Litmus Blog Fri, 20 Feb 2015 16:00:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Episode 9: The Impact of Responsive Email, the New Outlook App, and Email Design Contests Fri, 20 Feb 2015 16:00:57 +0000 In the ninth episode of The Email Design Podcast, hosts Kevin Mandeville and Jason Rodriguez discuss the science of clicks, Microsoft’s stellar new client, and mind-ALTering emails. See what we did there? Be sure to follow along and join in the discussion on Twitter using #EmailDesignPodcast.

Watch the full video above or listen to the audio-only version below.

Download the MP3

In this episode:

Follow the Email Design Podcast

Subscribe to the Email Design Newsletter to get updates on the Email Design Podcast along with a curated selection of our favorite articles and resources on email design.

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The Tyranny of Tables: Why Web and Email Design are So Different Thu, 19 Feb 2015 21:42:08 +0000 Email marketing is a lot of things: a great investment, very personal, hard to do well, and, most importantly, extraordinarily powerful for any business. Behind the beauty and power of email lies something else. For those just getting started with designing and building campaigns, email can be overwhelmingly frustrating and confusing.

A lot of designers assume that, since email uses the same technology as the web–HTML and CSS–it can be built in the same way. Unfortunately, due to the constraints of the dozens of popular email applications in the wild, email has its own design and coding paradigms. To fully harness the power of email marketing and design, you first need to understand how email design differs from web design.

Designing on the Web

A lot of first-time email designers are web designers tasked with implementing email marketing for their company. Their typical day involves designing and building websites using HTML and CSS.

If you’re coming from the web world, you’re likely used to building websites using the typical web standards approach:

  • You mark up content with HTML using semantic elements
  • You style that content with CSS, usually via an external stylesheet
  • You use JavaScript to enhance that content with interactions and dynamic elements

When laying out content on a page, you can use proper HTML and CSS. Semantic elements—like section, header, footer, article, and headings and paragraph tags—add meaning to the content within. External CSS is then used to provide structure and style to that content.

This separation of content and presentation is what has allowed web designers to build such beautiful and maintainable experiences for the web.

What makes all of it possible are web browsers. While many designers have memories of dealing with old versions of Internet Explorer, modern web browsers have rallied around these web standards. Despite a few inconsistencies, they all support HTML and CSS exceptionally well. Plus, the inconsistencies are only spread across a handful of browsers.

Contrast that to the current state of email clients and you’ll start to understand why email design is a different beast entirely…

Email Clients & Rendering Engines

Unlike the web, which has just a few browsers handling most traffic, emails are read in a huge variety of email applications, or clients. In fact, Litmus Email Previews currently allows you to test in over 40 different email clients. And those are just the most popular.

The problem with email design is that all of these email clients support different subsets of HTML and CSS. And the difference in support is oftentimes drastic. As we’ve written about before, email clients use rendering engines to display the content of an email. Unfortunately, desktop, webmail, and mobile clients all use different rendering engines.

Looking at Campaign Monitor’s Ultimate Guide to CSS, you can see how much support differs between email clients. The most notable lack of support comes from the desktop versions of Microsoft’s Outlook, which is powered by Microsoft Word.

Guide to CSS
Campaign Monitor’s CSS Guide

Looking at the Box Model and Positioning & Display sections, we can start to understand why laying out emails can be so problematic.

Web designers rely on CSS properties like display, float, width, height, margin, and padding to structure web pages. While these properties can be applied to most HTML elements, they are supported across web browsers and make laying out content relatively easy.

Unfortunately, most versions of Outlook have little to no support for any of them. And, since Outlook still holds a respectable amount of market share, most designers need to make sure that their campaigns display as intended when viewed in Outlook.

So, if email designers can’t rely on typical web design approaches, how can we design robust email campaigns?

Tables are the Only Solution

In a nutshell, email designers have to take a page out of the web design handbook…circa the late 1990s. Back when web browsers hadn’t even heard of the web standards movement, designers relied on HTML tables to structure web pages. Since tables worked everywhere, they were the de facto standard.

HTML tables are likewise supported by every major email client. They are pretty much the only thing that is universally supported when it comes to email design. So, if we want email campaigns to display relatively well across email clients, we need to use HTML tables to lay out our campaigns.

It can be jarring to use tables if you’re coming from building modern web sites, but if you stick to the following when coding emails, you’re off to the right start.

Instead of This…

Use This


<table>, <tr>, <td>



<h1>, <h2>, <h3>, etc.

<td> or <span>

<link type=”text/css”>

<td style=””>


<td style=”padding:;”>


multiple table cells and align

Curious how that actually looks in an email? Check out this example template for how to properly use HTML tables to structure content and CSS to style everything.

This lack of support for standard HTML and CSS shouldn’t hold you back from designing great emails, though. As we’ve mentioned before, you can still pull off some amazing things in email, even using HTML5 and CSS3 by progressively enhancing your table-based designs.

Always Test Your Designs

While tables are absolutely necessary for designing email campaigns, there are still a lot of things that can go wrong. The varying levels of support across email clients and their rendering engines leads to a lot of display issues, which is why you need to constantly test your email campaigns before pushing send.

Litmus Email Previews allows you to easily test any campaign in 40+ email apps, including desktop, webmail, and mobile clients. Try out Litmus free for 7 days and make sure your campaigns look good everywhere… even Outlook.

Start your free trial →

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Episode 8: Our Top 5 Predictions for Email Design in 2015 Wed, 11 Feb 2015 14:55:25 +0000 In the eighth episode of The Email Design Podcast, hosts Kevin Mandeville and Jason Rodriguez make their top five predictions for 2015. What will the new year bring for the email design industry? Be sure to follow along and join in the discussion on Twitter using #EmailDesignPodcast.

Watch the full video above or listen to the audio-only version below.

Download the MP3

Our Top 5 Predictions for 2015

  1. Gmail will finally support responsive design (but won’t tell us when they do).
  2. Inbox by Gmail will fail.
  3. More experimental emails (video, interactions, animations, etc.) will hit the inbox.
  4. Outlook (desktop) will fall to 5% market share. Yahoo will buy a mobile email client.
  5. We’ll see more in-depth personalization using things like context, history, and geolocation.

Follow the Email Design Podcast

Subscribe to the Email Design Newsletter to get updates on the Email Design Podcast along with a curated selection of our favorite articles and resources on email design.

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Pushing the Boundaries of Creative ALT Text in Email Fri, 06 Feb 2015 16:45:19 +0000 This past January we held our very first Litmus Community Contest. Community Contests will be held monthly and encourage Community members to explore new techniques and push the boundaries of email design, all while showing off some impressive email design skills.

Our first contest asked members to try out new, creative uses for one of our favorite aspects of email design: ALT text. With 43% of emails blocking images, providing alternative text (ALT text) is one of the quickest wins for email designers. We wanted to see if Community members could push ALT text beyond just basic styling.

While only a few members entered, we were blown away with the results—so much so that we couldn’t pick one winner. Instead, we crowned both Michael Muscat and Rémi Parmentier the winners of the very first Community Contest.

Winning Entries

While a lot of email marketers are familiar with using ALT text to provide information about images even when they’re disabled, few have really explored anything beyond the basics. That’s not the case with our two winning entries, which both utilized some truly cutting edge techniques for optimizing emails even in the absence of images.

Michael Muscat’s Space Invaders

While not technically using ALT text, Michael Muscat’s winning entry shows off an alternate method for handling email clients that disable images. In an homage to the 70’s classic Space Invaders, Michael uses ASCII characters to provide a fallback for an included video of the vintage video game.

Space Invaders
With images on.
Space Invaders
With images off.

When the video is disabled, the ASCII block characters act as pixels and allow Michael to build a wonderful representation of the familiar Space Invaders screen.

What really pushes this entry into new territory is Michael’s use of CSS3 animations to actually make those mock-pixel graphics move, mimicking the coming alien onslaught and the back-and-forth motion of the laser cannon.

Check out the code with Litmus Builder →

Rémi Parmentier’s Shadow DOM

For his winning entry, Rémi took advantage of one of the more experimental browser features, the shadow DOM, to gain deeper access to ALT text and make it dynamic.

Shadow DOM
Animated ALT text.

The shadow DOM allows individual HTML elements to be broken down into even more granular elements, giving designers even more control over their display and use. In this example, Rémi accesses the ALT text and combines it with CSS pseudo-elements and the content property to add even more ALT text. Finally, using CSS transitions, he animates between the ALT text when a user hovers over it.

Check out the code with Litmus Builder →

Explore More in the Community

You can see all of the entries, as well as read more about how Michael and Rémi pulled off their email acrobatics, in the Community Contest discussion thread. Be sure to check out all of the entries’ code examples using Litmus Builder.

Join us next week as we announce the theme of the second Community Contest, along with some new prizes.

Not a Litmus Community member?

Join the Community →

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Use Testing to Continuously Learn More About Your Audience Mon, 02 Feb 2015 16:37:52 +0000 In order to produce well-performing campaigns, it’s crucial to send emails that not only render well, but also resonate with your audience. But, how do you know what type of content, calls-to-action (CTAs), and design work best for your audience? It’s easy: test! Through testing, you can gain insights into your subscribers and their preferences that help you send strategic, optimized, and better-performing campaigns.

The team over at Emerson, a manufacturing and technology company, wanted to generate interest in their product by offering a free trial via email. While they knew their B2B audience consisted mostly of conservative, middle-aged engineers, they were unsure which type of offer would resonate best—and ultimately produce the most leads.

So, they set out to test…and test…and test again!

While their results were surprising, they now know which types of email perform well with their audience. More importantly, they have instilled testing in their process, allowing them to learn even more about their subscribers over time.


Emerson’s first test was to see whether including a white paper alongside a free trial would generate more leads than simply a free trial alone. Their hypothesis was that the white paper would distract from the free trial, producing fewer leads. They sent 50% of their audience the “free trial only” email, and the other 50% received the combination free trial and white paper version.


Control email


Test email

This test also pitted two CTAs against one another: the CTA in the control email enticed readers with a “Free trial and installation” while the test version asked subscribers to “Download the white paper.” In both emails, the CTAs are in the same place and use the same color—one in the header image and one at the bottom of the email. In the test email, there is also a secondary CTA in the sidebar for a “Free trial and free installation.”

The subject line also drew attention to the inclusion of the white paper, stating “[White Paper] The Impact of Failed Steam Traps on Process Plants.” The control email used “Free Trial & Installation: Capture Energy Savings with Automated Steam Trap Monitoring”.

The results

The results really threw the Emerson team for a loop! For starters, the subject line of the test email resulted in 23% more unique opens than the control email. While the control had a 8.92% open rate, the test had a 10.96% open rate. This showed Emerson that their subscribers are more apt to open an email that included content rather than just a free trial.

While both emails generated the same amount of interest in the free trial, the white paper was significantly more popular than the free trial and generated additional inquires. Take a look at the clicks for the emails:

Control Email

Test Email

Total CTR

0.77% 2.77%

Unique CTR

0.49% 1.33%


After using A/B testing to see what type of offer (content vs. trial) resonates well with their audience, Emerson began adding content offers to their free trial emails. However, they wanted to determine if clicking on a white paper CTA or a free trial CTA indicated interest in the trial. Their hypothesis was pretty straightforward—that clicks on a free trial link indicated more interest in free trials than clicks on a white paper CTA.


They started tracking the location of clicks in each email and cross-referencing these clicks to inquiries and interest about the offers:


Once again, the white paper received significantly more clicks than the free trial itself. However, both free trial CTAs received the same amount of clicks—19. The sidebar CTA received 14 clicks on the button and 5 clicks on the corresponding image, while the CTA at the bottom received 19 clicks on the button. But, which CTA placement led to the most leads and the most interest in a trial?

Lead generation forms for both CTAs had the same qualification questions: 1) Are you interested in learning more about a specific product? 2) Are you interested in a free trial?

Forms that were submitted without checking either of those boxes were considered inquiries, forms with any two checkboxes were considered leads, and forms with both checkboxes filled in were considered interested in the offer.


Email inquiries


Email leads


Email offer interest

Once again, the results surprised them! The initial interest in the white paper generated more clicks that later became leads—and not only leads, but leads expressing interest in the trial offer. Their conclusion: content really is king.


Re-sending messages (especially to non-openers) is a frequently debated email marketing tactic. When making the decision to re-send messages, you might consider using the same email, or re-writing a message to differentiate from the first send. Which practice is most effective, and a better use of marketing resources?

This was another question that the team at Emerson wanted to answer. While they filtered out anyone who had already downloaded the white paper or signed up for a free trial, they re-sent the exact same email to those who had not. The email sends were one week apart. The only difference between the two emails was their subject lines:

  • Whitepaper: The Impact of Failed Steam Traps on Food Processing Plants
  • Whitepaper: Food Processing Plants; The Impact of Failed Steam Traps

The team feared that sending identical emails might annoy their audience; however, they didn’t see an increase in unsubscribes with the second send. Unsurprising to the team, the first email generated more traffic to the landing page because the click rate was much higher.

1st Email

2nd Email

Email CTR

1.91% 0.93%

However, they were shocked to see that the second email actually generated more leads than the first.

1st Email

2nd Email


162 60


22 24

Offer Interest

16 7

After diving into the click data between the two email sends, they discovered that there wasn’t much overlap between subscribers who clicked both emails. In fact, only 30 people clicked links in both emails; 568 subscribers clicked links in the first email and 270 different subscribers clicked links in the second email.

Clicked 1st Email

Clicked 2nd Email

Clicked Both Emails

568 270 30

What did Emerson learn from this? For starters, the subscribers who clicked on their first email may in fact have been annoyed that they were resent the same email—only 20 of them clicked links in the second email. However, while there were fewer clicks in the second email, those that clicked led to more leads, and both emails resulted in approximately the same percentage of people expressing interest in the free trial.

While the results of this test were very interesting, they weren’t conclusive enough for Emerson to make a decision for future sends. They plan to do more testing on re-sending campaigns to see whether multiple sends can lead to an increase in leads. They are interested in looking at changing subject lines and excluding clickers from the initial send.

By continuously testing (and often being shocked by those results!), Emerson continues to learn more about their audience and what types of emails, messaging, and CTAs resonate the best with them.

A big thanks to…

We’d like to thank Vanessa Bright, Online Marketing Manager; Scott Pries, Marketing Communications Manager Flame & Gas Detection; and Charlie Oracion, Team Lead, Online Marketing on Emerson Process Management—Rosemount’s team for sharing all of their testing efforts with us.


A/B testing is just one way you can learn more about what resonates best with your audience. Litmus’ Email Analytics data will show you engagement, email client, geolocation, forward and print data to help make key design and HTML build decisions, providing you with opportunities to surprise and delight your subscribers (not to mention increase conversions!).

Not a Litmus user? New customers have unlimited Email Analytics access until February 28th.

Optimize for your audience →

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The Top Email Marketing + Design Thought Leaders on Twitter Thu, 22 Jan 2015 19:29:18 +0000 Email marketing and design used to be a dark art riddled with secrets, mystery, and confusion. Now it feels more like a tight-knit family. Between conferences, social media, meetups, the Litmus community, and other events, the industry is coming together more often to share and learn from one another. When one of us succeeds in pushing the limits of email—like using HTML5 video in email—or finally convinces Gmail to think about supporting responsive design, it’s a win for all of us.

Litmus has a proud history of supporting innovation, creativity, and education in email. The Litmus community, Builder, and The Email Design Conference are just a few examples of how we’re pushing the industry forward. These initiatives shine a bright light on the hard work designers and marketers put in every day to make email happen at their organizations—and has helped these thought leaders gain visibility for their efforts.

These efforts were recognized by the industry when Justine Jordan, Marketing Director here at Litmus, was presented the eec Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year award. Alongside other passionate email lovers, like fellow nominees Ryan Phelan, Jay Jhun, and Chad White, Justine is a constant advocate for advancing the work of the email community.

This great news gave us the perfect opportunity to acknowledge all the thought leaders in the industry—because without them we wouldn’t have the community, the conference, or the tools that help us push email forward every day. This list of email geeks are the people who passionately (and happily!) spend their days planning, writing, coding (and debugging… and debugging), testing, and executing emails. Because of them, email is finally being recognized as a results-driven craft—a craft that certainly isn’t dead.

Update: In our first version of this post, we named 67 thought leaders. In recognition of the collaborative nature of email (and our accidental omission of some key contributors in the industry), we encourage the community to add to this list! Submit your favorite thought leaders in the comments.

Note: While many wear several email-related hats, we’ve tried to break them into groups for easier viewing!


These experts often combine humor, insight, and observations about user experience and subscriber behavior in their tweets. View them all in our creative strategists Twitter list!

Alessandra Souers
Senior Brand Manager, JibJab

Alex Williams
VP, Creative Director at Trendline Interactive

Andrew King
Senior Strategy Consultant at Lyris

Andrew Kordek
Co-Founder & Chief Strategist at Trendline Interactive

Bob Frady
VP of Technology at Zeeto Media

Brent Walter
Marketing Automation Strategist at DEG

Colin Nederkoorn
Founder & CEO at

Cori Hemmah
Senior Manager, Demand Generation at Xamarin

Darryl Vos
Director of Art & Technology at G+A Advertising

Jason Meeker
Strategic Partner at RootedELM

Jay Jhun
VP of Strategic Services at BrightWave

Jordan Cohen
CMO at Fluent, Inc.

Jordie van Rijn
Email Marketing & Marketing Automation Consultant at eMailMonday

Justine Jordan
Director of Marketing at Litmus

Kirsty Trainer
Digital Marketing Executive at toinfinity

Mark Reeves
Founder at Clearbold, LLC

Megan Merrifield
Marketing Coordinator, Strategic Marketing at Gulfstream Aerospace

Ryan Phelan
VP, Global Strategic Services at Axciom

Skip Fidura
Global Client Services Director at dotMailer

Tamara Gielen
eCRM & Lifecycle Email Marketing Expert at Plan to Engage

Tink Taylor
Founder & COO at dotMailer

Vicky Ge
Marketing Manager, Trade Books at Amazon

Check out their tweets →


The leaders here are HTML and CSS wizards—making the impossible possible when it comes to email. See all their updates in the email hackers & developers Twitter list!

Alex Ilhan
Email Developer at display block

Anna Yeaman
Creative Director at STYLECampaign

Becs Rivett
Freelance Email Marketer at Becs Rivett

Brian Graves
UI Team Lead at DEG

Clinton Wilmott
Freelance Email Marketing Specialist

Dan Denney
Front End Developer at Code School

Elliot Ross
Founder at Action Rocket

Fabio Carneiro
Lead Email Developer & UX Designer at MailChimp

Jacques Corby-Tuech
Contractor at Curse, Inc.

Jaina Mistry
Email Specialist at Padawan Group

Jason Rodriguez
Community Manager at Litmus

Justin Khoo
Email Wonk at FreshInbox

Kevin Mandeville
Content Designer at Litmus

Kristian Robinson
Email Developer at iris worldwide

Mark Robbins
Email Developer at RebelMail

Mike Ragan
Designer at Action Rocket

Nicole Merlin
Email Engineer at Campaign Monitor

Paul Airy
Email Designer & Developer at Beyond the Envelope

Stig Morten Myre
Email Developer at Campaign Monitor

Ted Goas
Designer & Developer at Canfield Scientific

Check out their tweets →


These are the folks developing innovative testing plans and mining through piles of open, click, conversion, and site data to prove that our designs are driving performance. View their tweets and subscribe to their updates in the testing & analytics Twitter list.

Dela Quist
CEO at Alchemy Worx

John Foreman
Chief Data Scientist at MailChimp

Kath Pay
Marketing Director, cloud.IQ

Kristina Huffman
Global Practice Lead, Creative Services at Salesforce Marketing Cloud

Matt Byrd
Email Marketing Manager at Uber

Mike Heimowitz
Online Marketing Manager at Atlassian

Tim Watson
Founder at Zettasphere

Check out their tweets →


Content is king, and so are these experts who contribute research, thought leadership, and plenty of advice about copy, graphics and all the other good stuff that makes up the body of our messages. See all their updates in the content & research Twitter list!

Bill McCloskey
Founder at Only Influencers

Chad White
Lead Research Analyst at Salesforce Marketing Cloud

Dan Oshinsky
Newsletter Editor & Staff Writer at BuzzFeed

David Daniels
CEO at The Relevancy Group

Jeanne Jennings
Email Consultant at Jeanne Jennings

Kristin Bond
Freelance Email Nerd

Loren McDonald
VP, Industry Relations at Silverpop

Mark Brownlow
Publisher at Email Marketing Reports

Ros Hodgekiss
Community Manager at Campaign Monitor

Scott Cohen
VP of Marketing at Inbox Group

Simms Jenkins
CEO at BrightWave

Zachary Hanz
Email Marketing Manager at Sprout Social

Check out their tweets →


If the emails we create never made it to the inbox, we’d be in big trouble. These are the folks that influence the inner workings behind getting email delivered. View their tweets and subscribe to their updates in the delivery Twitter list.

Al Iverson
Product Manager at Salesforce Marketing Cloud

Andrew Bonar
Founder at emailexpert

Andy Thorpe
Professional Service Consultant at Pure360

Craig Spiezle
Executive Director & President at Online Trust Alliance

Dennis Dayman
Chief Privacy & Security Officer at Return Path

Joey Rutledge
Delivery Engineer at MailChimp

Laura Atkins
Founder at Word to the Wise

Matthew Vernhout
Founder at

Steve Henderson
Compliance Officer at Communicator

Check out their tweets →

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53% of Emails Opened on Mobile; Outlook Opens Decrease 33% Thu, 15 Jan 2015 19:57:23 +0000 We’ve been tracking email opens for more than 4 years. And it’s incredible to see how behaviors have changed over time. Mobile email was barely a blip on our radars in 2011, and made up just 8% of email opens. Fast forward to 2014, and nearly half of emails are opened on smartphones and tablets—a 500% increase in four years.


Over time, desktop email has slowly been replaced by mobile and web apps. Businesses are shifting email away from expensive desktop suites and moving to scalable services like Outlook 365 and Google Apps. And people everywhere—both in business and consumer settings—have been steadily opening more email on mobile.


2014 was a big year for email, and especially for how the industry tracks email opens. Changes in Gmail had a huge impact—leading to spikes in webmail opens, a dip in mobile, and redefining how we need to look at email client market share stats.

Throughout 2014, Gmail automatically downloaded images for emails viewed in a web browser and Gmail mobile apps. This behavior, combined with a change to the way Gmail manages images in email, meant that all opens in Gmail look like they’re coming from the same place—even though some are coming from web browsers and others are coming from mobile apps. All opens from Gmail now fall into the “webmail” category. Because of these changes and the ambiguity of opens coming from Gmail, you’ll hear us referring to “detectable mobile opens,” and showing you how Gmail opens alone compare to opens in desktop, webmail, and mobile. There’s a detailed explanation of the changes to Gmail and how they affect open reporting in our Help Center.


After mobile opens rose to a record peak at the end of 2013, we started to see the impact of these changes to Gmail. Because some mobile Gmail opens are now reported as webmail opens, detectable mobile opens steadily declined until May, where they evened out at 43%. Things started to pick back up in June, and mobile opens once again began to rise. We ended 2014 with 48% of opens coming from detectable mobile sources, 22% of opens in desktop, and 30% in webmail.


By looking at historical trends for mobile growth and the difference in Gmail open counts from before and after the updates, we can try to account for the lost mobile opens being counted as webmail. On average, it appears as though mobile opens are probably 3–5% higher than what is currently detectable. Looking at adjusted figures for 2014, this puts year-end open rates at 22% for desktop, 25% for webmail and 53% for mobile.


We can also examine Gmail as a unique category and see that Gmail opens steadily increased throughout 2014. They finally surpassed all other webmail opens in September and ended the year with 16% share—and a total increase of 72% for 2014.


Other notable changes include a 40% decrease in Android opens—also due in part to changes in Gmail tracking. Opens that were once attributed to Android in the mobile category are now tracked under Gmail in the webmail category.


Meanwhile, iPhone opens increased slightly—rising from just under 25% to 28% over the course of the year. iPad opens, on the other hand, were flat—starting the year at 12.18% and ending at 12.68%.


 The big news for Apple this year was the release of the Yosemite operating system on October 16th. Apple Mail opens picked up the pace after the launch, increasing from 32% of desktop opens in September to 38% of opens by the end of the year.

Outlook, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well. Opens decreased from 13 to 8.7% of total opens over the course of the year. While Outlook 2013 saw a steadily increasing open rate (mostly at the expense of Outlook 2010), all versions took a hit, with a drop corresponding to Yosemite’s launch.


While we suspect that Apple grabbed some market share from Microsoft, we also attribute the decrease in Outlook opens to businesses shifting to online services such as Google Apps.



2014 wrapped up with Apple dominating in the top 5, with 48% of market share between Apple Mail and iOS opens. Gmail took the number two spot, while Outlook’s decreasing numbers bumped it down to #4.


Email marketing works best when it’s tailored to your audience. Find out where people open the emails you send with Email Analytics.

Get your top ten →

Data in this report is based on nearly 12 billion worldwide opens collected with Email Analytics between January–December 2014. Some email clients may be over- or under-reported due to automatic enablement of images and/or image blocking. Tracking trends over time is the best way to monitor open data for email. Learn more about how image caching and automatic downloads in Gmail affect open rates.

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Where Should You Focus Your Testing Efforts? Wed, 14 Jan 2015 20:35:45 +0000 Between buggy support for HTML and CSS, spelling errors, bad links, missing images, and other potential blunders, it’s crucial to test your email campaigns before every single send. But, where should you focus your testing efforts? With so many email apps available (not to mention the different versions of each), it’s easy to feel overwhelmed trying to test every possible combination.

While there is general email client open data available, it’s your audience that matters. Sure, nearly 30% of worldwide opens occur on iPhones, but if your subscribers aren’t using iPhones, then why worry about it? Looking at open data for your audience is the key to narrowing down where you should be focusing your testing efforts.


With the addition of a small tracking code to your campaigns, Email Analytics generates a report of where your subscribers open your emails—including the specific versions of each program and app. You’ll also receive operating system and browser reports—both of which provide helpful data in consolidating your testing efforts (we’ll get to this part later!).


We recommend looking at the top 10-15 most popular programs and apps with your audience (or your client’s audience) and focusing on delivering a great experience in those environments. This enables you to ensure that your emails look great for most of your audience, all while saving you time and resources by focusing your testing efforts where it matters. It’s also important to track your Email Analytics data after every send, so you can note trends and react to any changes in your subscribers’ open data.


Once you identify your audience’s favorite email clients, it’s time to take a look at some of the known issues with each client. Understanding how email clients render HTML is a vital step in fine-tuning both your email campaigns and your testing process.

Desktop clients

While there are scores of desktop clients, the most popular worldwide are the various versions of Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, Apple Mail, and Mozilla Thunderbird. By understanding how they display emails, and identifying similarities and differences between rendering engines, you can save yourself a lot of testing time.

Early versions of Outlook

Outlook 2000-2003 use Internet Explorer to render email. As a result, you can group these together when testing since they will render very similarly. These clients block images by default, and have limited support for ALT text (although no support for styled ALT text) so be sure to include descriptions for your images. In addition, forms and HTML5 video will display, but won’t work; while animated GIFs are fully supported.

Outlook 2007-2013

Contrary to early versions of Outlook using IE to render, Outlook 2007-2013 uses Microsoft Word as a rendering engine (yes, a word processor is used to render HTML). It has extremely poor support for CSS, including:

  • No support for background images in divs and table cells
  • No support for CSS float or position
  • No support for text shadow
  • Poor support for padding and margin
  • Poor support for CSS width and height

While it blocks images by default, it does support ALT text (but not styled ALT text). In addition, while HTML5 video’s fallback and the first frame of an animated GIF will display, neither will actually play.

Thunderbird, Apple Mail + Outlook for Mac

While Thunderbird uses Gecko as a rendering engine, Apple Mail and Outlook for Mac use WebKit. However, both Gecko and WebKit have excellent support for HTML and CSS, so you can group these clients together when testing.

These clients support animated GIFs, background images, HTML5 video, and Web fonts. However, one difference to note is that while Outlook for Mac disables images by default, Apple Mail and Thunderbird will automatically display images, unless a subscriber manually disables images in their preference settings.

Lotus Notes

Lotus Notes 6.5–9 can use either Internet Explorer or Notes Rich Text to render, to sometimes disastrous results. Since compensating for rendering problems in Notes can lead to problems elsewhere, we don’t recommend testing in this client unless you have the data to justify the associated headaches. Less than 0.5% of opens occur in Lotus Notes worldwide, but pockets of devoted users still exist. If you’re seeing a lot of opens in Notes, be sure to inline your CSS whenever possible, reset layout style rules (such as padding and margin), and use table-based layouts.

Webmail email

Free services like AOL Mail, Gmail,, and Yahoo Mail combined with email services provided by cable and internet companies (like Comcast) create endless opportunities to check email in a web browser. Rendering for webmail email is dependent on two factors: the preprocessor and the browser the email is opened in.

The preprocessor

Before an email can be rendered in a web browser, the email client needs to run the HTML through a preprocessor. In order to protect the security of the email client, the preprocessor removes anything with even the slightest potential to affect the layout of their email client itself. For example, many email clients remove object or embed tags, JavaScript, and Flash. Gmail will even strip <style> blocks contained in the <head> of the HTML.

The browser

Once the preprocessor has done its job, the HTML is passed along to the browser, which acts as the rendering engine. Popular browsers include Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari. Chrome and Safari use variations of WebKit as a rendering engine, while Internet Explorer uses Trident and Firefox uses Gecko.

As stated in the desktop rendering section, Gecko and WebKit have great support for CSS, which means that emails opened in Firefox, Chrome, and Safari will render nearly identically. The latest versions of Internet Explorer also have good support for CSS.

However, you’ll still want to test your emails in a variety of browsers (don’t worry, Litmus offers webmail testing in Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox!), since things like image blocking behaviors, ALT text, and alignment can vary from browser to browser.

Mobile clients

Mobile rendering is extremely complex, as there are literally dozens of ways to view an email on any given mobile device. Differences between manufacturers, operating systems, screen sizes, and email apps all play a role in rendering when it comes to smartphones and tablets. Needless to say, there is a lot to consider!

Android, BlackBerry, and iOS use WebKit to render

Android, BlackBerry, and iOS (iPhone and iPad) devices all use WebKit as their rendering engine. As stated previously, WebKit has great support for HTML and CSS and isn’t likely to cause email designers any headaches. However, when it comes to mobile there are some things to be aware of.

Like webmail rendering, mobile clients use a preprocessor to remove anything “risky” before passing the HTML onto the phone’s browser to render. Each email application on the phone then “borrows” WebKit to render the email—even if the email is not being read in the browser itself (rather, it could be read in an email app instead).

So, even though all of the major mobile devices use the same rendering engine, differences in preprocessors and behaviors between email apps can cause rendering discrepancies (even with email apps on the same device!). For example, while the Gmail app on Android doesn’t support media queries (the foundation of responsive emails), some other email apps for Android have full support for responsive elements. How’s that for confusing?

There are also subtle differences between each devices’ implementation of WebKit. For example, Android may use a different style on a button than iOS.

Windows Phone uses Internet Explorer to render

While Windows Phone also uses a preprocessor, it uses Internet Explorer rather than WebKit to render code. While the newest versions of Internet Explorer render similarly to WebKit, there will still be some differences.

So, what do you do?

Needless to say, mobile rendering is complex. There are numerous ways that a subscriber could view your email. And, even when devices or email apps use the same rendering engine, emails could still display differently.

When it comes to mobile, discovering which clients and apps your subscribers are using is imperative to save you time and resources. If your audience is anything like the general population, you’ll definitely want to test on the native email app for iPhone, as well as the email and Gmail apps for Android.


Don’t waste your valued time and resources focusing on email clients that your subscribers aren’t even using. Use Email Analytics to discover where your emails are being opened and start focusing your testing efforts.

New and existing customers have unlimited Email Analytics access until February 28th.

Discover your audience →

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Episode 7: Our Top 5 Favorite Emails of 2014 Fri, 02 Jan 2015 14:21:39 +0000 In the seventh episode of The Email Design Podcast, hosts Kevin Mandeville and Jason Rodriguez take a look back at 2014 and review their top five favorite emails. Be sure to follow along and join in the discussion on Twitter using #EmailDesignPodcast.

Watch the full video above or listen to the audio-only version below.

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Measuring the Success of Your Email Campaigns: Webinar Q&A Tue, 23 Dec 2014 16:29:46 +0000 skip
Skip Fidura, dotmailer

We joined forces with dotmailer’s Skip Fidura for a guest webinar on measuring the success of your email campaigns. While many marketers focus on metrics like open rates and click rates, those aren’t the only data points you should be looking at. Skip demonstrated how this approach to analyzing a campaign’s success can lead to poor decision making, and even result in marketers undervaluing both their email lists and the performance of their email programs.

He covered when it’s appropriate to focus on metrics, as well as pointed out other ways to measure the success of your campaigns.

Didn’t have a chance to make it to the webinar? Don’t worry—we recorded the whole thing!

Get the slides and recording →

With over 3,000 registrants, Skip didn’t have enough time to get to all of the questions during the Q&A portion of the webinar. Luckily, he graciously offered to answer all of the questions we missed here on the blog.


What is a strong click-to-open rate (CTOR)? What is a strong click rate (CTR)?

I always strongly urge clients not to compare themselves to the industry or even their vertical. It is much better to set your own benchmark and gauge your performance from that.

How is CTOR used to gauge the success of a campaign?

The traditional calculation for CTR is the unique number of clicks divided by the number of emails delivered. In the early days of email, this metric was important as it was the datapoint that was most closely comparable to off-line direct mail. Because we cannot track who opens a direct mail package, we assume everyone sees it and base response rates on the number of packs delivered.

The issue with this metric is that it is not as accurate a measure of campaign performance because we can track who opened an email. CTOR is a great measure of how your email performed after it was opened. In other words, it shows how your email performed after somebody saw it.

What is the difference between unique clicks vs. total opens / clicks?

Unique clicks are the number of people who clicked on your email at least once. Total clicks is the number of times they clicked.

Approximately what percentage of subscribers should you assume saw and opened your email, but didn’t turn on images?

Last December, Google announced that images in emails would show automatically—rather than blocked by default, which they previously were. By comparing open rates before and after Gmail’s switch to automatic image downloads, Litmus discovered that approximately 43% of Gmail users read email without turning images on.

While Gmail doesn’t block images any more, many email clients, like Outlook and Yahoo, still do. As a result, if we extrapolate that subscribers using other clients that block images have similar habits as Gmail users, it’s extremely important to optimize for images-off viewing since many subscribers aren’t downloading images.

Be sure to use clear ALT text on images and don’t include key copy in images—half of your subscribers won’t be able to see it! By using techniques like this to combat the effects of image blocking, your subscribers will still be able to read your email–and even click and convert!–without having to download images.


What is an ESP?

ESP stands for email service provider. In short, it’s a company that offers bulk email services. Rather than sending marketing emails from whichever email client you use (not only is this extremely manual, but it’s likely that you’ll end up in the spam folder), you use an ESP to aid in the delivery of your emails. They also manage bounces, unsubscribes, and even can act as a CRM (customer relationship management). If you’re sending any type of bulk mailing, then you should be using an ESP.

There are hundreds of ESPs to choose from—including dotmailer! Email Vendor Selection has a great list.

How do you track who has clicked on two emails? How do you track users who open? How do you track how many times individuals have clicked on something?

You can do all of this from an ESP! For each campaign, you’ll receive data on who clicked, who opened, and more. Since it also acts like a CRM, you can click into individual subscribers to see emails that have been sent to them, which ones they’ve opened, which ones they’ve clicked, if they’ve unsubscribed, and more.


Do you have any tips on presenting your results to management teams? Especially since they are usually just paying attention to the typical stats like open rates and CTRs.

Try to put your metrics in terms they really understand—revenue and value. Revenue is relatively easy to measure for online businesses. Value is more about how much money your email list delivers to the bottom line. Report on the sales for the people on your email list and, if possible, compare this to the customers not on your email list.

Also, talk about your list as if it is an asset that sits on the balance sheet. You had to invest money to get each of those addresses and that investment is in turn delivering revenue. Identify and track you cost of acquiring new addresses and value your list accordingly.

How would you report on the engagement of emails and the subsequent engagement activity on a website?

As I mention in the webinar, many companies link their email activity to their web analytics. First, you need to understand who is clicking, then you figure out where they are going. Usually the email team has no control over the website so once the clicker gets to the site, the responsibility of the email marketer ends, but that is not to say that your job is done.

Your email will have a significant impact on that web journey so tracking each journey and linking that back to a specific recipient is important. Unlike your other channels, you can tailor your follow up emails to what they did on the site. In terms of reporting, treat email as you would your other sources of traffic to your website.

How do you tie in email metrics to sales drivers in a sales organization? While we can easily show lead generation, tracking the journey is often difficult.

Once a prospect has engaged with the email, an email marketer’s immediate job is done, but for products that require more consideration or have a longer sales cycle, one email is usually not enough. In fact, email by itself is not usually enough. In these situations it is important to understand the entire customer journey and identify the pathways that lead to the best conversion rates.


Clicks and opens aren’t the only metrics you should be looking at. Get insights into which email apps are most popular with your audience, track engagement trends, and target messages based on location with Email Analytics.

Get access to Litmus’ Email Analytics, as well as unlimited email tests, page tests, and spam filter tests free for 14 days.

Get started →

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