The dangers of email you never see

As a magazine editor for many years, the most stressful task was always putting the final corrected proofs in the envelope, knowing that if the issue which would be distributed to 25,000 engineers was less than perfect, it was down to me. However, assuming the printers did their job correctly, I did know exactly how the issue would look.

Sending out emails raised different concerns, perhaps because any problems would be seen by a lot of people almost instantly. However, as Editor of Engineeringtalk, I was helped by the decision we took to distribute our 100,000 weekly emails in text-only format. At least I knew the recipients would see the email exactly as I sent it out.

Anyone choosing not to send emails in text-only format has a unique problem not found in either of the scenarios above. Almost every reader will see it presented in a different way. There are hundreds of different email readers, from widely-used “corporate” applications such as Outlook and Notes, to webmail applications such as GMail and Hotmail. Each has its own quirks. Even within these, recipients will have different window sizes, default text settings and more. Some readers’ email systems will show any images by default, others will show them on request, and a few won’t allow them at all.

If you’re reading the emailed version of this article, I’ve tried my best to design something which will read clearly on as many email systems as possible. I’m under no illusion that everyone will see the same thing, but I’m confident that most of you are getting the message in a way which would be acceptable if I saw it.

The key is to reduce things to as simple a presentation as possible. A text-only presentation is the ideal here, but including some graphical branding is important for most businesses nowadays, including this one. My recommendation therefore is that every graphical and layout element of your emails is examined and the question asked: is this really necessary?

If your coding is good enough, you can be confident that even potentially troublesome things like a multi-column design will display properly in most email systems. But do you really need them in the first place? Why risk some recipients not being able to read your email properly just because you wanted to add a graphical flourish which served no practical purpose?

I’ve helped a few Insider Programme members examine their marketing emails. In most cases, where we’ve found elements which display differently on different email systems, one option has been to display the offending part in a simpler way.

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