Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 4

Now that you’ve decided whether HTML or plain text would be more appropriate for your newsletter, it’s time to do a mailing. The next three steps have to be performed together. Doing the actual mailings requires:

  • Designing the newsletter,
  • Sending the newsletter,
  • Processing failed-mail messages, subscribe requests, and unsubscribe requests.

For more information about publishing your own newsletter, check out these other articles from Alexis Gutzman’s ongoing weekly series:

Publishing Your Own Newsletter
Alexis Gutzman gives an in-depth walk-through on how to start your own newsletter. Part one of a multi-part series.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 2
The second part of a multi-part series on how to publish your own newsletter, Alexis Gutzman discusses how to clean up and perfect your email list.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 3
Alexis Gutzman discusses the pros and cons of sending HTML vs. plain-text versions of a newsletter, and how to know which one is right for you.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 4
The fourth part of a multi-part series on how to publish your own newsletter, Alexis Gutzman discusses the ins and outs of designing your newsletter.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 5
Alexis Gutzman reviews four newsletter-mailing solutions and discusses the finer points of creating and sending a professional newsletter.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 6
Alexis Gutzman outlines the features to look for when selecting a newsletter service.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 7
The seventh part of a multi-part series on how to publish your own newsletter, Alexis Gutzman discusses five must-haves for a successful newsletter and how to find content.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 8
Alexis Gutzman discusses how to manage undeliverable email messages, and the importance of keeping your lists clean.

Going It Alone
In this part, I’m going to assume you want to take on this task yourself. It’s rather time-consuming to go it alone, but if you have the time you can save money. However, by the end of next week’s column, you may decide that you would rather sign up with a service to handle these things. In two weeks, I’ll describe four services that exist and how they work if you want to use those services.

There is still another option, and that’s to outsource creation and mailing to someone else – someone who really understands the ins and outs of email marketing, is a great writer, and is creative about content and promotion. If you don’t have the resources in-house to create content for a professional newsletter, then you might be better off letting someone else handle it. I’ll cover the pros and cons of outsourcing it in upcoming articles, as well.

Designing Your Newsletter
If you’re going to use plain text, then design isn’t much of an issue. However, if you’ve decided to use HTML, then the sky is the limit. The easiest thing to do is to use your site layout as your newsletter template. If your banner isn’t too graphics-intensive, this can work. If you rely on flash or large graphics, then the load time of your newsletter may be a problem.

Another option is to use seasonal designs in your newsletter. One of the services I’ll describe in two weeks gives you seasonal layouts from which to choose, but unless you have a lot of time to kill, you probably don’t want to play with the design once you have something with which you’re happy.

You probably have certain navigational elements in your banner, which may not be entirely appropriate for your newsletter. I suggest you copy your banner, then add or modify the links in your banner to include whichever of the following are appropriate:

  • Sponsorship information
  • Link (or email) to subscribe
  • Link (or email) to unsubscribe
  • Link to forward to a friend

The figure below shows my banner for my own newsletter. Notice that I have a link to subscribe to both the HTML version and the text version of the newsletter. If you offer both, you should let people know. They might want to read your newsletter from their AOL accounts.

Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 4

Letting people unsubscribe is very important. You are legally required to give people a way to unsubscribe from your newsletter right in the newsletter. In my case, I send out newsletters using software that permits me to embed the email address in links, so when a reader clicks on the unsubscribe link, his address is automatically sent to the form on my site that removes addresses. There’s no possibility that he will send a message from the wrong account, trying to unsubscribe an address that isn’t even on the list, and then when he continues to receive the newsletter, get upset with me. So far, this system has worked flawlessly.

Forward to a Friend
The forward to a friend link can be handled two different ways. If you want to get fancy, you can have the link open a Web page, which allows the visitor to enter his own email address and his friend’s email address. Alternatively, you can have the link open the email software on his own computer so he can send the link himself. The disadvantage of the latter solution is that if he is reading your newsletter from a public or shared computer, it might not be configured to send mail from his account. Also, you can’t keep track of how many times the message was forwarded – although there are other tools that handle this that we’ll discuss later.

The advantage of using a link that opens email is that he will have access to his own address book, and be familiar with how to send the message. This is the code I use to permit readers to forward my newsletter to a friend (you will need to change a few things):

Forward to a friend

The first thing you probably notice is the bit of HTML code ” .” This represents a space to your computer. You can’t include spaces in links, so you can’t tell the software to use a subject line of “I Think You Should Read The E-Business Thought Leader Newsletter.” In order to avoid having your subject line be one long word, use ” ” everywhere you want a space. If you’re familiar with HTML, you probably noticed that there is no “To” address in the link. The way a mailto link usually works is like this:

Send me mail

The reason the Forward-to-a-Friend link has no email address is because it is not known. The reader will have to provide that, and he’ll see, when his email client opens up, that the “To” field is blank.

Including a Subject and a Body
Back to our big, hairy link up above. By including the “?Subject=” in the link, you provide the subject line for the message. Pick one that the recipient will want to receive. By including the “&Body=” in the link, you tell the email client what to put in the body of the message. If you click the Forward-to-a-Friend link up above, you’ll see that it puts the URL of my newsletter into the body of the message. I don’t recommend sending the entire newsletter, although you could do it. Of course, in order for this link to work, the newsletter needs to be somewhere on your Web site, so you can provide the URL.

None of this will work in plain text email. You’ll just have to rely on people hitting the forward button to forward your newsletter.

Tune in Next Week
I know I promised to discuss software this week, but I didn’t want to skip these important design issues. So, tune in next week to read about your software options for sending your own messages. In two weeks, I’ll cover your service options.

Alexis D. Gutzman is an author, speaker, and consultant on e-business and e-commerce topics. She’s the producer of The Online Marketing Report. Her most recent book, The E-commerce Arsenal: 12 Technologies You Need to Prevail in the Digital Arena, was named one of the 30 best business books of this year. For up-to-date information about her research and speaking engagements, visit The Alexis Gutzman Group’s Web site.

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