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Anybody who has attended one of the excellent Web Directions conferences in the past will know what a great opportunity they are to hear great talks and meet up with your web colleagues. This year Web Directions South is on in Sydney from September 25th to 29th, with two days each of workshops and talks. If you aren’t already registered, then tomorrow is the last day to register at the early bird price (you don’t have to pay yet). Last year Dave and Ben gave a talk about how they started Campaign Monitor, and you can still download the podcast and slides. This year we are not speaking, but we will be part of the expo during the conference days. In our stand we’ll be demoing Campaign Monitor and MailBuild, meeting some of you guys and we’re also working on giving away a pretty cool prize. There are some great speakers lined up for the event, and we’d love to see you there! Tomorrow is also the deadline for nominations for the McFarlane Prize, an award for excellence in Australian web design. The prize is for “sites built and launched by Australian individuals or teams between August 1st 2006 and July 31 2007”, and you’ve still got enough time to nominate. Visit the Web Directions 2007 website.
When we launched our new email authentication system last week, we had no idea how well it would be received. To be honest, authentication can be a tricky concept to get your head around and I was a little nervous about how popular it would be. Sometimes I love being wrong. In less than a week hundreds of authenticated domains have been set up, many with an authenticated domain for each and every client. It’s been fantastic to see and a great result for everybody. Your emails have a better chance of being delivered, ISP’s know who you are and your domain is being protected from abuse. A number of customers have also been kind enough to send in instructions and screenshots walking through how they added the records with their own hosts. This is hugely appreciated. If you’ve set things up and don’t see your host listed, we’d LOVE for you to send through the steps and screens so it will be that much easier for your fellow Campaign Monitor designers using the same host. Of course, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for all. Almost every host out there has a different front end for managing your DNS. Some make it a breeze, others like to see you sweat. We’ve even discovered a few hosts that don’t support TXT records (and therefore authentication) at all. Sigh. We’ve put together a quick authentication FAQ for those of you that are having trouble getting your records added. We’ve found that with a little persistence even those claiming not to support it can bend their rules if you ask nicely.
Here’s some more evidence for the great and growing depth of design talent working with email newsletters. The latest few take the total to over 150 different designs. Subscribe to the gallery’s RSS feed to keep up to date as the list grows.
Anyone trying to pay for a campaign for the last few hours would have noticed a frustrating “Server busy” message. Our sincere apologies for this. Turns out our payment gateway is having some unscheduled downtime. We’re working with them as I type this and will post an update here the moment they’re back online. Not that it’s any consolation, but we’ll be moving to a new and more reliable merchant provider in the next few weeks. This one’s frustrating for everyone. Update: We’re back online and accepting payments again. Thanks so much for your patience as this issue was resolved and apologies again for any delays this caused.
We’ve posted about this quite a while back but it remains one of the most common questions we get. How can I get the address of people who just unsubscribed, so I can keep my database up to date? Since we first answered, we’ve added a full API which has a method for getting a list of people who have unsubscribed since a specified date. If you have some development skill available, that’s a great way to keep things in sync. However, you don’t have to use the API – a simple way of getting hold of those unsubscribed addresses is to use the custom unsubscribe confirmation page. You can find it under ‘Unsubscribe Options’ for any list, and it lets you enter a URL that we will send people to after they unsubscribe from your list. You can just have a static ‘sorry to see you go’ page there, but you can also pass through the unsubscribing email address, and send it to whichever internal system you have. It’s very simple – just make your unsubscribe URL something like: www.yourwebsite.com/goodbye.php?emailaddress=[email] That [email] tag will be replaced with the relevant address, and passed onto your pag, and from there it’s up to you. Anyone who unsubscribes via a link in your campaign or an unsubscribe form will be handled in this way. Please note: You can’t pass through any custom field values on the query string like this, only the name and email address will work.
I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret. There’s a difference between how an email sender sees their inbox and how an email recipient sees theirs. It’s only a subtle difference. If you blink you’ll miss it. But, it has far reaching implications on how all of us should be approaching email marketing. Here’s a screenshot of it in all its glory. What you see What your recipients see It’s time we all realized just how important this difference is. Getting your subscriber’s permission is only half the battle. If you’re not relevant, you might as well be a spammer. It’s hard for some to swallow, but it’s really that simple. Whenever someone marks your email spam in most of the popular email clients, they let us know about it. If the number of complaints exceeds a certain benchmark, your account with us might even be closed. Inevitably, this can lead to frustration because you’ve done almost everything right. It doesn’t matter if you had double opt-in permission and your email has an obvious unsubscribe link. If you’re not relevant, you might as well be a spammer. From the horse’s mouth… Still need convincing? All of the major ISP’s have reinforced this position in the last few weeks. They’re giving more filtering control back to their users and the “Mark as Spam” button is the glue holding it all together. Yahoo! Mail – Miles Libbey: Anti-spam product manager Operationally, we define spam as whatever consumers don’t want in their inbox. AOL – Charles Stiles: AOL Postmaster “I don’t care if they’ve triple opted-in and gave you their credit card number,” said Stiles, drawing chuckles, but making his point loud and clear: Relevance rules, and catering to end user preferences is his top priority. Microsoft/Hotmail – Craig Spiezle: Online safety evangelist We need to think really a step beyond opt-in and focus on the consumer’s expectations, relevancy, and frequency. Gmail – Brad Taylor: Google Engineer Sometimes people are afraid to report a message because they aren’t sure if it is “really” spam or not. Our opinion is that if you didn’t ask for it and you don’t want it, it’s spam to you, and it should be reported. Do they really want this email? Like most things, this ultimately comes down to common sense. Put yourself in the shoes of your subscribers and think about what they actually need. If it’s a useful article on something that interests them, send away, but if it’s the latest press release from marketing, I’d think again. Perhaps then you’ll start to see the “Mark as Spam” button for what it really is.
You spend a lot of time crafting your HTML newsletter, tweaking the layout from a previous edition or adding new sections. Then you get to the text entry field, and have to layout the same content again under much greater constraints. To give you some ideas about how plain text can be best formatted for readability, we’ve gone looking for some examples of well designed plain text, and then created some simple text templates from them. Our inspiration (and permission) came from 37Signals, Freshbooks and Good Experience, who all have excellent newsletters that we can personally recommend. Next time you are faced with that empty text field, just copy and paste a template and fill in the sections. If you already do a great job of text formatting, we’d love to hear about it too. Would it make it easier for you if you always started with the plain text from your last newsletter for that client? Let us know with a comment below.
I sent out the Campaign Monitor newsletter to 30,000 or so of our customers and subscribers last night, which you can check out here. Before I send each newsletter, I normally run it through most of the popular email clients to make sure it still looks fine, plus forward it around to a few members of the team for a good old proofread. Yesterday was a busy one, with the launch of our t-shirt store and some pretty big feature updates happening behind the scenes. By the time the newsletter was good to go, I was the only one left in the office. Wanting to get the newsletter out, I worked through my standard tests, gave it another quick read, got over the famous send button anxiety and sent it out. It took a good 3 minutes after the newsletter was sent before the first email came in. I tell you, send button anxiety is nothing compared to knowing you’ve just sent an email with the word “ass” in it to all your customers. I’ve already received 40 or so hilarious emails from you guys – here are some favorites so far… That’s been making me laugh all morning. Perhaps in your next newsletter you could explain how we can learn to ass our content. That’s the funniest typo i’ve seen in awhile! Thanks for lightening up my morning! Can someone over there show me how to “ass” content? “Just tweak the colors, ass your content and your all set.” Reason #89234 why spell-check is never enough ;) So why am I rubbing this in my own face? Just a friendly reminder from the Campaign Monitor team about making sure you proof-read every newsletter you send. Not everyone needs to learn the hard way.
I would like to preface this article by stating that I use standards-based markup to build my HTML emails and my websites. But for those of you who are familiar with other articles posted here at Campaign Monitor about HTML emails will know that standards-based markup results in formatting not unlike rich-text format (RTF) in many popular email clients. I’m comfortable with this and so are my clients. Well, they are once they learn about how web standards ensures accessibility and cross client/platform/device content-compatibility and helps emails reach legitimate subscribers without being eradicated by spam filters. But not every web designer has the grace and charm of Mark Wyner, and therefore many face clients and bosses who demand they build HTML emails for design integrity at any cost. (Oh how this reeks of the “browsers vs. web-standards” battles of old.) So for those of you who must use tables in your HTML emails, I have some information about how they perform across the board. I ran some tests and discovered that, while I couldn’t find a perfect solution, I did manage to collect some useful tips to make your tables behave for the most part. Table Math, Meet Box-Model Math So it turns out that when one places table widths, td widths, td padding and CSS padding into a blender, the results are quite chaotic. Inconsistent, to the say the least. Take, for example, the following table: [code] <table cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0" border="0" width="400"> <tr> <td width="100"></td> <td width="300"></td> </tr> </table> [/code] Just as intended, the resulting width of this table is 400 pixels and the width of the columns are 100 and 300 pixels: But when some padding is added—via either CSS or HTML—the widths of the columns are compromised: However, when table width is kissed good bye, the results are not unlike a CSS box model. If padding is added to the original example and the table width is removed, the code looks like this: [code] <table cellspacing="0" cellpadding="10" border="0"> <tr> <td width="80"></td> <td width="280"></td> </tr> </table> [/code] And, as intended, the resulting widths are correct for both the table and the columns: But note how the td widths were reduced to accommodate the new padding. This is just like the CSS box model in which 100 pixels wide + 10 pixels padding = 120 pixels total. Nested Tables If a table is nested inside another, the aforementioned rules apply with the exception of a couple important variances: Yahoo Mail (new), Gmail, Outlook 2007 and Eudora apply extra width to account for borders. But only when they are nested, as the parent table behaves appropriately. Applying widths to td tags that also have CSS or HTML padding creates confusion across the board. Nearly every client renders the widths in its own unique fashion. Even without any borders there are variances in width by 2–4 pixels for a nested table with two columns. My tests were inconclusive as to the rhyme and reason behind this unnatural phenomenon. Just know that pixel perfect isn’t an option (unless there is some hidden secret behind this). Clients Tested Webmail Yahoo Mail Yahoo Mail Beta Windows Live Hotmail (old) Windows Live Hotmail (new) Gmail .Mac AOL Desktop Apple Mail Thunderbird Outlook 2007 Outlook 2003 Outlook Express Eudora Lotus Notes So there you have it. Please do your best to educate your clients/bosses about how the benefits of standards-based markup far outweigh design integrity across the board. But if you fall short of convincing them and are forced to use tables for layout, take note of the lessons outlined herein. You’ll save yourself a nasty headache.
We’ve updated our results for animated GIF support in email. Check out our latest post. I’m not one for Flash, but many web designers obviously use it. Some for interactivity and others for animation. In the web environment, the latter is a replacement for animation formats of days old: animated GIFs. But Flash isn’t supported in the email environment, so for web designers accustomed to using animation to communicate a message are left searching for alternatives. Enter animated GIFs. I’m not going to argue about whether animated GIFs are a sufficient replacement for Flash or whether they are the devil or anything else of that nature. Rather, I’m simply going to share what I’ve learned about support for them in the email environment. The results are dizzying, so try to keep up. The Results Every single email client I tested supports animated GIFs. Well, except for one: Outlook 2007. Big surprise. Though if you carefully plan your animation, this news may not be so bad. Outlook 2007 displays the first frame of the GIF as a static image. So if your first frame works as a static image, you are in good shape. Some Advice I’m like a mother sharing advice you don’t necessarily want but that you do actually need. So I have some helpful tips for you regarding the use of animated GIFs: Don’t forget about accessibility. If you use animated images to tell a story, ensure everyone gets the message. Consider those with low or no visibility, slow connections and those who pay per kilobyte on their mobile devices. Learn from history. Blinking, strobing or streaking text or graphics sucked in 1999 and they suck now, too. Leave the annoying animations behind. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Enough said. Be creative. Just as any tool in web design, we can use animated GIFs to enhance our message in non-invasive ways. So that’s where animated GIFs stand in the email environment. Enjoy if you must.
We’ve just put the finishing touches on a new demo movie for Campaign Monitor. We wanted to put something together that covered all the benefits of using Campaign Monitor in a few short minutes. Check it out now, you’ll need Flash installed to watch it. It’s always a tough call to work out what features to highlight and just as importantly leave out for a demo like this. We’re really happy with how it all came together in the end. What do you guys think, does it sum up the Campaign Monitor experience?
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