Always include the width and height attributes in your image tags

As image blocking in email continues to become the norm, one absolute must is to make sure you include the width and height attributes in your image tags.

When most email clients (especially desktop based ones like Outlook) disable images, they show an empty image placeholder in its place. Because these email clients don't actually download the images from the server, the only way they can figure out the dimensions of that placeholder is to look at the included width and height attributes. If none or only one is provided, they just take a guess, which in almost every case results in completely destroying what's left of your design.

Here's a perfect example of this in action. Just this morning I received an email newsletter that only specified the height for most images in the email, and not the width. When Outlook displayed the email, it got the height right, but was way off on the width side. Here's how the email looked when I first opened it:

The original email with images disabled

To see a comparison of how it's supposed to look, here's a screenshot of the email with images enabled:

The original email with images enabled

By not including the width attribute in any image tags, Outlook had no idea what width to use and its best guess was unfortunately way off. This made an otherwise readable email a complete nightmare that was almost impossible to get anything out of.

To provide a comparison, I checked out the source and added the correct width attribute to each image to see what the new results would be. Here's a screenshot of the new version that took about 5 minutes to update:

The improved email with images disabled

The updated version that includes all width and height attributes is a big improvement over the initial version. It clearly resembles the intended design and I can easily scan the table of contents and start scrolling to read the rest of the content. The email is completely usable even with no images being visible.

While there are certainly better examples of emails designed to look and work well with images disabled, the point is still very convincing. By ensuring width and height attributes are present for all image tags, we give our subscribers a much better chance of getting a usable email, even with images disabled.

Read this post Posted by David Greiner - 3 Comments

What’s been happening behind the scenes

We've been hard at work on a slew of improvements and bug fixes behind the scene the last few weeks, and I figured it would be worth posting a quick summary of these as there are a number of you guys that have been waiting on them patiently.

Internationalization

We've made some further tweaks to handle encoding for non English character campaigns. We now automatically encode the To name for each recipient when it contains non-standard characters. We've also added some smarts to how we encode your subject lines depending on the types of characters used. Thanks to many of our non English speaking customers for helping us get this spot on.

Segments

As well as launching segments functionality in MailBuild, we've also squashed a few annoying bugs in Campaign Monitor. This update brings some big improvements to the does not equal and greater than and less than rules, especially when working with numbers.

Help and API

As we keep adding new functionality, the variety of shortcut tags available (such as forward to a friend, unsubscribe, web versions, etc) can get harder to remember. We've just added a topic to the site and app help database that brings them all together in one place.

For those clever customers using the API to capture new subscribers, we've also made some tweaks so that all confirmation and verification emails sent to new subscribers support the [unsubscribe] tag allowing subscribers to instantly opt-out if they no longer wish to subscribe.

Read this post Posted by David Greiner

Downtime Notice

Some customers would have had a problem accessing their account for up to an hour today due to an apparent power outage at the data centre Campaign Monitor calls home. This not only affected us but thousands of other larger sites around the web. We were back on track not long after the issue surfaced, but wanted to keep everyone in the loop.

We're still waiting for the full explanation, but I imagine whoever was responsible for keeping the diesel in the generator is probably having a very bad day. Our sincere apologies for the downtime, this one was unfortunately out of our control. If we get any more newsworthy details about what happened, we'll add an update here.

Read this post Posted by David Greiner

Updated CSS Support in Email Report

After we posted an update to the CSS Support article last week, a few of you mentioned that the new PDF layout made it hard to make out the results when printed in black and white. Not only this, but it was also a challenge for anyone who was color-blind.

About the same time, Martin Focazio from New York based Magnani Caruso Dutton approached us about taking the PDF version a step further (actually, about 5 steps further). Martin reworked the results to make it much clearer which CSS selectors and properties offered the best support across the board. These were then sorted into Safe, Risky and Poorly Supported to make it much easier to decide which properties to aim for.

Screenshot of the new report

Download the spiffy new results in PDF iconPDF (91kb) or Excel iconExcel (80kb)

To top it off, the new file also includes the percentage of support each email environment offers. We've also updated the original post to include the new version of the findings. A huge thanks to Martin for all his hard work, and to everyone else for giving us feedback on the original version. As usual, we'll keep our eyes peeled for any changes in each environment moving forward. If you spot anything, let us know.

Update: I've added the Excel version of the results so you guys can tweak it to your hearts content.

Read this post Posted by David Greiner - 6 Comments

“You have me sold!”

You have me sold! I have been searching for years on how I can offer stylish email newsletters to my clients, but no one wanted to part with that valuable information without a pricetag. If I knew it was going to be as simple as designing a webpage and uploading it to Campaign Monitor, I would have contacted you eons ago! Thanks for making something so wonderful available to everyone!

Doris Cush, Owner, Fraidy Kat Design

Read this post Posted by Mathew Patterson

How far does permission stretch?

I received an email recently from a well known writer in the IT industry with the subject line 'Please help save my marriage :)'. I recognised his name in the 'from' field, otherwise I would have deleted it immediately.

This is how the email began:

Dear Subscriber,
One way or another, you have found your way into my database of contacts over time, and I hope you have found value in the newsletters you have received. I am now appealing to you as a husband, at the "request" (you know what I mean) of my wife.

Obviously he considered that me signing up at some point for one of his newsletters gave him permission to email me on a completely unrelated topic. This is a mistake that our customers sometimes make too.

When we talk about having permission to email people we are talking about something quite specific. It's an agreement from your subscriber to receive emails about a particular topic, or related to a particular transaction.

Even when you have that permission, there are times when you might decide your message is not actually relevant to the reason people initially subscribed. It's about treating your subscribers respectfully, and not just emailing everyone you are 'technically' allowed to.

A recent post at ReturnPath raises the same issues, and suggests a few times when you should no longer assume you have a subscriber's permission to email them. So when you are explaining permission to your clients, it's important to help them understand that there is different types of permission, and it's always better to err on the side of caution than to risk spam complaints.

Don't forget about our permission handouts either, they are a helpful reminder of what constitutes permission, and what does not.

Read this post Posted by Mathew Patterson

Designer Interviews: Active Ingredients

Scott Jacques

Today we're talking to Scott Jacques, partner at Active Ingredients, a San Francisco based design firm that's been using Campaign Monitor for themselves and their clients for the last 2 years. We asked Scott a few questions about selling email design to his clients, charging for his services and even the biggest email mistakes he's made to date. Plenty of great insights in here that I hope you guys find useful.

How did you get started providing email marketing services to your clients?

Active Ingredients

It was a natural extension of what we were already doing for our clients (websites). We saw it as a great opportunity for our clients to be able to communicate with their constituents in a highly effective and professional manner. It has been a great learning experience for us as well - one that is always changing - as you well know.

Has it been hard to convince your clients to embrace email marketing? How do you approach this and any tips to share?

"The key - we have found - is to not over promise what email can do for them but rather to find a small way to start the email communication process and evolve from there."

The attitude with our clients has changed dramatically but it is still amazing how many clients (regardless of how you pitch them on email) still associate it with buying lists and sending out unwanted emails. The key - we have found - is to not over promise what email can do for them but rather to find a small way to start the email communication process and evolve from there.

We quite often hear our clients groan as they think email is going to result in a ton of new work for them. What they don't realize is that sometimes the work is already done and they just need to see how the email channel can assist in that process.

Example - A law firm is putting on a speaking engagement and they have gone through the process of creating slick print pieces and mailing them out without even considering how email can help with their efforts to get the word out and ensure a great turnout for the event. What a great way to compliment the print piece and ensure the message gets out than to leverage some design elements and copy from the print piece and put together a nice looking email template. We typically find that a client says, "Wow - that makes a lot of sense. And we are spending a ton on the printing and mailing of these pieces."

How much of your current schedule is spent on email marketing for your clients?

"It is nice to be able to offer a solution that ranges from a complete self serve tool to a managed solution where we assist them with the sending of campaigns."

It is growing every month (more and more clients want to know how to leverage the email channel) and thanks to the outstanding tools you guys have created we can offer up a variety of solutions for our clients depending on their budget, their role and their goals.

It is nice to be able to offer a solution that ranges from a complete self serve tool like MailBuild to a managed solution where we assist them with the sending of campaigns. This way we know we can meet the needs of any type of client.

How do you charge your clients for your email marketing services?

Typically we start with an initial consultation to define what their goals and objective are (everything from how they would like to manage their campaigns to who they want to communicate with). From there we start the creative process to develop a template or templates that will support those communications. So basically we charge for a consulting/design/process setup fee and then we have a fee per every email campaign (if we work with them on the setup and delivery of emails).

What do you think is the biggest benefit of email marketing?

There are so many but I think the one that comes to mind (at least today) is the immediacy with which you can dispatch an email to a large group of customers or partners in a very timely and cost effective manner.

From your own experiences, what's the biggest challenge right now in email design?

I think a big challenge (design related) is the issue of Microsoft's decision to revert to Word as default reader for emails. It is a rather large step backwards. Not sure what motivated that decision but we will see what happens. Thanks to Campaign Monitor's insight we can look to you for best practices on how to deal with this issue.

How do you communicate campaign results back to your clients?

It all depends on how we manage the delivery process with a client. In some cases, depending on their comfort level, we will grant them access to the reporting area via password and they can login post campaign to view results. In other cases we will extract the information ourselves and place into a Word file to send to the client. Some times less is best in terms of what information they need to see (again based on their comfort level).

Any email marketing secrets to share with your fellow designers?

"Jumping into design and firing off emails with no real understanding of why you are doing it or who you are sending it to will not help anyone."

No real secrets. Only a good common sense approach to email. When you client says "we need to start using email", have a process in place so that you can walk them through a needs assessment to ensure that what you deploy is going to help them meet their objectives and goals. Jumping into design and firing off emails with no real understanding of why you are doing it or who you are sending it to will not help anyone.

Has it been hard for your team to transition from web design to email design?

I think the biggest issues were more from a technical perspective. Our design is always user focused and results oriented regardless of whether it is for email, a micro site or an email, so once we were familiar with the landscape of email design we applied those same principles.

What's the biggest email marketing mistake you've made to date?

Ah yes. Not testing properly across various email clients and having an email go out prematurely. This quite often results from a poor communication gap where a request for an email comes in the same day it needs to be delivered and then everyone is scrambling to meet same day deadline. This all comes back to a defined email communication program and process being in place with a client to help avoid these situations.

From the Active Ingredients portfolio...

Here are 2 great looking samples from the Active Ingredients' Campaign Monitor portfolio.

DPR Review
Netcordia
Read this post Posted by David Greiner
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