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Get HTML E-Mail Opened

  |  September 27, 2004   |  Comments

If HTML e-mail is a necessity, follow these steps to get your message opened.

I got a lot of feedback about last week’s column in which I reviewed Guy Kawasaki’s new book, "The Art of the Start." Much of it expressed concern about Kawasaki saying he discards all HTML email as spam. To be honest, I admitted I do so as well.

Some readers were not only concerned, but alarmed, asking, "How will we send our enhanced, graphics-rich email?!" Some of you asserted, "Our customers want HTML mail; they like getting all the bells and whistles."

I don’t doubt that.

Consider this: Bigfoot Interactive recently rolled out an "Add to Address Book" campaign, in which it provides customers with creative and a choice of seven different industry-relevant templates. The aim is to get subscribers to add senders to their address books, helping ensure email is delivered, not binned by the spam filter.

One reason to educate users about the need to add trusted senders to their address books is the fact AOL and MSN don’t display HTML in email from unknown senders by default. Gmail doesn’t display HTML even from known senders by default. If you aren’t added to the address book, chances are users don’t see your HTML pretties anyway. Really, how many customers have specifically added you to their address books?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most email programs give users the option to display HTML or not. Some of these don’t display HTML by default.

An informal poll I conducted reveals very few people accept, and display by default, HTML mail. Perhaps it’s just the people I hang out with, but you may want to think about this next time your HTML open rates are abysmally low.

What should the savvy, concerned email marketer or other commercial emailer do with respect to HTML mail? I propose the following:

  • Determine whether HTML is a must-have. Do subscribers really prefer HTML in their email, or is that what your creative department says because it’s harder to look good if you must actually be creative?

  • If you must send HTML email, offer subscribers a choice between HTML and text email, if at all possible. Yahoo Groups does this. If it’s good enough for Yahoo’s subscribers, certainly your own deserve this choice, too. They’ll appreciate it and elevate you to the level of "good sender."

  • Educate subscribers to add you to their address books or otherwise whitelist you. Include this message on the subscription page, in the confirmation email, and in all your other email. Make it part of your template, near the unsubscribe link (there’s a nice symmetry there: "Want to unsubscribe? Click here!" "Want to make sure that you keep receiving our valuable publication? Be sure to add us to your address book!").

  • Be absolutely sure, if you send HTML email, all CAN-SPAM compliance items, such as the opt-out link and mailing address, will render properly and in a readable format, regardless of whether the recipient reads the email with HTML rendering turned on.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anne Mitchell

Anne P. Mitchell is a professor of law at Lincoln Law School of San Jose, and president and CEO of the Institute for Spam and Internet Public Policy. In addition to her duties at the Institute, and teaching" Spam and the Law" at Lincoln, Anne is a driving force behind such cross-industry e-mail deliverability initiatives as the Email Deliverability Summits, the Email Processing Industry Alliance, and the ISIPP Sender Accreditation Database. Prior to running the Institute, she was an original founder of Habeas, Inc., and before that, the director of legal and public affairs for Mail Abuse Prevention System (MAPS), creator of the RBL(Realtime Blackhole List).

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