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The struggle is very real when it comes to email

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Email services and web developers & designers are not friends. Many will sit bolt upright in the middle of the night, dripping with sweat, after having a very vivid nightmare about Microsoft Outlook and its antiquated (but still in use) Word rendering engine while others simply run away.

Email is, in a word, frustrating. What works in one client is almost guaranteed to not work in another.

When crafting and building an email message that can convert prospects, designers and developers run into many issues. Sure, there are fixes for most of these problems, but finding out that something that functioned well in one email program is completely and utterly broken in another (or in the same program but viewed on a different device) is pretty terrible.

Broken Email

There is a lot in email that simply does not work. A number of the clients, such Microsoft Outlook (2003/2007/2010/2013 specifically) and Gmail, do not support code to reformat designs to be mobile friendly, and while there are workarounds, it just isn’t as good as it could be. What’s worse though is that email viewed on the web in some clients is rendered very differently in mobile versions of that client. Different mobile operating systems make a difference too. Windows Phone 7.5, for example, allows for more advanced code than its successor, Windows Phone 8. Gmail in Android 4.3 shows a resulting email differently than the same version of the same app in Android 4.4. There are lots of other examples but it’s pretty clear where they’d head.


How do we get around this? Test, test, and when you think it’s all done, test some more.

When building a new email, you need to try it in as many email clients as possible, depending on what your audience opens your mailings in. If your readers are, hypothetically speaking, opening your emails in Outlook 2010 literally 100% of the time, there is almost no need to make sure that your design works anywhere else. Unfortunately, that’s never the case. Your readers may be spread out across Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, Apple Mail, iPhone and Android’s mail clients, and even AOL. That’s a lot of testing in a lot of different clients in a lot of different browsers with a lot of different versions. Luckily, there are services out there that will run your email in all of those clients and more with previews to ensure compatibility.

Testing is essential but it may be all for naught if the email isn’t designed to work across the board. The designs need to be flexible and have the ability to be cleanly rearranged whether you planned on it or not.

As for a lot of the more advanced styling that you want to include in your email? Forget about it. If we compare coding to the web to a modern 3D printer that’s able to create complex shapes with relative ease, email is a hammer and chisel. CSS support in email, depending on the property, is still largely hit or miss. What does that mean for the design? Well, elements like shadows and even rounded corners can’t be used reliably in all of the major clients and making them be a part of the message’s look should not be a priority. If a client doesn’t support those styles, it should not be the end of the world.

Hammer Chisel

So, what does work? Well, a lot, and even better, there are many workarounds for what doesn’t.

Depending on what client(s) you’re designing and coding for, you can do many different and frankly cool things. Microsoft Outlook still makes use of the Vector Markup Language (which has been archived on Microsoft’s own website) but it provides a workaround for many of the clients’ shortcomings. There are also ways to target specific clients to create fixes without breaking your email everywhere else. 

In other cases, images can be used to create the desired effect, but if a client doesn’t load images unless you authorize it to (Microsoft Outlook, AOL, and Yahoo do this by default), the client will load an empty box and whatever message you were trying to convey simply will not be there. We try to minimize image use in email in favor of code for this very reason



Email design and build is most definitely a struggle but it’s also not impossible. We’re doing some very cool stuff at Haley Marketing to make sure that the message not only gets to you and looks good at the same time but that it also drives the point and conversions home.

Want to see what we can do for you?

Contact us today!

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