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Gmail started rolling out support for CSS media queries across its email clients around midnight last night, following through on the September 14 announcement that it would support responsive design later in the month. With these media queries, email designers will be able to specify different display styles based on things like width, screen resolution and rotation. We’ll talk about the ramifications of this move in a second, but we should take a moment to recognize how wonderfully strange that initial announcement was.
It wasn’t just that they’d be supporting media queries, a longtime wish of pretty much every email marketer. It wasn’t just that they told us ahead of time, when inbox providers seldom announce such changes beforehand. It was that they also supplied developer documentation , which is standard practice in the web browser world but utterly alien in the inbox provider world.
Supporting responsive design is awesome, but taking those two additional steps is, frankly, beyond amazing. And with this Gmail news coming less than a month after Microsoft announced a partnership with Litmus to improve rendering in Outlook, it feels like there’s a sea change in the email industry. ( Disclosure: Litmus is my employer. )
Now that Gmail has implemented support for CSS media queries and we’ve had a chance to look at it, let’s address the four big questions that many marketers are probably asking themselves:
1. Do marketers need to use hybrid email design anymore?
Maybe, depending on your audience.
Hybrid email design uses email client-specific progressive enhancements to mimic responsive design but doesn’t rely on media queries, which are what enable traditional responsive design.
Now that Gmail is supporting media queries, 75% of email opens occur in email clients that support responsive design. It’s worth checking to see where your brands’ emails are being opened. If you have lots of emails being opened on Outlook desktop apps, Microsoft Windows Phone, Microsoft Surface, and Yahoo Mail mobile app — none of which support responsive design — then hybrid email design becomes the more attractive option.
This likely breaks down along industry lines, with most B2C marketers finding responsive to be the better email design approach and most B2B marketers finding hybrid better.
That said, it’s worth noting that even those using hybrid design should be making near-term changes due to the shift at Gmail. The portion of hybrid code that addressed Gmail specifically should now be replaced with responsive code that will sit on top of the hybrid code, which will essentially be a fallback when emails are viewed in email clients that don’t support media queries.
The upside here is that hybrid code, which has been heavy and tricky to understand, will become less so on both counts.
2. Do marketers need to inline CSS in their emails anymore?
No, you probably don’t need to anymore.
Because it stripped