Tips to Improve your Email Layout

There are many things that you can do to improve the look and functionality of your email campaigns and autoresponders. Here are a few that have been proven to help your email look better and increase repeat opens by your contacts. Remember, even though you are limited by CSS and HTML that you can use and image size that you should send you can still be very creative and develop great email templates that will look the same to all your contacts no matter what email application they use. 

One of the biggest issues people have when creating email templates is using background images. Microsoft Outlook and most other email clients do not support this element and as such if you are relying on a background image to make your email then you will loose this for many of your potential contacts. 

Most email clients will not render code before the <body> tag (most will delete this code).  So, if you try to add CSS styles to your code by creating classes and defining the CSS rules in the <head> your CSS will not be rendered. To get around this remember always to make use of inline CSS. Add your styles to the individual elements such as tables, table rows, text, etc. This may take a lot longer to do but will ensure that your emails look good for everyone that views them. 

Other Tips:

  • Make sure that you do not make your email templates wider than 650 pixels. This will ensure that none of your users should have to scroll horizontally to view the content of your email. 

  • Try not to use 1x1 pixel spacer gifs (to force widths in your table data cells) as this can cause your email to be picked up as spam. 

  • Focus on making optimal use of the first 3-4 inches of your email campaign. Many contacts will have a preview pane set up in their email client, and this is the first thing that they will see. If you grab their attention here, then they will be more likely to open your email and read further. 

  • Make sure that you use correct HTML when creating your email campaigns. Invalid HTML can cause many problems when trying to render in email clients. Have a look here for a free HTML validation application. 

  • Do not add any JavaScript to your email. Javascript and Java embedded objects are not supported by any email client at this time and may 'break' your email design. 

  • Add a link to a web version of your email. You can do this by adding the custom field %%webversion%% to your email. This will ensure that if your contact cannot for some reason see the email in their email client they will be able to view it online. 

  • Use the alt element for all images. This does not work for all email clients but will for most. It will also enable those users that do not download or cannot download images to know what the image was intended to be. You can use this like alt="Company Logo" etc. 

  • Do not embed Flash movies or any other type of movie file as email clients will not render movies or flash at all. Instead, you can create a screenshot of these files and include that image as a link to the movie file hosted on your website. This will not only decrease the size of your email campaign, but it will also ensure that your contacts can all see what you are sending them. 

How to make sure that your emails look the same in different email clients

One of the most important things to do with email marketing is to test. You need to make sure that your email will look the same (or at the very least still look good) when viewed in different email clients such as Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo, etc. 

To aide in this you can use the built-in feature for 'Email Client Compatibility'. This feature will give you an idea on what your emails will look like in many different email clients. It will show you a display as well as inform you of the reason the email will be displayed the way it is. 

Email clients will not render code that you place before the <body> tags so with this in mind you should try to avoid any vital code being placed here. You can still include tags such as title="My Email Campaign" so that when you display this in the web browser your users will be able to see the title of the document. These tags simply won't render in the email when it is sent. 

Avoid adding CSS styles and classes etc. to the <head> section of your emails HTML. Adding this here and applying it to different elements in your HTML will result in no style being added to your emails. Do not have <style> tags. This will render in some clients but not all. Simply make all your CSS styles inline and this will solve this problem. 

Examples of CSS and HTML elements that you should not use are: 

  • Gmail doesn't like the CSS property background or background color so you should use the HTML tag bgcolor to set the background color. 

  • Hotmail does not render border tags so this can place restrictions on you when you are using the border for underlining text or placing a line on top of your tables, etc. 

  • If you have a block of paragraphs you should separate them by using <br/><br/> rather then <p></p> as some email clients will neglect to add the space between the paragraphs. 

  • Because most email clients strip out your CSS from the <body> tags, you should wrap your email in a table and add your CSS to that. This way you can add background colors that will appear in all email clients. So instead of having HTML that looks like: 

<body bgcolor="blue">

Your email template content....

You would have HTML that looked more like: 


<table bgcolor="blue" width="100%">

Your email template content:

If there is no text in a table cell, replace this with <span></span> to take up space. 

If you are using images as corners to make a rounded corner effect, you should make them at least 25px tall to avoid cell padding from showing up. 

With the release of Microsoft's Outlook 2007 email rendering capabilities took a big step backward. For a full list of the HTML and CSS elements supported by Outlook 2007 please have a look at this MSDN page.