What you see is not what you get

By Angela Schuster

Time and time again I am amazed that some companies send out marketing emails without actually considering the issue of cross email client compatibility.

We've all accepted that websites render differently depending on which browser your audience is using and hence, we now have website design standards. But it seems many people fail to understand that email also renders differently depending on which email client your audience is using.

Did you know?

  • That anywhere between 40-60% of your email subscriber base probably have their images switch off?

  • That Outlook 2007 uses Word to render HTML emails (and we all know that Word makes mince meat out of HTML).

  • That what you see in your Inbox is not what your subscribers see in their Inbox?

Beat the compatibility blues

Here are some quick tips for beating the email compatibility issue:

  • Know your audience and what email clients they use

    If you are sending an email campaign to (for example) IBM sales reps worldwide (which I have had to do before) then you should know that they will probably all use Lotus Notes. Therefore, take your nice, snazzy, CSS compliant email design... and throw it in the bin. Because Lotus Notes renders email completely differently to everything else as does web mail programs (ie: Gmail), hand held devices, Outlook 2003, Outlook 2007 etc.

    Knowing which email clients your audience uses is very helpful, unfortunately though for most companies their audience is a diverse mix of people and businesses and therefore they will use a variety of email clients. Therefore, the remaining tips will help.

  • Use inline styles not CSS

    Some (most) email clients either strip out CSS, distort it or consider it spam. While you can develop workarounds, it is safer to just go back to basics and code your email styles inline. It's like going back to the long form of division - it's painful but it works.

  • Reduce the use of imagery

    Unfortunately more and more we're seeing email systems with the default set to "images switched off" which renders all pictures as ugly red crosses. Some estimates are now saying that as many as 60% of any recipient list will have images switched off.

    The general rule of thumb is that 40% of the success of an email marketing campaign comes from the quality of the content and having a compelling offer, 40% comes from the quality of the database and only 20% is impacted by design. So, you don't need pretty pictures in your email for it to be effective and, given the prevalence of images being switched off, it could work against you.

    Most definitely DO NOT put your call to action or offer in an image. otherwise, your audience will never see it. Ensure you have a text version of your offer and combine text with images for optimal effect. And DO NOT ever, ever send your email as one big image.

  • Keep up-to-date with advances in email client technology

    Companies change their technology all of the time, just like new versions of web browsers are released, the same is true for email systems. It's important to stay up-to-date with the impacts new or updated email clients will have on email design.

  • Test, test and test

    Test your emails across a range of email clients and see for yourself what your design renders like. Refine your design and then retest.


SCG offers email design testing

In response to client demand we've introduced an easy and low cost way for you to test your email designs. Contact us to find out how you can submit your design and within 24 hours we'll show you the results of how your email appears across more than 20 email clients, including popular hand held devices.