Subscribe to Inc. magazine
BUSINESS SOFTWARE

E-Mail Newsletters: Formats That Work

Advertisement

Because most Internet users spend more time sending and receiving e-mail than doing anything else online, sending e-mail newsletters is one way to keep visitors coming back to your Web site.

But despite an enticing subject line, great content, links to greater content and more, your e-mail newsletter might still be deleted without being read.

Why? Because you're using formats subscribers don't like.

Format messages so they're easy to read. Here's how.

HTML, Text or Both?
First, which is more readable? HTML or text? Both have advantages and disadvantages.

Text downloads more quickly but HTML lets you apply visual branding.

Text doesn't require HTML knowledge to format, just common sense. HTML let's you format yourcontent for maximum readability.

Text can look boring and unattractive while HTML lets you create visual interest with tables,varied fonts, color and graphics.

Offer All Options
Text can sometimes appear completely different than how you formatted it. But HTML can be slowto download, which is frustrating for recipients.

You could make a decision to use one or the other based on your subscriber base, the message beingsent or your personal preferences, but the best thing to do is offer your subscribers both options.

Naturally, this means more work for you, formatting the same information two ways, but it alsomeans having a subscriber group whose members know you consider their preferences.

Whether you format for text, HTML or both, develop a format that's easy to read.

Tips for Text
Separate newsletter sections clearly. Blank lines create valuable white space, but too much can beboring. You can create a multitude of different lines by using the special symbols on your keyboard:

********************************

-------------------###-------------------

@------> -----------------------> ------@

===================###===================

-----------------&&------------------

+-------++------------------------------+>

OOoooo............((0))............ooooOO

Use fixed-width fonts so your newsletter will look the same to recipients as it does to you.

While all e-mail clients can render fixed-width fonts, not all can render variable-width. Those thatcannot render variable-width fonts will automatically convert to fixed-width, which will altercharacter spacing and therefore the look you intended for your newsletter.

Examples of fixed-width fonts:

  • Courier New
  • Lucida Console
  • Letter Gothic

Variable-width fonts include:

  • Times New Roman
  • Verdana
  • Arial

Line length is another factor that can upset careful formatting. Standard line lengths are around 76 characters. Not all e-mail clients will format your message correctly if you go wider than this.

Besides, individual user e-mail settings will affect formatting in unpredictable ways.

To preserve your formatting -- and your message's readability -- insert hard returns at 60 to 65characters for each line of text in your e-mail message. Set line length by typing the numerals 0 through 9 until you've reached the desired length. The line below is set at 40 characters.

0123456789012345678901234567890123456789

Or set the character wrap to between 60 and 65 on your e-mail client. In Microsoft Outlook chooseTools > Options > Mail Format > Settings.

If you do this, make sure you compose with the message window set exactly as wide as thedesignated line length. When typing, the text will wrap to the size of the window, not to the limitsyou've set. Only when you send the message will the e-mail client format the text wrap to thecharacter limit. If you forget to set the window to the right size, what you see could be very differentfrom what your subscribers get.

HTML That Doesn't Hurt
Waiting for a large message to download when the file size wasn't justified by the content isfrustrating, especially for people with limited access time or who pay by the minute for theirconnections.

Optimize, resize or omit graphics altogether to keep your file size small. If you can keep the totalsize to 20 Kilobytes, you'll have happy subscribers.

Compatibility is a huge issue because individual e-mail clients display HTML differently. Stayahead of the problem by keeping your HTML as simple as possible. Don't use frames, anchors,DHTML and JavaScript.

If you're using tables, make sure readers don't have to scroll horizontally to read the text.

Mail to a test group whose members use a range of e-mail clients. Ask them to send a screen shot ofyour newsletter as it looked when they opened it. Study the differences -- glaring or subtle -- andrethink coding in those areas.

Design Simply
Design is another area to keep simple. Elaborate design increases file size and detracts from themessage, making it difficult for recipients to appreciate the thrust of your newsletter or findimportant information.

Design to highlight the relationship between your site and the newsletter, using subtle similaritiessuch as common fonts and colors. Using similar navigation helps subscribers make a comfortabletransition between the newsletter and the Web site.

To save time publishing your newsletter, construct templates for both text and HTML versions.

The template should include design elements, title, section headings and any other static informationsuch as subscribe, unsubscribe and contact information. This way you can simply paste your newcontent with few adjustments.

Nuts and Bolts
This article focuses on format and assumes you have some knowledge of the skills needed to set upan e-mail newsletter. If you do not have this knowledge, you may prefer to have your newslettercreated professionally. However, if you're keen to learn how to do it yourself, help is at hand:

Tailwind.com has several useful articles on related subjects and a toolkit for creating e-mailnewsletters.

JimWorld.com reviewed UltraEdit-32 for Windows, a reasonably priced text editor, $30 (U.S.).The review called it the "most important program for a newsletter publisher to own."

E-Zinez.com offers an e-zine builder, an e-zine directory and an online e-zine publishing tutorial.

Find more resources by typing "how to create e-mail newsletters" into any search engine.

Happy publishing!

Copyright © 1995-2001 Pinnacle WebWorkz Inc. All rights reserved. Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form.

Last updated: May 30, 2001




Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: