HTML e-mail

HTML e-mail has transformed Inernet communication from one of standard text correspondence to an environment where users may choose to send and receive messages in the same format as online Web pages.

There are many ways to create HTML e-mail. The first is to purchase an e-mail generator program that includes adjustable templates, or you can simply pay someone else to create one for you. Alternatively, you can build your own.

In this column, we investigate one of the many do-it-yourself techniques, and begin by creating a standard HTML page that will be transferred into an e-mail client (Outlook Express 6). Then we will save and test the message.

Code your HTML page

Create a file in Notepad as you would a standard HTML Web page. To reduce the download time when later sent, reference your graphics using their full URL.

<img src= "http://www.myurlhere.com.au/imagename.gif">

The good news is, recipients won't have to download images with your e-mail. The bad news is, they won't be able to view the graphics if they are not connected to the Internet.

You must make a point of limiting potential discrepancies between the way various e-mail clients may interpret your message. Refer to the heading "Basic HTML e-mail guidelines" below for further information. You should also check your code using the HTML Standard 4.01 validator, which you can access at http://validator.w3.org/file-upload.html.

Transfer your code

Once you are sure your code is correct, open your e-mail client. In Outlook Express 6, click the Create Mail button on your navigation menu. On the resulting window, select Format and ensure Rich Text(HTML) is ticked. Check that Source Edit is marked from the View drop-down menu. Your window should now have three tabs on the bottom labelled Edit, Source, and Preview (See FIGURE 1).

Click the Source tab, which is where the HTML will be inserted. You may remove the existing code, which simply provides you with an HTML framework if you choose to code directly into the client rather than in Notepad first. Now, simply copy all your code from Notepad and paste into this frame. Click the Preview tab to view how the e-mail will appear to recipients with Outlook Express.

Save your message

To save or send your message, you must first click the Edit tab, then select Save As from the File menu. Ensure that 'Save as Type: Mail (*.eml)' is visible, and name your file. You can now open and reopen this saved e-mail file whenever you require.

Test your message

While in the Edit tab, insert your own e-mail address to perform a test mailout. It is a good idea to send the e-mail to various clients. For example, I send test e-mails to a Lotus Notes account as well as Outlook Express, to ensure I pick up potential bugs. To double-check you won't accidentally send images with your e-mail, go to the Format menu and ensure that Send Pictures with Message is not selected. Once you are pleased with the result, click the Send button.

Basic HTML e-mail guidelines

  • Ensure your message isn't too text heavy - people don't want to read too much text.
  • Inline links (links from one position in the message to another) don't work with all clients.
  • Frames are not satisfactorily supported.
  • Avoid general comments (< !-- text here -->) within your code as they unnecessarily add to the size of the download.
  • Special characters such as no-break spaces (&nbsp;) are not supported. To mimic a space, use a transparent graphic with a width and height of the desired measurements.
  • If using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), only insert the code necessary. Don't link to a large stylesheet if only three styles are required.
  • Avoid using JavaScript. Many e-mail viruses contain JavaScript, so many recipients will not open the e-mail if JavaScript is detected.

Pros and cons of HTML e-mail

Pros

  • Differentiate your e-mail using HTML formatting.
  • Insert logos, product photos, charts and more.
  • Use headings, tables and images to space out or draw focus to certain parts of your message.
  • Insert user-friendly hyperlinks to make it easier for the recipient to navigate.

Cons

  • Spam marketers commonly use this e-mail format.
  • HTML e-mail is larger in download size than a text e-mail.
  • E-mail creators fail to adapt content for viewing in a variety of e-mail clients.
  • Not all e-mail clients support HTML e-mail.

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