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Windows Live Mail Drops a Little More CSS Support

As part of a check up on our updated guide to CSS support we released around 6 weeks ago, I’ve just done a quick re-test in some of the major web-based email clients to make sure the results are still spot on. Well, my first test in and I spotted some discrepancies. Turns out Windows Live Mail’s recently noted decline continues with the e:link, e:active and e:hover CSS selectors no longer being supported. These changes make it much harder to style any links in your email, and because they can only be declared through the selector, can’t be solved by going the inline CSS route. We’ve updated the original article to reflect these changes, as well as the PDF summary, which you can re-download below: Download the updated 2007 results for all email environments (52kb) We’ll keep checking each environment on a regular basis to stay on top of any minor changes, and if you guys ever spot anything amiss, don’t hesitate to let us know.

Blog Post

Testing the Plain Text Version of Your Email

When you create a campaign with Campaign Monitor, you can select to send it in plain text, just html or multipart text+html formats. Now testing an email that is just text is pretty straightforward, and testing the html portion is also easy, but how do you see the plain text part of a multipart email? Here’s how to check what people will see if their email client is setup to show text only. Testing using Thunderbird Thunderbird is a cross platform, free email client, and it lets you easily view the plain text version of a multipart email. View / Message Body As / Plain Text Testing using Apple Mail Apple Mail has the same functionality built in: View / Message / Plain text alternative In both clients, you can swap back and forth between html and text views. Outlook: Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a way to view the plain text in Outlook. We’d suggest you just grab Thunderbird and use it to check your campaigns. Now that Campaign Monitor remembers your test addresses it’s even easier to set up a consistent test process.

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It’s Time to Start Targeting

Mark Brownlow just put together a great motivational piece to encourage email marketers to start sending more targeted emails to their subscribers. I loved this quote in particular, which is something I’ve heard variations of countless times before… One might get the impression that segmentation and targeting is just for those with degrees in computer science or a big fat wad of cash to throw at database vendors. I’ve seen the faces and the questions at workshops: “Ugewh! Sounds great but we don’t have the skills or resources to do that kind of thing.” Mark’s right, even basic forms of targeting are a big step forward and can lead to better results and less complaints and list fatigue. Our custom fields and segments feature makes it so damn easy to capture data about your subscribers. Combine this with our segments feature and you can create targeted sub-lists in a matter of seconds. If the quote above rings true to you, checkout this 5 minute video walkthough where we cover the simple process of adding custom fields and creating segments in your account. Targeting your subscribers doesn’t get much easier.

Blog Post

A Guide to CSS Support in Email: 2007 Edition

Update This study has since been superseded. View the latest edition It’s been just over 12 months since I posted our original Guide to CSS Support in Email and quite a bit has changed since. Sadly, the most significant of these changes was in the wrong direction, with Microsoft’s recent decision to use the Word rendering engine instead of Internet Explorer in Outlook 2007. We’ve written plenty about it already including an explanation of the reasoning behind it. More on its impact on CSS support later. It hasn’t all been doom and gloom though, a number of vendors have maintained or improved their support for CSS, especially in the web-based email environment. The new Yahoo! Mail looks very promising and the old Hotmail will be making way for the new Windows Live Mail in the coming months. Desktop based apps tend to move a little slower and not a great deal has changed on that front, but traditionally they’ve been the best performers anyway. This year we added Outlook 2007, the new Yahoo! Mail and Mozilla Thunderbird for the Mac to our test suite, and also noticed some subtle changes in others. So what’s changed? Outlook 2007 No doubt the Outlook 2007 “incident” had the biggest impact on CSS support in email over the last year. Many commentators in the industry claimed the change was no big deal, that this change doesn’t really make a difference. Funnily enough, most of these comments came from the marketing side of the fence, not the design side. Understandably, most marketers and project managers couldn’t care less about this change – there are ways around it using tables and inline CSS, so who cares? Well, designers care. I wasn’t kidding when I said Microsoft took email design back 5 years. Using tables for layout is a dying art in the web design community, in fact many designers who have started CSS/XHTML in the last few years have never even coded a table based layout before. This is a good thing. CSS based emails are more lightweight, much more accessible to those with disabilities and because content is separated from presentation, much easier to dumb down for those reading email on mobile devices. This change by Microsoft means that for at least the next 5 years any designer not familiar with table based layouts will need to learn a completely different way of creating a HTML page if they want to send emails to an Outlook user. The new Yahoo! Mail On a much more positive note, Yahoo! have been putting the finishing touches on their brand new mail interface. Mark did some solid testing on the new Yahoo! Mail vs Windows Live Mail back in January, which is certainly worth a read. The exciting news is that Yahoo! have maintained their lead as the best web-based email client out there for CSS support. There are some subtle differences to the older version, which we’ve noted in our results below. Early talk from the Yahoo! camp suggests they will not be forcing all of their current users to the new platform, but instead make it the default for new customers and give existing customers the option to upgrade. Windows Live Mail It should also be noted that Windows Live Mail (the new Hotmail), which we covered an early beta of in last year’s test is rolling out in the coming months. Unlike Yahoo, Live Mail will be completely replacing the older Hotmail interface over the course of the next few months, meaning our days coding for Hotmail’s quirks will soon be over. It’s not all rosy though. In the 12 months since I last tested the Live Mail beta, they’ve dropped support for a number of key selectors and properties. As detailed in the results, a number of key CSS selectors are no longer supported. The most significant of these is e#id and e.className, which as many of you know means inline CSS will be the only way to get much of your formatting to work for Hotmail subscribers moving forward. Very frustrating. New Recommendations When I initially wrote about the Outlook 2007 shock a few months back, I said: If your email breaks in Notes or Eudora, it was often an acceptable casualty, but if it breaks in Outlook, you’re more than likely ostracizing too many recipients to justify your design approach. Unfortunately I still think this is the case. If there’s a chance that a reasonable percentage of your recipients will be using Outlook 2007, then a completely CSS based email design just won’t cut it. If your layout is column based, you have no option but to use tables for the basic structure of your email. You’re also going to need to dumb down your CSS usage (see our results below for the nitty gritty on what does and doesn’t work). Business to Business emails I wasn’t able to track down any predictions on Office 2007 penetration in the business world. Considering it was only released a few months ago, you might have some time before the install base becomes significant. Either way though, you’re going to get caught eventually. Considering Outlook’s 75% domination over corporate email, you’ve got little choice but to bow down and stick to tables and basic CSS for all your email templates. The verdict: Table-based and possibly inline CSS. Business to Consumer emails Across the spectrum of consumer based email environments little has changed really. Yahoo! has maintained their position as the industry leader, while Hotmail has simply been replaced with new wrapping but next to no improvements. Just like last year, Gmail still provides very limited CSS support. If you’ve got a decent percentage of Gmail subscribers, it’s table based with inline CSS all the way I’m afraid. Of course, you can never assume that none of your home based subscribers are using Outlook 2007, so this is a judgement call you’ll need to make yourself. If you do decide to stick with CSS based layouts for B2C emails, I’d recommend doing plenty of testing across Hotmail, Yahoo!, AOL and Gmail to make sure it’s presentable in each. The verdict: Either CSS or table-based layouts but make sure you test, test, test.

Blog Post

Some Hard Numbers on Preview Panes and Image Blocking in Consumer Emails

As a nice follow up to Mark’s research into the current state of image blocking in email last week, I just came across an interesting study from MarketingSherpa via Tamara’s blog. They surveyed 1,323 consumers over 18 to find out their email viewing preferences in regards to image blocking and preview panes. We already know preview panes are extremely popular in the B2B market because of the popularity of Outlook, but it’s important to note this survey was targeted specifically at the consumer market. A full 38% of online consumers now use preview pane ‘capable’ email clients and 64% of people who are offered preview panes start using them as their default… Can you imagine if people judged your print ads by just a corner of the creative? Or your TV ads by just a few frames? That’s what’s increasingly happening with email. Consistent with our recommendations back in November 2005, this great comparison really drives home the importance of ensuring the best bits of your email are at least visible in a preview pane. To get an idea of exactly which corner many subscribers will be seeing, they also asked the type of preview pane being used. Turns out that just like business email users, home email users also favour the horizontal preview pane, which makes sense considering that’s the most popular default in those email clients that offer one. Because of this, it’s safe to assume that the most important content in your email should be at the top of your email, and preferably top-left to get the best of both types of preview panes. Another interesting find was that between 35-50% of consumers have images off by default in their email clients. Of course, a percentage of those surveyed would enable images for safe senders and images would still be displayed automatically if you were in their address book. Check out the rest of the survey for the nitty gritty.

Blog Post

Image Blocking in Email Clients: Current Conditions and Best Practices

For the most current results on image blocking in email clients, view our updated post. Many people, either by email client defaults or personal preference, are blocking images in the HTML-formatted messages they are accepting. And then there are a small number of people who block HTML entirely. As David Greiner points out, according to a study by Epsilon Interactive 30% of your recipients don’t even know that images are disabled. In any case, it’s logical for recipients to block images and good practice for us to prepare for this scenario. So what happens to our emails when images are blocked? What are the best practices for ensuring accessibility and optimizing presentation therein? What are default settings across the board? Let’s get down to answering these questions. Default Settings in Popular Email Clients Every client has its own default settings regarding displaying/hiding images. And while most email clients have a setting to turn images on or off, some offer conditional settings which are contingent upon known senders or other factors. The following table outlines the default settings of popular desktop- and webmail clients. (Note that I’m reporting the settings of my personal versions of each client and that settings may differ from one version to another.). I have included contextually-relevant references to ALT text as part of this article. For a more in-depth look at how ALT text renders in popular email clients, you may want to read a more comprehensive article I wrote about ALT text. Image Blocking in Webmail Clients Client Default Img Display Trusted-Sender Img Display Renders ALT Text Yahoo Mail on No No Yahoo Mail Beta on Yes Yes Windows Live Mail off Yes No Gmail off Yes sometimes .Mac on No sometimes Hotmail on Yes No AOL on Yes Yes   Image Blocking in Desktop Clients Client Default Img Display Trusted-Sender Img Display Renders ALT Text Apple Mail on No No Thunderbird on Yes Yes Outlook 2007 off Yes sort of Outlook 2003 off Yes Yes Outlook Express on No Yes Lotus Notes on Yes Yes Eudora on No sort of Entourage on No Yes AOL off Yes No So now that we’ve covered the settings in popular email clients, let’s outline how we can help our emails survive image blocking. Recommendations for Successful Deployment From my perspective, an email is successful when it meets the following goals: Retains visual integrity in the most commonly used email clients with images enabled. Retains readability in the most commonly used email clients with images disabled. Is readable to people with visual disabilities and navigable to people with mobility disabilities. Is low in weight for recipients using mobile devices and dial-up connections. Is deployed to a permission-based list of subscribers. Meets CAN-SPAM Act requirements. Legitimately passes common tests employed by spam filters. Looking at this list it becomes clear just how important it is to consider image blocking when designing/developing an email. Dependency on images can lead to failures on many different levels. Preparing for a scenario in which images are disabled puts us at an advantage to oblige the settings/preferences of a broader range of recipients. Become a “Known Sender” Nearly every email client in my test suite enables people to automatically display images when a message is from a “known sender” (senders appearing in white lists, contact lists or address books). Because our subscribers have requested to receive emails from us, they will naturally want to ensure they receive the messages. Spam filters can disrupt legitimate communication when subscribers are unaware of how they function. With a couple, simple notifications we can increase our chances of success: Ask a subscriber to add the email-list address to their address book (right on the subscribe form) and briefly explain why. Enable a double opt-in subscription process, and send a plain-text confirmation which includes a request to add the email-list address to a recipient’s address book. And, again, briefly explain why. Informing a subscriber about this simple step will increase our chances of images being enabled and will help us legitimately pass through spam filters. Prepare for Disabled Images So we’ve created a structurally-sound template, we’re preparing to send our email to a permission-based list of subscribers and we’ve taken steps to see our list email-address into the address books of the said subscribers. There are still a number of people on our lists who will intentionally block images, and therefore we should account for that scenario. I wrote an article outlining a technique for this very purpose. With the releases of Yahoo Mail Beta and Windows Live Mail we lose the ability to integrate the aforementioned technique. However, Ryan Kennedy from the Yahoo Mail team has pointed out that they are looking into potential resolutions for this obstacle. Positioning aside, there are some things we can do to retain the integrity of our emails when images are disabled: Begin an email with HTML text or logical ALT text. We can decide what a reader sees in a preview pane or small message-window. If we’re prepared, we can optimize the experience of scanning messages. Moreover, some applications offer the ability to preview the first few lines of text before an email is loaded/viewed. Use ALT text. This seems so obvious I’m almost embarrassed mentioning it. However, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the email newsletters I receive sans ALT text, so there it is. Use captions for contextually-important images. In lieu of proper support for ALT text across the board, we can add captions to images which are vitally important to the content of an email. Avoid Image-Based Emails Again, this is something which should seem obvious. But image-based emails are often practiced as a simple, easy method of delivering a pretty design irrespective of the rendering circus among the array of common email-clients. When we ponder image blocking as part of the rendering equation, it’s easy to see how an image-based email could be completely destroyed with a single preference. Furthermore, this doesn’t take into consideration file sizes for mobile/dial-up recipients, accessibility for those visually impaired or the HTML-to-text ratio that popular spam filters apply with their algorithms. In summary, we should be giving serious consideration to image-blocking and what we can do about it. It’s natural and reasonable why people disable them, but with the right approach we can improve the experience for our subscribers.

Blog Post

Creating and Using Segments

Something you may not have used in your Campaign Monitor account is segments. A segment is a subset of one of your existing subscriber lists. For example, instead of emailing to everyone on your ‘Alpaca owners’ list, you might just want to send an email to the Huacaya Alpaca owners. That’s a perfect job for a segment. Instead of paying to send your email to everyone on the list, send it to just the people who are most interested in your particular topic this week. You save money, and you can make your email much more specific, hopefully leading to better response rates. Creating a segment To get started with segments, jump into your account. Hit the ‘Manage Subscribers’ tab, and then pick the list you want to work with. You’ll find the segments link at the bottom of the right column. Now you can hit the big green button to create a new segment. You’ll need to give it a sensible name that describes the segment so you can use it later. So, in my example, ‘Huacaya owners’. Create the segment, and you are ready to add some rules. Using rules with segments Rules are what you use to select the addresses you want. For every list, you can create rules that are based on Name, Email address and date subscribed. If you have custom fields in your list, you can make rules based on those too. In my case, I want to create a segment of subscribers who have an ‘Alpaca Type’ of ‘Huacaya’. So I drop down the select box and choose ‘Alpaca Type’, and hit Go. Now I can create my Alpaca Type rule. I would select ‘Alpaca Type equals Huacaya’. (It’s not case sensitive) The full list of possible rule types is: Value: Equals Does not equal Is provided Is not provided Number: Is greater than Is less than Email address: Contains Does not contain Date subscribed: Is before Is after Campaigns: Campaign was opened Campaign was opened – Any link clicked Campaign was opened – Specific link clicked Campaign was opened – No link clicked Campaign was not opened You can combine any number of rules to split your segment as far as you like. Not all of them are available for every field or list. You can also add multiple rules for the same field. For example “Email contains hotmail or Email contains gmail” Each time you save your segment, the count at the top right will show you how many people you are selecting with all the rules applied. You can also hit the link there to see who is in your segment. Segments are smart! Once you’ve finished tweaking your rules, you’ll have a set of subscribers. Every time you come back to check out your segment, and every time you send a campaign to your segment, the rules will be re-applied to your list, and the segment will be updated. So now you when you create a new campaign and select some recipients, your new segment will show up as an option. Huacayas owners will rejoice with their own individual email! More ideas for using segments As well as picking your favorite Alpaca owners, segments can be used in lots of different ways to increase the effectiveness of your campaigns. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Send a special thank you offer to your old school members, who signed up before a certain date. A second chance offer to people who did not click through on your last campaign Target campaigns to certain geographical areas Offer special prices to frequent purchasers Send emails to people interested in certain topics FAQs about segments Is sending to a segment charged like a normal campaign? Yes, each time you send to a segment of your list, you will pay the normal rates (USD$5 delivery fee and 1 cent per recipient). Do I have to update them manually? No – segments are automatically updated before you send to them, and each time you view the segment details. They don’t update ‘live’ because of the amount of processing that would require. Can I do a ‘contains’ rule for custom fields? Sorry, no. At the moment, you can only use ‘Contains’ and ‘Does not contain’ rules for the email address.

Blog Post

How ALT Text Renders in Popular Email Clients

We’ve got an updated blog post on ALT text display in email clients – read it here. So off I went to test how ALT text displays in common email clients, only to find that many of them don’t display any ALT text whatsoever. Unbelievable. And to top it off a couple clients replace the author-defined ALT text with their own idea of ALT text should be (tsk tsk). But before we look at the “how,” let’s look at the “why” in ALT text. Why ALT Text? Any web designer attentive to accessibility understands the benefits of ALT text. It’s cardinal purpose, of course, being that it briefly describes an image to someone who is visually impaired via a screen reader. Screen readers read all of the text on a page, denoting lists, links, headlines and ALT text in images. For example, when loading markwyner.com a screen reader would read something similar to the following: Webpage: Mark Wyner Design, Web Design Studio—Portland, Oregon. Link 1: Navigate directly to content. Page headline, link 2: Mark Wyner Design. Sensible design. Accessible content. Usable interface. Global navigation. Home. Link 3: About. Link 4: Services. Link 5: Portfolio. LInk 6: Contact. […] Note how the screen reader announces the page headline and all links, referencing the latter with numbers. Image ALT text is also read aloud, prefaced with the announcement that the forthcoming text is a text alternative to an image. So the following image: <img src="https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/file.jpg" width="528" height="405" alt="[photo: bowler picking up a Greek Church]" /> May be read as: Image: Bowler picking up a Greek Church A secondary purpose, however, is to describe an image to someone who can not or chooses not to view images in their browsing device or email client. Sadly, the latter doesn’t always work out because many browsers/clients either do not render ALT text when images are disabled or render their own variations thereof. In this article I’ll outline how common email clients display (or don’t display) ALT text. Clients Used in Tests Webmail Yahoo Mail Yahoo Mail Beta Windows Live Mail Gmail .Mac Hotmail Desktop Apple Mail Thunderbird Outlook 2007 Outlook 2003 Outlook Express Eudora Lotus Notes Results A trait shared among all email clients—webmail and desktop—is the ability to disable or enable images by default. And nearly every client in my test suite enabled me to load images directly from the message if they were disabled by default. The exception is Windows Live Mail in which images are loaded for known senders and disabled for unknown senders, the latter scenario exhibiting a link to enable them on the fly. These preferences may be more robust/flexible, but I just tested the basics. ALT Text Display in Common Email Clients Client Renders ALT Text Comments Yahoo Mail N/A Yahoo Mail Beta Applies CSS font-styling to ALT text Windows Live Mail N/A Gmail Sometimes Contingent upon text length .Mac Sometimes Contingent upon text length Hotmail N/A Apple Mail Replaces ALT text with question-mark icon Thunderbird Applies CSS font-styling to ALT text Outlook 2007 Sort of Replaces ALT text with security message Outlook 2003 Applies CSS font-styling to ALT text Outlook Express Applies CSS font-styling to ALT text Eudora Sort of Replaces ALT text with URL to image   Yahoo Mail Displays ALT text: no Yahoo Mail Beta Displays ALT text: yes The interesting thing about Yahoo Mail Beta is that applies contextually relevant CSS to the ALT text itself. So although it displays ALT text, the potential problem is that large font sizes can push the information beyond the visible border of the image box, rendering it unreadable. But this is, of course, a naturally occurring problem across the board, especially with smaller images and larger descriptions. Windows Live Mail Displays ALT text: no Gmail Displays ALT text: sometimes Initially, Gmail only displayed some of my ALT text and I couldn’t figure out why. Further testing yielded the conclusion that text length was the deciding factor. Whereas most clients display what text they can within the boundaries of a box, Gmail decides that if the text extends beyond the said border it will display nothing. Nice. .Mac Displays ALT text: sometimes .Mac suffers parallel to Gmail when rendering ALT text, in that it reserves text-length contingencies. Hotmail Displays ALT text: no Apple Mail Displays ALT text: no The clients which do not display ALT text typically display gray boxes in place of the images. Apple Mail, however, displays open space and adds a little question-mark icon. I’m an emphatic fan of Apple products and have been using them for roughly 15 years now. Their products are always very usable and beautifully aesthetic. But I must admit that for obvious reasons it was an ill decision to replace images with a question-mark icon. While this isn’t perilous, it is something to note nonetheless. Thunderbird Displays ALT text: yes As with Yahoo Mail Beta, Thunderbird applies contextually relevant CSS to ALT text. Again, there are no paramount consequences of this result, but it’s noteworthy all the same. Outlook 2007 Displays ALT text: sort of I’ll bite my tongue and stick to the facts on this one. Outlook 2007 prefaces all ALT text with its long-winded explanation of why an image was omitted from a message: “Right-click here to download pictures. To help protect your privacy, Outlook prevented automatic download of this picture from the internet.” This falls down in two very specific ways. First, this is the kind of message which should merely introduce someone to a feature. To repeat it for every image in every email indefinitely is a plethora of information. Second, it pretty much wipes out any ALT text which follows it, given the length of the preface and the average image size in an email. Outlook 2003 Displays ALT text: yes While Yahoo Mail Beta and Thunderbird apply CSS font-size and color properties to ALT text, Outlook 2003 only applies color. I can’t think of a scenario wherein this would have a negative impact, but I feel it’s still relevant to my findings. Outlook 2003 is also the origin of the security-message-replacement woes of Outlook 2007. Outlook Express Displays ALT text: yes Outlook Express is parallel to Outlook 2003 regarding CSS font-properties. Eudora Displays ALT text: sort of Eudora replaces ALT text with an absolute URL to the location of a respective image. I assume this informs a reader where the image can be found, if they feel so inclined to view the image in their browser. But given that the path to the images is truncated, I’m left pondering the value of this system. Lotus Notes Displays ALT text: ? I attempted to get results for Lotus Notes but was unsuccessful in disabling images for the test. I found settings to disable images, but the setting yielded no changes in how images were displayed. I even sent a test to one of my clients who I know uses Lotus Notes at work every day. He, too, could not disable images. If someone can share this information, I’ll update the article to include Lotus Notes results and accompanying screen shot.

Blog Post

How Windows Live Mail and Yahoo Mail Beta Shake Out with CSS

Moving past my angst at recent events, I have tested CSS support in two new webmail clients: Yahoo Mail Beta (YMB) and Windows Live Mail (WLM). The results are a nice blend of excellence and incompetence. Surprised? Didn’t think so. Before I dive in, however, I’d like to preface this article with a particular point of interest. With the release of Outlook 2007 looming it feels oh so very awkward to report on how CSS is handled in other new clients. One might even give in to despair with the realization that irrespective of how a standards-based email renders across the board, it simply won’t fare well in a client used in many offices around the globe. But from my perspective, it’s clear that we need to overcome this obstacle like other web standards of the past: we push the web community (browser/client developers and web designers alike) to embrace web standards in avoidance of regression. It’s a long road, but well worth the efforts. If we backed down from the parallel challenge with standards support in browsers, today’s web would be a very different place. I also want to shed some light on the dark caverns of rendered markup in these new webmail clients. There is a current trend in webmail clients which employs a dizzying level of AJAX to make webmail look more like a desktop application. It’s pretty amazing what these developers have accomplished. Anyway, getting to the actual code of a message for viewing rendered markup was quite labor intensive. I owe my gratitude to Chris Pederick who put together the essential Web Developer extension for Firefox which enabled me to get to the source of my test messages. Yahoo Mail Beta Yahoo is a company dedicating itself to progress in web standards. I continue to see advances with CSS and accessibility on redesigned pages on their site and within their new products. (Go, Yahoo team, go!) The new YMB client is no exception. My tests revealed a webmail client with serious support for CSS. In fact, it’s the best webmail client I’ve tested. They prove that you can support CSS in a webmail client while maintaining security, speed and top features. Take a peek at its beautiful rendition of my test email: However, there is one highly unfortunate CSS property that Yahoo still considers to be problematic: position. In previous articles I outlined how Yahoo Mail replaced all instances of position with xposition, thus rendering them inoperable. Now, however, Yahoo takes this approach to a new level. Instead of making the aforementioned modification, it strips the email of all instances of position. And not just in YMB, but in the original Yahoo Mail as well. So with Yahoo Mail and YMB, all positioning is out the window. Hello float. All said, I think this is pretty minor in the scheme of things. Thanks, Yahoo. Yahoo Mail Beta’s score: “excellence.” Windows Live Mail Where do I begin? I must give the WLM team credit for their advances in support for CSS, succeeding Hotmail by great strides. Not surprisingly, however, they have failed to offer support for many core CSS properties. In some ways this is worse because Hotmail’s handling of CSS-formatted emails yielded an acceptable email, comparable to a rich-text document. With a half-hearted attempt at CSS support, the result is problematic. Let’s take a look at where WLM falls down. Margin Good bye margin. Yep, it’s gone. Every instance. The most significant problems arise when we need to trim default margin to elements like blockquote and need to add to the default margin of elements such as a div: After WLM eradicates my margin declarations, my blockquote encroaches on the sidebar. And note how all of the text is pushed to the left edge of the window because the margin I applied to my paragraphs and headers has been axed. Albeit we still have padding, this creates its own complexities when working with even a moderate level of design. Image Caching Okay, email service providers, get ready to scream. Ready? When WLM opens an email it grabs linked images and downloads them to a local application-directory. So those tracking images you use to report how many times and email has been opened? You only get one hit irrespective of how many times a message is opened. Okay, let it out. Scream! This is how it works: src="https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/logo.gif" Becomes: src="https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/logo.gif" Why does WLM do this? Presumably to cache them for speed. Of course I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here. (Don’t get comfortable, WLM team—I’m not finished with you.) Personally, I think it’s a nice uppercut to all of us. But I’ll let you folks decide how detrimental this is to what we do. Conversion of Quotes This one is rich. I hope you only want to use fonts with single names such as Helvetica or Georgia. CSS requires that when declaring a value for font-family, two-word names must be enveloped in quotes. So Trebuchet MS must be declared as follows: font-family: "Trebuchet MS", sans-serif; WLM says “no” to quotes in values, so the aforementioned sample becomes: font-family: &quot;Trebuchet MS&quot;, sans-serif; This renders the declaration inoperable, rendering fonts to the browser default. So if our design employs Lucida Grande or Trebuchet MS, per se, we must either accept WLM’s presentation as is and proceed with our two-name fonts or compromise our design with a single-name font. Background WLM strips all instances of background. Good bye background images. While this is problematic for our pretty designs, it poses a threat to a more significant issue: accessibility. WLM strips the entire background declaration, which includes any colors therein. So if you have white text atop a colored background, you’re left with invisible content when WLM is finished beating you up. There is hope, however, in that we can exchange shorthand for longhand when declaring background properties. So: background: #c1d7ed url("https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/bqTop.gif") no-repeat; Becomes: background: url("https://www.campaignmonitor.com/assets/uploads/bqTop.gif") no-repeat; background-color: #c1d7ed; This enables us to retain background colors amid WLM’s background-image cleansing. The result, while less than satisfying, is more or less acceptable. Let’s compare. My test as seen in Yahoo Mail Beta: The same test as seen in WLM: Headers By default, headers (h1–h6) inherit font properties as previously defined in a style sheet. But with WLM, nothing is inherited. So it is important to redefine font properties as necessary. Fortunately the named value inherit does function within WLM. So font-family: inherit; works as intended. Phew. ID Replacement This is by far the worst of the lot, and is reminiscent of the .Mac problem I noted in a previous article. Webmail clients have evolved to ensure that type selectors do not override CSS declarations for the client itself (a problem for which I have illustrated a considerate solution). The common solution on part of webmail-client developers is to add an all-encompassing div to an HTML email, give it an ID or class, then prefix all class- and id-selectors (from the email) with the ID or class from the new div. So the CSS/HTML pair: #Content { } <div id="Content"></div> Becomes: #EC_Content { } <div id="EC_Content"></div> A reasonable solution if it were properly implemented. WLM and .Mac both have their faults in that they fail to appropriately match new parent div elements. Where WLM falls down is that it only applies its prefix in the CSS to the first ID/class selector in an element, leaving child ID/class selectors behind. So the CSS for: #Content #Primary {} Becomes: #EC_Content #Primary {} But in the HTML: <div id="Content"><div id="Primary"></div></div> Becomes: <div id="EC_Content"><div id="EC_Primary"></div></div> Obviously this renders all child ID/class selectors inoperable. The good news is that WLM does not prefix type-selectors in either the CSS or the HTML. So: #Content h1 { } <div id="Content"><h1></h1></div> Becomes: #EC_Content h1 { } <div id="Content"><h1></h1></div> I think we dodged a bullet on that one. Why webmail-client developers can’t get this right is beyond my comprehension. It is vitally important and is an obvious oversight which is now becoming commonplace. Windows Live Mail’s score: “incompetence.” In Summary It comes down to this: Yahoo is leading the way with their support of CSS and web standards, while Microsoft has once again proven they are falling behind. I would gladly stand up and applaud Microsoft for development of a product which offers a high level of support for web standards. But with Windows Live Mail, this is a big “no can do.” As for the Yahoo team, allow me to celebrate your efforts. The first round is on me next time you’re in Portland.

Blog Post

The Truth behind the Outlook 2007 Change and What You Can Do about It

When I posted about Microsoft’s decision to use Word instead of Internet Explorer to render HTML emails in Outlook 2007, I certainly didn’t expect the storm of controversy and (sometimes) constructive discussion that eventuated. The post has already breached 300 comments and made the front page of Digg, Del.icio.us and Techmeme within a few hours. Heck, we even managed to land the number five spot on Alexa’s fasting moving sites on the web. This is clearly a topic many of you are passionate about. So why did Microsoft make this change? In my post, I chanced a guess at Microsoft’s motivations for this change: By default Outlook uses the Word engine to create HTML emails, which it’s done for years now. Perhaps Microsoft figured that in order to keep the look and feel of emails consistent between Outlook users they’d display emails using the same engine that created them. As diplomatically explained by Molly Holzschlag, it turns out that this is exactly why Microsoft made the change. It has nothing to do with security or the remnants of an anti-trust decision. I’m not going to harp on about what I think about this decision – I can certainly understand Microsoft’s motivation for making the change. It’s been made, and the best thing for us to do now is deal with it and use our frustration to constructively encourage Microsoft to resolve the existing issues with the Word rendering engine. What can you do? Molly is currently working closely with Microsoft as part of the Microsoft/WaSP Task Force and points out this refreshing fact – Microsoft is prepared to listen. Please comment as to your experiences and include any links to problem cases. I promise to make sure the top priorities and concerns get in front of the right eyes. Microsoft was very clear in letting me know that if we want a feature and need it and get an organized list to them, those issues will be addressed and prioritized as the new engine develops in response to developer needs, too. As email designers, all we have to do is provide examples of our older CSS based designs that are now breaking in Outlook 2007. The obvious challenge there is that most of us don’t have a copy yet (it’s being released publicly next month), so these reports may take some time to trickle through. At any rate, I encourage anyone who has noticed any discrepancies in their email designs using a pre-release version of Outlook 2007 to chime in on Molly’s post with the URL of your email and a short explanation of what’s breaking. If you don’t have a copy yet, you can also test Outlook 2007 support using SiteVista, which we reviewed recently.

Blog Post

The Email Design Gallery Grows Up

Every few days for the last 2 years we’ve been showcasing the amazing email designs you guys have been producing and sending through Campaign Monitor. This gallery has now grown to well over 100 entries and was really starting to outgrow the current blog format. Because of this, we’ve been hard at work on a brand new email design gallery that’s much easier to browse and really does justice to the quality of work you guys are pumping out. We’ve gone back and tagged every design we’ve featured to date making it much easier to find just the designs you’re looking for. Want to just see 1 column email designs? How about all the newsletter style emails we’ve featured? No problem. On top of this, we’ve now got a dedicated RSS feed so you can get an update every time we feature a new design. We’ll be rolling out a few more features in the coming days that will let you browse the gallery by popularity. To top it off, we’ve got a backlog of some awesome new designs that we’ll be featuring over the next few days and weeks. Enjoy.

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