Whether sharing company news, special offers or even coupons, email continues to be a key component of the marketing mix for many companies. But successfully delivering an HTML email to a highly fragmented email client environment resident on smartphones, tablets, desktops or laptops can prove almost as challenging as staying awake during a screening of Maleficent.

Outlook has the Word

Perhaps the biggest obstacle email marketers face is that many desktop email clients provide limited support for modern HTML and CSS. Among the most notable is Microsoft Outlook®, which uses Microsoft Word’s somewhat limited HTML rendering engine. According to Litmus, totaling up the various flavors of Outlook currently in use yields 17% of the total email client market, a percentage which is second only to Apple Mail for iPhone.

For B2B companies or for those companies that sell into government agencies, the share of Outlook users is considerably higher. Given the numbers, the opportunity cost and brand dilution from ignoring such a large segment is simply too high. As an email marketer, you’ll have to take steps to ensure that you can reach your Outlook clients.

Outlook-First Design

When designing email campaigns, you need to take into consideration the target email client environment. In many instances, certainly for initiatives in the B2B space, you should follow an Outlook-first email design approach that begins with the development of fully Outlook compatible emails or templates. These emails or templates can be progressively enhanced for more capable email clients and more narrow target segments.

Testing is another important component of the email design process. We espouses a thorough testing model that includes direct testing on actual clients and devices. As required, we may supplement testing with services like Litmus, which was referenced earlier in this post. Litmus provides visual previews of your emails on over 30 different email clients as well as spam filter testing and some advanced analytics, including information on the email clients that recipients are using to access your emails.

Looking Forward

There is some comfort in the fact that most smartphones and tablets host email clients that can handle advanced HTML and CSS, which means that they can also render almost all the HTML emails that you send their way. Other recent studies by Litmus have determined that email opens on mobile devices have grown to 48% of all total opens, an impressive number, but this also means that 52% of emails are still opened using desktop email clients.

It’s not all doom and gloom. You are not permanently banished to an Outlook wasteland. Organizations like the Email Standards Project have been vocal advocates for improving email standards and accessibility to email. They also provide information for the support that you might expect for specific email clients. The Email Standards Project has also consistently petitioned Microsoft to upgrade Outlook’s HTML and CSS support, and it appears that Microsoft is listening. Hopefully we’ll soon see an Outlook client that is friendlier to email marketers.