How to create and send effective HTML newsletters

How to choose the best HTML newsletter and email software

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The dominance of email marketing may have been overshadowed by the rise of social media, but the humble email is still a highly effective means of communication with your business' customers.

However, as consumers have become increasingly savvy, getting your message over and penetrating the digital barriers that they now use can be challenging. Indeed, research by email business Silverpop indicates that only 20 per cent of consumers now open the marketing email messages they are sent.

Email can still be effective if it is engaging well designed and highly targeted. The use of HTML can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of a marketing message – if handled correctly, and turn a humble email into an engaging newsletter. And the rise of commerce on mobile devices can't be ignored as nearly a quarter of all email is now opened on mobile devices such as a smart phone or tablet PC.

Says Knotice the direct marketing service provider that carried out the research into email on mobile devices: "One of the interesting views of this data is to see the percentage of unique users opening emails on multiple types of devices – whether on their desktop device, smart phone, or tablet. For this analysis we isolated the retail industry segment. This data shows that in over 95 per cent of the cases the email open is occurring on only one type of device."

Using HTML formatted emails for your business' marketing has a number of advantages that include:

  • Consumers now expect to see email messages formatted using HTML. Few consumers now only view text-based messages.
  • Calls to action can be much more engaging and persuasive with HTML-based email marketing campaigns.
  • HTML-based emails and newsletters can be designed to be highly responsive to ensure they look as expected no matter the device they are being viewed on.

There are a large number of variables that have to be managed when developing an HTML email campaign or newsletter, but these are not complex if you plan carefully and scrupulously test your messages before they are sent.

Responsive design

A major issue when using HTML is that the email client that your customers may be using can interpret the email messages differently. Outlook, Mac Mail, BT Yahoo and Google Mail can all display your HTML emails or newsletters with slight variations, which is why testing is so important.

One good service is Browsercam that tests your HTML in a wider range of Internet browsers and operating systems. You can then easily spot faults or broken elements that need to be fixed. And try not to make your email messages more than 600 pixels wide, as most of your customers will view your messages in a preview window of their email client. Restricting the width should ensure your message displays properly.

And the use of touch screen devices must also be taken into consideration when designing your HTML email or newsletter. Making emails touch friendly is now vital. Touching elements in your emails and newsletters such as the calls to action should be at least 44x44 pixels in size, which is what Apple recommends. There are of course millions of none Apple phones, so make your images around 350 pixels to 600 pixels maximum to ensure they display correctly on all sizes of phone screens.

To ensure a level of consistency with your HTML emails and newsletters it's a good idea to use a template. All of the leading HTML email services offer these including:

  • MailChimp
  • Campaign Monitor
  • Newsweaver
  • Benchmark

A template will ensure consistency and also allow you to control other elements within the design of your HTML email or newsletter. The key is to ensure you don't use any code that is unusual or that doesn't conform to standards, which at the moment is XHTML 1.0 doctype for validation. HTML 5 is now in widespread use, but ensure you fully test your messages to ensure they display correctly.

One of the major contentious issues is the use of images and graphics. There are a number of rules to stick to:

  1. Try to avoid background images as they slow down the rendering of the message
  2. Never rely on images or graphics for navigation, as your customer could have images switched off.
  3. Never use just graphics for your message's main call to action, as your customers may not see these.
  4. Images should not be embedded in the message, but hosted on your web space, as this makes the message much smaller, and prevents spam filters and anti-virus software from trapping your messages that are not then delivered to your customers' inbox.
  5. Always include Alt text on every image to ensure your messages comply with accessibility regulations.
  6. Link your message to an online version just in case your customers can't see your email, or part of it isn't delivered for some reason, which could include broken images.

When you are confident that your email looks the way you want it, check this with a service like SpamCheck that will show you whether there are any elements that could be mistaken as spam, which would stop your email or newsletter from being delivered. Some online resources that your business would find useful include:

  • The Email Standards Project
  • MailChimp Resources
  • The ultimate guide to CSS support

Developing an HTML newsletter or email campaign means making sure that every element not only supports your business' message but also is also technically compatible with the widest possible group of Internet browsers and email clients.