Practical Ecommerce

Tips for Formatting HTML Emails in Microsoft Outlook

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

Allison DeFer

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.”

Practical Ecommerce

Practical Ecommerce

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Comments ( 4 )

  1. John Gammell March 19, 2015 Reply

    I recently experienced numerous problems using MailChimp templates that were not compatible with Outlook 2010 based on this exact issue. The test templates looked acceptable in Gmail but terrible in Outlook 2010. After 3-4 days of e-mail technical support with MailChimp I learned that I have to hire an HTML coder to fix these problems. I DO NOT recommend MailChimp at all for anyone who has little to no HTML coding experience. I must now look to Aweber and other providers who have HTML compliant templates so I can meet by business needs without the frustration. MailChimp is fine for experienced coders but not for a beginner in my opinion.

  2. Laura June 29, 2015 Reply

    This article was written in 2010. The email world has changed ALOT since 2015.

  3. Erik August 7, 2015 Reply

    Great article! If you need a deeper expertise of your HTML email we are offering a free service, where we take a look at you HTML find the problems and point you to the right direction. As an example, due to the fact the new laptops come with the default 125% DPI and also some users had enabled desktop DPI scaling because of poor eyesight, 98% emails/templates do not render well in Outlook 2007,2010 & 2013 at 125% DPI. We’ll find find all the problems with your HTML, if there are any. We are offering this service, free of charge:
    http://www.code4email.com/free_email_test.php

  4. Madhukar October 14, 2016 Reply

    Regarding Outlook 2010, My email creative is not rendering properly in Outlook 2010 from today any updates are applied for this Outlook 2010 versions.

    Please anyone help on this?