Usually, we try to taper our mails to a smooth finish, but yesterday’s mail was kinda bitten off instead. Whoopsies.
Long story short, yesterday’s (test) mail started clipping well before we’d inserted all the content we intended. Unlike most clipping situations in the past, the mail’s abrupt ending was the best solution available to us.
It made us realize that we’ve been stepping around this topic for a while, even though it’s super relevant to anyone doing email marketing.
So what in the bleep is “clipping” in the context of email?
Clipping is when an email client (usually web Gmail) cuts off your message before the end.
When that happens, the cutoff usually looks like this:
Why does clipping happen? What causes it? It’s basically a file-size limit imposed at the email-reading level; the email client will only display so many KB of a message before saying “meh, tell us if you want to see the rest.” This cuts down on superfluous data passing through networks.
We’ll get into the nitty-gritty of email file sizes and how that works tomorrow. For now, we’ll just say that length (e.g. word count), formatting, and multimedia (e.g. images) all compete for space in an email… just maybe not in the ways you’d expect.
Why single out Gmail? Do other email clients have clipping issues? Email marketers are likeliest to see this issue with Gmail users because (A) tons of people use Gmail and (B) Gmail’s clipping threshold is fairly low.
We can’t speak for (all) other email clients, especially because many of them allow users to adjust things that affect clipping—but in our experience with Spark, clipping isn’t really a thing. We check Web Gmail for y’all’s sake.
And now the million-dollar question(s) with our three answers:
What’s the big deal? Why is clipping a problem I need to avoid?
1️⃣ Hiding the Unsubscribe button is a big no-no, accident or not. It’s sad and uncomfortable to imagine someone who goes looking for the Unsubscribe button… but it’s borderline horrifying to imagine that same person when they think you’ve hidden it, and maybe on purpose. (Remember that the “view whole message” prompt is easy to miss and easy to misunderstand.)
More broadly, making a habit of clipping emails can hurt your deliverability over time. You don’t ever wanna f**k with that if email is one of your moneymakers!
2️⃣ It’s just not a good experience. Most people who see [Message clipped] will dip out immediately unless they have a burning reason to keep digging. So you can say bye-bye to most of that engagement potential.
And the sweet, wholesome minority of attentive readers who get interrupted… well, that’s just it. It’s an interruption for them.
Making things worse, View Entire Message often means a jarring transition into a new browser window, and you have to find your place in the text again, and…
It’s just not a good experience.
3️⃣ It’s a scratch in the proverbial paint. In other words, it’s one of those details that pokes at your brand’s appearance; it’s one place where things look just a little buggy or inconclusive or “unsealed.” Not a huge deal, but definitely not ideal.
If a mail clips now and again, don’t sweat it; accidents happen, and a ton of your audience won’t notice or care. But definitely avoid making it a habit—and be sure to double-check any automated campaigns you have running (because they send over and over again while your back is turned)!
What Causes Clipping (and What Doesn’t)
Email messages are basically just self-contained webpages. More specifically, emails are written in HTML. When your computer sends an email to someone else, it’s sending a “page” of HTML that the other person’s email browser then displays properly with boxes and colors and tidy formatted text (just like web browsers do for web pages).
That’s what you’re seeing right now through your email client, but here’s how this section of this email looks in its original HTML form:
For clipping purposes, the “file size” of an email is equivalent to all of its raw HTML text (like the above) saved in a simple TXT doc. The size will therefore correspond pretty closely to the total character count of the HTML version.
How do media (like images) factor into email size? If you’re using an email platform suitable for marketing campaigns (like ActiveCampaign), images don’t attach to mails per se. Image files are stored on a central server, and your mails point to those files to display the pictures in the right places.
So multimedia doesn’t hog NEARLY as much mail space as you might think. As far as the HTML is concerned, an image only takes up as many characters as you need to link to it—the equivalent of a couple sentences of text. Images still have to load (i.e. download from the server and display in the email browser) because the email didn’t come with those full files attached.
An email’s HTML size is mostly a function of word count and formatting. Let’s tackle those pieces one at a time…
Word Count 🔢 For HTML-size purposes, it’s really character count that matters—but we’re still using the term word count because it’s the most intuitive. We basically just mean how long is your s#!t? and you can see why that would matter: a paragraph-long email should never clip, and War and Peace will always clip, simply because of the character counts.
Still, if your emails are clipping, content length isn’t necessarily the culprit and “cutting text” isn’t necessarily the best solution. You can fit a surprising amount of text into an email before it starts clipping (ask us how we know), but not if there’s a ton of…
Formatting 🎨 This is where HTML cuts you the other way. Sure, you can embed huge images with just an image URL, all in a couple dozen characters—but because HTML is a markup language (the ML part), every single thing you want to do has to be spelled out, no matter how small. And because emails don’t support CSS, there are no shortcuts; the HTML has to specify the formatting detail by detail, piece by piece, for the whole email.
Take text formatting as an example. Every time the formatting changes (regular to italic, black to gray, etc.), the HTML has to close one formatting block and re-specify everything again for a new block.
Practical Anti-Clipping Advice
Our assumptions for the advice we’re sharing below:
1️⃣ You’re using some kind of CRM like ActiveCampaign. More to the point, you’re using some kind of builder to create email campaigns, and you’re (probably) not fiddling with the HTML directly, or not able to.
2️⃣ You’re sending emails with content, not just transactional info. You’re the sort of email marketer who could even begin to wonder whether your mail could clip.
3️⃣ You care about the long-term health (and deliverability) of your list, and you want the people on that list to have good experiences when they open your emails.
If any of the above isn’t true, you can ignore the rest of this article.
Otherwise, wrapping up the series, here’s our best anti-clipping advice in four pieces:
1️⃣ Re-examine the template(s) you’re using. Assuming you use the campaign builder regularly, you probably have one or more templates that you use to keep your mails on brand (and to save time).
You probably haven’t examined them critically in some time. Do so.
If there’s crap that never gets clicked, that you don’t need for compliance reasons, that even YOU don’t notice by now—get rid of it. You can always put it back later if you need it.
You can free up email space not just by trimming content from your templates, but also the amount of formatting they require.
As a small illustration, let’s compare theCLIKK’s 2020 and 2021 segment headers (the HAPPY BIRTHDAY chunk in each of the examples below):
The main difference, for our purposes here, is that our 2021 segment header only requires a single formatting block while 2020’s required a second for the custom blue underline.
The change means lighter HTML. We think it looks better, too.
2️⃣ Keep your formatting (reasonably) simple. It’s a balancing act. On one hand, skimming is impossible without some basic formatting—like the main advice items in bold here—and good email marketing is impossible without accounting for the skimmers.
There will also be times (including one just below) when some extra formatting is necessary to highlight specific details clearly. Can’t help that.
But otherwise… do you reeeeeeally need every other word in italics? Do you reeeeeeally need to use every button in the kitchen sink? Probably not.
3️⃣ Try to avoid drafting things in the campaign builder. For one thing, that’s a good way to lose an hour of writing every so often. If you hit Refresh not knowing the internet’s crapped out, you’re gonna be sad.
But for clipping purposes, drafting things in the campaign editor introduces another problem: code bloat, usually in the form of stray markup (and there’s not always a toggle over to HTML Mode to check for that).
Ideally, if we italicize the words stray markup, the HTML should look something like this (pardon the pseudocode):
But of course, this kind of formatting can change during drafting. Maybe we nix the italics and decide to go bold. Then we change the color. Then we decide, nah, it was best with straight italics.
If we’ve made all these back-and-forth changes within the campaign editor, some of that formatting markup won’t be removed; it’ll be canceled out with MORE markup. Everything in red below is completely self-negating:
The best course is usually to draft the content outside of the campaign builder, then paste it in (as plain text/without formatting) and apply the formatting yourself. This way, you’ll only add the markup needed for the final product, without the same potential for bloat.
If you’re guilty of this and your mail is clipping: Try re-assembling the finished mail from scratch. Yes, it’s a pain, but it often buys back space by eliminating the sort of bloat just explained.
4️⃣ Always test your emails before sending them. Since we’ve mentioned that Web Gmail is the main culprit, the best way to check mails for clipping is pretty simple: send a test to any Gmail address you own, then open the test in Web Gmail and scroll to the bottom.
If it doesn’t clip, then… boom. Done.
If it DOES clip, you’ll at least get a sense of how far you’re overshooting. If it clips one sentence before the end of the mail, just make a couple quick trims and the next test will probably be fine. But if your mail clips halfway through, then you’ve got bigger problems and you’ll need bigger scissors.
Worst case, the test is clipping and you can’t fix it (in time). You know what they say: f**k it, ship it. At least you know about the issue, and at least you can try to do better next time.