Roughly one-third of all email recipients use Microsoft Outlook. But that program famously distorts HTML-formatted emails when other email clients, such as Yahoo!, Gmail, and Thunderbird, render the same email messages differently.
The result is that email marketers, such as ecommerce merchants, must carefully test and tweak HTML-formatted emails so that they appear presentable to Outlook users.
MailChimp is a leading self-service email-marketing provider. We asked Allison DeFer, a member of MailChimp’s technical support team, why it is that Outlook mangles HTML-formatted emails.
Practical eCommerce: Why is it so hard to format HTML emails for Microsoft Outlook?
Allison DeFer: “Microsoft Outlook 2007 and 2010 use Microsoft Word (a text editor) as the rendering engine for HTML emails, as opposed to Internet Explorer (a web browser). The prior versions of Microsoft Outlook use Internet Explorer to render their emails.”
PEC: Roughly what percentage of email recipients uses Microsoft Outlook?
DeFer: “About 35 percent of all email recipients use some version of Microsoft Outlook (Outlook 2000, 2003, Express, 2007, 2010). Around 75 to 80 percent of corporations use Microsoft Outlook.”
PEC: For merchants whose HTML emails render poorly in Outlook, what tips can you give them?
DeFer: “Use tables, as opposed to HTML
<div> tags, when coding your email template. Microsoft Outlook 2007 and 2010 strip several of the styles, such as positioning. You need to use tables in order for everything in your email to be formatted correctly.”
PEC: How can merchants test their emails, to ensure they do render properly in Outlook and all other email clients?
DeFer: “Test your email campaign in an application such as MailChimp’s Inbox Inspector.
“Inbox Inspector generates screenshots of your email in all the major email clients, Microsoft Outlook is one of them. This way you will be able to see if any styles are removed from your email. Usually it’s the positioning and formatting of different elements on your page (text and images) that get skewed in Microsoft Outlook. You can then identify the problems and make proper changes.
“The most foolproof way of testing is to send the test email to yourself in Microsoft Outlook.”
PEC: What are common errors and problems that you see with Outlook emails?
DeFer: “Microsoft Outlook removes background images, padding, floats, and forms. You would want to code everything by hand, and avoid using a WYSIWYG [what you see is what you get] editor, as it will add these styles automatically to your code. Campaign Monitor has a great guide that provides what Outlook supports.”
PEC: Any other thoughts for our readers, who are mainly ecommerce merchants, concerning formatting emails for Microsoft Outlook?
DeFer: “Microsoft Outlook 2010 renders email basically identical to MS Outlook 2007. Microsoft has said it may change the way MS Outlook renders email is future versions.”