- Mailing lists and newsletters are one of the most useful methods to remain in contact with your clients, but sometimes they can be relegated to the Gray Mail limbo (not necessarily the spam folder, but not in the “read” section either), in order to avoid this you need interesting content and a pretty format.
Problems with email
Even thought mail has been around for ages, the technology has not evolved accordingly, even though we have really powerful mailing clients there some ancient systems working as well. There are many problems that come with creating your own mailing or newsletter templates:
- There are some clients that can't read CSS
- Clients like Gmail will turn off images by default
- Many email clients will manage attachments in different ways
- Big attachments won't be well received by some mail clients or slow connections
- There are people that check their mail from a portable device where the format won't fit properly.
Before you begin
Gmail is not the best tool to create a newsletter, but is good enough. There are many services around. Consider if this is enough for you, or if it would be better to use a different program.
- Before you begin creating your template, you'll need to have a basic idea of how it's going to look like. You can make a quick design on Photoshop, or use a wireframe tool.
- All the images you are going to use in the template have to be uploaded to online storage, so it can be accessed from the mail without using the attachment option.
- You can use your own server or use a free one like Google Sites.
- Programs like Outlook and Thunderbird can be used for this, but for now I'll be using just Gmail and Write Area, an amazing Firefox addon.
Create your Template
In order to create a new template for your mail you need to create a new mail.
- With a right-click you can access “Edit in Write Area” option in the menu. This will open a new window with a text area containing more options than the ones that come with Gmail.
- Here you'll be editing HTML, you can use the graphic interface, or directly code it by hand using “Source”
- For the structure, you should use a Table. I know it’s not the best way, but to be sure all mail clients will understand, this is going to be the easier way to create a fixed area where your mail will be.
- You should use a maximum width no more than 550-600 pixels, because clients like hotmail or Gmail use the right side of the screen for advertisements and others.
- With the table, you can create the basic structure, header, sidebar, body, etc.
- By selecting the columns or files you can right-click on the mouse to merge or add new ones so it will take on the structure you want.
- You can add images, in order to do this you'll need to use the address of the image on your server.
- You can add text and format the size, fonts and colors.
- In order to change the background of a single column or file you will have to go to the source. After the <td> you should add the bcolor option <td bgcolor=#FFFFFF>
- You can add Links to external sites.
- Once your template is ready, you can use it by changing the relevant information, and adding the addresses of the people you want to send to.
Things to remember
Because not all mail clients will show the mail in the same way you have to remember a couple of things:
- Many mail clients have images turned off by default, because of that you don't have to rely solely on images, and every image has to have a really clear title and alt text.
- You can add a reminder to turn on the images.
- The most important information you want to transmit has to be in text form (not image), the images can get lost while arriving, so the text will have to be enough to explain what you want.
- You could maintain some format similar to your own site, and even use the images that are already being used on your site.
- Remember a clear Subject informing the reader what kind of mail it is. e.g. (Newsletter for October 2011).
Things to consider
There are many tools for professional mailing campaigns. Gmail is a last resource or for personal campaigns. You can use services like MailChimp for full fledged campaigns to larger lists.
- You may provide the same content in different formats according to your clients. You could use a blog, a Facebook post, even a Twitter feed.
- Most people don't read their newsletter mail because there isn't anything interesting there. If you want people to read yours, you should give them something special.
- Check for inspiration: Beautiful Newsletters, 60+ Creative & Inspirational Newsletter Designs, Newsletter Design Examples