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Technology is a wonderful thing. I’m an early adopter and like to stay atop the latest gadgets and gizmos. I use an iPad, iPhone, PC and an electric razor (I know, too much information). I’m also thrilled with the number of tools that have been developed to simplify the management of our clients’ online marketing such as Word Press, Joomla, Pardot, Constant Contact and others. Each has its own advantages and appropriate applications. I am always looking for ways to finesse our clients’ online presence by delivering fresh, effective websites and improve e-mail delivery and response.

As marketing professionals our instinct is to stay ahead of the curve and impress our clients and customers with the next big thing in terms of technology. Unfortunately, this can cause us to loose site of the simple concept that not everyone is as progressive as we are and not everyone wants to be impressed with dynamic content on their webpage. One area where this can be a real issue is e-mail marketing.

I’m  a huge fan of e-mail marketing. It’s a low cost, high reach medium that gives you the chance to share news and excite customers. It’s also filled with land mines when it comes to making an attractive, yet cross-client supported message. What many companies fail to realize is that simple cross client testing is not enough when producing an e-mail. Outlook, LiveMail, Lotus Notes, Apple Mail and a host of other applications each have their own interpretation of how code looks, and none are exactly the same as what you’ll find in Internet Explorer or Firefox.  This does not even factor in the many versions of Outlook since its release with Office 97.

The simplest strategy for overcoming these challenges is to work to the lowest common denominator and familiarize yourself with how email clients read email HTML. The first thing you’ll learn is the CSS styling produces the most variability, even when doing cross browser testing. A best practice is to avoid using it whenever possible and stick with traditional “tables” for managing layouts and utilize inline styling that is associated with each element. Code as if it were 2001 and you should be relatively safe. Even so, try to avoid background images and global variables such as font families, colors and sizes that are often overridden by the client’s own recommendation.

Finally, the only way to be sure your e-mails are displaying correctly is to test them early and often. Load multiple e-mail clients on your equipment and test how they are displayed. Do the same for mobile devices and understand that Blackberries have greater adoption in corporate environments than iPhones. This means you need to optimize for a medium that doesn’t support pictures very well and offers limited width or your e-mail may end up being deleted long before it ever gets seen in an inbox.