The Value of Third-Party Rendering Services
The lack of email standards and the confusion it causes has been taken up by the Email Standards Project, which is working with email client developers and the design community to improve web standards support in email. However, until these standards are put in place, you must do your due diligence and test your emails prior to deployment.
While it is an extra step, it is very easy to perform. Begin by segmenting your list by domain so you know how many of your subscribers are using each email reader. That way, you will know which ones will be used most often and which ones aren’t as popular with your recipients.
Next, set up different email addresses for yourself at the different ISPs. In most cases, the mailboxes will be free or the costs will be minimal. Add the addresses to your review group so your designer sends copies of the message to each of the mailboxes during the review phase. And, most importantly, be sure to check the mailboxes so you know what the emails will look like in each mailbox. Don’t assume that your designer and/or ESP will do this for you as most will not. Be sure to review the messages carefully, first with the images turned off, and then with the images on, and click on each link to be sure it’s valid. This process only takes a couple of minutes, but it can save your campaign from embarrassing layout and rendering issues.
You should also include your email addresses on your lists so they not only receive the test versions of your messages, but the actual message that is deployed to your list as well. Your seed list should receive copies of each and every message you send out as it allows you to monitor delivery across the different platforms. That way, you will quickly notice if a problem is occuring at one ISP and you can take immediate action to resolve the issue.
If you prefer, you may use a third-party rendering service, such as Return Path’s Sender Score Campaign Preview, to perform these tasks for you. Content Rendering sends test messages to AOL, Earthlink, Gmail, MSN/Hotmail, and Yahoo! Mail, and shows you copies of how your email renders at each ISP. It also shows you copies of your message in Lotus Notes, Outlook 2003, and Outlook 2007. Sender Score Campaign Preview not only shows you how your emails look across the major ISPs and email readers, but it also sends you a report on HTML errors, dead links, and suppressed images. The report will even tell you if your message will fail spam filtering packages. Both are great tools that will help you avoid problems before it’s too late.
However, using a third-party rendering service does not mean that your messages will automatically render correctly in each email client. The same is true for accreditation services and whitelists. There is a misconception that accredited emails turn images on in all of the different email clients, but that isn’t accurate as these services focus on getting your emails delivered to the inbox and not on email rendering. While accreditation and whitelisting will certainly enhance the deliverability of your messages, and they will ensure your emails render correctly with images on in some of the email clients, it is not a foolproof method that works with every ISP. You must work closely with your third-party to understand what ISPs are included and what the limitations are. For more information on email delivery tactics, read Listrak’s white paper “Outlook for 2008: Essential Email Marketing Deliverability Guide.”
Messages that are formatted correctly using the best practices outlined above have higher deliverability rates than messages that contain coding errors, large graphics, missing images, and broken links. After all, if a message looks like spam to an ISP, it will be blocked by the spam filters, but if it looks like a valid message from a legitimate email marketer, it will be delivered to the inbox. And if your subscribers open eye-catching messages that are well laid-out and easy to read, they will be more likely to click on the message to take advantage of your offer. The experts at Listrak are here to help you understand the complicated issues surrounding HTML design and rendering tactics. Contact us today to learn more.