Outlook 2007, Part II

January 31, 2007

As a daily email marketer who frequently designs, programs and sends email marketing campaigns, Outlook 2007’s apparent step in the wrong direction had me pretty up in arms for many reasons. As a recap for my initial post, Outlook looks set to take a few steps back down the evolutionary staircase and use Microsoft Word as its HTML email-rendering engine. Not IE7. Not IE6 even. But Word. What does this mean? That campaigns that look great now in our inboxes won’t look good come February to those running Outlook 2007.

So, here’s a rundown of the changes and caveats to go by, and as a good email marketer, you should start incorporating these tactics into your designs from hereon in, or suffer the consequences. Remember, Outlook makes up for approximately 80% of today’s corporate email clients, and that number looks to increase should Vista prove to be the next ‘killer app’.

So, straight to the point, what are the actual changes in Outlook 2007 – and how will they affect email marketers and email campaign designers? And is it really the end of the world?

In short…, no.

1) Complex CSS: For those designers out there who love their CSS, you should know by now that email and CSS never mix. I’m sure some would disagree with me, but as an email marketer who knows what he’s talking about, you should never rely on CSS design when creating email marketing campaigns. Leading up to Outlook 2007 you’re going to have to swallow your pride and go back to the basic table-heavy and code-heavy HTML that you grew up on, and learn to love it (again). That’s not to say that basic CSS won’t work in Outlook 2007; I tested a campaign on a colleague’s Vista/Outlook 2007-running machine, and the adverse effects of retaining a basic CSS stylesheet were minimal. Keep your styling to a minimum, and try to limit your CSS to defining only your font faces and sizes. And when and if you can, use inline CSS.

2) Background images: They’re just no more in Outlook 2007, and that’s final. Why? Frankly I have no idea, but based on the various sources I’ve read, it’s a security measure, as viruses and Trojans are finding better and more covert ways to ‘sneak in the back door’ via images and background images. So start to bid farewell to your beloved background images and opt-in (like that?) to using images and table bgcolors instead. I know it will lessen the pretty factor, but it looks like them’s the breaks.

3) More complex CSS
: This goes back to my first point – as an email marketer, don’t even both to toy with advanced CSS in terms of float and div tags, there’s just no point. All email clients (except Thunderbird, which uses Firefox as its rendering engine… I can’t even imagine how much nicer the world would look if all emails could render just as we wanted them to) prefer tables to div layouts, so if you never got into CSS email design, you’re not going to. Don’t go there and you won’t get frustrated and become this guy.

4) All around poor HTML: If you do design with CSS for websites, you’ll know how frustrating it is to test your page in Firefox… ok looks great, and then switch over to IE6 and IE7, only to curse loudly. Microsoft enjoy being difficult and ruining the fun, and IE always seems to add at least 10px in margin space at all sides. Alignments get affected, and you want to cry. It looks like the same thing is going to happen in Outlook 2007, so all I can really say is, TEST and PREPARE. There’s no way to know how your message is going to look in 2007 without seeing it first hand. If possible, set up a test machine with Outlook 2007. If you can’t do that, consider buying a ReturnPath account – email previews include Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, Eudora, LotusNotes (no idea why this still exists) and now… Outlook 2007. Finally, if you can’t afford either of these, and don’t have any friends who might be getting Office 2007, then just remember to keep calm and aim for the lowest common denominator. CSS was never intended for email design (unfortunately) so stick to the HTML basics and no background images and you should be fine.

Safe to say Outlook 2007 is going to be frustrating and will take some getting used to, but as well all know, it’s Microsoft, and what they say goes. I just can’t help saying that I’m more than disappointed with this decision. It’s obvious they did this to make it easier for them to have inter-file and inter-application operability, but come on, if there was one player in the game who could revolutionize email marketing as we know it, it’s Bill Gates’ team. I was hoping for the news that 2007 was going to be the year of rich media in email, podcasts in inboxes, and viral Youtube video emails that didn’t need a link. You could watch that disgruntled office worker right from your inbox at work and forward it along to colleagues who were having a bad day. Unfortunately it’s not to be, but maybe next time.


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3 Responses to “Outlook 2007, Part II”

  1. chuckd said

    Holy crap!

    And all this time I’ve been thinking I’m a moron for just doing all my emails as low-rez jpegs. Now I can go find something ELSE to feel bad about…

    Somehow, it is just SO microsoft to disallow a technology like CSS just because they dont own it. Clearly if they had a vested interest in the tech, like…MICROSOFT FRONT PAGE 2008 now WITH CASCADING STYLE SHEETS TM you can BET it’d render in Outlook!

    Rant, rant, rant

  2. chuckd said

    and to your point about open rates, my jpeg-onlys usually run 45-100% open…

    its more about the list than the technology

    OF COURSE we send a text version for hand held devices and people who for some reason cannot SEE a jpeg….

  3. Dylan said

    Actually, to be technically correct, Microsoft does in fact own CSS, a la their 1996 settlement with the W3C. But that’s beside the fact.

    I just started working at a direct-mail marketing company, and found this article very informative. Thanks for the information. Lovin’ that HTML … 😛

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