E-Mail Arrives Broken

  |  October 22, 2005   |  Comments

E-mail clients and spam filters block graphics from unknown senders -- and cause many marketing campaigns to fail.

Around 40 percent of email marketing messages delivered to inboxes are "broken." That's down only two percentage points in three years, though a different problem is to blame. According to the "2005 Broken Link Study" released by SilverPOP, email clients and spam filters prevent images from rendering.

"In 2002, it was kind of the Wild West, they all used different methods," Silverpop's vice president of strategy, Elaine O'Gorman, told ClickZ Stats. "It's now extraordinarily different. You know where your email images are going to break."

The email service provider (ESP) looked at email messages sent by 357 companies across nine industries to determine how each company's campaign appeared in a handful of email clients' inboxes. These included AOL 8.0+ Plus; AOL 9.0; Earthlink; Gmail; Hotmail; Outlook 2003; Outlook Express 6; and Yahoo Mail.

Seventy-one percent of the companies surveyed regularly conduct email campaigns, up from 30 percent in 2002, when the initial study was conducted. Of the 496 HTML emails received, 40 percent contained missing graphics or indecipherable messages. In 2002, the rate was 42 percent.

E-mail failed to render properly in the past due to how email clients read and displayed HTML code. Now, email clients and Web-based solutions are programmed to block graphics as an anti-spam measure. Both Gmail and Microsoft Outlook 2003 block images by default. Nearly half the messages received by Gmail, Outlook 2003, and AOL 9.0 failed to display properly in the test. Yahoo Mail and Hotmail showed improvement since 2002. Back then, one in five marketing emails sent through the domain didn't make it to the inbox properly. Now, only one in 10 emails have trouble rendering.

How HTML E-Mail Is Rendered in the Major E-Mail Environments Evaluated
E-Mail Rendering Percentage of E-Mail
Message is indecipherable 1.61
Extremely distruptive errors 6.85
Contains five or more broken components 10.89
Contains less than five broken components 20.97
Message displays properly 59.68
Source: Silverpop, 2005

Steps for effective email campaigns recommended in the study include:

  • Include text within the email.
  • Include a link to view creative in a Web version of the message.
  • Know what the message looks like without images.
  • Request to be added to recipients' address books.

"There are several things marketers are going to have to do in order to make sure their messages continue to be readable," said O'Gorman. "It will be very easy for them to rise above the crowd and rise above other emailers to get their messages acted upon."

The study doesn't address how authentication technologies such as SPF and sender ID affect render rates, but O'Gorman said they improve success.

"Authentication technologies can have some positive impact on some of these clients," said O'Gorman. "But in some cases, it's not going to help with images, [it will help] with email getting there in the first place."

A key recommendation is to have recipients add the sender's email to address books to ensure messages both arrive and render properly. The study details the number of steps it takes to add an entry to the address book for various email clients. In some cases, it takes up to five steps.

E-mail messages themselves are often problematic. According to O'Gorman, too many marketers drop creative into a message and send the campaign. "There's only one thing that's left in that message, it's your unsubscribe statement," she said. "You just paid an ESP to send out an invitation to unsubscribe."

The study examined messages from 357 companies across nine industries identified by Dun and Bradstreet as the top revenue producers in their segments.

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Enid Burns

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