Lotus Notes & HTML Email Newsletters

Lotus Notes & HTML Email Newsletters

Lotus Notes seems to be a source of frustration for many designers, marketing “folks” and other people who generally have a “tizzy” each and every time their email or marketing message comes across looking less than perfect.

As evidenced by this email message we received recently from one reader:

Tom,

Lotus Notes [DELETED] won’t display [DELETED] properly. I’m ready to [DELETED] throw the [CENSORED, DELETED, ETC] using a hockey puck.

-Ted

We feel your pain Ted, we really do.

Lotus Notes can be a tough Email client to test your HTML Email & newsletters against. There is a general lack of information on how the Lotus Notes client renders and displays HTML for the end-user. Many designers and firms tend to skip over the whole Lotus Notes compatibility issue due to the fact that they believe that the majority of recipients using Notes is considered small.

The problem is that there can be a tremendous amount of corporate Lotus Notes users on any given mailing list. One client of ours found out after a brief survey (and all of the negative feedback from their mailings to users who received a hodgepodge of mismatched code from them) – that nearly 40% of their entire mailing list were Lotus Notes clients. This was due to the fact that their mailing list was made up of larger corporate clients who account for a signifficant portion of Notes usage.

So, whether you realize it or not, Lotus Notes may play a very significant role in your email marketing. Unlike AOL recipients, who you can easily filter and send alternate content to when you mail, Lotus Notes users look and act just like the rest of us. According to IBM, 95 million people currently use Lotus Notes. Scary.

That being said, let’s dive into some of the more common concerns we get on an almost daily basis. The following is a guide that you may find helpful in diagnosing and trouble shooting common Lotus Email Marketing issues. Due to the wide variety of settings, open source tweaks and other variables that separate the Lotus Environment from your more common Exchange & Oracle systems, you’ll need to consult some of the resource links & forums we’ve collected below for additional help. However, with the little bit we are going to arm you with, you’ll be able to fake it just fine.

Little Red Boxes around Images in Lotus Notes Email

“Dear Template Kit,

A handful of employees that receive different emails in HTML format cannot seem to be able to view the pictures or images in Lotus Notes. The text seems to retain its HTML formatting, but the images appear as a box with a red “x” in them. What is going on?”

-Judy

Usually, this is caused by the absence of an absolute url (such as http://www.templatekit.com/img/spacer.gif,) for that particular image resource. We say “usually” because at times perfectly formatted and linked up images produce this same effect for no real explanation other than Lotus Notes has converted the image to Notes Rich Text and it isn’t present in the Notes Database. Depending on your version of Lotus Notes, you may see a text representation of that image lick so: [Image]. The best thing to do in this case is look at your HTML reference to that image character-by-character. Load your code into a Text Editor such as TextPad, and turn on the “visible spaces” feature. This will allow you to see every space, carriage return () or other character representation which could be fouling the interpretation of your HTML in the Lotus Notes Environment. Even a single space or carriage return can trigger this conversion, which of course brings us to:

Other strange boxes, lines, distortions & “not supposed to be there’s” in Lotus Notes

Ok, this one is somewhat easy to fix, and when I tell you what is causing this you’ll slap your head with a huge “Ohhhh” and we’ll be done.

99% of the time you are using a GIF file that has a matte or background that is showing through as an extra border. Either you should:

1) Remove the matte or change the matte to match your background color.

2) Switch to JPEG

One of these things..looks not like the other

If you are a current user of Lotus Notes, whether R5.07 – R5.10 or even the new R6 release, you’ve no doubt heard much of the following:

“We opened an HTML Email which looked fine in Outlook, but expanded to fill the entire page in Lotus, distorting the intended design, what happened?”

We’ve documented numerous accounts where Lotus Notes has completely ignored some HTML coding during rendering, while displaying other HTML coding just fine. This is especially true when it comes to width parameters for TABLE tags, nested TABLE tags and finally, TABLE tags that are not constrained within another table.Example:

Foo on you!

Foo on you too!

One of the “Best Practices” we’ve established in consulting for clients is using one master table to constrain your entire email. Often, clients will be taking bits and pieces of code from various projects, emails, websites, catalogs, etc and placing them into their HTML Email Marketing. All of the various parameters can easily conflict with one another when rendered. By “wrapping” your HTML Email in one master table, you help reign in all of those various width=% and other “ambiguous” attributes and parameters which can wreck havoc on how your HTML Email is rendered by the viewer’s browser.

Wrapping your HTML Email message in a master table and then setting the TABLE Padding to equal at least “5” is also a good way to thwart certain Web-based systems that only render your code after what comes after the BODY tag. What often happens is that your HTML Email message gets smashed up next to the Web-based console (Compose, Inbox, etc). By comparison, our TemplateKit.com newsletter uses cell padding of “12 – 18”. While you do not have to be as zealous as we may be in this regard, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Lotus “Punts” our Stylesheet!

HAH! The most common complaint we get around the office. Disappearing style sheets when rendered in Lotus Notes.

You send an email to a Lotus client and suddenly the text appears incredibly HUGE, or really small. Your beautifully designed masterpiece, lovingly handcrafted 14pt, Helvetica with slight shades on the sidebar tables can completely come undone. Almost exactly like we’ve displayed to the left. The nice looking table below the picture was originally supposed to be a nice looking table on the left of the picture. Since the design was dependent on having text size and attributes exactly as designed, it shifted things around pretty quickly. Our design could survive that, so it wants that big of a deal. Could yours?If you are going to be relying on style sheets to format your HTML Email, then you must be aware that Lotus just doesn’t like them. Most common style sheet applications are ignored by Lotus Notes nearly each and every time you try to use one. The same is often true for many Web-based email systems (Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo, etc) who want to avoid any style sheet conflicts between their own and yours.If you are going to send HTML Email to a Lotus recipient, and your design is fairly dependant on that style sheet to keep the continuity of your design in place, then you can count on problems. Except, if you do the following:

A normal Entry in the section of your HTML document looks like this:


Even if you link to your style sheets, you are still using the above format which is called into your document when rendered by the email client.

The above style sheet will immediately be ignored by most Lotus Notes clients, ruining your email. However, if you were to comment out each line of the one by one, then your style sheet is suddenly recognized by the Lotus Environment, like so:



Viola! It’s that easy!

Well, granted, that can take a while if you are using 25 different styles in your simple little HTML Email

Your Website may use 25 – 40 different styles and define ALL of them in the of your web page. This may be the decree, edict and final word from Marketing that these are the official styles for. All corporate communications, but you do not need to define all 25+ styles in your email if you are only going to use maybe 3-4 of them. Seriously, we once received a 5 page document detailing all the various styles a particular company used in their corporate communication, the style sheet in the was as long as the content in the HTML Email.

If you are going to use style sheets in your HTML Email then please remember two things:

1) Test your HTML Email message without your style sheet to see if it could service suddenly not having the style sheet render for you. A prime example to watch for is whether suddenly having your 10pt text suddenly expanding to the users 12 pt Arial default. In many cases you have a lot more text start wrapping and pushing all of those carefully arranged elements around your Email Message.

Example 1 & 2: Proposal Kit Newsletter as seen in Lotus Notes with & without stylesheet

As you can see, the titles have all reverted to their default state, essentially ruining the headings and the sidebar of the newsletter.

2) Code some backup HTML attributes to help the above problem in case of style sheet failure. Relying on the User’s default settings can be disastrous. Examples of good backup coding would be;

Example 2: Viola! The stylesheet is still being blocked, but now there is formatting being applied to the newsletter and the day is saved!

Named Anchors do not usually work in Lotus Notes

No. they do not. Next question?

When you click on a named anchor in a “normal” browser, such as Internet Explorer or Netscape, it will jump you to a predefined point in the document. This is often used win Table of Contents, Menus and other navigation pieces.

When Lotus Notes encounters a named anchor, such as , it tries to open a new window and display what it perceives as a new document, in this case http://www./#2 document, which, of course does not exist.Final “Notes” While the above article is by no means a definitive guide to Lotus Notes, it should help you troubleshoot some common Lotus Notes Email Marketing issues. As people finally get around to upgrading their version of the Notes client, you will start to see many of these issues simply go away. However, as most of you are more likely to be the sender rather than the receiver, you pretty much have zero control over this. Learn to live with it. Learn to love it. Pray to the upgrade gods often.

Feel free to contact us if you have a specific Lotus Notes HTML Email issue. (See below).

Additional Resources

Lotus Notes Discussion Forums – Developer Domain

Frank Cseh’s Lotus Notes Page

SearchDomino.com – Their editors scour the Web daily and summarize articles and resources!

Comments or Feedback? Tips and Tricks? Need Help? Email tom@templatekit.com or visit Tom’s Website, TemplateKit.com

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