Time for a Review? Challenging Email Best Practice

    Campaign Manager | Client Services

    Over the years, smart phones have advanced dramatically meaning emails are frequently checked on a mobile device. Desktop monitors have increased in size and new aspects within email coding have been discovered. Keeping up to date with these developments can be tough and although they are regularly implemented on some emails, this isn’t done consistently across the board. With many of these developments increasing visibility of the email - regardless of browser or device - should they become part of the best practice guidelines?

    Consider your email without images

    Styled Alt Tags

    Using Alt tags within your email is currently best practice as it allows recipients with images turned off to still get the gist of your email. These are not always required on smaller images where the image doesn’t add any value to the email’s purpose. However, on key images, it’s essential to convey the meaning.

    Growing on the necessity of simple alt tags, styled alt tags were developed. These have the same purpose as ‘standard’ tags, but can be utilised to allow your image text to keep within your email’s theme. This is a simple way to get your email’s objective across clearly to those who have not downloaded the images. As each browser handles styled alt text differently, your styling may not always appear as you coded. Internet Explorer will ignore the styling and display as ‘standard’ alt text. Chrome and Firefox do display the text as intended, however, Chrome implies a character limit dependant on the pixel width of the image. In the below examples, you can see how some browsers ignore your styling and how others allow you to highlight promotional content to the recipient.

    This feature is very handy for those who are viewing on a mobile device as the images don’t need to be downloaded to get the message across. With styling your alt text is vastly beneficial to both the recipient and sender. Implementing this feature takes little time without the need for complex coding and has no associated cost. Inserting this into the best practice guidelines is strongly recommended.

    Bullet proof buttons

    The bulletproof button is a recent addition to the world of email. Previously, URL’s sat behind images. However, these methods are being ditched in favour of a simpler way to display buttons: background colouring and coloured text which the URL anchors. This technique allows for the button to look like an image and be displayed distinctly as a call-to-action (CTA) without having to download the image or rely on alt text to show the purpose. As seen in the below screenshot, the recipient will be able to view and click on the CTA without having to download the images.

    Dependant on your design and method, some aspects of your button may need to be taken into consideration. For example, rounded edges are not supported everywhere and some browsers will collapse your buttons. For more information on different approaches to bulletproof buttons, click here.

    Implementing this type of CTA as best practice across all of your emails will guarantee your customers know where to click, regardless of whether images are present or not. It will certainly mean you’re not missing out on any clicks!

    Consider what we can see

    The fold

    Where we once looked at the ‘fold’ of an email being the first 400px, with larger desktop screens, the cut off for enticing content could be further down the page.  Changing the placement of the fold would allow for more freedom for content in the top section of your email. However, enlarging this space may not add any value as it could potentially discourage those who browse on small screens.

    Screen size is not an issue for mobile users as they are more likely to scroll to view the content. In a recent report, 53% of recipients are opening on mobile devices so the fold is not imperative for these customers. With more and more people turning to their mobiles to receive emails, we could find that the fold is not required at all in the future.

    Existing documentation details that this is an essential part to consider with any email. However, this may not be deemed as important with the ‘fold’ being irrelevant for mobile users and its fluctuating location dependant on the viewing pane. Some questions to be considered: could adjusting the length of the ‘fold’ alter the way you organise the content of your emails? Would removing this recommendation from best practice guidelines be justified? Regardless, there will still be a necessity to relay the information to the recipient as effectively as possible.


    These simple pieces of code can improve your open rate and yet are rarely mentioned as best practice. Utilising these in your emails can be invaluable to get recipients interested in the email content. Ensuring there is adequate intrigue in the preheader itself is essential to get those opens. Without a preheader, the email can easily be dismissed at the subject line alone. Reviewing the best practice guidelines to encourage these to be implemented cannot be a bad thing. For information on how to implement preheaders, click here.

    The width

    Guidelines have been stating for years that the universal width for emails should be 600px wide. This width ensures that the majority of devices would comfortably display the email in its true form, without requiring the reader to scroll right to complete their view of the email. Adjusting emails of 600px for mobile also proves straightforward, as mobile devices happily resize to 300px using a 2:1 ratio.

    Checking through your inbox now will show that the width of an email can vary between 450px and 800px. Since the uptake of fluid design, it’s easier for your template to resize to the recipient’s screen, allowing you the freedom of having an email width which suits you. Choosing your email width will depend on one factor: the type of responsive coding being used. Best practice guidelines do not cover a particular method to code responsive emails. With further use and research the method is shifting from “adaptive” to “fluid” design. Fluid design allows for a greater certainty that your email is going to be able to be viewed easily regardless of device size.

    For more information on fluid design and its uses, click here.

    To conclude

    It’s clear that best practice is all about ensuring your email is visible in as many forms as possible. Currently, guidelines still reference using images as CTA’s and a recommended width of around 600px, whereas if we reflect on what’s been discussed above, it suggests that there are strong aspects which could be included and updated for future best practice documentation.

    Much of the existing best practice guidelines overlook the above enhancements and thus, they are not deemed a requirement for emails. As these developments add benefit rather than hindrance to the recipient, they could become part of the essential guide for email building.

    Keeping your email basic and utilising coding practices to achieve this is the best way forward. With future developments in technology, it’s essential that best practice guidelines adapt to include any newly discovered benefits, remove any outdated features and update any existing ideals.