Outlook Broke My Email! – How to Optimize Your Emails Across all Browsers and Servers (Part II)
Part 2: Tips and best practices for streamlining the email process
Welcome back to my two-part series on optimizing email creation. If you haven’t read part 1, you can read it here. Here’s a quick recap:
- Email is now a relatively old technology, however, despite the many new communications technologies that have emerged, email remains a crucial medium in digital marketing.
- Email continues to have major issues due to the medium evolving slowly as well as various platforms and desktop clients working differently.
- If you’ve been assigned the ostensibly manageable task of composing a well-designed and robust email and found it to be very complicated, you’re not alone.
- Something about fax machines.
Now that we’ve identified the issue, let’s explore some resources and best practices for email creation. My hope is that next time you need to put together an email, you’ll spend less time worrying about how to make your email work and more time doing what matters: composing compelling content and connecting with your audience.
Take the time to plan everything out, and be practical and specific.
This may sound like an obvious tip – who just jumps into something like this without first knowing what exactly the project will entail? In my experience, this is the most common cause of issues when building a template/email. Everyone involved has their own competencies and limitations and so the temptation to “cross that bridge when we come to it” can be significant, especially when you have a tight deadline.
This is the stage where taking a little time to communicate with your peers is worth a lot of time and frustration down the road. From the perspective of an email template developer (or, at least someone who fashions email templates out of larger templates), managing expectations of what an email template can and can’t do is often a very important.
If you’re working with a template in Powerpoint, or Word you can expect the template to be reasonably flexible and extensible – not so much with email. The notion that one well-branded, feature rich template can be used to create whatever you need can be a recipe for disaster. When it comes to email templates, it’s best to have everything you need already present as dummy content, with text and images ready to be replaced, as opposed to writing the content using the WYSIWYG editor. What might seem like a quick and simple addition to an email like a small array of thumbnail images or a block of dynamic content can stop your project in its tracks.
Leverage the right free resources and programs
Similar to taking the time to communicate with your peers, exploring your resources is another common sense tip that I’ve found often gets ignored in the interest of time. Luckily, email templates tend to play nice with email marketing tools with usually just a little customization. Most CRMs that I have used have had great templates to use as a starting point for a project, but it doesn’t hurt to look at 3rd party templates from companies like MailChimp or Zurb to see what is available. If none of the templates in your email marketing tool seems to have what you need, it’s often better to find something that is a better fit than to try and product the content or features yourself.
Check your emails with Litmus or Email On Acid
If you’re not incorporating a program like Litmus or Email On Acid in your process, I highly recommend you get an account with one of these services. These programs offer a number of useful (though mostly common) features such as providing email templates and analytics, however their main value in their ability to almost instantly provide previews of how your email will render across all major browsers. If you’re skeptical about how different email clients can display the same email, give one of these services a try.
Prioritize your target audience
Now that your glorious email has been carefully planned, expertly built and debugged, and tested across every email client to humble and demoralize everyone involved, whats next? You’re probably thinking that the obvious answer if fix whatever issues your testing tool is reporting until your email looks good in everything. Of course, it depends greatly on the time and resources you’re allotted, but my advice in any case is to try and make an assessment of how much time it will take to make it look good in everything, and compare that against the email clients your email is actually going to be opened in.
As stated in part one, it makes a difference whether your target audience is young people exclusively using their phones, or professionals in an office environment using desktop computers. If you’re seeing an error in Outlook 2003, and no one on your list uses that program, fixing the issue might not be a good use of your time and resources, especially since it often means making compromises in your email to accommodate the lowest common denominator.
It may sound like I’m saying that it’s not important to make the best product that you can, of course it is. Sometimes the choice isn’t whether or not to put the time in to getting your email right, but whether to create something that looks great for your target audience, or mediocre for everyone. In some cases a target audience is so broad that it doesn’t exclude any technology, meaning no device, operating system, or email client can be justifiably prioritized over another. In a situation like this you simply have to do the best job you can do with what you have, and maybe just prioritize your boss’s email client, just in case.
Luckily, most of the time it pays off in a big way to leverage the right tools to inform the scope of your testing phase. Concentrating on the most common email clients within your target audience/mailing list can increase the overall impact of your campaign – especially when you have a deadline to meet – by allowing you to cater more closely to the people who will actually be opening your email.
Unfortunately, the fear that some prospects will not like how your email looks on their device might cause you to attempt to create an email that renders well in everything by spending an enormous amount of time on it, often simplifying the layout and features to make something that no one can object to. As a result of the aforementioned lack of universal standards for email development, this can seems like the most practical option, however, this method of pretending it’s the 90s when trying to convince your audience to read what you have to say is what has caused email to progress so slowly and problematically as a medium.
The good news is that many email clients are now beginning to adhere to similar standards that allow for new possibilities for the medium. The process of testing emails against multiple clients and adjusting content accordingly will be around for some time, but as cloud-based software allows for frequent updates to popular email clients, the gap between email clients will likely diminish, allowing for the implementation of the same technologies we see in web browsers.
These are just a few thoughts on the broad and often daunting task of marketing email creation. I hope this two-part series was helpful, or at least somewhat comforting for anyone over their head and wondering where to begin to get a better handle on the process.
How I lived, saw or experienced one of MindMax’s values this month
Get Results – Learn Always – Align to Mission – Build Meaningful Relationships – Ask for Help.
Launching a new website can be nerve-wracking. Not only is there a laundry list of tasks that need to be completed within a short period of time, but, if anything goes wrong, your website could be down for a lot longer than you would like. In some cases downtime is inevitable, like when there is a major change involving a website’s domain name.
Recently, while launching two new websites simultaneously, we were experiencing a period of downtime while updating domain names. Although I understood this is normal, my colleagues were understandably uneasy with this and so I decided to call our web host to make sure everything was fine. The associate at WPEngine knew exactly what I was talking about and was nice enough to check to make sure there were no issues, as well as directing me to a few resources that would help me the next time this situation arises. Thanks to a very helpful support agent, I was able to report that there were no problems and that the site would be up soon.