HTML Email Sucks

HTML email sucks for two reasons: support (or the lack thereof) and necessity (or the lack thereof). Everyone knows it sucks. Ok, not quite everyone. On second thought, hardly anyone knows that HTML email sucks. Marketers, businesses, tunnel-visioned sales personnel, they all seem to think HTML email is great. It’s not great. It’s the opposite of great. It’s horrible.

Lack of Support

Web browsers have come a long way over the years, but email clients’ HTML-rendering skills have not. And I’m ok with that. If I may blatantly steal from the great Jeffrey Zeldman here,

Companies spend hours crafting layouts that may not work in Eudora or Gmail, or may no longer work in Outlook…Even in programs that support the crap code used to create these layouts, all that hard visual work will go unseen if the user has unchecked “View HTML Mail” in their preferences…As for CSS, it is partially supported in some e-mail applications and in web apps like Gmail, but only if you author in nonsemantic table layouts and bandwidth-wasting inline CSS. (Zeldman, 2007)

I recently got an HTML email from MacHeist and it exemplifies perfectly why support for HTML emails is a major problem:

An image of poorly-rendered HTML email.

In the screenshot above, there are eight display errors in a section about 700×700 pixels. That’s a huge ratio, especially considering the time and effort that obviously went into creating it. The email was rendered by Gmail on a MacBook Pro.

Lack of Necessity

The second, more significant problem with HTML email is that it’s completely unnecessary. Email was not intended for “designed content.” It is a medium for messages. Granted, the web is too, but the web is a rich platform offering and delivering much more. Email is not. Email is for discussion.

Imagine if text messages could be designed. (I’m sure it’s coming soon.) Your mom would send you texts in giant, pink letters saying “HPPY BRTHDY 2 U!” and you’d hate it. Because that’s “not what texting is for.” That’s not what email is for either. What’s the difference? Someone tried it in email. And we didn’t kill them. An oversight on our part, for sure.

Worth pointing out: Zeldman wrote his brilliant post about HTML email just shy of 3 years ago. And it’s even more true today.

HTML email sucks.