When compared to other media within the world of online advertising, email marketing has traditionally received the short end of the stick from a technical standpoint. Email's capabilities have always felt limited without the application of video, interactive scripts and hundreds of other features and functionalities that are at a marketer's disposal with a traditional webpage. It is for this reason that I, as an email marketer, was particularly excited to receive a few interactive emails in the past couple weeks that allowed me to make data submissions right in the body of email.
Priceline, for example, recently sent me an email that would allow me to search for flights, starting right from the body of the email:
As you can see above, interactive functionality would give marketers an amazing capability to embed forms within an email and increase click rates as recipients are more inclined to interact and input search queries.
However, after performing my own brief round of testing, I found that Outlook, Gmail, and the other primary desktop and Web-based email clients are, for the most part, still unprepared to handle such functionality. My test was conducted by plugging in some form submission code into the body of the most recent Blue Fountain Media Monthly Newsletter that is synchronized with a database:
This code results in an embedded form within the body of the newsletter:
Next, I sent test emails to Outlook 2010, Thunderbird, Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo to explore how each of these widely used email clients accommodate embedded forms:
Outlook, well known as the most heavily used desktop email client, shows some particularly grim results.
Not only do we find that all functionality has been disabled, but even the form's styling appears to have been overridden by Outlook. This leaves us with a dead form and some messy display.
Next, I sent an additional test to Mozilla Thunderbird to gain a broader sense of how other desktop email clients handle interactive forms. The test was rendered by Thunderbird as such:
Success! The form is styled as intended with data fields displaying correctly. Don't you just want to click those fields and enter in your name and age?! I know I sure do (typed with only a moderate degree of sarcasm). However, upon clicking the form, I find that I cannot enter any data. Instead, a click triggers my browser to take me to the form's hosted location. From here, I can interact with the form as normal and submit my name and age. While this extra click is a part of our intended result, an email campaign that relies upon form submissions can still function based upon Thunderbird's rendering.
After testing two of the most widely used desktop clients, I moved onto the Web-based email providers - starting with Gmail. I found Gmail to handle the form test extremely well, allowing me enter text as I intended.
Other than a brief popup asking if was sure I would like to submit this information and proceed to my browser, Gmail yielded the best results yet and handled the submission seamlessly.
In the recent past, I have heard an interestingly large amount about Hotmail's progressive rendering techniques including accommodation of HTML5 and the like. It is for this reason that I was surprised that the Hotmail test resulted in such a flop.
Other than a slight font-size styling adjustment, the Hotmail form was rendered properly and allowed me to enter data into the submission fields. However, the submission button triggers no effect whatsoever, which implies that Hotmail is equally as incompatible with interactive forms as its sister desktop client Outlook.
The last email client I selected for interactive script testing was Yahoo Mail. Yahoo Mail yielded similar results as Gmail, with only a small prompt upon submission getting in the way of a fully seamless user experience right from the email body. Nothing exciting in this screenshot, but here it is anyway in case you are curious about its particular styling:
So are the email providers ready for more scripts and interactive emails? The general answer is an obvious "no". However, by logging into your email marketing service or your site analytics, you should be able to discover which email providers the majority of your subscribers are registered with. From here, you can make an educated decision about whether you can take advantage of interactive email and apply it to your campaign. If you find that the vast majority of subscribers are using Gmail or Yahoo, give it a shot and look for an increase in clicks!