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The Challenges of HTML Email
Proper coding for HTML Email Newsletter

 8:51 pm on Oct 3, 2005 (gmt 0)


I'm interested in designing a email newsletter for a rc community (radio controlled planes, boats, cars etc).

Do I just make the newsletter in dreamweaver or FrontPage, upload it to the server and use Outlook to Message>New Using>Webpage?

Or is there another technique for this task?

Any input is appreciated



 8:49 am on Oct 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

Haven't had the time to read the full thread, but one pitfall is to put images on a secure server, because some firewalls start to bark when opening such a message (and they bark for each image). This does not leave a good impression with the readers (potential customers).

I am mentioning this, because one (otherwise potentially interesting) newsletter I am receiving does exactly that, and it annoys me beyond belief. Of course, I sent them a hint on this months ago - they never answered (read?) the mail.


 9:05 am on Oct 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

We send something like half a million emails a month to a double opt-in database, so see a lot of these problems each day.

The emails are sent as multi-part mime in plain text and html, with no "message opened" or click thru tracking at all to minimise spam blocking.

Only one image is used - the site logo - we are also SPF compliant and now considering signing up for the Bonded Sender Program once I work out a way of running the mailserver over 2 seperate IP addresses to minimise costs (no point sending bonded emails to servers that dont use it!).

...and yet - still about 20% are blocked by spam blockers.

Ironically, in a reader survey we are running, one of the top comments is that our emails look a bit bland and can we jazz them up a bit.

I dread to think what the spam blockers would do to that!


 9:48 am on Oct 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

If you have a newsletter then to make sure it is compatible at the other end either send it as a PDF or RTF document (not a Word doc) or as an HTML file in an attachment that can be saved and then browsed.

I only allow plain text ASCII in my email client, and I hate receiving content that is "locked into the email client". Send it as a file attachment.

Or put it on your website, and just send me the URL for it.


 12:23 pm on Oct 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

I however NEVER open attachements in emails unless I absolutly 110% trust the sender.

If you start sending a newsletter as an attachement - I personally probably wont open it.

Mr Bo Jangles

 12:34 pm on Oct 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

good point - neither would I.


 9:55 pm on Oct 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

I can't imagine sending an attachment would be effective... many if not most of the major email clients block attachments in their default settings and I personally wouldn't even open an attachment if my own mother sent it to me.

The SPF interests me. Our DNS service provider offers this so we switched it on several months ago. We didn't notice a difference in the open rates, but I would think that this will become more important as SPF adoption becomes more wide spread.

By the way, we've never had problems with AOL users receiving our email, even though I know many people do. Not sure what the difference is.


 9:56 pm on Oct 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

Agreed, I would not open the attachment either.

I thought that i'd chime back in here, even though it seems this thread is being taken on a bit of a tangent. There is something worth keeping in mind when you're worried about sending HTML emails to thousands of customers. I had first-hand experience with a story much like this one...

You just sent 10,000 HTML emails out to your customer base overnight. The next day, you or your boss receive 100 angry phonecalls from customers demanding to be taken off your email list.

"You send me this crap email, and I can't even see what it says! It's all garbled... I can't see any pictures... it might even be a virus for all I know! I want no more emails from you!"

Imagine hearing something like that from 100 people in a single day... your boss is pointing the finger at you, his bosses are telling him it could ruin the company, blahblahblah. All of a sudden, somebody decides to do the math: what's 100 out of 10,000?

One percent.

One stinking percent of your customers are complaining about an email. That means 99% either got it successfully, or don't mind that it didn't get to them successfully, or don't have any idea that you even sent an email. But, surely if 100 people are complaining, that must mean that they represent thousands more!

Nope. As evidenced by many of the asinine laws that get passed in this country, one squeaky little wheel always gets the oil. The people who are not happy are infinitely more vocal than the ones who are happy. You'll NEVER EVER get a phone call from a customer saying "Hey, great job on that email... I can read it just fine; I can even see the pictures." So what you need to impress upon those bosses of yours is that they should decide for themselves what is more important: avoiding the alienation of a small part of their customer base, or successfully prospecting the bulk of their customer base. Those two camps will always be present when you send HTML email.

And again, i'd like to remind everyone that this thread was not meant to be a debate over whether to use plaintext or HTML, but rather, a "if you're gonna do HTML, do it this way" thread.



 10:30 pm on Oct 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

Another good point, Don_H.

For newsletters that are mailed regulary, the complaint rate is typically much lower. Off the top of my head I don't recall 3 complaints in the past month, so that would be 0.001% for us. If I had a boss to answer to though, I would certainly prepare him or her for the likelyhood of complaints. And you are correct, even though there is a small number of complaints, those complaints will still be vicious.


 11:06 pm on Oct 10, 2005 (gmt 0)

I recently spent three weeks of going back and forth designing a new html email format for the main product newsletters. I think we received one positive reply about the new format.

From my experience I have learned the following:
- use the full URL in an email or else it may trigger spam filters.
- Microsoft Outlook uses a subset of IE to render HTML so some things may not come out.
- FONT tags are still useful with HTML formatted emails.
- If you are selling physical products such as computer hardware, having pictures is definitely an advantage.
- Always include a link to a copy of the email on the website.
- Even though the email is in HTML, you can still read it in text format if you have to.



 3:32 pm on Oct 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

I'm surprised no one has mentioned particular difficulties with clients using Lotus Notes - this seems to be a particularly difficult client to deal with as far as HTML email is concerned. If anyone has any tips as to how best to serve users using this client I'd be very grateful.


 5:16 pm on Oct 13, 2005 (gmt 0)

Don_Hoagie wrote:

One stinking percent of your customers are complaining about an email. That means 99% either got it successfully...

Not necessarily, it just means that one percent took the time to email a complaint. The general rule of thumb in business is to multiply the number by 10 to get the a better sense of the true scope of unhappy customers.

Still, I agree with your super comments on how to create a good HTML newsletter. Good work and thanks.

A point I might add to the general discussion: We provide a plain text version as well as the HTML edition. When subscribers opt-in, they select which to receive. Right now, about 18% are signed up for the text version. Even with the text version available, about 5% of our subscriber base still get our newsletter filtered or blocked. So we maintain a “special handling” list where the HTML newsletter is sent as a regular email attachment.


 6:59 pm on Oct 15, 2005 (gmt 0)

One of the factors in mass email that I think is important is not getting blacklisted by a major ISP. If AOL, MSN or Yahoo decide that your mail server is up to no good, you can spend a lot of time fixing that situation.

For this reason alone, I usually recommend that my clients outsource their mass email delivery to a third party -- a company who makes it their core competency to stay on the good side of the ISPs. The rules shift rapidly and some end users are pretty quick to click on that "report spam" button in their inbox. Another advantage of outsourcing is that the service you use is risking THEIR mail server, not yours.

In fact, I just saw some data from September '05 that showed a nearly doubled amount of false positives on identifying spam at several big ISPs. So this is not an area for the faint of heart. It is an area that can take a full time person (or even more), totally focused on this task, to do it well.


 1:06 pm on Oct 16, 2005 (gmt 0)

If AOL, MSN or Yahoo decide that your mail server is up to no good, you can spend a lot of time fixing that situation.

Actually, you can fix that very quickly by signing up to the Bonded Sender Program, which puts you onto a whitelist at MSN etc and guarantees that your emails wont be flagged as spam.

For this reason alone, I usually recommend that my clients outsource their mass email delivery to a third party -- a company who makes it their core competency to stay on the good side of the ISPs.

I actually find that many 3rd party email senders are less than competent at preventing spammers using their platforms and many are blocked.

I used several and all had high failure rates and when speaking to the corporate IT departments, all said that spam from those companies was too high, so they blocked all mails from them.

One largish company is particuarly bad - despite lots of comments about being anti-spam, they really dont care.

Indeed, it was once I started to be spammed by people using their platform and their lack of action, that I started to understand my customers problems with them - and switched the entire process inhouse onto my own platform.

Now I know that I am the only person sending mail from that IP address, and I have full control over the reputation of my newsletters.

I wont trust 3rd parties with my reputation again.


 3:50 pm on Oct 16, 2005 (gmt 0)

Actually, you can fix that very quickly by signing up to the Bonded Sender Program, which puts you onto a whitelist at MSN etc and guarantees that your emails wont be flagged as spam.

Please elaborate on this "Bonder Sender Program"


 9:45 am on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)

Google for Bonder Sender Program - it will bring up the necessary.

Basically, you put down a financial bond which is depleted for each spam complaint you get.

In essence - a license to spam - but at a horendous cost.

Because of that, Hotmail etc will whitelist anyone putting down a bond, as you are effectively saying that you wont spam (as the cost is too high).


 10:02 am on Oct 17, 2005 (gmt 0)


In regards to dealing with Lotus Notes users it is difficult.

We had an issue where we deliver to a massive corporate that has Notes 5 server (which accepts a form of HTML) but delivers emails to a Notes 4 client (which won't render HTML).

The server implements a rich text conversion leaving a mess of text and HTML link and img references.

We found that as we developed our HTML emails with well structured HTML and CSS, this was also of benefit to these notes users receiving clean text equivs.

Things are easier now as times have changed and Notes 6 is in use (here) but still the HTML support is still poor in comparision to most of the other popular email clients.

Notes isn't too popular (we've found) in the B2C space but it's worth considering how your campaigns render for if you're delivering B2B in which Notes may make up a 5-10% share.

- Carl

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