Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007 combined, now have the largest single market share for email clients in the business world, with 36% of email users reading email in one or the other, according to a new report by Fingerprint, the email client statistics service.
This isn't just a factoid you can amaze your fellow marketing friends with over the next round of drinks, however. It means that a third or more of your list is not seeing your email properly, if at all, if you haven't upgraded your message design to accommodate many challenges and rendering deficiencies.
However, once you do upgrade your design, your emails should look and operate better in other email clients as well.
Email Clients by Market Share
Although Microsoft are notoriously close-mouthed about market share for its various email clients (Windows Live Mail, Hotmail and Outlook 2007/2003/etc.), my findings when I recently used Fingerprint to gauge the email client usage my 2 B2B newsletters is that Outlook 2007 had equal share with Outlook 2003.
Also, most email experts expect Outlook 2007's adoption will continue to expand as users of 2003 and earlier versions upgrade or defect from other clients. So-the time has come to review your design and see if it meets with Outlook 2007's strict rendering criteria.
Why Does Outlook 2007 Mangle My Email?
Outlook 2003 essentially took away much of your control over the way your email shows up in your readers' inboxes. Outlook 2007 extends this. Here's how:
1. Outlook 2007 blocks images from downloading automatically unless the user changes a setting. That was intended to thwart spammers and stop malicious emails from launching viruses automatically. But, it also means that the big pretty pictures you use to illustrate your messages will show up as big blank squares with ugly red X's. It also means your open rate isn't accurate, because it counts the number of times a tiny image downloads when you open an email. Email research shows a third to a half of email users block images automatically.
2. Outlook 2007 lets users view just a portion of your email in a window called a preview pane. This helps time-pressed readers skim through their inboxes faster, but it also means they might miss your great bargain or hot news if you put that information too far down in the message.
Default image blocking and the preview deliver a one-two punch for standing email design, especially the kind that relies on one or two big images to tell the story, but these aren't the only body blows.
3. Outlook 2007 replaced Internet Explorer for rendering HTML elements with Microsoft Word, which isn't as good at interpreting the codes.
In addition to limited support for CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), the below elements won't render well or at all in Outlook 2007:
- Animated GIFs
- Float or position commands
- Flash or other plug-in applications
- Background images
How to Make Email Render Better
1. Put your email on an HTML diet. The more coding you have to add to your message, the more likely it is that it won't show up on the user's end.
Your goal is to design a message that looks good and delivers its key
information even with images off and only a portion showing in the
2. Instead of relying on one or two large images to tell your story, put more key information in text. This includes product descriptions and prices, as well as the call to action, contact information, the unsubscribe link and anything else that needs to show up no matter which email client you use.
3. When you do use images, add "alt text" to the image. These are a few well-chosen words that describe the image or call to action and show up in most (but not all) email clients when images don't.
4. Stop using background images. Use a plain background, which looks better anyway even with images on.
5. Put your most important copy in the top half of the message, particularly the top left corner.
This includes the newsletter name, and the lead article or primary
offer. If you have copy that appears at the top of the message every
time, such as a request to add your address to the user's address book
or safe list, move that farther down, because it's not as important.
6. Add a full version at your Web site and put the link to it in the top quadrant of your email message. Here you're unencumbered by email oddities and rendering restrictions.
7. Test your email in several different clients, including desktop versions such as Outlook 2007, Eudora or Thunderbird, and Web clients such as Yahoo! Mail, Gmail and Hotmail.
8. Write more description subject lines. Drop vague subject lines that only hint at what your email contains, or those that use standing subject lines that don't change from message to message. Mention the offer or call to action, or add urgency with a deadline to respond.
Also, make sure your company or brand name appears in the "from" or sender line, never a person's name or business department that your readers wouldn't expect or recognise.
9. Entice your readers to download images. You can do this both within the alt text and within the copy. Don't be too obvious about it by asking, instead, by using clever wording you can have them wondering what that image is and wanting to download it.
10. Design the email to look good without images. And definitely don't build the email to be reliant upon images to keep its structure. If images are blocked, then the formatting of your email will fall apart.
11. Build the email using tables rather than CSS. Additionally, inline CSS within the body of the email works best over most email clients rather than CSS styles within the header.
Bonus: Your Mobile Readers Will Thank You
Most mobile phones do a horrible job of rendering HTML email. When you slim down the HTML in your email messages, you also help them show up better on email-enabled phones. You also don't have to go through the hassle of creating mobile-only email versions.
Originally Published: B2B Marketing