We always advise people to keep their HTML email designs no wider than 500 to 600 pixels. That way, they’ll fit in the "preview pane" of most email applications. It’s the experienced web designers who have the hardest time believing this—they’ve gotten used to designing web pages at 800×600, or even 1024×768 pixels. Being limited to a mere 600 pixels is unbelievable. But just so you know what we’re talking about, here are some screenshots from our default installation of AOL9…
Below are screenshots from when we tested our MonkeyWrench newsletter in AOL 9. This is a default installation of AOL, on a Windows XP box.
The preview pane in AOL 9 is tiny. 194 pixels, to be exact (click to zoom in):
It’s important to note that you don’t even see the email in that tiny preview pane, unless you doubleclick the email in the inbox (which is why your "from name" and "subject line" better be extremely relevant).
Furthermore, if you want to see the "full view" of the email, you have to click a button in the preview pane, and then that opens a larger window. After that larger window opens, you learn that it’s really not that large at all (540 pixels) and you’ll need to click "show images" if you want to see the graphics in the email (that last step is overrided if the sender is in the address book, according to AOL).
Here’s a screenshot of AOL 9’s "full view" (click to zoom in):
There you have it. If your email list is composed of lots of "at-home" recipients, you’re bound to have a bunch of AOL users. We ran a report just recently across all MailChimp accounts, that showed AOL was the most popular domain name on recipient lists (12%). So if you’ve been designing supersized emails, this should be enough to convince you to cut back a little.
And if you send lots of emails, you should install AOL 9 for testing purposes. I called them up and told them I was a web designer, and wanted the cheapest plan they had. The guy on the phone gave me a $5/month deal. It only comes with 1 or 2 hours, but that’s plenty for testing.