Why do emails sometimes display incorrectly?

Last updated November 18, 2020

The way email service providers (Gmail, Apple Mail, Outlook, etc.) display emails, differs from client to client.

Here at WorkCast, we like to use email to keep all of our customers up-to-date on the latest news, webinar tips and tricks, and product updates.

However, sometimes the emails do not appear as they were intended. So, why do emails sometimes display incorrectly?

The answer lies within the email service provider and the device being used to view the message. But now, let’s explore this in a little more detail…

Why do emails render differently?


The way email service providers (Gmail, Apple Mail, Outlook, etc.) display emails, differs from client to client. For example, Gmail uses different tools to display emails than Outlook, resulting in slight display differences between the two.

This discrepancy in the way email clients render emails makes it quite difficult for businesses who send out eNewsletters and other email communications to create emails that have a uniform display across all clients.

Now, we’ll delve into the technical reasons as to why emails render differently from client to client, including: HTML and rendering formatting.


HTML and formatting


eNewsletters and email communications materials are created using HTML, as it is the most effective way to build an email. Why? Because it allows editors to specifically format things such as text alignment, line spacing, and heights.

Using HTML to build emails helps to minimize the chances of an email appearing remarkably different on one customer's using Gmail, compared to another customer using Outlook.

The root of the problem is that there is no universal way that email clients interpret HTML in emails, which results in elements of emails might displaying differently - regardless of how much effort editors have put into formatting the message to prevent this problem.

All you can do is try your best to avoid stark differences between email clients by formatting your emails using HTML, but the aforementioned issue cannot be avoided.


Client versions


Outlook is the perfect example of the complexity of the issue, as rendering is also affected by the version of the email client a person is using. There are several versions of Outlook currently being used by people across the world - each with their own way of rendering HTML and thus, affecting the display of emails.

For example: Outlook 2007 and 2010 use Microsoft Word to read HTML, whereas Outlook 2013 onward does not use this system.

Emails will display differently on someone using Outlook 2010 i.e. Long emails would be cut off after a certain point, mimicking the way that Microsoft Word displays pages and therefore, detrimentally affecting the formatting at a certain point.

However, someone viewing a message using Outlook 2013 would have their email display with the original formatting, as it doesn’t use Microsoft Word to interpret the HTML And so, the long email would display correctly by not cutting off the formatting after a certain point.

Components of an email, such as featured images (GIFs, JPEGs, PNGs) may also display on one client, but not another. Background images display on Gmail but are not supported on Outlook, so it depends on the email client.

Devices


Finally, it’s not just the clients themselves that differ in their interpretation of emails. It’s also the device that you’re using to view it.

Viewing emails on a mobile, when compared to a desktop PC, will show differences in spacing, width, and more. And, with mobile traffic accounting for around 53.29% of the market share in 2019, the number of people using their phones to read their emails is only going up. This means that it’s essential now more than ever to optimize all emails for different devices - particularly mobile.