Without it being too much of a misleading article, it really isn’t possible to ensure a 100% delivery and receipt rate – but utilizing specific design and development techniques will help.
Simple & valid code
It seems to be all the rage to write sloppy and malformed HTML these days, like having lousy development habits is the new black. In doing this however, you increase your risk of getting flagged as SPAM before the recipient has the time to even address it. Not good; the whole point of sending an email is so that the person on the reading end will read it.
- Embed the CSS in the code directly. Using the style attribute, and all its properties within the tags you wish to style is the best way to get a deliverable, and well designed email out the door. Many clients and email servers will flag any emails that link to external documents like CSS files. I would also recommend not using shorthand just to be safe. Don’t get too complicated either; again the goal is to keep it simple.
- Avoid nested table hell. Nested tables in general are bad; evil, and downright demonic – but in an email they could be a disaster. Tables are not inherently evil, and serve an excellent purpose when used correctly, but having a layout where an element is 6 tables deep is just bad development. Don’t do it. Use CSS on the inner elements as much as possible.
- Use images to display graphics; not text. I see this a lot actually. I know designers are a pain; I am one, and I am a pain. But, get over the fact that the typeface you want for the ever-so-important header won’t display and just use Tahoma or Verdana. Sans serif read online better anyway. Having a truck-load of images spattered all over your email not only results in longer load times, but can also flag it as SPAM. This will also prevent your client from loading up an empty table with an opt-out link at the bottom if none of the images load right off the bat.
- Don’t use the id or class attributes. If you’re not linking to an external style sheet (and you shouldn’t), there’s no need for these in an email any way – so ditch them. In fact, don’t use any tag attributes you do not absolutely need. The less HTML and clutter in your email the better.
- Use specific, registered domains as the link URLs. This seems like it would common sense right? Hold on there; not so fast. This is another one I see quite a bit where a links destination is some IP address is some server farm somewhere. This is just bad practice. As more and more people are out there trying to con you into giving them your info by spoofing emails, it is always a good idea to help your customer base recognize and trust the emails they receive by providing a URL they recognize.
- Avoid the body tag. Many, if not all, web base email clients already have a body tag in the page they use to display your email, so adding one in your email will most likely wind up in it getting stripped – so if you style it, and have a black background styled there, guess what? All that pretty white text you placed in the main body of the email winds up being invisible at best, and the whole email falls apart at worst.
Write clear, specific copy
One of the best ways to get flagged as SPAM is to write very little copy within the body of your email, and write it poorly on top of that.
- Be clear, and direct about the subject matter. Don’t beat around the bush in your message; be up front that your email is an advertisement or newsletter. Avoid common catch phrases, and don’t splash free all over the email. You have received enough junk mail to be able to recognize what sorts of phrases and text are likely to get your email flagged and trashed, so be diligent about your copy.
- Have a lot to say – but not too much. Have some compelling copy ready and at hand to help get your message across. Just send an email out with a single line or paragraph may not be enough. Try walking a mile in their shoes, and think about what you would like to receive and shape it accordingly. This is where not using images as text comes in.
It isn’t a one-man show
There are so many online tools and services available today that there is no reason you should send an email without being more than a little certain that it will be received.
- SpamCheck is a free online checking tool that identifies potential problems which could get your email listed as SPAM, and allows you to easily fix them. It works pretty well, but the items it calls out could generally be caught by employing some common sense, and doesn’t really touch on keywords and phrases. It gives you a score and then explains what items in your email gave you the final score, plus a link to a pretty simple page of what to do and not to do.
- Another good tool is SwiftPage Spam Check. You send a test of your email to their address, and they will return an email to you with the rating of your email test. They get into the text and claim to read the email just as a SPAM filter and return results and recommendations based on those constraints.
There are plenty of other tools out there that will do this and more, but almost all of them are not free – so choose wisely.
Am I certifiable?
Email certification is quickly becoming mandatory as it’s getting increasingly difficult to get emails from point A point B with the veracity of the Spammers that are clogging the pipes these days. Compounded by the big guys like AOL, Yahoo, RoadRunner, using pay per email systems to have you guaranteed as an email sender. That’s why it is even more important to be vigilant with the various tools and techniques when sending email marketing and promotions to a bulk list.
Google has good information and links off-site to other resources that can help you and your email server get into shape. Other sites are a bit harder to crack, especially since more and more domains are leaning towards the pay to verify options – so they are less willing to share this sort of info with you. Yahoo is another to provide useful information in how to help to ensure your email hits its target; the other have information available, but it’s usually off of their sites, not linked to and written by developers.
With a little search engine muscle, hard work and a little extra time you can get your email system shaped up and running like Stallone in Rocky. The best toll to use though is really good ol’ common sense – if it seems like it might bind you up; then rework it until it seems right. Then check it, and send it.