Standards for Email Clients

email standards projectWriting compatible markup for web browsers is a tedious process of trying and testing. Doing the same for graphical emails is next to impossible. Some of the most popular email clients and web mail services either support only a rudimentary set of CSS and HTML or render designs very different from others. Coding for web mail makes things even more complicated because certain tags like forms and styles may be removed or overwritten. If only these programs and services would all support web standards. I have recently been involved in the rebranding of email templates.

After the design was finalized, the implementation was contracted out to a web design firm run by a well known expert in email marketing, web design, and web standards. We tried to achieve as much web standards compliance as possible, but it was not possible to avoid some table based layout, deprecated html tags, and other workarounds. The designer didn’t like what he had to do, but we needed to implement a decent amount of brand consistency across the 10 different email programs used for testing. I know, email recipient don’t care about standards compliance. But even our ‘optimized’ templates render considerably different in various email clients. Best results in our tests were achieved with Thunderbird, Eudora, and Yahoo mail. Among the losers were Lotus Notes, Outlook 2007 (now using MS Word HTML rendering engine!), and – most disappointing – Google’s Gmail. As Dave Greiner wrote in Why we need standards support in HTML email, its about time for the email clients to comply with web standards!

Light at the end of the tunnel

The very active folks over at Campaign Monitor host one of my favorite email marketing and design blogs. They have recently launched the Email Standards Project.

“The Email Standards Project is about working with email client developers and the design community to improve web standards support and accessibility in email. The project was formed out of frustration with the inconsistent rendering of HTML emails in major email clients.”


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