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The second day of Web Directions began (for the Freshview team at least) at a more reasonable hour. The opening speaker Jeffrey Veen drew plenty of applause we heard loudly from outside in the expo hall. During the breaks, we spoke to tons of existing customers, interested newcomers and the occasional person yet to work out they were in the wrong part of the convention centre. During day 2 attendees also had their last chances to grab a code word to win the sweet MacBook Air we were giving away, and there was a rush of entries after the talks by Jina Bolton (shown below) and Laurel Papworth. The entry bucket was soon stuffed to overflowing. Before the closing talk, the draw took place on the main stage, revealing University of Technology, Sydney lead designer Andrew Francois to be the lucky winner. Andrew taunted the rest of the crowd briefly, before realising his peril and coming down to to collect his prize! From an exhibitor’s point of view, Web Directions was again an excellent use of our time. We met face to face with some of you guys and girls, and we got some great live feedback about our upcoming improvements to Campaign Monitor and MailBuild. So a big ‘well done’ to the Web Directions team of John and Maxine, and thanks to everyone who came up and said hello. Finally, a extra special congratulations to our friends and Campaign Monitor customers Propeller Global for taking out the McFarlane Prize against strong competition.
Over on Signal vs. Noise, Jamie Dihiansan has written about his approach in evolving the email marketing and triggered messaging design for 37signals’ products. Often the job of designing emails is seen as a one-off task- build it once and it is triggered off and sent for ever more. Taking this approach can mean you miss out on a great opportunity to improve the way your company and products are seen by your customers. After the signup process, triggered emails like signup confirmations and welcome messages can be the ‘last chance to make a first impression’. So it makes sense to revisit them regularly to look for ways to improve them. In the case of the Basecamp Max welcome message, the 37signals team thought they could make the messages less confusing, and ultimately split the emails content into two separate messages for clarity. Here at Freshview, we’ve gone through a similar process with our request for feedback emails, and the changes we made improved our results dramatically. Here are a few areas you might like to look at in your messaging and newsletters: Is the content still up to date? It is common to make changes to features in your application, but forget to update your welcome message to accurately reflect the change. Are the important parts obvious enough? You might want to mention all the cool stuff people can do with their accounts, but what do they really need to know to get started? Do those things stand out at a glance? Are you using the right format? Would using some HTML let the important content stand out better? Or, might you be scaring people off with an over designed email, and do you need to simplify? Don’t let your recurring emails stagnate while your website is continually refreshed. Although they might be out of your mind, for your customers, email is just the opposite. It’s an ongoing reminder of what your company does and how it does it. Personally, I loved receiving the Moo order confirmation email. Have you received a great ‘triggered’ email?
More ExpressionEngine related news today, thanks to the talented Stephen Lewis. Stephen has released the SL FreshView Subscribe extension which lets you automatically add new users who register on your EE site to any Campaign Monitor or MailBuild list. You plugin your API key and ListID and that’s as complicated as it gets. Nice work Stephen! You can grab the SL FreshView Subscribe extension in the ExpressionEngine forums right now.
Here at Campaign Monitor we’re all big RSS users. Personally I love NetNewsWire and have a ton of feeds I review on different schedules, depending on their content. Web designers and techies in general have really taken hold of the idea of RSS, even though so far it has not spread much into the general public. Still, I’m not 100% RSS only, there is still some information I prefer to get via email. The canonical example for me is Threadless, who pump out a newsletter every week, sometimes more. Seeing the new shirts in my inbox is a thrill, and it’s one email I always open. There are other emails I have stuck with too: tidbits and Catch of the Day are two favourites. I’m interested to know whether you also have a few core favourites that you stick with. It seems clear that a lot of what is currently filling up inboxes actually belong in a different medium, like RSS, or even SMS alerts. When those things get out of our way, there will be more space for the truly valuable, the really funny, the most worthwhile emails. I’d love to hear from you all on this topic: What makes an email newsletter worth subscribing to in 2008? Answer purely from your own perspective, or think about the content your clients are sending. Will the best newsletters be the really personal ones? Short, to the point value? Content not available anywhere else? We’ve got Campaign Monitor t-shirts to give away for the three best comments, so have a think and leave us your thoughts.
You’ve sent out that latest newsletter on behalf of your client, and excitedly they login, watching their pie chart change colours as people open the email. Everybody loves the reporting and statistics you can get from using Campaign Monitor, because it makes it so easy to see what is working, and what is not. In fact, it can become quite addictive! So it is easy to forget that your subscribers might not feel quite the same way about being tracked and recorded. While many people have some understanding about click tracking (and things like Outlook’s read receipts), they can be understandably uncomfortable with the idea of someone watching everything they do. Recently Neville Hobson wrote on his blog about an email he received from Dell Computers. The email was targetted at people who had not opened Dell’s previous campaigns. … I was taken aback when I read the text alongside the ‘Shock, horror!’ title: Can we take a minute of your time? It’s just that it seems you haven’t opened any of our recent emails. Wtf? I thought to myself. How does Dell know I haven’t opened an email? Leaving aside the fact that not all opens can be recorded, clearly Neville was surprised and shocked that the information was known about him. Neville later goes on to clarify the core of his feelings: Maybe it’s the approach in Dell’s email that offends me, the wording that in one way or another says “We’re watching you and what you do on your computer, and you won’t know about it – unless you don’t open our emails, and then we’re gonna jump on you.” It’s a timely reminder that privacy and the ownership of their own activity is very important to most people. Even though the open and click tracking is available, we should treat it very carefully. That means not being too aggressive in your phrasing, and not assuming that the small amount of information you have about someone’s activity means you understand what they want and need. Most of your subscribers won’t be upset if you use your reports to decide what content is not as interesting to them, and drop it from the emails they see. They would probably be happy to see the improvement! They don’t need to have shoved into their face how you worked that out though. You could end up like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, gleaning more and more information each campaign until it gets you into big trouble. So tread carefully, be respectful of people’s inbox, their privacy and the complex balance between making an email useful, and abusing personal information. If you are dealing with particularly sensitive topics, like health, then you probably need to be even more cautious. How do you think your subscribers would feel if they understood exactly what was being recorded when they read your emails?
In just 3 weeks it will be time once again for the always excellent Web Directions conference in Sydney. Like last year, we’ll have a stand in the expo hall, where you can come up and lobby for your favourite feature request, ask questions or just say ‘hi’. If you are going to be there, then make sure you drop by, because we love to see people face to face. In 2007 we gave away an iMac — this year we also have a prize, to be revealed later. I can tell you right now that wearing a Campaign Monitor shirt will get you an extra entry into the competiton, so buy, borrow or steal one before you go! Speaking of shirts, the fun new Web Directions shirt is now available too, as is the artwork for remixing. Here’s a Campaign Monitor version: Don’t come to Web Directions just for the shirt, or just to see us! Come for the awesome (that was for you Dean;) line-up of speakers including Jeffrey Veen, Jina Bolton and Mark Pesce. See you there!
If you’ve checked out our Campaign Monitor shirts then you’ve experienced Shopify, a slick hosted ecommerce product. It’s super fast to setup and a great choice for selling anything from t-shirts to toasters online. This morning on the Campaign Monitor forums, Alex Dunae has just announced his Campaign Monitor “Subscribe” Web Hook for Shopify You may remember Alex from such hits as Premailer and Gladys the Groovy Mule. Alex’s code allows you to easily process a Web Hook from Shopify and subscribe the purchaser to a specific Campaign Monitor list via the API. Read more and download the code to get started. Another great job Alex! Finally, speaking of our shirts, if you’ve got one, and you are coming to Web Directions in Sydney, make sure to wear it. You’ll an extra entry in our competition…more on that later.
We have updated results for embedded image/data URI support in email – view our latest post. In a recent post we discussed our (poor) results from testing embedded images in email. A couple of people pointed out a different method we could use that may produce better results. So we’ve run through our tests again, this time with the image as a Base64 encoded attachment to the message. Here’s how it went. Embedding as an attachment Rather than having the image src be the encoded data, this time we define the email as a multipart/related file, and place the encoded image in a separate section of the email. Then in the body of the message, we refer to the image via its identifier which is specified for each attachment. Results for embedded attachment cid method This time around, we did see some better results. The image was rendered by default in the desktop clients at least, but still not in webmail clients. Apple Mail Yes-Image displays inline and as attachment Entourage 2008 Yes-Image displays inline and as attachment Gmail No-Image will not display Windows Live Hotmail No-Image will not display Outlook 2003 Yes-Image displays inline and as attachment Outlook 2007 Yes-Image displays inline and as attachment Thunderbird 2 Yes-Image displays inline and as attachment Yahoo! Mail No-Image will not display Although the images did show up ok in desktop clients, in webmail clients they did not at all, even after clicking ‘display images’ or equivalent. Additionally, in the desktop clients the images are shown inline, but also as attachments on the bottom of the email. If you have just one image, it might be ok, but with most newsletters you will have an email that ends with a messy jumble of individual image attachments. Imagine the Threadless newsletter for example. The increased initial download size, and hence slower speed, the failure to show for increasingly popular webmail clients and the hassle of attachments still seem to indicate that embedded images are not the way to go in most cases. Our recommendation is still to have the understanding that your images may not display, and design your emails accordingly. Please note that Campaign Monitor itself does not support embedding images in this way at all, we tested outside of our application. Thanks to everyone who commented and suggested this additional test, we appreciate the feedback.
Last month Apple replaced .Mac with a new service called MobileMe and while it is certainly slicker visually and nicer to use, in terms of CSS support the results were mixed. We ran MobileMe through our baseline CSS test, and found that there were improvements in some areas (see our Email Standards Project test result) but in other places some CSS support was actually degraded compared to .Mac rendering. It is still a very solid client, but of course it is never nice to see the level of support going in reverse. MobileMe lost point in CSS selectors, and we saw odd results with link colours and heading styles. CSS defined in the head is partially ignored (for example in lower level headings) but if you drop the styles inline, everything seems to render much more reliably, much like Gmail. Nonetheless, MobileMe dropped a few points in our test. We’re already planning the next version of the CSS test, which will broaden its scope to better cover both inline styles and styles in the head, giving you as much information as possible to build emails which will render more consistently. If you haven’t already checked them out, take a look at our free email templates which are built using all the information gathered during the CSS test.
We have updated results for embedded image/data URI support in email – view our latest post. With the well known growth in image blocking by email clients, some customers have been looking for alternatives to linking web based images into HTML emails. Some years ago, image embedding used to the standard way images were included in emails. It differs from linked images in that the image itself is actually encoded, and included inside the message. So once you have downloaded the email, you are not reliant on a web connection to view the images, because you have it all locally. It sounds perfect, except for a big increase in email size vs downloading just the HTML and then the images afterwards. We get asked fairly often why we don’t allow image embedding to work around image blocking. Our position (‘It is not worth it for the cost in filesize) has been based on testing done some years ago, before image blocking was so common. So we though it was time to update our test results. Testing embedded images in email Here’s the recipe for creating HTML emails with embedded images: Take one HTML page, with your text content and CSS Grab an image you want to send embedded in your email Use a Base64 encoder to turn your binary photo into a huge text string Replace your normal image source with that string Save your file and send as normal When you have added your encoded image, you end up with an HTML document which looks something like this: You will notice you have an enormous text file if you are encoding any kind of photograph. I took this file, and sent it out to a bunch of the major email clients, to see if they would render it. Embedded images test results The results were almost uniformly bad. Of all the email clients we tested, only Apple Mail showed the photo at all (and it shows linked images by default anyway). Email Client Result Notes Apple Mail Yes Showed perfectly Entourage 2008 No Alt attribute and image outline only Gmail No Alt attribute and missing-image outline only Windows Live Hotmail No A grey block with no alt attribute Outlook 2003 No Alt attribute and missing-image outline only Entourage 2007 No Alt attribute and missing-image outline only Thunderbird 2 No Alt attribute, no missing image outline Yahoo! Mail No Alt attribute and missing-image outline (Classic & New) So based on our results, it is clearly not worth using embedded images in your emails. All you will be doing is forcing people to download encoded images that they will not be able to view. Instead, the best course is to follow our normal design guidelines and design your emails knowing that some people will not see your images. That means making sure your copy stands alone, and that it is visible high enough for people to see if images are blocked. Don’t forget to link prominently to a web version too, especially if your images are particularly important. Update See our follow up post in which we tested with a different method of embedding, with somewhat better results.
Part of creating the 33 new HTML templates for Campaign Monitor and MailBuild was to also come up with an easy way to test these designs without having to leave the comfort of my development environment. Since most email clients render HTML email better with inline CSS, maintaining an organized yet easy to update template becomes next to impossible (especially when building 33 of them). It just so happens that TextMate has an incredibly useful plugin architecture called “bundles” that could deal with this problem rather easily. Here’s a quick demo with the details below. So what we did was create a bundle that does exactly that. Create your email like you would any other webpage with a linked stylesheet or inline style. Run one of the bundle commands and it automatically runs through adding all of the CSS styles inline keeping it easy for you to update. Even better, you can email an HTML multipart email directly from within TextMate! Testing has never been this easy. If all of this sounds too good to be true, hop on over to our TextMate bundle resource page. Be warned in advance though, this is definitely one of the most developer targeted resources we’ve ever thrown up. And of course, if you haven’t got access to lots of different email clients, our design and spam test tool can run it through more than 20 of the most popular clients with a single click.
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