In some point in your life you will be asked to manage or design an email newsletter for a client. When you start to do a little research it soon becomes apparent that the use of CSS markup is very limited. In fact many email clients such as Outlook (which commands a very large segment of the B2B segment) limit what you can do with HTML.
I have found it very useful to really “dumb down” your markup and actually code like it’s 1998. The best way to do this is to get your self a copy of Netscape Navigator 7.0 (you can get this from old app here) http://www.oldapps.com/netscape.php
Then using Netscape you can style your newsletter design using tables and very basic font tags. I know this may seem backwards to you but keeping things really low tech ensures your email will be rendered properly on all email clients.
2. Get Really Dumb
Don’t want to bother with markup and coding your self. Why not just buy a template online and re-use it. Most companies that sell and market email newsletter tools also have their own templates. While this is the path of least resistance it can make your design suffer, and to be honest these templates always look like a template. But if you have no time this is an option.
3. Keep it simple
I always love the K.I.S.S. method when it comes to email newsletters. If you do a little research you will see that unless the end recipient is highly motivated most users will forget why they subscribed to the newsletter and mark it for the spam bin. I have found that newsletters that are more authentic in their voice and look more like a personal email have a better response rate. This makes sense since people are now over advertised online.
4. Should you track links and reads?
I have always wrestled with this topic. The newsletter tool I use (12-All) has the feature to track email reads, and link tracking. The problem with this is most email clients block this type of thing to protect their privacy. If you send an email with all of this turned off (with no graphics) users will not see a warning telling them their privacy is at risk. I like to keep my clients happy and secure, so I don’t track this inside the email campaign. But there are ways to track your links by using URL shortening services like http://su.pr/. You just sign up for an account and convert all your email links to a trackable URL. This way the email client doesn’t complain about privacy issues.
5. Design should be simple
Even if your client rejects the idea of a “simple” text newsletter and wants a graphical one it’s important to keep the design simple. Try to keep the blocks of content limited to chucks of 10 or fewer. Keep title headings short, and copy to a few paragraphs at best. The newsletter should be a teaser to encourage readers to visit your site or product page. Don’t give away the whole cow in the newsletter.