Email Design: 3 Easy Steps to Perfect Email Display

AT characterIf you are thinking of, or you already are, using email marketing to grow your business, then you’re a smart entrepreneur. Capturing email addresses of your clients and especially prospects, will enable you to follow up with them on a regular basis.

Next thing to do is use the right tools to publish/broadcast your email messages/newsletters. If you’re still using your own email program, please, stop now and do the right thing that will benefit your own business and your subscribers: get a subscription to one of the many available Email Publishing Systems, such as Aweber, GetResponse, Constant Contact, or the Swiss army knife of online toolkits, 1Shopping Cart.

OK, now you’ve covered the basics, you have a list of subscribers, and you’re using the right tools to reach them. So everything is fine, right? Yes, it should be, but most likely it’s not 100%. I am afraid to tell you, but, even with the right tools, your emails may not be reaching their targets as intended.

Let me explain. If you’re sending out your ezine in HTML format, are you sure it displays as intended on your subscribers’ screens? You see, the trouble with HTML email is that most email programs are not really designed to display HTML, as this is the purpose of web browsers. Although most email programs do have some HTML display capabilities, unfortunately none of them support the full HTML feature set.

For example, most email programs can’t read style sheets, if they are referenced as external files. Don’t even try using CSS for layout formatting (tables are safer). Features such as background images, for example, are not widely supported either; same thing with Flash animation, even GIF image animation won’t work in some email programs! JavaScript? Forget it! The list goes on and on.

So, what can you, as an ezine publisher, do? First of all, don’t assume if your email looks fine on your end that all is well. Instead, follow these three simple steps to ensure your subscribers see your messages as you want them to be seen.

1. Design Properly

If you’re just starting your ezine, make sure you design it with these limitations in mind, so that it displays properly in as many email environments as you possibly can. Hiring a professional designer who has not only done web page design, but HTML email design as well, will certainly help in the process.

2. Create Test Email Accounts

Sign up with as many free email accounts as you can find. At least do the main ones: Google Mail, Yahoo, MSN, Hotmail and AOL/AIM Mail. Next, register a few domains with different registrars (I use NetFirms, GoDaddy and 1and1) and set up sample emails just for this purpose. Most domain registrars will offer at least one email account which you can access through their web mail applications. What, you don’t have more than one domain name registered? Please, go back to my bonus audio class and listen to the part about domain registration.

Then, create a number of accounts on your own domain that you will read using different PC and Mac programs, such as Outlook (Express), Eudora, Apple Mail, etc. For this purpose, you can name your email accounts, and so on. In case you don’t have a Mac (or a PC), try asking a friend or your web designer who has one to read the emails for you.

3. Test, Test and Re-test

Once you have a list of a dozen or so test accounts, and your design is ready, test it extensively. Log in to your Email Publishing System. Create a list that will contain the email addresses of the various email accounts that you have previously created.

Now, send your message to this test group of email accounts as if you’re sending a regular broadcast. Log into your various online accounts and see how your HTML email renders in each and write down the differences, or print out the email. Do the same using the email programs you have on both PC and Mac computers.

Using the results of your tests, tweak your HTML template until you are satisfied with how it performs. You may find out that you need to drop some elements of the design of your ezine to get it to perform well in most situations. However, that’s a small sacrifice in exchange for making sure your messages display well for the largest number of your subscribers.

Don’t be alarmed if some versions of your email don’t look perfect, as you intended. No matter how much tweaking you apply, there will always be differences in how your email displays. However, the point of this exercise is to get a nice HTML template that works fairly well on all platforms, so that you can be reasonably sure your messages get across as intended.