Forwarded Emails Breaking? Here’s Why (and How to Fix It)

Your carefully designed email lands in your customers’ inboxes looking pixel-perfect…and then they forward it. It might come through as a mangled mess: images are broken or resized, spacing looks weird, colors have changed—even your bulletproof buttons could be broken. Yikes.

What happened? Is it your code? The ESP? Usually, it’s neither one—the culprit is how email clients handle the forwarding process. 

Why forwarded emails break

The main reason for broken forwards is variation among email clients. Each displays your email differently—potentially removing HTML elements, inserting new classes, or making other changes that can wreck your email’s design. Some also apply block quote formatting to forwards, which can mess with things even if the sender and recipient use the same email client.

Ultimately, the problem isn’t your code; it’s how email clients render it in the inbox. That means you can’t prevent broken forwards—at least not completely. But there are ways to maintain the integrity of your designs.

Fix #1: Don’t forward test emails 

One of the most common issues marketers run into is sending test emails. Let’s say you set up a campaign, send yourself a test email, then forward it to other team members for review. There’s a chance your teammates will wind up looking at a wonky email—leading to confusion and concern that your email’s code is broken.

The fix is easy: send test emails directly from your ESP instead of forwarding. In Customer.io, just use the Send a test feature. You can send it to as many people as you like, and they’ll all see the email just as it’s designed. 

Fix #2: Add sharing CTAs

You can’t stop your customers from forwarding your emails. And sometimes, that’s exactly what you want them to do! Alternative sharing options can give you the best of both worlds: more eyes on your message and fewer broken forwards.

Forward-to-a-friend CTA

Use a CTA inviting your customer to forward the email, then send them to a landing page where they can enter their friend’s email address. Send an event to Customer.io with the friend’s email and any other relevant information in the data payload as event attributes. Using Liquid, you can pull this into the content of the email in a campaign that will send the email to the friend. The event and delivery should be logged on the original profile. 

Adding Share With Your Network (SWYN) buttons makes it easy for customers to post a link to a web version of the email on their social networks.

As long as your customer is signed in to their social media accounts, the SWYN link will generate an auto-populated message they can customize and share with one quick click.

A few best practices for SWYN links:

  • Include options for multiple social media platforms; Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are the biggies
  • Make it clear what the buttons do; add a line of copy like “Share a link to this email on social media”
  • Use SWYN links for messages people are most likely to want to share widely; think Spotify end-of-year playlists or personalized referral codes

Fix #3: Keep emails simple

Because broken forwards are caused by email clients meddling in your code, simplifying your designs can reduce broken emails. 

  • Us single-column layouts, which tend to be less vulnerable to forwarding problems 
  • Ensure key information is conveyed in text as well as images so your message isn’t lost on people who have images blocked
  • If you use special content (like animations or inline CSS), know that forwarded emails are more likely to break and plan accordingly

Email clients may still mess with your design, but a simple approach can help ensure your email at least remains readable and functional when forwarded. 

Control what you can (and let the rest go) 

Broken forwards are one of many challenges caused by inconsistencies among email clients. While you can take steps to ensure your emails perform well for the customers on your list—like designing for the email clients your customers use and following best practices for HTML coding—once a customer forwards that email, all bets are off. 

Ultimately, it’s a good thing when customers forward emails: they like your content so much they want to spread the word! By giving people easy options for sharing and going for simple designs, you give your messages a better chance of looking their best as they journey from inbox to inbox.