All Email Clients Are Not Created Equal

August 12th, 2010 | By Trevor Ezell | 1 Comment

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all email clients are not created equal, that they are endowed by their provider with certain un-agreeable quirks, that among these are inconsistent rendering, un-deliverability, and annoying guidelines that MUST be followed for translating that sexy design into an equally appealing email message you just have to deliver to your audience.”

The basics: There are two distinct types of email client.

1. Web-based: Simply means access to email via web interface (Yahoo Mail, Gmail, Windows Live Hotmail, etc.)
2. Desktop/Mobile Application: Email software installed on a desktop, laptop, or smart phone which retrieves email for you over POP or IMAP protocols.

With Web-based email clients, your HTML email is rendered by your web browser (Internet Explore, Firefox, Safari, Opera, etc.). Which means quality assurance and testing can generally be performed within a web browser and the results will be close to what you can expect to see within the specific email client. Of course, each client has it’s own quirks, such as Yahoo Mail’s dislike for displaying a background-color associated with the body tag, or Hotmail’s dislike for padded elements, but these are all issues that can be avoided. These “quirks” are safeguards to prevent an HTML email affecting the web-based email application’s interface as the application’s interface itself is built on HTML/CSS as well.

For desktop/mobile applications, consistency becomes much more difficult. These email applications tend to make up their own rules. The application can employ an installed browser’s HTML rendering engine, another application’s rendering engine, or provide its own. Prior to Outlook 2007 being released, Outlook used the Internet Explorer rendering engine which helped in achieving rendering consistency across browsers and other clients. However, when Microsoft decided to rely upon the MS Word rendering engine for Outlook 2007, that progress was defeated. Word’s HTML rendering has no support for background images, limited CSS support, and fails to render adequately a variety of coded email designs. The “bad news” is that some version of Outlook (including older versions) is utilized by 43% of all users, which means for email marketers it’s now imperative that we support this client in the best way we can.

Check back for next weeks’ article on suggested solutions for email rendering and learn what you can do to achieve successful results by coding your emails to accommodate email client inconsistencies.

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  • Orchata8

    Great article!

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