. So, if you mainly send your marketing emails in the evening, you really should come to grips with this trend now.
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What happens to an email in dark mode?
There’s no single answer to this question, because, unfortunately, there’s no single dark mode for emails. And that’s the biggest challenge: Every email client processes email HTML code in a different way and renders the email differently in dark mode. Some clients don’t support dark mode at all – these include many desktop and web clients. Most use color inversion: The lighter the color in the original email, the darker it becomes in dark mode. A few clients, such as Apple Mail, enable users to customize dark mode. Nevertheless, there are a few rules of thumb that help you optimize how your emails are rendered. These rules are explained in our blog post “Email Templates and Dark Mode” – but first of all, we want to address the issue of whether it’s worth the effort!
How popular is dark mode really among email recipients?
Whether companies should optimize their newsletters for dark mode depends on the answer to one question above all: How many users actually use it? To find this out, we set up a test with one of our customers with a B2C email distribution list comprising five million recipients. We then installed a tracking pixel in the email, which enabled us to see how many emails were opened in dark mode.
This method is a little tricky. If you want to know more, check out this article on the Email on Acid website. There is, unfortunately, one big limitation with this technique: It can only identify dark-mode opens in email clients that use WebKit. This excludes Gmail, Outlook, GMX, and others. In our test email distribution list, though, 43% use an iPhone, iPad, or Apple Mail to read emails and therefore have a WebKit-enabled email client, which is quite a good percentage.
We measured almost 100,000 openings in dark mode, that is, around 2% of the five million email recipients. But what is really relevant is this: If we just look at the figure for recipients who opened the email (872,215 total opens), the (measurable) dark mode renderings account for 12% of all opens, which tallies with the results of Email On Acid, who identified 11.5% dark-mode users in their tests.
Taking into account the fact that we were only able to measure dark-mode openings in WebKit-based email clients (see above), the actual proportion of dark-mode views across all end devices and email clients is certainly much higher. Assuming that Android users use dark mode about as often as iOS users, this would mean that around 25% of readers view their emails with inverted colors in dark mode. Despite the limitations of the method here, this is a potentially sizable proportion!
Only more tests can show whether the results can be replicated and generalized, because many questions remain unanswered: What influence does the target group (younger, tech-savvy target groups are more likely to use dark mode), subject line, and email content have on the percentage of dark-mode readers? What role does the send time play? And do iPhone owners use dark mode just as often or more often than Samsung owners?
Conclusion: Is it worth being mindful of dark mode when you design your email campaigns? Because our research shows that at least 10% of all recipients use dark mode, the answer is a resounding yes!
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