Designing and maintaining email newsletters and marketing campaigns
Updated May 12, 2009: Added Mailer Mailer, AWeber, StreamSend, Spam Meltdown, and Equinux’s Stationery Packs.
Updated January 30, 2009: Added iContact and VerticalResponse to the list.
Updated December 16, 2008: Added Emma to the list, the Premailer service, and a Flickr group.
Several web-based companies have sprung up in the past five or six years to provide small businesses, nonprofits, and individuals with better tools for managing large email lists and collecting statistics on how well one’s email marketing efforts are working (or not working, as the case may be).
I have a long history of managing large email lists, having done so for a number of nonprofits in the past 12 years. I used to manage a sizable list for the Graphic Artists Guild, and a couple of pretty large ones (several thousand email addresses) for Headwaters Forest preservationists and for Bay Area Action and Acterra.
Back then, you had to do all the list management with your email program (I used Eudora, which was pretty good for this sort of thing), or often a server-side program called a Listserv, and there was practically no way to measure success other than counting your “Message delivery failed” bounce messages.
Things have come a long way since then. Now we have online services that take a lot of the headaches out of managing your data, and which provide a lot of extra functionality and usually offer a lot of info on best practices for creating and sending email marketing.
Some advantages of these services:
- Far less administrative time required by your staff or volunteers.
- Email examples and templates are provided, or you can often upload your own.
- How-to articles which offer best practices and insights for content and design.
- Automated list management removes duplicate emails, invalid addresses, and more.
- Robust statistics track your success: open rates, clicks, and more.
If you’re in the market for this sort of service, here are some you may want to look into:
I can recommend Campaign Monitor because I’ve actually used it (here’s the email event invitation I made with it). The others I have looked at a little bit, but haven’t actually used. I’ve received some good emails from others using Emma and VerticalResponse, though.
Designing HTML email
When it comes to designing and coding for the various email programs, platforms, and browsers people use, it’s even harder to make your email work the same for everyone as it’s to make a web page look the same in every browser.
Among other problems you face, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, and all the other services and programs each display emails differently, plus they all have their own bugs and quirks. For example, you can’t attach CSS like you normally would to a web page, you can’t even put it all in the <head> tag; you have to do all your CSS inline.
More email design resources
Premailer is a free web-based service that runs your HTML email through a script to convert your CSS to inline, checks your HTML against email clients, and other helpful stuff.
Email Design is a small but growing Flickr group showcasing screenshots of good email designs.
Spam Meltdown is a showcase of design trends in HTML email design, categorized by color, industry, design technique, etc.
For Apple Mail users, Equinux offers several Stationery Packs of professionally designed templates (works with OS X Leopard only). I’m not sure how compliant they are with the various webmail apps, etc., but the designs are high quality and easy to use.