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April 30, 2007
Blog Entry

Are Your Email Messages Designed for Outlook 2007? Handy Tip Sheet of What NOT to Do

SUMMARY: No summary available.
By Anne Holland

In my dream world, every single email inbox acts the same. No matter whether your recipients see your email newsletter or campaign in Hotmail, Yahoo!, Outlook or whatever … they would all see the same exact thing.

And, that standardized email box would allow huge creativity for marketers. You would be able to use Flash, animated gifs and background colors and add forms into your email, including prefilled order forms.

Unfortunately, no one has ever shared this dream with the programmers. The programmers behind Outlook 2007 never met anyone in marketing. (Or, if they did, they didn't like them.)

Office 2007, which launched Nov. 30 for business users and Jan. 30 for consumers, has finally gotten enough users, especially for at-work email accounts, so that millions of email users see your messages using Outlook 2007. And they think many of your emails look pretty stinky.

Julian Scott, Creative Director over at ESP Responsys, sent me this handy Tip Sheet he wrote to help train email designers in tweaking campaign design to render properly in Outlook 2007.

"If you already adhere to the commonly accepted email creative and HTML best practices, you likely have nothing to worry about, with several minor exceptions concerning animated gifs and borders,” Scott says. “If you do not, then the bad news is you will have to change how you code your emails if you want them to render correctly."

Biggest email marketing design limitations:

o No support for animated gifs (only a static representation of the first frame displays).
o No support for Flash or other plug-ins (a red "X" shows in the area where the Flash would display).
o No support for background images (HTML or CSS).
o Limited CSS support; no support for CSS floats or for CSS positioning. With the exception of color, CSS background properties are not supported; this includes background-attachment, background-position, background-repeat and background-image.
o No support for HTML form submissions.
o No support for JavaScript events, such as on mouse-down.
o No support for replacing bullets with images in unordered lists.

Scott adds, "In addition, several unexpected issues have been identified that should be accounted for in the design process:

o Outlook 2007 imposes a 2-pixel height minimum for cells. As an example, if an email contains 1-pixel transparent and a background color, the horizontal line will appear thicker than expected.
o Stretched images (e.g., bars, borders, gradients, etc.) may not render correctly. All graphics should have their correct dimensions in the file properties. Do *not* rely on HTML-defined dimensions for images that are critical to the email’s layout.
o Modules with fixed width and height may not display correctly for the same reason cited above. If horizontal and vertical spacing is determined by spacer graphics (as opposed to the email’s content), be aware that customized spacing and alignment may be impossible in some cases. For best results, try using a combination of transparent spacer images and the HTML height attribute on the cell."

Even if you're not technically minded enough to understand all of the above, one thing is clear: most of the neat-o stuff you would like to do with email isn't possible.

Scott’s advice, "Email should be treated as a 'stepping stone' to a landing page where you have complete control over how you represent your brand and communicate your message. Save the 'fancy' coding for there."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Useful links related to this blog:

Word 2007 HTML and CSS Rendering Capabilities in Outlook 2007, Part I:

Word 2007 HTML and CSS Rendering Capabilities in Outlook 2007, Part II:

Responsys - the email service provider Scott works for:

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