By Scott Decker

5 Newsletter Template Issues and How To Fix Them

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Ensuring that your newsletters are seen by every single one of the people on your marketing list is one of the biggest issues you face during a marketing campaign. There are multiple reasons why people may not click or open your emails, from subject lines, to them just skimming and not reading. However, you don’t want to have it happen because of technology issues you never knew about or could not see. In today’s post, we will discuss a few of the items that can happen that affect your emails deliverability and view-ability.

INLINE CSS

What is Inline CSS? The quick version is:

  • (C)ascading (S)tyle (S)heets (CSS) – This is what makes your text/images/media colored, bolded, padded, moved, etc.
  • Usually, CSS is added via “external” urls. In an email, it pulls those styles from your website or newsletter provider, not within the newsletter itself
  • Inline CSS is styling that is defined within the newsletter itself. Usually done on a tag like <p style="color:blue"> </p> or from <style> </style> tags in HTML.

Ok, why does any of that matter? Well, you want your newsletter to look good on the desktop, or on a phone. How do you do that? With CSS. The way many newsletter systems have been doing this is by “inlining” that CSS when an email is created and sent, making your emails look good when read. However, because of companies like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, not all of them supported certain CSS rules, and only offered certain CSS inlined styles. When you thought your email may look great in your phone, it make break for everyone else, because they use a different email provider. Pretty sucky. The worst offender? Gmail. For the longest time, they have not supported multiple CSS rules, image rendering/fetching, and no external CSS.

All of that has now changed. This past year, Gmail has finally supported style tags in their emails, as well as @media support. Why is this important? It now means that the largest email provider allows a full CSS set, much like Yahoo and Microsoft does. You no longer need to inline CSS, all you need now are <style> tags in your email template and do not use external CSS files.

  • You no longer need to use tables to make your columns and emails to be stacked and formatted
  • Your email will no longer get bounced because you missed a style, or your inlined styles made the email too large
  • Emails can be created that are viewable on a website, as well as on the phone

This is great news for anyone sending out newsletters. You no longer need to inline your CSS. However, you still want to ensure your email is responsive, so that it looks great on a phone, as well as a desktop. At least now, you no longer need to worry about if it will actually work in an email!

LINK TRACKING

What is Link Tracking? In your email, you take a link like this: "https://www.publishthis.com" and you add campaign tracking to it to look like "https://www.publishthis.com?track=emailcampaign". This works if you have something like Google Analytics on your site and use GA tracking codes to do that campaign tracking. These work great if the links are back to your own site. What if they are links to an external site, not one that you run? Then, you need to use tools like URL Shorteners to make your link trackable. Tools like Bitly, or TinyUrl will work for you. What do these do? Basically, the link gets tracked like this:

Your Url -> Shortened Url = New Tracking Url
https://www.publishthis.com -> BitLy = http://bit.ly/2kHDTSH

http://bit.ly/2kHDTSH is used in your email
when clicked you get: click counts, referrer information, trending in social, etc.

Great, right? Well, kind of. You are now indeed tracking your links and getting stats, but the data would be in two different places. Not great. That means someone has to combine all of the data together, and that is hard to do. If you are a small business, this is a gap that will not be fun to try and fill.

So, what to do?
If you run a site on WordPress, we highly recommend PrettyLinks, which is a plugin for WordPress. You can take any url, not just your websites, and make a short url from it. You can also link it to your Google Analytics, so every link clicked can be tracked with campaigns. This is how we did it for quite some time, before we moved to running our own short url system (used in our entire platform).

If you aren’t link tracking now, hopefully this helps you get it put in. Contact us and we would be happy to help you put something together or answer questions to help you out.

CONTENT LENGTH

Did you know that most email systems will cut your email off at a certain length and not tell you? Yep, they do. Again, sucky, and you would never know. For example, GMail has a size limit of 102Kb. And Yahoo thinks 102Kb is too big too. So, how will you know?

  1. Go into your email system, send yourself a test email and make sure it has a “View this in your browser” link in it.
  2. When you get your email, click on that link.
  3. When the email is open in your browser, you need to get the “source” of the page. Here is how you view source on multiple different browsers.
  4. Once you have it, select all of the text in the source, and go to this tool: Character Count Online which, as you can guess from the name, will count all of the text for you. Spaces matter!
  5. If the count comes back in under 102,000 then you are all good. If it is greater than that, well, you have some work to do to trim things up.

See above on simplifying your Inline CSS. If you move away from inline, and just do <style> tags, then you can eliminate a lot of extra styles in your HTML. Whatever way you choose, get that text trimmed down!

IMAGES

Everyone loves images! From people and product and infographic images and even in social media. However, a big thing to remember is that when sending emails, all images are off by default. That’s right, all of those amazing images you create for the email, do not show unless the person has approved your emails to be shown by default, or clicks a link that says: “Yes, download these images”. Here are items you need to remember to do:

  • Do not make your email an entire image and little to no text. When a user sees this email, it will all be blank,
    and more likely for them to mark you as spam
  • When setting images, make sure to set the “alt” attribute and the “title” attribute because those will show up when there are no images shown
  • Check image sizes, both from a width/height aspect and from a size on your computer. The smaller the better, as it will be able to ensure they load quickly on mobile if the user is reading it there.

CONTENT LENGTH REVISITED

We have had clients in the past set all of their latest content into their daily or weekly emails. This could sometimes be 20+ items in a newsletter. The problem with this is that people do not scroll that much in the email and they don’t pay much attention past the first 5-10 items in the newsletter.

The better way to handle this would be to limit between 5-8 items, and include many of your most popular items. It would also be great to do some A/B testing of your content that is not so popular, and mix it in there. See if those items can gain some traction.

Conclusion
We hope this helps you refine some of the items you look at when building newsletters. Don’t fret though, because newsletters are hard! Yes, it may be easy to put a newsletter out, but there is a bunch of unknown and unseen items that you need to think about that no one tells you about. We are here to help, and feel free to reach out and ask us any questions.

By Scott Decker
Scott Decker is the President and Founder of PublishThis. Before PublishThis, he led technology at Edmunds.com, Blue Nile, and development solutions for the government. When he’s not running PublishThis, the industry’s most advanced content platform, he’s exploring new technologies, preparing for next Halloween, or watching something with superheroes, dinosaurs, or at least a lot of explosions.