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How can I make sure my e-mails render properly in Outlook 2007?

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Answer: Most businesses—anywhere from 50% to 80%—use Outlook as their e-mail client. What’s more, a recent survey suggests that nearly 40% of these companies will migrate to Office 2007. If the majority of your marketing e-mail list is business domains, you may need to rethink the design of those marketing e-mails. Otherwise, your potential customers may quite literally not get your message.

For security reasons, Outlook 2007 disables the automatic download of images. Creative is and will always be important, but now marketers need to think about conveying a message with the possibility that the images may never be downloaded.

A typical e-mail marketing message has a big banner up top, some copy below the banner and maybe some navigation to the left. But if images aren’t downloaded, users will miss the messages in your creative, including that lovely banner with your key call to action.

To work around this, your design should rely less on images. For instance, you might replace the banner at the top with Web text that conveys primary messages and calls to action; have both buttons and text links serve as calls to action; and include at least one call to action “above the fold,” or near the top of the e-mail.

You must also rethink other e-mail elements. Images aside, the most significant changes in Office 2007 are a direct result of one update: Outlook no longer uses Internet Explorer (the Web browser) to render e-mail—instead, it’s using Microsoft Word. Using Word means support of typical Web design elements is limited.

  • No support for CSS “float” or “position.” To put it in laymen’s terms, CSS is largely what has allowed very Web site-like e-mails. For Outlook 2007, you can forget the fancy stuff.
  • No support for background images. Most marketers aren’t doing this anyway. But for those that are, you’re better off sticking with colored table cells and regular images to achieve the same goal.
  • No Flash support—or any other plug-in. If you want to use media such as Flash or streaming video, it’s best to link to a landing page with a hosted version of the component.
  • To check whether your designs are compatible with Office 2007, Microsoft offers an Outlook HTML and CSS Validator, available in Microsoft’s download center.

    It’s important to understand the implications of these changes to manage marketing expectations. First, your e-mails will look different; they may not look as “sexy” as your previous designs. But it doesn’t matter how sexy the e-mails are if no one can see them. Second, your success metrics may be different. Because e-mail open rates are tracked using an invisible image, if users never download images, open rates may misleadingly go down. However, your deliverability rates should go up.

    Shannon Delaney is director of client services at Spunlogic, an interactive marketing and technology agency.

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