Outlook 2007 creates e-mail rendering challenges

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Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook 2007 has a new way of rendering HTML e-mail that creates a number of concerns among e-mail marketers.

The latest Outlook has shown challenges in rendering e-mails designed with elements like Cascading Style Sheets, background images and rich media like JavaScript, Flash and animation.

"The previous versions of Outlook rendered e-mail pretty well, because it used the same rendering engine as Internet Explorer, but the new one does not use the same rendering engine," said Eric Boggs, product manager at Bronto, Durham, NC. "It's like opening your HTML message in MS Word, so you're not going to get the same consistency."

Problems that mailers can expect to face when sending e-mail to Outlook 2007 addresses include rendering problems with background colors and images, too.

There could also be issues displaying Flash files such as video or audio, as well as with CSS-designed files - a format commonly used by designers to make short cuts.

From a design perspective, designers will still be able to use images. But they will have to resort to an older way of writing HTML, as was done more commonly in 2000.

Mr. Boggs said marketers should focus on testing to make sure that messages are received as intended. He said that simplicity in design, with a strong call to action and type-down messages, would be more likely to render properly.

Lyris' deliverability measurement tool, EmailAdvisor, which measures the filtering and rendering of e-mails, was just enabled to test e-mails in Outlook 2007. Marketers using the tool can test how HTML e-mail marketing messages will render in Outlook 2007.

"We know how important it is for e-mail marketers to know that their e-mails will render correctly when they arrive in the inbox," said Dave Dabbah, director of marketing at Lyris, Emeryville, CA. "That's why we worked quickly to integrate Outlook 2007 into our EmailAdvisor toolset."

But challenges in e-mail rendering are not an exclusive problem to Outlook 2007. Pivotal Veracity published a study called "A Design and Rendering Guide to the Outlook E-mail Readers" that found problems exist in many other e-mail programs as well.

"The panic created in the marketplace is that the sky is falling because of Outlook 2007 rendering issues, when in reality the sky has already fallen since these rendering problems already exist," said Deirdre Baird, president/CEO of Pivotal Veracity, Phoenix.

"I think there is a bigger opportunity here for e-mail marketers to take a look at the bigger picture of delivery problems across the board, since different e-mail readers render messages very differently," she said.

Mr. Boggs said testing should be considered along with an execution plan that focuses on who the message is targeting.

"It really depends on the prevalence of the client," Mr. Boggs said. "Business-to-business marketers in particular should pay special attention to Outlook 2007, but consumer marketers may not need to spend too much time focusing on it."

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