Newsletter Wizardry

Stephen Yagielowicz
Online marketers with a penchant for email newsletters face a wide variety of challenges in delivering their message with a balance of fast-loading but eye-catching visual appeal, along with the coding sophistication required to achieve consistent results across as broad a client base as possible.

Circa 2010, this may seem to be a problem with long established solutions, but the large number of poorly formatted or otherwise visually problematic newsletters still landing in many reader's inboxes attest otherwise — and this situation is only worsening as ever more users turn to a broadening array of mobile devices for their email access.

The foundation of a broadly-presentable HTML mailer is clean code and inline CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets — a means of customizing the appearance and layout of text, images and other elements on a web page.

Today, many email newsletter publishers initially generate their mailers as web pages — often maintaining an online archive of past issues. Due to coding efficiencies, these pages typically employ external style sheets to contain what could often be considerable amounts of data — especially when detailed styles are applied repetitively or to multiple elements on the page — a typical usage.

When these pages are used "as is" as newsletter templates, however, the results can be disastrous and work negatively against your brand's image.

"If you've ever sent an email campaign, you know that if your CSS is not coded inline, it is likely to get stripped out by email clients, which can make your email design pretty funky looking," states the MailChimp.com website, which offers an Automatic CSS Inliner Tool.

According to the company, writing CSS inline can be time consuming and repetitive, so it automated the process as part of its email marketing and list management services — and they're sharing the wealth.

"MailChimp has a CSS inline conversion tool built right in that will automatically transform all of your local styles into inline styles," the website states. "Designers have found it so useful we thought we'd share it with everyone else — even if you don't have a MailChimp account."

In use, the tool is a simple web form that you copy and paste your code into, and then click "Convert It!" to receive a more email friendly version ready for sending. An option is available to strip out the original CSS style tags.

For those looking for comprehensive email newsletter management solutions, MailChimp offers WordPress, Twitter and Salesforce integrations among others and is the list manager for major companies such as Mozilla, Intel, Canon, Fujitsu and others.

The system uses location-based technology to send geo-targeted, locally-timed, auto-translated email campaigns, with full tracking and analytics support and more.

A free account option is available for lists of up to 500 subscribers and 3,000 emails per month, with premium solutions available — but adult email marketers beware, as MailChimp imposes substantial restrictions on sexually oriented materials. While they may not want you dirtying up folks' inboxes, they'll at least help you clean your code.

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