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If you’re an experienced Campaign Monitor user and a regular reader of this blog, then you probably have a pretty solid idea of what makes a ‘good’ HTML email. If you need a refresher, or you are looking for a good introductory article, then read on. Over on SitePoint, which is a great resource for web designers and developers of all kinds, I’ve got a new article live. It’s called The Principles of Beautiful HTML Email and it covers the core principles of designing for email vs designing for the web. I want to give a special mention to some Campaign Monitor users (and their clients) who have been previously featured in our gallery and are examples in the article. Zurb Threadless Recycle Now WWF Future Makers HIVE Inside Packaging Please do check the article out, and consider bookmarking it for later to send it to that designer who still sends emails as one big image, or to your client who wants you to send them! Read The Principles of Beautiful HTML Email at SitePoint
Some important news if you send to a lot of mobile subscribers, or view emails on your own Blackberry. While existing Blackberry devices and software only support plain text email rendering, RIM has announced that an upcoming software update will add HTML and rich text support to the platform. HTML and Rich Text Email Rendering â€“ BlackBerry smartphone users will be able to view HTML and rich text email messages with original formatting preserved including font colors and styles, embedded images, hyperlinks, tables, bullets and other formatting. It is not yet clear whether this will be optional, allowing Blackberry users to select their desired format, or whether HTML will always be shown when available. In any case, sending multipart text+html will always be the safest option. The update is set to be released in ‘the first half of 2008’, and once it becomes available we plan to run our normal HTML/CSS rendering tests and post here about the results. Of course, if you do know your audience is mostly mobile, then you will want to ensure your emails are shorter, to the point and simpler than you would typically do for a an audience using a desktop client. A mobile context is very different, and even the type of content itself may differ considerably – information that is useful when at your desk may be pointless when sitting on a train or in a taxi. Are you looking forward to HTML on your Blackberry? Or do your clients send campaigns specifically written for people on the move? Leave us a comment.
As we revealed last year, we have some pretty good prizes lined up for the Campaign Monitor customer who sent (in our judgement) the best Christmas email. We were looking for a balance between creativity, design and practicality, for an email that works under the constraints of email clients, like image blocking for example. We saw a lot of good efforts, and sadly still a lot of emails that were just one big image, but a few emails really stood out to us, and we’ve showcased them below. Grand prize winner: Good Creative Congratulations to the team from GOOD CREATIVE who have walked away with this year’s prize. We loved the unique approach to a Christmas tree and the strong visual layout. Since there is actual text (not just images) in the email, it still holds together with image blocking on, and the content of the newsletter really sends a clear message about the agencies values. Well done! We’ll be in touch with the team shortly to arrange for their prizes: An iPhone A $100 Threadless voucher 50,000 Campaign Monitor email credits (that’s $500 worth) I’m sure they’ll have fun splitting that lot between them! Honorable mentions We’ve got three great emails to mention here, and the people behind each one will be receiving a solid chunk of email credits and a Campaign Monitor t-shirt of their choice. Pixel Magic From across the sea in New Zealand, the Pixel Magic team have created an email better suited to the decidedly non-white Christmases we have down under. A simple design that works really well, and does not try too hard and overwhelm the message. A great example of effective email design. Aegean Airlines Extra points for effort and bravery go to the creators of this plain text Christmas email for Aegean Airlines. Taking us back to the glory days of ASCII art, this email looks painstakingly constructed. We wonder how consistently it would render, but the idea is great and well executed, and it’s particularly interesting for such a mainstream product. 3blindmice From Sydney local Ben Manson, this fantastic design is almost all text. We love the right alignment, and particularly the way Ben has used custom fields to personalise his message for each client. Who doesn’t love a mouse in a Santa hat? Well done Ben. We’ll be in touch with all our winners very soon, and congratulations to you all. Thanks also to everybody who entered by using Campaign Monitor during this holiday season, and we hope to see you all back again next year with even better campaigns. We really appreciate your creativity and your business. Stick with us through 2008, we’ve got plenty of things lined up for you all!
Midway through 2007 we introduced email authentication to Campaign Monitor, as an optional change you can make to increase the deliverability and security of your email campaigns. We’ve seen a huge amount of people setting up Sender ID and DomainKeys records for their ‘from’ domains. We introduced an email authentication FAQ for some common questions, but since then a few more common questions have cropped up. Can I still use Campaign Monitor without DomainKeys and Sender ID? Absolutely. If your host does not support TXT records, you can still use your Campaign Monitor account. It just means your campaigns may go through additional filters, and you miss out on the other benefits of authentication. Your campaigns will still be sent out as normal, and you will still see all the reporting. Do I have to change web hosts if my host does not support DomainKeys? No, you don’t have to necessarily. Instead, you can just switch DNS providers. Often your DNS records are hosted by the same people who host your site, but it does not have to be that way. Services like DNS Made Easy, ZoneEdit, easyDNS let you host just the DNS records with them, and keep all your sites elsewhere. This can be both faster and safer than hosting DNS and website together – it makes changing web hosts easier and also gives you more flexibility, so it is worth looking into. My DomainKeys are not verifying — what should I do? There are two main reasons this could happen. Either the DNS records have not yet propagated, or the records have not been correctly added. You can check how the records are appearing (or not) by using a service like DNSStuff. Go to the ‘tools’ section, and you can do a free DNS Lookup under ‘Hostname Tools’. Enter the domain name you are trying to verify (as in abcwidgets.com) and change the drop down menu to ‘TXT’. Hit ‘Lookup’ and you will be able to see if the records are showing up or not. If they are not there, then you need to talk to your DNS or web host and ask them to help you out. From our side, we can only see what is there, not make any changes. If it looks like the record is there and correct, then contact support. It will help if you mention the domain name you are trying to add records for. Email authentication can be a tricky area, but it is worth exploring as it is likely to become more important in the future. If you have any more questions, leave them as comments below.
The Gmail landscape is changing. But that’s hardly news because we’ve been using a beta version for years now. What is news is that there are four different versions of Gmail to consider when designing/developing an HTML email. If the four versions varied in simply GUI design or experience design there would be little to tell. However, as we discovered each version has its own way of handling HTML and CSS. First we’ll share the skinny on the different versions so you get a sense of what web designers are facing. Then we’ll show you some details about what’s happening under the hood.) Note: no version of Gmail supports proper standards-based markup, so these reports are based on using compromised markup with inline styles and tables. The Versions Defined There are two core ways to use Gmail: As a gmail.com account. This entails signing up for a Gmail address (email@example.com) and then accessing the account at gmail.com with their webmail interface. (Alternately POP or IMAP access can be setup in a desktop email-client, but the rendering of emails in such a scenario is solely dependent upon the desktop client’s performance and is thus irrelevant to this post.) As a Google App. This entails setting up Gmail as a hosted webmail application for one’s personal domain. In this scenario, Gmail is used as a webmail interface to one’s own library of addresses (firstname.lastname@example.org). Gmail.com Account Google offers two different versions of their interface for those using a gmail.com account: “older version,” which is set by default, and “newer version” (these are the actual names). There are a few minor differences in the experiences moving from one to the other, most notably the addition of a chat feature in the Newer Version. Overall they’re practically the same client, except for how they render HTML emails. Following are two screen shots of the same HTML email, one from each version: Newer version Older version Then, whether in “older version” or “newer version” one has the ability to switch to something called “basic HTML” view. Google defines this as follows: Standard view is what you’ll see when you sign in to Gmail from a fully-supported browser…In case you don’t have access to a fully-supported browser, we still want you to have access to Gmail—that’s why we’ve developed a basic HTML view of our service that is compatible with almost any browser. Their fully-supported browser list comprises Safari, Firefox, Mozilla, Netscape and IE on Mac, Linux and Windows, but they mention that you’ll need Firefox 2 or IE 7 to“take advantage of the newest Gmail features.” The features they list as being unavailable in “basic HTML” view are: Filter creation Spell checker Keyboard shortcuts Address auto-complete Custom from addresses But “basic HTML” view offers something more: a different rendering of your HTML email: Google Apps A screen shot of the test email from a Google App version of webmail pasted atop a screen shot of the same email in the “older version” of gmail.com is a pixel-for-pixel replica. At this time there is no way to toggle between “older version” and “newer version” in the Google App, though one can toggle between the standard version and “basic HTML view.” And the latter renders the same way as gmail.com in the same view. Is There a Line of Defense? The core differences (as far as we can tell) moving from one version to the next are how it renders padding, font sizes and bold formatting of headlines (h1–h6). Unfortunately, because of how the “newer version” renders messages there is little we can do to ensure consistent rendering across the various versions of Gmail. Following are some specific details about how each version handles the aforementioned styling. Padding In “newer version” both CSS- and table-padding are destroyed. Neither is supported, so padding is out. This is a fundamental problem in that any text inside of a box with a colored background will appear broken as it connects with the box’s sides. The “older version,” “basic HTML view” and Google App are all consistent with information we have reported in previous posts: padding is only rendered if it is used as an inline style. Font Sizes and Headline Formatting With font sizing, the “newer version” actually offers the closest accuracy. The “older version” and the Google App simply enlarge font sizes which, while has an unsightly result, isn’t nearly as bad as reducing font sizes regarding accessibility. The “basic HTML view” has the oddest rendering of all versions. Body text renders correctly but the headlines are stripped of bold formatting and are reduced to the size of surrounding body text. In Closure I believe the inconsistent rendering across the various versions of this one email client further supports a best practice of using standards-based markup. Doing so will ensure your emails look the same in any version of Gmail, in addition to supporting all the benefits of web standards. Using tables and inline styles will result in some headaches when it seems unlikely that one will achieve consistent rendering anyway. As we recently pointed out in the Email Standards Project blog, it might be time for a Gmail intervention. If supporting web standards is something you think the Gmail team should be aware of, show your support by commenting on the post in the ESP blog, adding your thoughts to this Google Groups thread and sending your feedback directly to the Gmail team. They’re listening, let’s make sure we’re heard. Update: Clarification about Padding As hcabbos pointed out in the first comment below, my reports about “inline padding” are somewhat ambiguous. To clarify, the newer version of Gmail does not support either CSS padding or inline padding via the cellpadding tag. So in the “newer version” padding is not possible at all. The following screen shots will help illustrate this: Newer version Older version
While a lot of my energy is focused the Email Standards Project and looking to the future of email design, it’s obviously still important to know the best way to approach it for the here and now. If you’re looking for something close to consistency, this means using tables for layout and inline CSS. I’ve just put together an article for Vitamin called “Ensuring your HTML emails look great and get delivered” that looks back at my original recommendations last year, why they don’t make the cut any more and what you need to focus on today. This includes a list of CSS properties that are considered safe across the board, and the best way to use tables for consistent results. On top of my design recommendations, I also dig into advice on getting your emails delivered. This covers a range of topics like how to get permission, reduce spam complaints and monitor your sending reputation. If you’re already a Campaign Monitor customer, you can rest assured that all of the technical recommendations are already covered for you by default. Having said that, the technical side is only a part of your email reputation â€” the crucial ingredients of permission and relevance are up to you. Check out the article.
Now that our support for HTML confirmation emails is live, I thought it might be a nice time to revisit some recommendations on the best approach to capturing subscribers via a form on your web site. Here are a few guidelines you should consider to ensure a good experience for your new subscribers and make sure they’re primed to receive your first campaign. 1. Make it easy to subscribe Nobody likes filling in forms. While we make it easy to capture all sorts of information about your subscribers, try not to get carried away. Ask for the bare essentials only. If you do need to capture lots of information, check out these tips on good form design. 2. Ask everywhere Don’t rely on a single page on your site to lure subscribers, such as a Newsletter or Contact page. Try and place a subscribe form on every main page of your site. Again, keep it simple and only ask for the bare essentials. Here are some tips on integrating your list with any current form on your site. Don’t forget to also capture permission offline any chance you get, such as events and at the counter. 3. Set expectations It’s extremely important that you align your customers’ expectations with exactly what you plan on sending them. Make sure your subscribe form clearly explains the type of content they’ll be getting and how often they’ll be getting it. Try and do this on the form itself, and then back it up in the confirmation email. 4. Get added to their safe senders/contacts list When sending a confirmation email we let you specify the from email address you’d like to use. Make sure this address is an exact match to the from address you’ll be using when sending your campaigns. This way you can request to be added to their safe sender or contact list in the confirmation email. Once you’re in that list, you’ll often go through less filtering and your images will be displayed by default. 5. Say thanks and give some gold Don’t forget to say thanks to your subscriber. They’ve just taken a leap of faith handing over some personal details to you, show them you appreciate it. You might also consider linking to key content on your site they might be interested in, such as a past issue or some popular articles that might be related to the reason they subscribed in the first place. 6. Track where they subscribe from Follow this little tip on tracking where your subscriber join from. This allows you to do some A/B testing on different pages to see which subscribe offer/design works best. 7. Don’t forget about forwards Be sure to include a forward to a friend and subscribe link in each campaign you send. If you’re sending useful content, some subscribers will pass it on, so try and make it easy for these recipients to join your list if they’re interested. Finally, don’t forget to keep the tone of your email personal, friendly and avoid lots of email jargon. Lots of these suggestions are easy to implement, but they can make a big difference in that all important first impression.
For those of you closely monitoring support for standards-based markup in popular email clients, you’ll be happy to know that we have recently encountered a nice improvement for the .Mac webmail client. And while we’d love to take credit for having instilled fear in the hearts of Apple, we simply can’t compete with the Soprano family. Still, we’re hoping our countless articles and recent announcement about the Email Standards Project is helping to shape the future of HTML emails. In any case, at least one client is indeed shaping up. A while back we reported on the new .Mac webmail client. The old version offered amazing support for CSS. Unfortunately, the arrival of bells and whistles in the new version significantly depressed its support of standards-based markup. What’s more, we discovered a gratuitous DIV in the inbox window that eradicated all styles because of an interruption in the Descendant Selectors. The solution was to use Universal Selectors, which helped .Mac and had no inadvertent effects on other clients. On top of our post, I personally wrote Apple on more than one occasion, asking them to fix this problem. And I asked my partners to do the same. Irrespective of the impact of those emails and our post, they have since remedied this issue by withdrawing the gratuitous DIV. Consequently, our “.Mac fix” is no longer necessary. That’s the good news. The bad news is that .Mac’s support for CSS is still extremely poor. Let’s hope Apple finds it worthwhile to remedy that. We’ll be outlining exactly what changes they’ll need to make in the upcoming ESP site, launching in the next couple of weeks.
Just under 8 hours ago (at around 1am Sydney time) our payment gateway decided to go offline without notice. Because we don’t charge you until you actually send your campaigns, this meant that no campaigns, either scheduled or being sent immediately could be delivered. After working with them for the last few hours, we’ve just received word from the gateway that the issue has been resolved, and can confirm that your campaigns can now be delivered. We realize this situation is completely unacceptable. Please rest assured that we are now accelerating our plans to move to a new payment gateway (it was happening later this month, but will now happen a lot sooner). We are also looking at extending our monitoring system to ensure we’re alerted about a payment processing error and are also looking into adding a layer of redundancy to our payment processing to ensure you’re never bothered by something like this again. Of course, I realize this explanation does nothing to curb the frustrations you and some of your clients must be feeling right now. If you feel you were significantly impacted by this issue, please get in touch with support and we’ll credit you for the cost of the campaign you were delayed in sending.
Why is it that sometimes you send a test message from Campaign Monitor to yourself or other team members in your company, and it doesn’t arrive? Well, most of the time the email does arrive, but is filtered into a junk folder, or just takes a few minutes. Sometimes though, it just never seems to get there. It can be incredibly frustrating, and worrying because you may think your own customers won’t get your emails either. Campaign Monitor is sending them out – where are they going? With love, from me to…me The problem occurs when you are sending an email from Campaign Monitor to yourself, but defining the ‘from’ address to be the same domain as the ‘to’ address. So from email@example.com to firstname.lastname@example.org for example. Some mail servers have built in brains that try to stop spam by checking for emails that claim to have been sent from the same domain as they are being sent to. So the Daily Planet’s email server might say: This email for Lois says it is from Clark, but I did not send any emails for Clark, so this must be a dastardly fake. The email is stopped by the mail server, and never delivered or bounced back. Campaign Monitor can’t tell that is what happened, because no bounce message is sent. This problem will not affect your customers at all, because their email addresses are not at the same domain as your ‘from’ address. How to make sure test emails get through To prevent this problem, you just need to get your mail server administrator to specifically let emails from Campaign Monitor come through. Sometimes this is called ‘whitelisting’. They will need to know the IP addresses we send from, and you can find them in our help page. Then you will be able to receive your test emails and make sure everything is perfect before sending out your campaign, always a good idea.
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