How To Create A Custom E-blast Part 2

In this article I will cover some of the basic specs of building a custom e-blast for direct mail marketing and personal use. If you missed the first post, you can read How To Create A Custom E-blast here in my blog.

Custom E-Blast

Assuming you are already familiar with web design and know that web graphics are built at a resolution of 72 ppi and in RGB color mode, we’ll begin with the preferred size of an e-blast. Best practice of building an e-blast is at a size of 600 px wide and as long as your content needs it to be. If you stay around that size, or even a little bit smaller, you’ll find that your e-blast is compatible with many e-mail clients both desktop versions and web client based (ie. Yahoo!, MSN/Hotmail, Excite, Gmail, etc.) and you’ll even find that it works nicely with newer devices, such as Apple’s iPhone.

You’re probably asking yourself why you would want to design one so “small” when websites are built larger than that, and your monitor is capable of viewing larger resolutions. Well, the answer is simply so that you ensure that your intended recipient is able to see your e-blast as intended on what ever viewing platform they use. Let’s say for a moment that you know that your entire list contains only people with Yahoo! email addresses. Just because they may have a Yahoo! email address doesn’t mean that they necessarily check their email by logging into Yahoo! mail to read it. It could be automatically forwarded to another email address, it could be downloaded to their mail app such as Microsoft Outlook, or Microsoft Entourage, or Apple’s Mail, Apple’s iPhone, Blackberry, or any other device and email reader program that exists. So, being compatible with your audience’s preferred email reading ways is important for usability reasons and to help remove any barriers that may exists to get them to read your message.

Once you’ve gotten the size out of the way, your next question will probably be, what format should this be in and how should I code it. For e-blasts, you will find that you can and should be using JPG images, GIF images (animated or static) or both, along with good old HTML. Most mail readers are able to handle embedded and inline CSS for the styling of text, but not for positioning. You’re best off to use tables, which may contain DIVs, and CSS. The types of things that you can define in CSS that will work well in e-blasts include: both background and font color, widths, heights of tables, table cells and DIVs, borders, font attributes to include sizes, weights, font families (ie. Arial, Verdana, Georgia), text alignment, and padding.

Best practices for mixing images and browser text stems from knowing the limitations and possible outcomes of using them with different email readers. It is best to use both graphics and browser text for many reasons. Some email readers do not display images until you’ve granted them permission to download the graphics. If your e-blast was all graphics, the viewer might never see any text associated with the mail, not click on the download images button, or worse yet they, or their email reader might think that your e-blast is spam. Spammers for a long time, and continually use emails with all images so that they can still displaying words that usually trigger spam software to mark them as spam or delete them because spam software can’t determine if there is “text” represented in the image and it makes it harder for the spam software to catch it as spam. These days, spam software usually automatically marks messages with all images as spam because of this practice. Additionally, some e-blast sending programs allow you to input a text only version for people who either block images, or people with screen readers so that they can still receive the message.

Another best practice for mixing images and browser text is that if you have a background image/texture behind browser text in your e-blast, consider defining a background color too through CSS so that when your e-blast gets to a program such as Microsoft Outlook with versions that do not display background images, your recipient will still be able to read your message. As an example, if you didn’t plan ahead for this and let’s say that you put white text on a dark background image, and when the user reads it in their email reader which doesn’t display background images, they might not see it if the “page” background is white too. White text on a white background has no contrast and therefore can’t be easily read or seen.

Having a healthy mix of images and text is good not only to help avoid spam blockers, but also because it helps make your e-blast lighter in terms of size which will help with loading times. As with any website or e-blast, if it causes your user problems or takes too long to load, your user may become irritated and delete the email or navigate away from your site. So keep in mind that web optimization is a good solution.

The next best thing to do when creating a custom e-blast is to test, test, test it until it’s working correctly and displaying the way you want to on as many email readers as you can and that you have access to. If you don’t already have multiple email addresses, you should at least set one up under different email reader such as Yahoo!, Hotmail, GMail, set up desktop email reading programs such as Apple Mail, Microsoft Entourage, Microsoft Outlook, etc. to also retrieve these accounts and when you send out your test, be sure to include all of your test accounts in those. Only send out your final e-blast to your mailing list only after all testing has been completed and finished. Nothing will look worse than you sending out your e-blast numerous time to your recipient without a valid reason (ie. a significantly incorrect piece of information, such as an event day, time address, etc., price or otherwise important information). A good testing solution for you may be the one offered by Campaign Monitor which allows you to test many mail reading applications all at once.

When you’re ready to send it you have a few options. You can either have a custom e-blast generating program built for you by a company which can be as simple or complex as you wish, or you can use an online service such as Constant Contact or Campaign Monitor that I highly recommend or any other number of providers out there. Each of the online e-blast service providers out there charge for sending e-blasts on their own pricing structure. Find out which one is right for you and offers the features that you want.

To sum up creating a custom e-blast…

Build your e-blast at 600 px wide or less, use JPG images, GIF images (animated or static) or both, and use both images and properly formatted text. Use HTML which may include DIVs. Lastly don’t forget to do cross email reader platform testing to only yourself first before sending out your e-blast to your mailing list.

If you need further consultation, guidance, or even someone to build your own custom e-blast or e-blast sending web based software for your company, consider DesignCarter Interactive Agency to help you with those needs.

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