Tuesday, November 28, 2006

How Googlemail cramps your style

We're onto a slightly technical subject this week, but it's one to be aware of, even if you're not personally responsible for coding your emails.

The growth of Gmail, or Googlemail as it's called in the UK, throws up some interesting challenges for the email marketer. I've done an assessment of all my B2C clients' lists and Googlemail/Gmail addresses still only account for a tiny percentage, but it's growing.

There are several issues. Firstly, when a message is displayed in the recipient's inbox, Google very smartly presents a series of contextual adverts next to it. So, for example if you are a niche kitchenware company, you may find your newsletter presented alongside ads for Steamer Trading and Lakeland Limited. Nice!

Something else which tends to scare email marketers is the prospect of image blocking. This has been a problem for some time, however, and doesn't just apply to Googlemail. As I've mentioned in a previous eTip it's best not to rely too heavily on images to communicate your message. Here's a handy chart from Email Tools showing how the major email clients handle image blocking.

But it gets worse. Googlemail ignores styles. In an email, it's unwise to use styles for layout anyway. But now we're talking fonts, padding, margins and backgrounds - all potentially messed up. What's the answer? Well, I'm waiting for a talented email designer to come up with one, but for now I can see two options.

Either you turn back time to pre-1999 HTML and all the design limitations that implies, or you send your Googlemail recipients the plain text version with an invitation to view the HTML version online should they wish. Personally I'm in favour of the latter. What's worse, for your recipients to see a plain text (but readable) email, or an HTML version that looks wrong (and possibly no images displaying either)?

With email, there are no guarantees about how your message will render, and sometimes it's simply a question of settling for good old plain text.


Elliot said...

You're right you can't link to a style sheet or include styles in the header but you can have inline styles. A complete pain and I guess similar to using in line style tags but at least you can use XHTML and CSS compliant code.

Gareth said...

Unfortunatley googlemail also ignores any inline styling for divs - yes that's right, if you want to control the layout and appearance of your email for googlemail recipients you have to use tables! Not sure why googlemails display like this but it could be because they don't want to allow the html in the email to mess up the display of the googlemail client. Whatever the reason it is annoying.