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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Sender Must Render for the Spender!

Let's start by defining what is meant by "rendering" the email. Next, we'll talk about why it's important that it be properly rendered and why it frequently isn't! And, finally, we'll discuss how you can deal with the problems in rendering email.

Defining "Rendering"
Rendering is the conversion of a high-level object-based description into a graphical image, for display. Artistic rendering is the process of creating a work of art. In email marketing, it is the process of creating a work of advertising art.

Most marketing emails today are a combination of text and graphics that are displayed in an email, using HyperText Markup Language (HTML). In other words, they are web pages.

Why It Matters
A common approach for creating a marketing email is to start with a graphic (i.e., JPG, PSD or GIF file) that is a "mockup" of the actual email to be created. Then, a web designer translates the visual image to HTML. Finally, the HTML is rendered when the email is opened.

The final step, rendering, is what can turn your piece of art into a piece of trash, headed straight for the Deleted Items folder or worse: the Spam folder!

If a receiver opens an email you sent and he or she is greeted with an email "mess", the odds are high that the next key hit will be the Delete key.

Why It's Often NOT Displayed Correctly
It sounds simple enough: use a reduced/restricted set of HTML code and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), so the page displays correctly, no matter what email client is used.

Unfortunately, it isn't at all simple. The state of HTML for email is where the web page was a few years back: At that time, every web browser displayed the page a bit differently. In some cases, functionality would be "broken" in certain web browsers.

This is the case with email clients today: Some things will just not look right, when viewed with certain email clients. But, it's even worse, because there are many more email clients than there were web browsers, so there's even more variations.

Some ISP filters strip out some HTML to avoid potentially harmful HTML, thereby possibly reducing the content to a mass of text.

CSS describes the look and formatting of a document. It separates the document content (written in HTML or a similar markup language) from the document presentation, including things like colors, fonts, and layout. This provides more flexibility and control in the specification and, therefore, more consistency in the appearance.

Calls to External CSS are not supported by all email clients. Severely limited subsets of CSS within the HTML section are supported by all email clients, as well as limited subsets of Inline CSS.

So, How Do You Deal with This Problem?
Every email you send out must first be previewed, as it will look in at least the major email clients and with images both on and off. These are the conditions under which your email will be viewed by those who are most important: your customers and their potential audience.

In addition to making sure the overall appearance of your email is acceptable, you need to correct spelling, broken links, and invalid HTML code, as these are triggers for ISP spam filters. Secondly, consideration must be given to how the email renders in a reader-sized limited view or preview pane, as most people use that glimpse to decide if they will continue reading or most importantly "Click Through" to the landing page.

Continue to view and fix, until every major email client can see an acceptable view of your email ... remember that this represents you and your company to the recipient.

All Web Email can make sure that all of your emails are properly rendered in virtually every email client ... and that your emails are error free. Please see their design services for more detail.

All Web Email validates each of your campaign emails with Return Path's Campaign Preview, which shows 41 different email client views, representing over 90% of the mailboxes out there!

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  • Hi - great posts about the wild west state of email marketing in this day and age. I take it that the limited "palette" of inline CSS for emails is just about the safest route to go?

    I also cannot help but think about employing more ascii art instead of jpg's... maybe not!


    By Anonymous Chris Healey , At May 12, 2009 at 3:51 PM  

  • Hi Chris.

    Unfortunately, the best tools for creating HTML emails assume that the end result will be published on web servers and viewed by relatively well behaved web browsers. In reality, this HTML code is modified, stripped of content, then rendered by misbehaving little monsters like Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, Hotmail and even...Lotus Notes. This makes it virtually mandatory that you code your emails by hand to purposefully exclude many of the current CSS capabilities we enjoy in the website development world.

    Campaign Monitor has a very helpful chart showing which email clients support which CSS elements. You can currently find it here:

    Thanks for the comment and glad you enjoyed Barb's post.


    By Blogger Peter Roebuck , At May 15, 2009 at 12:51 PM  

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