Litmus https://litmus.com/blog Blog Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:17:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 How Removing a Featured Newsletter Article Increased CTR 13% https://litmus.com/blog/how-removing-a-featured-newsletter-article-increased-ctr https://litmus.com/blog/how-removing-a-featured-newsletter-article-increased-ctr#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 19:11:42 +0000 https://litmus.com/blog/?p=7765 Newsletters are an email marketing staple. Whether it’s Tuesdays at 3pm, every third Monday at 11am or every morning at 9am, the process of assembling a newsletter is a familiar one to most of us.

Although marketers are increasingly questioning their merits, newsletters still retain value. They circulate a variety of content to users and allow marketers to easily maintain consistency in their email cadence. Ideally, they also have targeted, valuable content and aren’t just being sent for the sake of being sent—but that’s a subject for another post.

Many of you know Litmus for our monthly newsletter, which features email tips, guides and case studies. Did you know we also publish a second monthly newsletter called Email Design Monthly? It was launched as a Litmus hack week project and has retained an extremely active audience ever since.

Email Design Monthly is a Litmus-curated collection of email resources from around the web. We want to provide marketers and designers with the best information available (whether it’s on our site or not), and this newsletter allows us to do so each month.

TESTING FEATURED ARTICLES

As Email Design Monthly has evolved, we’ve run a few A/B tests to find the optimal way to deliver this kind of content. As originally designed, the newsletter includes one featured article, followed by a marketing section and a design section.

email-design-monthly1

To increase performance, we wondered what would happen if we removed the featured article concept, giving equal visual importance to all articles. We anticipated two potential outcomes:

  • Without an eye-catching main article, more subscribers would dive deeper into the newsletter to find something that interested them.
  • The lack of hierarchy could overwhelm readers, resulting in less click activity.

To test this egalitarian concept, we sent two versions of our most recent edition. One version included a featured article, and the other did not. In the second version, the “featured” article was still the first article listed, but it was bundled in with the other marketing articles:

edm-featured2

Version A (w/ Featured Article)

edm-no-feature2

Version B (w/o Featured Article)

WHAT HAPPENED?

Although we don’t always see dramatic differences in our A/B tests, this experiment gave us some clear results:

  • When designated as featured, the first article received 36% more clicks.
  • When the featured concept wasn’t present, each of the other articles received 9% more clicks on average.
  • The version with no featured article got 13% more people to click at least one article.

These click rate disparities suggest that featured articles play a major role in a subscriber’s perception of the entire newsletter. If the featured article isn’t appealing, readers are less likely to look beyond that article to find something of interest.

If there is no featured article to influence their perception, subscribers seem more likely to skim to find an article that interests them. This version had much deeper engagement at the bottom of the newsletter compared to the one with the featured article.

SHOULD WE STOP FEATURING SPECIFIC ARTICLES?

Not necessarily, as results weren’t completely in the test variant’s favor. The featured article version won on an interesting metric: the number of links clicked by each subscriber. On average, subscribers who received that version clicked 3 links, while their peers in the non-featured group each clicked only 2.5 links.

That particular result suggests that subscribers who saw the featured article were likely to click it purely on principle of it being featured. They came back to the newsletter to keep clicking on other articles.

For the purposes of choosing a winner, the 13% unique click-through rate increase on the version with no featured article is the key metric. I’d much prefer that more people find at least one article appealing so that they continue to find value in the publication and don’t unsubscribe from lack of interest. A next step will be to increase total clicks in that version while still maintaining a high unique click-through rate.

Remember, these results could obviously vary from month-to-month, company-to-company and even article-to-article. The only way to know what impact a featured article could be having on your newsletter is to test it! When you do, evaluate performance based on these metrics:

  • Unique click-through rate: What percentage of subscribers click at least one article?
  • Total clicks: How many clicks overall did you generate?
  • Clicks per clicker: Divide the number of total clicks by the number of unique clicks to get the average number of links each clicker clicked.
  • Difference in click-through rate on the featured article.
  • Difference in the click-through rate on each of the other articles.

SUBSCRIBE TO EMAIL DESIGN MONTHLY

Not a current subscriber? Sign up below! We’ll send you our favorite email marketing resources from around the web each month. (Plus, you’ll get to be a part of our test next time!)

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Scalable, Fluid or Responsive: Understanding Mobile Email Approaches https://litmus.com/blog/defining-and-understanding-mobile-email-approaches https://litmus.com/blog/defining-and-understanding-mobile-email-approaches#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 19:42:54 +0000 https://litmus.com/blog/?p=7586 Mobile is a wildly popular topic in email design, which makes sense—emails opened on mobile devices have grown more than 400% since 2011, and mobile email opens hit the 50% mark in 2013. We’ve talked before about how important mobile has become to email marketers and the need to optimize campaigns for mobile audiences. But it’s not always clear which strategy works best for mobile audiences.

To make matters worse, many marketers are confused about what strategies actually exist. Eliminating the possibility of not doing anything at all, mobile email design can roughly be broken down into three categories:

  • Scalable Design
  • Fluid Design
  • Responsive Design

For marketers to choose the approach that best suits their needs, it’s important to understand the differences between these three approaches.

Scalable Design

Let’s begin with what many email marketers are currently using: scalable design. Scalable design can be defined as any design that works well across both desktop and mobile without using code to adjust table or image sizes, or display or hide content between the two platforms. While we’re using the term “scalable” to describe this approach, you may have also heard these concepts referred to as mobile aware, mobile friendly, agnostic or mobile first.

definingmobile-scalable

Scalable designs are typically the easiest to implement. Since scalable emails don’t adjust the widths of tables or images between devices, and don’t use CSS media queries (we’ll get to those later) to swap content or change the size of text, it’s important to use a number of techniques to keep the content of scalable emails enjoyable not only on desktop, but when viewed on mobile devices as well.

  • A simple (usually single-column) layout that scales down nicely.
  • Large text that is readable on screens of all sizes.
  • Large, touch-friendly calls-to-action.

For more information on scalable design, Lauren’s post on the differences between scalable and responsive design is a great place to start. Our Anatomy of the Perfect Mobile Email infographic is another excellent resource.

One thing to keep in mind when designing scalable emails (or any email) is the Android “Grid of Grim.” In some Android email apps, messages are not scaled at all, resulting in the need for subscribers to scroll both vertically and horizontally. Ideally, you should place the most vital information in your campaign on the left side of your email—keeping things like logos, important copy, and CTAs visible without having to scroll horizontally.

When optimized using the techniques above, scalable emails are a great way for marketers to engage with their mobile audiences without the need to drastically change process or introduce new workflows. They typically require no extra coding or knowledge beyond what most email designers already know—it’s just a matter of making mobile users a priority and altering the overall email layout to accommodate their needs.

Check out these great examples of mobile-optimized, scalable emails:

While scalable emails are good for teams that need a quick solution, more advanced solutions allow for better control over campaigns on different devices.

Fluid Design

In between scalable and responsive is what we term “fluid” design. Fluid emails use percentage-based sizing to make the width of tables and images adapt to the screen size on which they are viewed, similar to what is known as “liquid” layouts on the web. Fluid emails are similar to scalable ones, in that they don’t purposefully alter the layout or content of an email, but they have the added benefit of having content “flow” to fill space on the screen. For this reason, fluid designs typically work best for text-heavy layouts since there’s less control over how copy and images relate to each other.

definingmobile-fluid

Implementing a fluid layout is relatively simple. Instead of using pixels for sizing tables, you use percentages.

<table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="100%">
    ...Content...
</table>

However, Campaign Monitor makes a good point that you will need to constrain the width of your emails on larger screens. If left completely fluid, emails on these screens will be too wide and the copy will be hard to read.

fluid-wide

Line lengths can become unwieldy in unconstrained fluid layouts

While websites can use the CSS max-width property to constrain the layout to a specific size, this technique isn’t widely supported in email clients. However, we can use alternative methods for limiting the width of a layout. The best way to achieve this is by wrapping the content of your email in a container table with a fixed width.

<table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="500" class="wrapper">
    <tr>
        <td>
            <table border="0" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" width="100%"> 
                ...Content...
            </table>
        </td>
    </tr>
</table>

Then, you can make that fixed width fluid by targeting it in a media query:

@media screen and (max-width: 525px) {
    table[class="wrapper"]{
        width:100% !important;
    }
}

Now, your tables and images will flow beautifully on most mobile devices, while still being readable on larger screens, just like some of these great emails:

It should be noted that fluid email designs are becoming less common these days. Fluid tables and images are almost always coupled with responsive design techniques to allow for the most control over email designs. Don’t let that discourage you from using fluid techniques, though! It’s still an excellent way to optimize for mobile if you don’t have the resources to devote to a completely responsive template.

Responsive Email

Responsive email takes everything from scalable and fluid emails and builds on it by adding more control via CSS media queries. While media queries are also used to help contain fluid layouts, it’s a simple implementation of media queries—nothing too advanced was happening. Responsive email, on the other hand, uses media queries to change the layout of emails, adjust the size of text, images, and buttons, and, in some cases, hide or even swap content between desktop and mobile devices.

definingmobile-responsive

CSS media queries allow you to target things like device and screen size to set up conditional styles for those sizes.

@media screen and (max-width: 525px) {
    img[class="hide"]{
        display:none !important;
    }
}

Using media queries, you can perform some impressive email acrobatics. Content can be shifted around, hidden, and even swapped out, providing email designers with amazing control over their campaigns on mobile devices.

For example, you can take a complex, multi-column layout on desktop and streamline it into a single-column, easy-to-scan, easy-to-scroll design on mobile—complete with larger text and more touch-friendly buttons.

defining-mobile-responsive-switch

Responsive design can be an amazing tool, but some designers have found it hard to wrap their heads around, which is why we made our How-to Guide to Responsive Email Design. Anna Yeaman over at STYLECampaign put together an amazing video that goes into what is possible with responsive email design. Our friends at Campaign Monitor also have a wonderful guide on the subject. Finally, if you don’t have the resources to build your own responsive templates, our friends at Stamplia recently built 7 Litmus-exclusive responsive email templates.

While responsive email design is the most powerful tool for dealing with mobile, designers should be aware that media queries and responsive techniques don’t work everywhere. Depending on your audience, though, you can start using responsive techniques today. We suggest starting small by using simple techniques (enlarging fonts on small screens for example) and then gradually working your way to more advanced concepts as you grow more comfortable with media queries. Using mobile-aware techniques as a foundation for your responsive emails allows you to design an email that falls back gracefully in clients that don’t support media queries.

Here are some of our favorite responsive emails:

Which Strategy Is The Best?

Once you understand the differences between scalable, fluid, and responsive email design, you can determine which strategy works best for your team. If you lack the know-how or resources to implement a responsive campaign, both scalable and fluid strategies are a great way to keep your emails friendly for mobile subscribers. However, if you have the time to go fully responsive, the added control can be exactly the thing needed to set your campaigns apart from the competition.

Scalable Design

Perfect for:

Testing the mobile waters

Reliable rendering across clients and devices

Teams with limited resources

Fluid Design

Perfect for:

Simple layouts

Emails with mostly text that can flow

Teams with limited resources

Responsive Design

Perfect for:

Large mobile audiences

The most control over layout

Teams with knowledge of media queries

 

Learning More

It’s also important to understand that these three strategies don’t represent every approach for an email campaign. Many designers find that borrowing elements of each strategy and using them together is the way to go. As always, the most important thing is to understand your audience and tailor your solution to fit their needs.

To help, we’ve put together a mobile readiness kit containing our best stats, infographics and articles on mobile to make understanding mobile audiences easier.

CTA-mobile-email-kit
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Introducing Kevin, Senior Developer https://litmus.com/blog/introducing-kevin-senior-developer https://litmus.com/blog/introducing-kevin-senior-developer#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 16:40:40 +0000 https://litmus.com/blog/?p=7711 With over eight years experience as a web developer and a love for working with small teams, Kevin is the perfect addition to Litmus! Alongside Eddie, Jordan, Luca, Alan, and Drew, he’ll be working on the product team as a senior developer.

MEET KEVIN, THE NEWEST ADDITION TO OUR TEAM!

kevin-thompson

Almost a decade ago, Kevin started in the web development world slicing and coding table-based layouts. Today, he loves solving problems using a wide range of technologies and programming languages including SASS, CoffeeScript, Ruby on Rails, and Go. While he’s had experience working at small agencies, large corporations, and even as a freelancer, he is most passionate about working with small teams (which is why he’ll fit in great at Litmus!).

Kevin enjoys mentoring fellow developers and has started apprenticeship programs at his last two companies. In addition, he organizes and hosts (and sometimes speaks!) at a monthly meetup called Full Stack, which brings together local designers and developers in Northern San Diego.

Aside from web development, video games are his biggest hobby. He enjoys the social aspect of gaming and is always interested in finding other designers and developers to play with online. Connect with him! His Xbox and Playstation gamertag is SignalException.

Outside of work and gaming, Kevin loves spending time with his wife and two daughters. He’s a lover of breakfast foods and claims to cook a mean French Toast and Minnie Mouse pancakes. To burn off the morning treats, he runs the occasional 5k while pushing his daughters in a jogging stroller and, while he ran a half marathon once, he thinks once is enough!

Join us in welcoming Kevin to the team! You can give him a shout out on Twitter.

INTERESTED IN JOINING OUR TEAM?

Between catered lunches, top notch equipment, 28 vacation days, and so much more, Litmus is a great place to work. And, guess what? We’re hiring!

Check out our open positions →

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Gmail Continues to Shift the Market Share Landscape https://litmus.com/blog/gmail-continues-to-shift-the-market-share-landscape https://litmus.com/blog/gmail-continues-to-shift-the-market-share-landscape#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 21:15:41 +0000 https://litmus.com/blog/?p=7649 The effects of Gmail image caching continue to impact market share stats. Four months after the initial roll-out of image caching and automatic image downloads, Gmail opens are starting to even out. We saw another percentage point increase this month, bringing Gmail to 11% of total opens—a 285% increase since December.

gmail-opens-march-2014

Mobile Gmail apps for both Android and iOS download images automatically and serve them via Google’s caching service. As users update to the new mobile Gmail apps, we’re seeing image caching affect mobile open rates, specifically opens made with the Gmail app on Android. As Gmail open rates rise, there has been a corresponding drop in Android opens. Since January, Android opens have dropped 34%—now representing 8% of opens.

gmail-android-tracking

THE IMPACT OF CACHING ON GMAIL

When Gmail automatically downloads and caches images, those cached images—including open tracker pixels—are stored on Gmail’s servers. Gmail then loads the same images from the same servers for everyone—regardless of whether they open using Gmail in a web browser or a Gmail Android or iPhone app.

gmail-reporting

As a result, Gmail opens made in a browser and on mobile Gmail apps look the same—there’s no way to distinguish webmail from mobile. While automatic image downloads mean more accurate open rates and a better subscriber experience, image caching eliminates the ability to determine the user’s device. To be clear, this only affects opens that occur in Gmail, either in a web browser or in a Gmail mobile app. Emails sent to Gmail accounts but opened in other mail apps are not affected. The silver lining is that open rates for the native email client on Android—which has support for responsive emails—are now more accurate.

MINIMAL CHANGES TO TOP TEN

Looking at recent changes to the top 10, Apple Mail took back its #5 spot and bumped Android down to #6—not surprising given the dip in Android opens.

After hitting 51% in November and December, mobile opens appear to have been on a continuous decline. Thanks to image caching, what appears to be a mobile loss can be partially attributed to Gmail opens—reported as an increase in webmail opens. Detectable mobile opens now represents 47% of total opens, whereas webmail opens are at 25%.

environment-growth-march-2014

Desktop opens also increased 1 percentage point to reach 28% of opens. This rise can mostly be attributed to Outlook, which claims 14% of opens. It’s still holding steady at the #2 spot!

As always, keep in mind that 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!

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April Fools’ Email Roundup: Did They Leave Us Laughing or Unamused? https://litmus.com/blog/april-fools-email-roundup-did-they-leave-us-laughing-or-unamused https://litmus.com/blog/april-fools-email-roundup-did-they-leave-us-laughing-or-unamused#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 20:38:42 +0000 https://litmus.com/blog/?p=7596 April Fools’ Day gives email marketers (and marketers in general!) the perfect opportunity to show their brand personality through witty and funny techniques. Here at Litmus, we anxiously monitored our inboxes all day (yes, we are email nerds) waiting for the April Fools’ emails to roll in. And, while our inboxes were cluttered with them by the end of the day, we were left feeling pretty unimpressed.

Don’t get us wrong, there were some absolute gems that left the team laughing, but, for the most part, we saw a lot of the same tactics used. In particular, many retailers (over)used variations of “No joke!” in their subject lines, which became mundane very quickly.

Let’s take a look at what ended up in our inboxes this April Fools!

JOINT EMAIL MARKETING CAMPAIGNS

This was somewhat unexpected! Clearly, joint marketing occurs all the time, but I was surprised that it occurred in the context of April Fools’ email campaigns.

Timbuk2 and Anchor Brewing

aprilfools-timbuk2

View email

Timbuk2—whose emails tend to be witty and fun (even their transactional ones!)—and Anchor Brewing joined forces for one of our favorite April Fools’ emails! They partnered together to develop the Dehydration Backpack—a “highly technical, exceptionally practical, keg backpack.” Not only did they include an entertaining video on the landing page, but the text throughout the email was witty as well. My favorite part? “Limited Edition – only 1 unit made.” And, don’t worry, “Frat boys love it!”

The idea behind this campaign was unique, funny, and definitely made us laugh! It was an April Fools’ email success.

TOMS and Uber

aprilfools-uber-toms

View email

Another April Fools’ email collaboration came from TOMS and Uber. In their email, they launched ShuberX, “the next step in transportation.” Like Timbuk 2 and Anchor Brewing, they also linked to a video in their email to explain ShuberX. However, there were no details about the product in the email itself and I wish there had been! From looking at the email alone, you’d have no idea what the product was (although, from the punny name, it’s likely one would know it’s a joke!).

The video is entertaining and definitely made me laugh! ShuberX combines “the comfort of TOMS with the mobility of Uber.” Essentially, they replace Uber’s cars with cardboard boxes (it’s all about sustainability!) and drivers pick up their recipients and “drive” around while wearing TOMS shoes. One of Uber’s engineers asks, “What better way to activate our riders than to literally physically active them?” Very cheesy but we liked it.

And, while ShuberX is a complete fabrication, at the bottom of the landing page there is information about a real partnership between TOMS and Uber. For every new Uber driver that enters promo code “shuberX,” $10 will be donated to TOMS.

LOTS OF REPETITIVE SUBJECT LINES, NO JOKE

Some retailers tried to cut through the April Fools’ inbox clutter by declaring not a joke or not foolin’ in the subject line. While we understand the sentiment in this tactic, it lacked originality and actually did the opposite of their intent—it caused their subject lines to blend in rather than stand out. And, we weren’t the only ones who noticed!

While we commend their efforts to do something with the holiday, a little more creativity could have gone a long way.

UrbanDaddy

Subject line: No Jokes, Just Whiskey. And Leather Briefcases.

aprilfools-urbandaddy

View email

Levi’s

Subject line: These savings are no joke. (+free shipping on everything)

aprilfools-levis

View email

Urban Outfitters

Subject line: $50 Off Your Purchase – Today Only: And we’re not foolin’.

aprilfools-urbanoutfitters

View email

Shoppe by Scoutmob

Subject line: win $2,000 of whatever you want on Shoppe by Scoutmob (seriously. no April foolin’.)

aprilfools-shoppe

View email

TigerDirect.com

Subject line: 256GB SSD $109…Home Theater $39…With prices like this, the joke’s on us!

aprilfools-tigerdirect

View email

Alloy Apparel

Subject line: No Joke: 25% Off!

aprilfools-alloy

View email

Banana Republic

Subject line: 41% off? It’s no joke!

aprilfools-bananarepublic

View email

OUR FAVORITE APRIL FOOLS’ EMAILS!

Lomography

aprilfools-lomography

View email

Like all of Lomography’s emails, this one is full of great imagery and has an infographic-like feel. And, the spoof is hilarious! In this email they launch the Lomography Super Photo Spray, which enables you to take photos on any kind of 35mm film without having to use a camera simply by spraying the film roll.

The email includes a step by step guide about how to product works. They really worked hard to make this fake product seem real! The final step of the process states,

Please note that due to the intensive strength of the super spray, a regular photo will take approximately 24 hours to produce and a long-exposure can take up to 2 weeks.

This long (and hilarious!) time frame is also present in the video, which is linked to from the email. The video is also great so check it out!

aprilfools-lomography-video

Code School

aprilfools-codeschool

View email

Code School also had a nice April Fools’ email in which they launched a new class, Try Flux. Try Flux is a course that lays the foundations for time travel (that’d be pretty nifty, eh?). The email is simple in both design and content, all while being unique and fun!

The landing page is also great!

aprilfools-codeschool-lp

It continues the fun, witty language but reveals that it has a zero percent chance of working and there is “a lot of equipment currently on fire.” They also admit that “long-distance time travel isn’t quite ready for testing, but short-distance time travel is.” They then encourage their subscribers to travel back to yesterday’s launch of “Surviving APIs with Rails.” Clever way to promote a course!

ThinkGeek

aprilfools-thinkgeek

View email

ThinkGeek also had a great April Fools’ email that was not as blatant as other emails—upon first glance some of the products in the email looked real! However, it was actually chock full of joke products, like the Mr. Beard Machine (picture a Keurig but instead of coffee, you get any type of facial hair) and a Unicorn Drinking Horn.

When I was going through the email, the product descriptions were so detailed and realistic that I was actually unsure whether some of them were real or not! The product pages were even more detailed. It wasn’t until I would try to add a product to my cart that I realized their trick had worked on me.

aprilfools-thinkgeek-lp

How great are the “gotcha” landing pages? I love that they use it as an opportunity to cross sell actual products that are somewhat similar to what their subscriber was trying to purchase.

Hotel Tonight

aprilfools-hoteltonight

View email

This email really made me laugh! First of all, obviously unsubscribes are associated with emails, so I found it especially witty. Secondly, I thought the whole concept of the “Ultimate Unsubscribe” was creative and unique! Everyone can relate to wanting to get away from it all so most subscribers would find it comical.

SOME OTHER GOOD ONES…

DID WE MISS ANY GOOD ONES?

Did we miss your favorite April Fools’ email? Share it with us in the comments section!

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Gmail Does It Again: The New Promotions Tab https://litmus.com/blog/gmail-does-it-again-the-new-visual-promotions-tab https://litmus.com/blog/gmail-does-it-again-the-new-visual-promotions-tab#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 19:24:41 +0000 https://litmus.com/blog/?p=7546 Note: This post has been updated to reflect discoveries made about the new grid view after Gmail launched it to an initial wave of users.

If one topic dominated email marketing conversations in 2013, it was definitely Gmail tabs. The auto-organization of consumer inboxes struck general fear and uncertainty in the hearts of email marketers everywhere.

General consensus among the email community is that brands sending quality messages won’t run into any trouble with tabs. Subscribers will seek out valuable content they genuinely want in the Promotions tab.

Buckle your seatbelts, my friends. Gmail has done it again.

The Gmail team has released the next iteration of the Promotions tab to users who opted-in to try it. Taking a page out of the Pinterest playbook, Gmail is bringing large graphics and infinite scrolling into the Promotions tab:

gmail-promo-tabs

Source: Official Gmail Blog

Gone are the days of representing an email with just a from name, subject line and preheader text. Gmail will now represent each email in the Promotions tab with a large image, displaying messages in a grid format with heavy emphasis on visuals rather than just plain text.

Other recent Gmail developments like Quick Actions gave marketers the option of adding additional functionality to select messages. Grid view in the new Promotions tab affects all messages. However, subscribers are still able to choose between the current list view or the new grid view, so marketers should plan their emails with both experiences in mind.

HOW IT WORKS

To control how your emails show up in the new Promotions tab, you’ll need to implement specific markup—called schemas—into the HTML of each of your emails. Gmail outlines all the details, including code samples, on their Developer site.

The code allows you to specify the featured image that should represent your message in the Promotion tab grid view:

richview

You can use GIF, PNG or JPEG images, but animated GIFs used as featured images will be rendered as static. Additionally, featured images are cached in the same way that Gmail now caches images inside emails.

For emails that don’t contain this specific code, Gmail will use an algorithm to determine which image from your email should be featured. While this algorithmic gamble can sometimes turn out well, it is also resulting in some oddly cropped photos and text:

In some cases, they are forgoing an image altogether and displaying plain text instead. In this example from Kayak, the text shown in the featured image area was pulled from the fourth article in the email:

To have a strategic presence in this grid view, design a featured image to represent your message and implement it using Gmail’s code. Otherwise, you risk a sloppy appearance in the inbox at the whim of Google’s algorithm. We have created a free tool to help you with the implementation process!

The sender name and subject line still come from your actual email, as they do today. For the grid view, the sender name displays up to 20 characters, and up to 75 characters for the subject line, so keep these numbers in mind if you have a high percentage of users opening your emails in Gmail.

The sender image is pulled from your company’s verified Google+ profile. If you haven’t created one, now might be a good time to set one up! For senders that don’t have a verified Google+ profile, the logo portion of the message is the first letter of your sender name in a serif font:
Email without verified Google+ profile

NEW DEVELOPMENTS FOR ADS

Similar to how ads are integrated in the current Promotions Tab, ads are also included in the new grid layout. Apart from a small icon in the top-left corner and a different background color, ads in the new Promotions tab look the same as any other email.

gmail-ad-row

NEXT STEPS

Notably absent from Gmail’s official post on this development is any mention of how these changes will be reflected in their mobile apps. We are assuming that this initial trial phase is desktop-only, and mobile developments will be saved for a final release.

Keep in mind that this new Promotions tab redesign is still in an opt-in trial phase—so it’s likely to only affect Gmail power users and devotees for now. Elements could change or disappear when/if it is rolled out to all Gmail users. There are many unknowns at this point, but we’ll keep you updated as we find out more.

However, we’d still recommend preparing for the new Promotions tab now, as subscribers who opt-in to participate in the trial already have access to this new layout.

Your preparedness also depends on how many of your subscribers are opening your emails in a Gmail environment. Worldwide, Gmail currently accounts for about 10% of opens.

Use our free Which Gmail Tab? tool to quickly send a test and see if your email is destined for the Promotions tab.

gmail-which-tab

Find out which Gmail Tab your email will appear →

For messages headed to the Promotions tab, we’ve developed a handy Gmail Promotions Tab Code Generator to help you create the code you’ll need to implement into your HTML source file.

gmail-promo-tabs

Make your email Gmail Promotions Tab friendly →

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Behind the Email: Launching Community https://litmus.com/blog/behind-the-email-launching-community https://litmus.com/blog/behind-the-email-launching-community#comments Tue, 25 Mar 2014 20:22:03 +0000 https://litmus.com/blog/?p=7396 Launching the Litmus Community—a hub for any and all conversations about email design, marketing, and code—was an exciting announcement for our team. We didn’t want to launch Community with just any average marketing email. We wanted the message to resonate strongly with users and illustrate the idea that every email marketer and designer has a true home in the Litmus Community.

THE BIG IDEA

Our CEO, Paul, sketched out an idea for the email:

paul-community-email

He wanted to feature the people behind the email marketing community—including, when possible, the face of the individual subscriber who opened the email—and bring the Community to life. Our Content Designer (aka, the mastermind behind the development of this email), Kevin, upped the ante by suggesting we add animation to the email.

The final email managed to pull off both ideas brilliantly:

We received dozens of questions about how we accomplished the personalization and animation on this email, so we wanted to share a few of the techniques with you! If you didn’t get our Community email, you can also view a Scoped version.

HOW’D WE GET THE PHOTOS?

Many of our subscribers were pleasantly surprised to see their own faces when they opened the email. Although we couldn’t pull this trick off for our entire audience, we were able to personalize emails for around 20% of our subscribers.

To achieve this effect, we ran a query of our subscriber list against the list of publicly available profile pictures from Gravatar. Gravatar is a database of globally recognized avatars (hence the name), and is often used to pull profile pictures into platforms like WordPress, GitHub, and StackOverflow. If you have a profile picture on any of those sites, your profile picture is stored in the public Gravatar database.

Once we had the Gravatars matched to our subscribers, it was mostly a matter of hosting the images and pulling them into the email through simple personalization strings, just as if we were including a first or last name:

<img src="https://path.to/%%emailaddress%%.0-0.png" style="min-width: 60px; display: block;" alt="" width="60" height="60" />

Subscribers that didn’t have a Gravatar received a generic version of the campaign, with equally-sized profile pictures of various Community members.

community-non-gravatar

(If you fell into this category, create a Gravatar profile in case we use this technique again!)

ARE THOSE…ANIMATIONS? IN AN EMAIL?

Yep! In clients that supported them, several animations and transitions brought the Community to life in this email. Although email designers primarily work in tables and inline styles, modern CSS techniques are starting to find a way into some campaigns. If you’re unfamiliar with CSS animations and transforms, here are some quick primers:

W3C Schools: CSS3 animations
W3C Schools: CSS3 transform property

The primary animation occurred upon opening the email: the subscriber’s Gravatar starts out large and shrinks down to fit neatly into the mural of other Gravatars.

This was achieved through the use of CSS3 transforms on each of the nine images that comprised the main Gravatar.  In the code sample below, the @keyframes pulse rule establishes a scale transformation on the images, which shrinks them from a scale of 3x down to 1x:

 .pulse{
       animation: pulse 1s forwards;
       -webkit-animation: pulse 1s forwards;
  }
  @keyframes pulse {
       0% {
            transform: scale(3);
       }
       100% {
            transform: scale(1);
       }
  }
  @-webkit-keyframes pulse {
       0% {
            -webkit-transform: scale(3);
       }
       100% {
            -webkit-transform: scale(1);
       }
  }

We didn’t stop there! Aside from the animated primary subscriber Gravatar, our 20×5 table structure of profile pictures contained 91 other Gravatars that were animated as well. Each cell in the table appeared to fade between two different pictures.

To create the “fade in-fade out” effect, we stacked two profile pictures on top of one another within each table cell. Each cell contained a div, and the first image was set to the background image in that div, while the second image was inserted using a standard HTML image tag:

<div style="background: url('image-one.jpg'); background-size: cover; opacity: 0.5;"><img id="f5" style="min-width: 60px; display: block !important;" alt="" src="image-two.jpg" width="60" height="60" /></div>

The top image faded in and out, revealing the image used as the background of the div. To make it appear random, we created three separate classes of fade styles and applied them at random to each of the 91 divs, so that the images would fade at various paces:

 #f3 {
      -webkit-animation-name: fade;
      -webkit-animation-iteration-count: infinite;
      -webkit-animation-duration:12s;
      -webkit-animation-delay: 3s;
      animation-name: fade;
      animation-iteration-count: infinite;
      animation-duration: 12s;
  }
  #f4 {
      -webkit-animation-name: fade;
      -webkit-animation-iteration-count: infinite;
      -webkit-animation-duration:18s;
      -webkit-animation-delay: 6s;
      animation-name: fade;
      animation-iteration-count: infinite;
      animation-duration: 12s;
  }
  #f5 {
      -webkit-animation-name: fade;
      -webkit-animation-iteration-count: infinite;
      -webkit-animation-duration:10s;
      animation-name: fade;
      animation-iteration-count: infinite;
      animation-duration: 12s;
  }

In older clients where this technique wasn’t supported, users just saw the static image without the fading effect.

Note: Our designer used repeated id’s instead of classes because classes were already being used on the images. Multiple classes on elements sometimes cause issues in various email clients, and an easy hack around that is to use id’s instead. It’s not “valid” HTML, but works for the purpose of email.

CONSIDERATIONS FOR OUTLOOK + OLDER CLIENTS

If you viewed this email in a Webkit client, you saw a full-width, fully-responsive 20×5 table of Gravatars. Unfortunately, some of the techniques used to create that table aren’t universally supported, and we had to make some compromises in our execution.

For Outlook and other non-Webkit clients, we hid five table columns on each side, creating a static 10×5, 600px table. This way, we avoided the need for testing a complicated responsive/fluid table:

community-outlook

For Webkit clients that would correctly render the full responsive table, though, those five hidden columns were displayed using a “display-block” class:

@media screen and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio:0) { td[class="display-block"] {display: block !important; width: 5% !important;} }

COMPROMISES FOR GMAIL

If you opened this campaign in Gmail, you might have noticed there was some slight horizontal scrolling necessary to view it all. This experience was due to Gmail’s interpretation of the CSS attributes for height and min-height.

In the code, each of the cells in the 20×5 table had a 5% width, a max-width and an “auto” height, so that the cells would adjust to whatever window or screen size they were viewed on. In Gmail, the table cells all reverted to the HTML absolute attributes of height and width, resulting in some slight horizontal scrolling for Gmail users, instead of the fully-responsive table as seen in other clients.

community-gmail

We felt that this was still an acceptable experience in Gmail, knowing that a fairly small percentage of our users open our emails within the Gmail webmail environment. Whenever making design compromises, make sure to know your audience! You can save yourself a lot of time and effort by focusing your QA efforts on the email clients that matter the most for your subscriber base. Our designer Kevin put it best:

Modern coding techniques don’t need to work everywhere; if you can optimize for the clients where most of your users open email, you still win.

AND IT WAS RESPONSIVE?

You betcha—we practice what we preach! For the mobile view, we hid the first 5 columns on each side of the table, making the table 10×5 instead of 20×5, and increased the width of the remaining table cells to 10%. We targeted Webkit clients and a mobile width breakpoint of 525px for these changes, making the Gravatars bigger for mobile:

@media screen and (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio:0) and (max-width: 525px) {
  td[class="display-block"] {display: none !important;}
  td[class="width6"]{width: 10% !important;}
}
community-mobile

DID PEOPLE LIKE IT?

That’s why we’re writing this blog post! The response to this particular campaign was unlike anything we’d ever seen. In addition to the overwhelming number of direct replies to the email itself, many people took to Twitter to share their excitement:

 

We were thrilled to see this kind of response surrounding the launch, and even more thrilled to see that excitement carry over into the Community itself.

If you haven’t yet, browse the discussion topics and learning center articles in Community. Then, contribute your questions and your knowledge; we look forward to discussing email with you!

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Introducing Julie https://litmus.com/blog/introducing-julie https://litmus.com/blog/introducing-julie#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 19:40:43 +0000 https://litmus.com/blog/?p=7206 We’re thrilled to introduce you to the newest member of our team!

MEET JULIE, VP OF FINANCE

julie-headshot

As a CPA with over 15 years of experience in the wild world of finance and a passion for working with early stage SaaS companies, Julie will be joining us as our new VP of finance. She’ll be responsible for building out the finance and HR functions at Litmus, all while helping us grow and scale.

Before starting at Litmus, Julie worked at uTest, where she built the finance team and contributed to significant top line growth. When she’s not crunching numbers, Julie spends her time running around after her two young (and very active!) boys, Kevin and William, and also enjoys cooking.

INTERESTED IN JOINING OUR TEAM?

Between catered lunches, top notch equipment, 28 vacation days, and so much more, Litmus is a great place to work. And, guess what? We’re hiring!

Check out our open positions →

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A Guide to Animated GIFs in Email https://litmus.com/blog/a-guide-to-animated-gifs-in-email https://litmus.com/blog/a-guide-to-animated-gifs-in-email#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 20:49:16 +0000 https://litmus.com/blog/?p=7411 Email marketers are always trying to improve their campaigns—through the use of copy, design, and images. They are always on the lookout for something to set them apart from the rest of the inbox and draw attention to their emails—enticing readers to click through and care about their message.

Many marketers are finding that adding interactivity is just the thing to increase subscriber engagement, and are increasingly turning to animated GIFs to provide that bit of extra interest.

What is a GIF?

The GIF, which stands for Graphics Interchange Format, is an image format developed by CompuServe in 1987. Due to wide support across browsers and email clients, GIFs have been a popular image format since the early days of the internet.

More importantly, though, GIFs can be animated. Similar to how a flipbook works, GIFs rapidly display a series of images to produce the illusion of motion. In the internet’s early years, GIFs (and the marquee and blink tags) were the primary method of adding movement to a web page.

A lot has changed since the 90s. Animated GIFs are enjoying a renaissance both on the web and in email marketing. While there is still some debate as to how you actually pronounce “GIF”, most will agree that GIFs can be an excellent marketing tool. Whether you prefer a hard “G” or like to rhyme GIF with a certain brand of peanut butter, let’s look at why GIFs are so useful in email campaigns.

Why Use a GIF?

Using an animated GIF adds an element of delight to a campaign that isn’t typically possible with static email designs. A number of campaigns use animated GIFs for humor, and do so with great success. Buzzfeed, a strong proponent of embracing the GIF, has seen their email program grow from a single newsletter in 2012 to 14 different newsletters at the end of 2013.

Retailers have also made great use of GIFs by showcasing products and enticing readers. Women’s clothing shop Ann Taylor LOFT used an animated present to create a sense of intrigue and get subscribers to click through to “unwrap” their gift.

LOFT-unwrap-animation-repeat

Often, this bit of movement is enough to surprise a reader and get them to click through to a landing page.

But animated GIFs can be used for more than just gimmicks and humor. Along with last year’s redesign, email service provider MailChimp used animated GIFs in a series of emails to help explain their drastically redesigned interface.

mailchimp-interface

Instead of relying on lengthy blocks of copy to explain the new interface, animated GIFs showed how the application works, effectively acting as a miniature “explainer” video, and leaving no room for confusion amongst customers. Naturally, many were pleased with the campaigns:

mailchimp-tweet

Sprout Social also recently used a GIF to show off the interactions of their redesigned iPhone app.

sprout-social

Even if you don’t provide full tutorials in GIF form, animated GIFs can be used to illustrate complex concepts in an easily digestible manner. This email from Code School is a beautiful example of illustrating a complex idea—all the things you can do with Google Drive.

codeschool-drive

Drawbacks of Using a GIF

As great as animated GIFs are, there are a few drawbacks with including them in email campaigns.

First, not every email client supports animated GIFs. Newer versions of Outlook (2007, 2010 and 2013) won’t show the animation. Instead, they will show the first frame of the animation. To overcome this, many email designers ensure that vital information—perhaps a call-to-action, offer, or headline—is included in the first frame of the GIF. Windows Phone 7 also lacks support for animated GIFs. Even with these missing clients, though, support for animated GIFs is better than support for most CSS.

jack-spade

Second, if used too aggressively, it’s likely that many subscribers will become complacent with your GIFs and stop paying attention to them. Used sparingly, animated GIFs can surprise and delight subscribers. Used too frequently, the same subscribers may tire of them and become less likely to engage with your campaigns.

Finally, animated GIFs are prone to excessive file sizes. In an increasingly mobile world, file size can play an important part in any email program. Extremely large GIFs both cut into subscribers’ data plans and can be slow to load and play—both of which are frustrations that no audience should have to deal with. Fortunately, there are a number of methods for creating GIFs and reducing their file size.

Creating a GIF

While there are many tools available for creating GIFs, the go-to application for most designers is Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop has a number of ways to create animated GIFs, including frame-by-frame animation, timeline animation, and importing video frames. More importantly, designers have the full power of Photoshop’s graphics tools at their disposal when crafting their next great GIF.

Frame-based animation in Photoshop.

Frame-based animation in Photoshop.

Envy Labs’s Dan Denney has an excellent tutorial on creating advanced animations with Photoshop, including an example PSD for download to see just how he accomplishes his animations.

Timeline animation in Photoshop.

Timeline animation in Photoshop.

Not everyone has Photoshop chops, though. Many marketers and designers need to make GIFs out of existing video footage. While you could use something like Adobe After Effects, tools exist for most platforms that make GIF creation easy. On Mac, many people swear by GIF Brewery. Windows users can take advantage of programs like Instagiffer and GIF Animator. If you’re looking for online tools, there is no shortage of web-based GIF creators. There are even apps on mobile that can help you create GIFs!

Here are some more tutorials on creating GIFs to get you started:

Saving a GIF

No matter how you create your GIF, the key to incorporating it into an email is keeping the file size to a minimum. While there are a few compression tools for decreasing the file size of GIFs, the best optimization happens when you can alter the file in a program like Photoshop.

Using Photoshop, you can dig into the individual frames of an animated GIF and prune them to keep your file sizes down. Some good ways to optimize GIFs include:

  • Cropping. Keep your focus on what is animated, cropping the image as much as possible to reduce the file size.
  • Removing frames. The human eye doesn’t need a lot to see motion. You’d be surprised by how many frames you can remove from a GIF while still maintaining the illusion of motion.
  • Only animate part of the picture. Don’t force the entire image to redraw itself in every frame. Use layers in Photoshop to isolate animated parts and only animate those layers.

Designer Paul Boag has an excellent article on his blog about optimizing GIFs made with Cinemagram in Photoshop. Livejournal user skylilies has another great tutorial on optimizing GIFs in Photoshop.

When it comes to actually saving your GIFs, one of the best ways to reduce file size is to reduce the number of colors actually saved in the file.

GIF options in Photoshop.

GIF options in Photoshop.

Drastically reducing the number of colors used in the image can reduce the quality of the saved GIF, but finding a good balance between quality and file size is a great way to ensure your GIFs work well across devices.

Using GIFs in Email

Once you have your optimized GIF, you need to include it in your email. Fortunately, this is the easiest part of the process. Since GIFs are just another image file format, you can include an animated GIF the same way as any other image in your email.

<img src="http://yourwebsite.com/path/to/awesome.gif" width="100" height="100" alt="GIF with a hard G" border="0">

Email Client Support

While animated GIFs don’t work everywhere, support across most email clients is exceptional. Animated GIFs work in all webmail clients and most desktop and mobile clients. The main exceptions are newer versions of Microsoft Outlook (2007+), which refuses to animate the GIF and instead displays the first frame of the animation. The same goes for Windows Phone 7.

Apart from that, you can see that animated GIFs work beautifully on all other clients.

Desktop Clients

check-green

Lotus Notes (6, 7, 8.5)

check-green

Outlook 2000-2003

check-X

Outlook 2007-2013

check-green

Outlook for Mac

check-green

Apple Mail

Webmail Clients

check-green

Gmail

check-green

Yahoo!

check-green

AOL

check-green

Outlook.com

Mobile Clients

check-green

iOS Mail

check-green

Android (Default)

check-green

Android (Gmail)

check-green

Blackberry

check-X

Windows Phone 7

Some of Our Favorites

Now that you have a good idea of how to use GIFs in a campaign, here are some of our favorite GIFs we’ve seen in campaigns recently. Click on any GIF to see the full emails.

General Assembly always has cool, custom GIFs. I stay subscribed mostly to see what they come up with next!

Emma shows off a wonderfully dynamic GIF. Check out the whole email for more!

emma-eight

Explainer GIF from Campaign Monitor:

campaign-monitor

Frank Underwood expertly used by Netflix:

frank-compressed

MailChimp having some fun:

mailchimp-experiment-compressed

Uber adding some subtle touches:

uber

Photojojo showing off some new products:

photojojo-compressed

Further Reading

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A Guide to Rendering Differences in Microsoft Outlook Clients https://litmus.com/blog/a-guide-to-rendering-differences-in-microsoft-outlook-clients https://litmus.com/blog/a-guide-to-rendering-differences-in-microsoft-outlook-clients#comments Wed, 19 Mar 2014 20:22:31 +0000 https://litmus.com/blog/?p=5195 Microsoft has a long and complicated history with the email world. From founding the first free webmail service to building several variations of desktop mail programs, the tech giant’s influence on both business and consumer email messaging is vast. Over the years, Microsoft has expanded the “Outlook” brand to encompass nearly every email project it touches, leaving email industry pros puzzling over seemingly dozens of products using similar naming conventions—not to mention their associated rendering and support quirks.

Consistent use of the “Outlook” brand name has given Microsoft a ton of exposure (of both the positive and not-so-positive variety); conversely, it’s also caused a lot of confusion. Outlook 2003, Outlook 2007, Outlook 2010, Outlook for Mac and Outlook.com are just a handful of the Outlook products available to businesses and consumers. Oddly enough, all of these “Outlooks” do not render the same (that would be too easy!).

DIFFERENT OUTLOOKS FOR DIFFERENT PLATFORMS

There are different versions of Outlook available for viewing in desktop, webmail and mobile environments.

Outlook for Desktop

These paid versions of Outlook are typically provided at corporations, schools and small businesses, and are installed as a standalone program that run on desktop and laptop computers.

  • Outlook 2000
  • Outlook 2002/XP
  • Outlook 2003
  • Outlook 2007
  • Outlook 2010
  • Outlook 2011*
  • Outlook 2013

*Microsoft bundled an email program called Entourage with the Office suites released for Mac in 2001 and 2008. Entourage has since been replaced by “Outlook for Mac” as part of the Office 2011 release.

Outlook on the Web

There are also several ways to access versions of Outlook via a web browser:

  • Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail)—can be viewed in various web browsers (IE/Chrome/Firefox/Safari), which can affect rendering.
  • Office 365—a subscription-based online version of the Microsoft Office software, which includes access to various Microsoft Office services, including email.
  • Outlook Web App (OWA)—provides Microsoft Exchange 5.0+ users with access to their mailbox from any computer with Internet connection.

Outlook on Mobile Devices

Variations of Outlook can be accessed on mobile devices in several ways. Whether it’s accessing an Outlook webmail site via a phone’s browser, or a specific Outlook app, there is a large offering of ways to access Outlook on one’s smartphone or tablet.

EMAIL RENDERING IN OUTLOOK 2000–2003

Outlook 2000-2003 uses Internet Explorer (IE) as a rendering engine—specifically, the version of IE that is installed on that particular operating system. Litmus runs IE 6 on our Outlook 2000 testing machines and IE 7 on Outlook 2002 and 2003. Because of this dependence on IE (and it’s underlying Trident layout engine), there are variations of how an email may render.

Considering that consistent HTML/CSS support in early versions of IE were a mixed bag, these early versions of Outlook have relatively minor quirks:

Outlook 2000-2003

check-X

Displays images

check-green

ALT text*

check-X

Styled ALT text

check-X

Forms*

check-green

Animated GIF

check-X

HTML5 Video*

check-X

Symbols in subject lines*

*ALT TEXT

Since images are automatically blocked in early versions of Outlook, the inclusion of ALT text is a must. However, while these versions of Outlook support ALT text, Outlook prepends a security message to the beginning of the text, effectively obscuring most meaningful ALT text:

ALTtextOutlook03

However, since these versions of Outlook display images for trusted senders, if your subscribers add your email address to their address book, images will be displayed automatically.

*FORMS

HTML forms are often used for search boxes and surveys. While forms are displayed in these versions of Outlook, they are not functional. As a result, it’s probably best to link to a form or survey on a website, rather than embedding it in the actual email.

*HTML5 Video

While the video won’t play, HTML5 video is supported in these clients. Rather than playing, the “fallback” content is displayed.

Symbols in Subject Lines

Unfortunately, these early versions of Outlook do not support symbols, instead displaying a “box” (☐) character or question mark instead. If you’re seeing a lot of your subscribers opening your emails on these early versions of Outlook, using symbols in your subject lines may not be a good idea!

SymbolSubjectLineOutlook2003

Symbols in subject line for Outlook 2000-2003

Outlook2011SymbolSubject

Symbols in subject line for Outlook 2011

EMAIL RENDERING IN OUTLOOK 2007/2010/2013

Outlook 2007, 2010 and 2013 use Microsoft Word (versions 2007, 2010 and 2013, respectively) to render emails. Yes, a word processor is used to render emails in newer versions of Outlook! Outlook’s usage of Word as a rendering engine resulted in a disappointing setback to CSS support for emails viewed in Word, along with a ton of frustrating quirks, leading to some backlash in the email design community. In fact, there is even a website dedicated to their cause—http://fixoutlook.org/.

Despite the email community’s efforts to fix Outlook, support (or lack thereof) for HTML and CSS in these versions of Outlook have remained virtually unchanged since Outlook 2007 was first released:

  • 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
  • Problems with nested elements background colors

Let’s take a look at support in these clients:

Outlook 2007/2010/2013

check-X

Displays images

check-green

ALT text*

check-X

Styled ALT text

check-X

Forms*

check-x

Animated GIF

check-X

HTML5 Video*

check-green

Symbols in subject lines*

*ALT TEXT

Similarly to early versions of Outlook, these later versions also support ALT text, but include a security message.

*Forms

In these versions of Outlook, the text in forms are displayed, but the interactive elements—checkboxes, radio buttons and form fields—are not. As Campaign Monitor explains, they “custom render the form. Inputs are replaced with brackets and the submit button is replaced with the button’s value enveloped in brackets. So it’s a plain-text version of what the form would look like, even though the HTML is being displayed.”

FormOutlook2007-2

Form in Outlook 07/10/13

AppleMailForm-2

Form in Apple Mail

*Animated GIFs + HTML5 Video

Unlike its predecessors, animated GIFs do not play in these later versions of Outlook. Rather, the first frame is displayed.

Similarly, while HTML5 video does not play, the fallback content is displayed.

This email from 37signals is a great example of the quirkiness of these later versions of Outlook. On the left is the email in Outlook 2000 and, on the right, in Outlook 2007.

37signals-Outlook2000

Outlook 2000

37signals-ol2007

Outlook 2007

The reason the email renders a little “funky” in these later versions of Outlook is because the email layout is controlled using margin and floats. As a result, the “use a different card” and “change the account owner” buttons stack on top of one another, rather than appearing side-by-side. The best way to combat these issues would be to use a table-based layout. Placing each button in an individual column (or <td> cell) rather than using CSS-based positioning would preserve the layout in Outlook clients.

EMAIL RENDERING IN OUTLOOK 2011

Outlook 2011, also known as “Outlook for Mac,” runs on OS X, Apple’s proprietary operating system for Macintosh (Mac) computers, and uses WebKit to render emails. This is great news for email designers, since Outlook for Mac has excellent support for HTML and CSS. There is no PC/Windows equivalent, although Outlook for Mac renders quite similarly to Apple Mail, which also uses WebKit to render.

Outlook 2011

check-X

Displays images*

check-green

ALT text

check-green

Styled ALT text

check-green

Forms

check-green

Animated GIF

check-green

HTML5 Video

check-green

Symbols in subject lines

*Images-Off + ALT Text

Similarly to other versions of Outlook, images are blocked by default, but displayed for trusted senders. ALT text, as well as styled ALT text, are supported in Outlook 2011.

RENDERING IN OUTLOOK.COM (DESKTOP BROWSERS)

Outlook.com uses the same preprocessor, whose job it is to maintain the security and stability of the client by removing potentially dangerous elements, that was used by Hotmail—MS SafeHTML. As a result, Outlook.com renders very similarly to Windows Live Hotmail.

However, as Ros at Campaign Monitor pointed out, Microsoft’s ‘Segoe UI’ will be used for displaying h1, h2 and h3 headings unless another font is specified in your CSS. We also noticed that the default color for headings is white and that paragraph tags will default to Calibri set at 15px. Additional quirks include:

  • No support for background images
  • No support for CSS floats
  • Poor support for CSS width and height

In addition, Outlook.com dropped support for the following CSS properties:

  • margin
  • margin-top
  • margin-right
  • margin-bottom
  • margin-left

Outlook.com strips margin from paragraph tags, leaving default values (0 for the top, right and left; 1.35em for the bottom, to be exact) in their place. In addition, Outlook.com also strips margin from all block-level elements. But don’t worry, we’ve got the fix for this issue—use <td> and swap margin for padding.

To make matters more complex, rendering inconsistencies can also pop up between browsers. A message opened in Outlook.com in Internet Explorer may look different than the same email opened using Chrome. Here’s a general guideline for what to expect:

Outlook.com

check-X

Displays images*

check-green

ALT text

check-green

Styled ALT text*

check-x

Forms*

check-green

Animated GIF

check-green

HTML5 Video*

check-green

Symbols in subject lines*

*Images-Off + ALT Text

Rather than blocking all images by default, Outlook.com claims to block content from suspicious-looking senders. However, it isn’t clear how they determine who is “suspicious” versus who is “trusted.” Users have the ability to block images for anyone not in their safe senders list in their Outlook.com settings. Outlook.com treats these two types of content filtering differently, blocking images (but showing ALT text) for “suspicious-looking” senders while using grey boxes to block out images for users that have the stricter content blocking settings in place.

hotmail-image-blocking

In addition, ALT text is supported in Outlook.com when grey boxes aren’t used to hide images. However, styled ALT text support varies based off the browser being used. Styled ALT text is supported in current versions of Firefox, Chrome and Safari, but not supported in Internet Explorer.

*Forms

Similarly to early versions of Outlook, forms are displayed but they are not functional. As a result, it’s probably best to link to a form on a website, rather than embedding it in the actual email.

*HTML5 Video

Similarly to styled ALT text, HTML5 video support varies depending on which desktop browser it is being viewed on. However, it should be noted that the recipient has to right-click on the video to play it (there is a workaround for this, but Campaign Monitor doesn’t suggest using it—and we agree!).

HTML5 video will be displayed in Chrome 3+, Firefox 3.5+, Safari 3.1+ and IE 9+.

*Symbols in Subject Lines

As Campaign Monitor explains, while symbols are supported in Outlook.com, in some cases, instead of displayed the basic characters, some symbols like ❤ are replaced by a box (☐) instead. The solution to this? Make sure to test your emails in Outlook.com to see how the symbol is rendering!

EMAIL RENDERING IN OUTLOOK.COM (MOBILE BROWSERS)

Not all mobile users use the native mail application on their phones; some subscribers use email apps, while some even up the browser on their mobile phone to use webmail services to read email. For example, users can open up their browsers and use Outlook.com as their email client.

Here’s a general overview of how Outlook.com renders in mobile browsers—keep in mind that specific browsers or OS may affect results:

Outlook.com (Android)

check-X

Displays images*

check-X

ALT text

check-X

Styled ALT text

check-X

Forms*

check-green

Animated GIF

check-green

HTML5 Video*

check-green

Symbols in subject lines

Outlook.com (iPhone)

check-X

Displays images*

check-green

ALT text

check-green

Styled ALT text

check-X

Forms*

check-green

Animated GIF

check-X

HTML5 video*

check-green

Symbols in subject lines

*Images-Off + ALT Text

Similar to its desktop webmail counterpart, Outlook.com blocks images by default in Android and iPhone browsers, following the same image blocking pattern as Outlook.com on desktop browsers.

*Forms

While forms are displayed, they are not functional in Outlook.com in the Android or iPhone browser. As a result, it’s best to link to a form on a landing page.

*HTML5 Video

HTML5 video had mixed support between earlier versions of Android and newer versions. On Android 2.3.5, the video’s fallback content was displayed, as well as a popup on the video that said “Click right to play.” This was obviously a bit strange since you can’t technically “click” on a touchscreen. Also, when I attempted to click on that, nothing happened. However, there was a link under the video, “Click to play this video,” and once I clicked that, a new browser opened and the video played.

On the Android 4.1.1, the video plays within the email client. It doesn’t play automatically, but if you click play, the video will play directly within the email client.

For Outlook.com viewed in an iPhone browser, HTML5 video does not play, but fallback content is displayed.

EMAIL RENDERING IN WINDOWS LIVE MAIL

Windows Live Mail is a desktop email client from Microsoft which offers support for webmail email accounts, like Gmail and Yahoo!. In addition, it renders very similarly to early versions of Outlook. According to the Email Standards Project, it supports “nearly everything on our list and a whole lot more.” While it may have excellent support for standards-based HTML and CSS, it does have some quirks to keep in mind:

Windows Live Mail

check-X

Displays images

check-x

ALT text

check-X

Styled ALT text

check-green

Forms

check-green

Animated GIF

check-X

HTML5 Video*

check-green

Symbols in subject lines

*HTML5 Video

While the video won’t play, HTML5 video is supported in this client. Rather than playing, the “fallback” content is displayed.

AND THERE’S MORE! SO MUCH MORE.

While we’ve covered a wide array of Outlook clients in this post, there are more out there! It’s important to remember that rendering in Outlook clients can vary greatly, depending on browser and OS versions, user settings and more. As a result, it’s important to know where your subscribers are most frequently opening your emails and ensure your campaigns are optimized in those clients.

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