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Exact Data Blog


  •  April 25, 2013
  •  Larry Organ

HTML Emails De-Coded

There are two main parts to every successful Email Marketing campaign. Marketing and Creative teams are in charge of drafting interesting compositions that will inspire readers to act. Design & development teams are in charge of taking these messages and turning them into HTML Emails that leave readers no reason to avert their eyes.

Unfortunately, the second part of this equation is a task that many Email Marketers are never quite able to perfect. Simply put, the layout, the look and the final production can make or break the sender’s entry into a high-conversion promised land – even if the composition of the message is immaculate.

The first step for the design team is to make sure that the look of an HTML email is appealing. One of the most common mistakes Email Marketers make is to send out a message that renders too widely. Because all email browsers read HTML code differently, the widely-recommended width for HTML emails is 600 pixels.

Another common layout snare that email marketers face is the sizing issue. When trying to adjust things like font size, it is important to denote a pixel size instead of “X%” into an inline CSS command. Again, this is because different email providers, like Gmail, Yahoo and MSN each read HTML and CSS commands a little differently from one another. Mobile email browsers also tend to have a mind of their own when display email content. It is also important to remember the “F” pattern when placing content strategically in the body of the email.

Obviously, any changes to the size or location of even a single line within the text can throw the entire layout out of whack. Straightening out all of these details is a great start, but still not enough. A smooth, cohesive layout does not inherently mean that an email has achieved the perfect look.

Creating an HTML email that will catch the reader’s eye is paramount to the success of any email marketing campaign. Developers know that in addition to a smaller screen and limited display capabilities, emails cannot host any Flash, scripts or webforms. That doesn’t mean that emails can’t be attractive.

Coding HTML Emails Dog

For starters, links can be used to direct readers to eye-grabbing webforms in a standard internet browser. A strong call-to-action with an inline tweak to the CTA’s CSS can still get the reader’s attention. Also, treating the entire body of an email as if it were in a master table with a 100% width enables inline CSS commands that can spruce up the entire message. If the entire body is set up as a master table that enables designers to create smaller td cells that may be subjected to their own style commands, enabling a custom look that is sure to capture attention.

Once the email’s visual appeal is as strong as the message itself, all that’s left is to ensure that there are no surprises in the coding so that senders know exactly what receivers will be opening.

One of the best ways to make sure the code in an HTML email is laid out as it should be is to avoid using WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) design programs. While these are good tools for quick web design, because email browsers don’t render the same way, some strands of code simply may not work.

Another big step for sending great HTML emails is making sure to prompt the reader to enable any images the email may use. If the content contains a graphic, the alternate text should read something to the effect of “Please Turn On Image Display,” because the majority of the time, the email browser will not simply show these images by default.

The final steps, as with anything using HTML, is to test, re-test and then test again to be sure. So remember, there’s more to an email marketing campaign than a clean list and a strong message. In fact, there are even many other facets to coding a successful marketing email than what is outlined here, but these basic reminders are a strong first step towards increasing conversion rates.

About the Author

Larry Organ is the Chief Executive Officer at Exact Data ConsumerBase, a leading organization in the marketing industry providing multi-channel direct marketing services with a specialty in postal, email and telephone list solutions.


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