Roughly 4-5 years ago, marketing experts were confidently predicting the demise of email marketing and its replacement with social media marketing strategies. Dozens of articles referenced referral tracking graphs, email open rates and the monetary value of social media conversions.(1| 2 | 3) But, to the disdain of our aforementioned marketing prophets, email marketing isn’t dead.

The Stats:

  1.  For every $1 spent, $44.25 is the average return on email marketing investment.
  2.  72% of B2B buyers are most likely to share useful content via e-mail.
  3.  An email is 5x more likely to be seen than a Facebook post, and 6x more likely to get a click through than you are from Twitter.
  4.  38% of email is now opened on a mobile device, with 33% for desktop and 29% for webmail.
  5.  For 69.7% of US Internet users, email is the preferred method of communicating with businesses.

The wild HTML west

So, all of this is good news if you’re using email to market your wares. But, like most things, there are two sides to this subject.

On one hand, it’s good for business: your business, our business, and certainly for web developers like myself.

On the other hand, the “modern day technologies” that deliver emails are fantastically archaic.  Given the endless supply of email clients, you would think there would be standards to follow—yet there are none to be found.

This problem isn’t new, but because of increased demand for more responsive and flashier content within emails, a lot of pressure is on the web development industry to keep pace. However, making an HTML email isn’t like building a modern website with all its bells and whistles. In fact, it’s more like building a website from the early 90’s.

Outlook not so good

HTML emails have to be built using HTML tables, a web technology created in 1994. That’s because (as every smart developer knows) you have to build for the lowest common denominator to ensure assets are useable across the widest range of potential consumers. Here, the lowest common denominator is Outlook. It is the worst offender when it comes to modern web technology support, and the most widely used email platform in corporations.

Treating the symptoms instead of the cause

Outlook's limited support isn’t good news for anybody, especially since recent statistics show that Outlook open rates have decreased over the last year. This can be attributed to Apple Mail taking over some of the market share, but I think it also speaks to how Outlook. If it’s true that 88% of consumers prefer to receive HTML emails rather then plain text emails, then why aren’t the major email clients stepping up to the plate and offering web developers the tools to create the content people actually desire?

In the last few years, this state of affairs has spawned a pariah industry exclusively based around patching up the leaks that email clients leave unfixed. Just last month, we (motum b2b) bit the bullet and decided to purchase a solution called Litmus. To make a long story short, we’re very happy with the software, but it feels like we’re treating the symptoms rather then the cause.

The good, the bad and the bottom line

Market pressure means a lot, especially when 79% of marketers say the most critical aspect of an email is content and design. So attractive and responsive emails are here to stay, and the hope is that email clients like Outlook, Gmail and Apple Mail will start noticing and updating their software.

In the meantime, web developers have become very resourceful and are continuing to deliver functional designs on both desktop and mobile devices. The Tech Team at motum b2b is, we’re proud to say, in the top 11% of agencies that actually optimize our emails for mobile. That’s important for any email campaign since the rate of emails opened via mobile devices will keep climbing. We’ve also doubled our turn around time for HTML emails since we acquired Litmus as a tool.

But we’re not over the rainbow yet. Extensive compatibility research and troubleshooting is required every time a new email hits the chopping block. And even with our new tools, building HTML emails is like building a mismatched jigsaw puzzle. If it wasn’t for the World Wide Web Consortium and it’s formulation of web standards, the entire Internet would be in a state of development turmoil. Its long pass due that email clients follow suit and collaborate to formulate an official standards guideline. But until email clients start realizing that what’s best for developers is best for business, we’ll all be taking a hit to our bottom line.

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