Introduction into HTML Email

Pop-quiz hotshot!

You’ve got to send an HTML email to a list of clients and have it display correctly across a spectrum of email clients which include Outlook, web-based, frame-based. It has to be Netscape compatible, Eudora-friendly, Lotus Notes accessible…

What do you do?*

[Editor’s note: If you could say “What do you do?” a second time in your head in your best “Dennis Hopper Voice”™, it would really help us out.]

So, you want to send HTML email to your clients, prospects or newsletter subscribers. Marketing has descended from upon high and declared it, the small business client wants it, and an executive in management has read about it.

Well, why not? The clickthrough rates are noticeably higher on HTML email. Analytics show that customers are less likely to unsubscribe from HTML email than their text counterparts. In my last TemplateKit email newsletter, I had 11 unsubscribes, 10 of which were text recipients. Customers simply respond with more click-through, more sales, more inquiries for information, but only if your message is in a form that the recipient can easily view and display correctly.

The fact of the matter is that email HTML browsers are just not equal to their web browser equivalents. This is further made complex by the wide variety of settings, preferences, security updates, versions, and third-party applications which make the user experience hard to predict.

Recently I’ve seen:

  • Clients try to send <Forms> via email which terminated in a web-based email reader.
  • Styles sheets which conflict with web-based email systems (sense a pattern here?)
  • Redirects which get processed twice and break.
  • A Flash or Shockwave piece that begins streaming in an Outlook preview window and then start a second time when the email is opened.
  • JavaScripts blown apart when a viewer’s security settings or a web-based email client forbid it.

And these are just a few of of my favorite occurances.

We can start with Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express and how each will render HTML.

Outlook makes a decision whether to use the full version of IE (depending on the version you may have) or use a “lite” version of it depending on your current configuration.

Two links that can help you understand these differences are:

Outlook E-mail Security Update Information
How Outlook Renders HTML

When entering your content you need to be aware of a couple of potential problems.

There are a number of ways for your to send your mail.

  1. As an attachment
  2. As an embedded document
  3. As Raw HTML (consult you individual email program)
  4. Through a third-party application like MailChimp or Constant Contact.

When you enter your HTML into your application, you also need to be aware whenever you do the following:

  • Cutting and pasting from a WebPages.
  • Cutting and pasting from a MS Office product.
  • Using a previously mailed document as the basis for your code.

Cutting and Pasting from a Web page.

There are a number of ways you can get HTML code from an existing document without using an HTML editor.

You can “view source” and copy the code to the clipboard; you can create a copy with the “save as” command; or you can try to select the code from the body of the document and pasting it into another program.

What you need to be conscious of is how the links inside that document are set up. If your document contains a number of relative links, (i.e. /images/yourimage.gif) then you might not be able to find your images when it comes time to preview and test.

You may want to include a <BASE> tag in your HTML email so your recipient’s browser knows how to interpret document relative links.

The BASE element allows global reference information to be set. Use of the HREF attribute provides a base address for interpreting all relative URL references in a document when the document is read out of context. The TARGET attribute specifies a global frame destination name to be used for page activation changes (in links, forms and image maps.)


This may help your mailings, however we would recommend an absolute URL for each of your links.

Cutting and Pasting from a Microsoft Office Product.

If you cut and paste from Microsoft Word, there is always a chance that some formatting will not carry over into HTML very well. This is most often seen in the case of Auto formatting, when MS Word converts common keystrokes into symbols. -, “”, © and a host of others. These are called Windows Characters, and are not interpreted by your browser.

Word represents these ASCI characters as numeric values which a browser cannot understand.

This is why it is best to always work in text mode, or save your document as a dos text document and lose all formatting before transferring it to your HTML email.

An excellent Text Editor for you to use is TextPad, which will allow you to specify which code set you should use and save your document as. Be aware that merely pasting your code into TextPad or saving your document in MS Word as a text document is not good enough.

Using a Previously Mailed Document as the Basis for your code.

You may experience problems whenever you try to use code that has already been mailed as the basis for your new mailing. This is most often seen with code that has been rendered through a web-based browser that you wish to use again. Many web-based email clients and image hosting companies, such as Netscape NetMail or Akamai, will have their own redirection and accounting which will break your links if you try to send them a link which has already been processed by their system once before.

So, simply put, do not try to redirect a redirect. This is true for your own redirects as well.

Since these systems assign these redirects to any HTML link that it can discover, it is often better to avoid using “named anchors” as well. A named anchor, or “jump anchor” is a link that takes you to another spot in the same document.

If a redirect gets placed on a named anchor, it will most likely either break or spawn a new browser window with unpredictable results. From a marketing standpoint, if your email is so long that you feel you need to use named anchors, maybe you should consider editing.

That’s it for some of the basics, here is a list of some of the best Email Marketing Tools out there. These take care of a lot of the common problems we outline in our articles. We’ve tested and used each one of these in a wide variety of ways so we can stand behind our reviews on each of these tools!

Contact us today!

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