[Sarcasm and mild swearing alert for this post – read at your own risk!] If you’re into email marketing (you probably are, given the fact that you somehow ended up on my blog), you may be aware that Microsoft Outlook is your archenemy. I can’t even begin to list ALL of the reasons why it sucks, so today we’re just going to focus on the pagebreak issue. Yay!
Back in the days when only one (un)lucky person in your street had a radio and nobody had even heard of traffic jams, it was not uncommon for people to print their emails. Sorry, what? Yes, people actually printed emails. I don’t know about you, but the only time I print an email is when there’s a voucher or ticket of some sort attached. And even then I don’t print the body of the email, I just go straight to the attached file. Anyway, printing emails has been a fairly common practice for years. Who needs the rainforests anyway, right?
Microsoft to the rescue
Microsoft noticed emails weren’t always coming out right, so they – in their infinite wisdom – decided to insert pagebreaks. That means actually adding a <br /> right smack in the middle of the email, somewhere around the point where the printer would need a new sheet of paper in order to continue printing. This only happens in Outlook 2007 and 2010, because those crap pieces of software use Microsoft Word’s HTML rendering engine (this is the root of a LOT of Outlook Evil).
I’m inclined to say the problem is “Microsoft” and the solution is “nuke it”, but let’s not lose focus of what we’re trying to do here: discuss the pagebreak issue and find a real solution. The cool thing (yes, you will love what comes next) is that you will never know *exactly* where the pagebreak will be inserted. You may guesstimate, but you will never know for sure until you’ve sent a test email and opened it in Outlook 2007 or 2010. So that’s step one: send a test email.
Step two is looking carefully at your beautifully crafted email campaign and finding any layout issues – especially those where elements that are supposed to be vertically aligned, are not. Like so:
(Screenshot courtesy of Schipper Accountants BV)
Even if you don’t understand Dutch, it’s pretty clear that the image on the right hand side is supposed to be aligned with the text on the left hand side. Not so in Outlook 2007 / 2010. If you see any issues like this, you’ve hit the pagebreak issue. Woot woot!
The pagebreak issue may or may not affect your email. If it doesn’t, good for you. If it does, you’ll have to make a change to the content or the order of the content in your email. The linebreak (that’s what a <br /> actually is) that causes the page to break for better printing (and therefore your layout to get distorted) appears after a certain amount of inches or pixels (in height). The exact number of inches / pixels is still a mystery, but people much wiser than myself have said it’s about 22/23 inches or 1750-1800 pixels. All right then.
In order to fix (“work around” is a better way of phrasing it) the issue, you need to make sure that the <br /> lands in what I like to call “vertical whitespace”. A linebreak anywhere else is likely to cause layout issues, but if it lands in the middle of nowhere, nobody is ever going to notice it. The only way to make sure this happens, is to play around with the number of lines of text, the size of your images, the amount of whitespace – anything that is sitting *above* the position of the pagebreak issue.
I’m sorry if you were expecting a clever techy geeky HTML or CSS workaround, but this is it folks: Microsoft will take a good swing at your email anyway you slice it – all you can do is make sure they hit air when they do.
I was happy to discover Outlook 2013 got rid of this awful legacy (it has issues of its own though – it’s still a Microsoft product). Why Microsoft never bothered to provide a backwards compatible fix for the pagebreak issue, is beyond me. I’m no Apple fanboy, but their email client is so much better. So are Mozilla Thunderbird and a thousand other email clients. And yet Microsoft Outlook continues to be one of the most popular desktop email clients. The world is a strange place…
Anyway…there you have it: the solution for the Microsoft Outlook pagebreak issue. Happy editing!