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When Forwarded Emails Break


In our research, out of over 400,000 emails analyzed, only 5% of them generated no forwards. Email forwarding is a natural, almost expected behavior. It’s a quick and easy way to share an email, and the action of forwarding an email is an established method of sharing a message, regardless of the email client you’re using.

Forwarding emails isn’t just for personal emails. Subscribers often forward marketing emails to share what they’ve received with their friends or family—great offers, vouchers, or something they think the receiver will like.

Even marketing teams forward emails to their team members as a part of the email review process, before an email is sent.

Unfortunately, forwarding an email often “breaks” the email. It can break bulletproof buttons, add extra spaces to your design, and create other issues arising from the forward. In this post, we discuss why emails break when forwarded and what you can do to minimize issues due to forwarded emails.

Why do emails break when forwarded?

It’s common knowledge that email clients all render email differently. When a subscriber forwards an email, some email clients make changes to the code of the forwarded message. This can include stripping out certain HTML elements, wrapping your email in a blockquote, or inserting additional classes to your code—all of which can break your design and make the email less functional for the recipient of the forwarded email.

Here’s an example of a button that breaks when the email is forwarded:

example of a button that breaks when the email is forwarded
When forwarded emails break in Outlook
When forwarded emails break in Outlook, as seen by Community member Sarah Oldenburg in the Litmus Community.

Do your subscribers forward your emails?

While it may be common for you or your team to forward emails, it may not be typical subscriber behavior. Learn if subscribers are forwarding your emails with Email Analytics. Track how many forwards each of your email campaigns generate, and know if it’s worth putting in the time and effort to implement techniques that will limit how much your emails break when forwarded.

What to do when forwarded emails break

The bad news first: There is a consensus in the email development world that very little can be done to completely avoid changes to your design when subscribers hit the forward button. Whether or not an email client alters your code simply isn’t something you can control.

That’s why email marketers have come to accept that emails will break when forwarded. However, if forwarding and sharing is key to your campaigns, there are some actions you can take to optimize your emails.

Keep your email design simple

While it doesn’t work for everyone, simpler layouts (e.g. single-column) typically hold up a little better when forwarded. If your email is less complex, there is less that could go wrong. Jason Rodriguez, a fellow email designer here at Litmus, has seen little to no issues with forwards of his personal newsletter that’s based on a single-column approach, for example.

Offer alternative sharing options

Using the email client’s forward function clearly is the most natural way for readers to share an exciting email with a friend. However, there are ways you can encourage readers to share your email without hitting the forward button. For example, many email service providers (ESPs) provide tools that allow you to embed a “forward to a friend” link in your email which, when clicked, will send your email to the email addresses the subscriber provides—without messing with your code.

If your audience is social media savvy, you could also experiment with a prominent placement of social sharing options that allow your readers to share the web-version of your email via social media.

Use an alternative review method

It is tempting to simply forward an email to your team to get it reviewed for a final sign-off before it’s sent. But you may be sending your team a broken email. Avoid confusion over emails that look broken by using alternative review methods. If you’re using our very own email editor Litmus Builder, it has an entire share panel devoted to getting feedback on your campaigns. You can share your email via a public URL or easily send a test email to your coworker’s inboxes, ensuring the whole team sees the email as it’s intended.

illustration of Litmus Builder

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