Sending HTML emails with Simplelists

HTML emails are formatted like a web page and can include colours, graphics, tables and links. Most emails that you receive from a shop/business that you subscribe to are likely to use this kind of email. Plain text emails are more like what you might expect to receive from a friend or in a typical work email. Before sending an HTML email to your list, it is worth considering the pros and cons of HTML and plain text emails.

HTML email

HTML or plain text?

HTML emails are colourful and eye-catching. You can include your company logo and make your email look professional. HTML emails can include images and make it possible to break the email into sections that are easy to read or scan. They can also include social media buttons. HTML emails are more likely to be blocked by some spam blockers, especially if they contain a lot of HTML.

Plain text emails are small and light, which means they use less memory and open more quickly. Plain text messages look less commercial and more similar to personal emails. It has also been found that a plain text email is more likely to be opened and clicked through, which is important if you are sending emails as part of a marketing campaign.

Creating an HTML email

First, you need to create your email as a single web page. There are a few special points to note when creating HTML for email:

  • Use tables to create the layout. Avoid using margins and padding and give the table’s elements fixed widths. This prevents the email looking different in different email clients.
  • All CSS styles should be inline styles. Any CSS in the head or on external style sheets will be ignored.
  • Any images should have an absolute URL – they’ll need to be on the server so they can be sourced.

Once complete, view your web page in a browser. First, check that the page looks perfect. Right click and select all and then copy. Note that you should not copy the HTML code. Copy the content of the web page.

Send the email

Open your email client and compose a new message to your list. Simply paste the email and hit send. Your HTML email will be sent to your whole list. Simple.

You can watch these instructions in a short video here.

Add list members from a spreadsheet

When you start to build an email list you may only have a few members. If this is the case, inputting people’s details manually via the Simplelists members area is straightforward. When your list starts to grow, you may find it helpful to add a large number of subscribers at one time, from a spreadsheet. It is also useful to have a spreadsheet copy of all your list members for your own records. In this short post, we explain how to add members to your list from a spreadsheet.

Add list members from spreadsheet

Prepare the spreadsheet

First, open your spreadsheet. Your spreadsheet only needs three columns:

  • First name
  • Last name
  • Email address

If a name is missing, don’t worry as it can be left blank. You can also add notes in another column.

Remove any headers and titles from the spreadsheet (you may need to delete a row to do this). Your list is now ready to go.

Save as a .csv file

Save the file as a .csv file type using the ‘Save As’ dialog box in your spreadsheet program. You may be asked if you are that you wish to save as a .csv file. Just select ‘OK’ or ‘Yes’ when asked. Remember where you save your file.

Upload to Simplelists

Finally, you want to upload the file to Simplelists. Log in to Simplelists and select the ‘List members’ page. Click on the ‘Upload file’ tab and search for the file that you saved earlier. Make sure that ‘comma separated’ is chosen in the drop-down menu on the ‘Upload file’ page in Simplelists. Then, click ‘Next’.

On the next screen (‘Select fields’), select the correct field name for each column of the file (First name, Last name, Email address, etc.). Then, click ‘Next’.

The next screen will show you some ‘Upload options’ which you can choose to select or not:

  1. By default an entry’s name will be updated when the email address matches an entry already in your address book. If you would also like to update the email address if the full name matches then please check this box.
  2. Send confirmation requests to all addresses uploaded (except those already in the address book and already confirmed).
  3. Delete current address book entries that are not in uploaded file.

When you have selected any options you wish to activate, click ‘Finish’. The new members will now be added to your list. You can check that they have been added by viewing your address book from the ‘Members home’ page.

You can also watch a short video of these instructions in an earlier post on our blog.

Setting email posting permissions

Simplelists is designed to be flexible so that it will suit your needs exactly. You might want to send email newsletters to a list of customers with you alone being able to post to the list. Or, maybe you have a team of people who will all need to be able to send emails to your customers. Or, perhaps you would like to use your list for a private group discussion and you would like anyone on the list to be able to contribute. Whatever your needs, you can customise your list by setting posting permissions. In this short post, we explain how you do this.

Posting restrictions

Login and navigate ‘list settings’ in the left hand menu. Under the ‘Posting restrictions’ tab you will see the heading ‘posting permissions’ with three radio buttons next to it:

  • Allow anyone to send messages
  • Hold all messages for approval
  • Choose specific people who can send messages

If you select ‘Allow anyone to send messages’, this permits both members and non-members to send messages to your list without approval being necessary. As an alternative, you can choose to ‘Hold all messages for approval’.

Or, select ‘Choose specific people who can send messages’ to grant specific people permission to send messages to the list. With this third option, you can select all list members or provide the individual email addresses of those permitted to send messages to the list. Just enter their addresses in the box that appears when you select this option. This setting is useful for private group discussions as you can choose to have only specific people post to the list. This setting is also useful for email marketing and newsletters.

Email replies

When thinking about permissions, you may wish to consider where email replies are sent. Select the ‘Email customisation’ tab and, under the heading ‘List replies’, choose whether the reply is sent to the person who sent the original message (select ‘Replies go to poster of message’) or to the whole list (select ‘Replies go to list email addresses’). In this section you also have the option to strip attachments from the messages that are sent, truncate long messages to a set character limit, and add a message footer to be attached to all emails sent.

You can watch these instructions in a short video in a previous post on our blog.

Say no to ‘no-reply’ email addresses

It is becoming more widely accepted that ‘no-reply’ email addresses can be harmful to an email campaign. The ‘no-reply’ email address effectively stops, or tries to put people off from, replying to your emails. While this may help to ensure that your inbox doesn’t become cluttered, it gives a negative message to readers – in effect, you don’t want to hear back from them. This probably isn’t good for business. If you still use ‘no-reply’ email addresses in your business/email marketing communications, this post contains some reasons why you might want to stop.

 No reply email

Email deliverability will be affected

Many email services and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) detect the response of an email’s recipient to gauge whether the email is legitimate or not. Whether a recipient opens, clicks, replies, unsubscribes, forwards or deletes the message determines whether the message is considered as ‘good’ or as ‘spam’. Gmail, for example, ranks the importance of an email based on the recipient’s action – if the recipient replies, Gmail is more likely to class the email as ‘important’. If your recipient can’t reply, your emails are likely to end up in the Spam/Junk folders (read more about keeping your emails out of spam in an earlier post).

Some people also don’t look for the (sometimes very small) unsubscribe link, instead hitting ‘reply’ to request they be unsubscribed from the mailing list. If they then learn that replying is not possible (either because the reply email starts with ‘no-reply’ or similar, or their email is returned undelivered), they are then likely to click ‘report spam’. You can read more about spam management and delivery rates in one of our other posts.

Missed chance to be added to contact lists

One way to ensure that your email reaches the recipient’s inbox is if your email address has been added to their contact list (this means it has been ‘whitelisted’). Most ISPs do not allow users to add ‘no-reply’ emails to their address books. If they are unable to reply to your emails, they are also unlikely to add you manually. Email providers like Gmail and Yahoo automatically add an email address to a contact list if the user sends a message to it so it makes sense that recipients should be able to respond.

Reduced conversion rate

In the age of social media and online identities/persona, receiving communications from a ‘machine/robot’ means that the sender of an email has no personal touch. People probably still like to feel that there is a real person sending the email to them! With a ‘no-reply’ email, it is much less likely that the recipient will take action on what is in the email. Using an address like ‘customer-services’ or a real name is likely to be much more effective when encouraging customers to respond to a call to action. Similarly, make sure the name that appears in the recipient’s inbox shows your brand clearly (e.g. ‘Simplelists Account Verification’ rather than just ‘Account Verification’).

Makes it harder to keep your email list up to date

Some people also hit ‘reply’ to update their details with you. A real email address will allow you to find valuable information in the replies that will ensure that your contact list is kept up-to-date. Excluding incorrect email addresses from your mailing list will also help your deliverability rates and prevent your messages from being sent to spam.

How to build an email list

If you are using Simplelists for marketing, you will understand the importance of having a healthy email list to ensure that you can contact a range of clients and drive success in your business. If you are just starting a business, building a list of contacts or ‘members’ can be a challenge, especially at a time when your customers are receiving other marketing messages in their inbox and becoming more sensitive to spam. Despite these challenges, there are some simple and effective ways to develop a relevant list of members who will want to receive your emails.

Build an email list

Make it easy for people to sign up to your list

There are several ways that you can encourage people to sign up (‘opt-in’) to receiving your emails. You could put a form on your website – make sure it looks ‘clean’ and matches the rest of the site, place it near the top of the page, and add a short piece of text to explain ‘what’s in it for them’ if they sign up. You can read one of earlier posts that explains how to create a subscribe form for your site, using Simplelists. Try not to ask for too much information at this stage – an email address is really all you need, although asking for a first name will also allow you to personalise your emails when you contact them.

Other places you could consider placing a subscribe form are: after blog posts, in your site’s footer, on your ‘About’ page, or in a popup box (although browsers tend to discourage pop-ups these days as people can find them irritating). You can also use social media to encourage people to sign up and/or visit your website. If you are a keen blogger, writing guest blogs accompanied with a sign-up form can also work well.

Sign up at the point of sale or when completing other forms

If your website/product requires people to set up an account or fill in a form on your website, you could also incorporate email list sign-up into this process. Make sure that the reason/incentive for registering is clear though, and relevant to your target audience. You could make it as simple as including a check box that reads ‘Subscribe to our mailing list?’ that they can check when registering.

Word of mouth/events

It can be effective to offer those people who have been on your list for a while a small incentive or discount that may encourage them to tell others about your site/product. Make sure you ask for the friend’s email address and first name (again, to allow personalisation).

Let them know what to expect

It is good practice to make sure that your customers know exactly what to expect when they subscribe to your list. You should let them know what to expect with regards email frequency and content, and reassure them that they can unsubscribe at any time. It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the law surrounding email marketing so that you don’t break any of the rules.

Why is an email footer important?

When you send emails for marketing purposes, there are several things you should do to ensure that your email has the most impact possible, and that you comply with the law on email and spam. Although at the end of your email, a well thought-out and well-designed footer can ensure that you do both of these things, as well as provide valuable information to your readers. It can also help to ensure that your email doesn’t get marked as spam. In this post, we look at five ‘best practices’ for email footers.

Email footers

1. Prioritise the legal stuff

It is a legal requirement that there is a clear and visible ‘unsubscribe’ link in your footer so that recipients can remove themselves quickly and easily from your mailing list, should they wish to do so (or update their subscription preferences). You should also include your contact information in the footer: full name and address of your company, and tax identification numbers or other relevant legal information that you might like to show.

2. Invite people to visit your social media links

If you are building a following on social media and use sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to promote your business/work, or share relevant content, the footer is a great place to pop the links to these sites. This makes it very easy for people to go directly to your page(s). You could include text links or, if you have the time and skills, include small social media icons that people can click on.

3. Remind people why they are receiving your email

It is important that your footer tells people why they are receiving the email. This reminds people that they ‘opted-in’ to receiving your emails. However, avoid an impersonal reminder like: “You are receiving this newsletter because you registered with your email address”. Instead, let them know when and where they subscribed, in case they want to double check.

4. Make it look good, and provide links to more information

You might like to include links to your own privacy policy (if you have one). This is particularly recommended as having a privacy policy helps your email to be ‘whitelisted’ (avoid the spam folder). You could also include any information about copyright and/or ownership of the content you are sending. Including links to other news items on your website and/or previous newsletters is also an option, but take care not to overcrowd things. You could include a logo in your footer and, if you are designing an eye-catching email, use a similar overall design in the footer.

5. Don’t weaken the sign-off

It is advisable not to include statements like: “This newsletter was generated automatically – do not reply as your message will not be read”. This can end the communication on a ‘bad’ note, setting a precedent that your email is ‘one-way’ and that your readers cannot (and perhaps should not) reply or interact with you about the content they have just read. This is a wasted opportunity to engage with your clients/list members so try to ensure that people can comment/reply if they wish.


Keeping email marketing out of spam

A recent study carried out by ReturnPath estimated that only 79% of emails sent by legitimate email marketers (i.e. emails sent to people who signed up to your list) reach the inbox. Spam filters are becoming more and more sensitive, to ensure that non-legitimate, spam emails don’t get delivered. It is important to follow a simple set of rules to ensure that your list members receive the emails they have signed up for.

Email spam

Build a good email list

The most important thing you can do to ensure that your emails get delivered to the inbox is to ensure that the people that you are emailing want to hear from you. It is not advised to buy or rent email lists that you can’t trust the source of, and it’s important that your list members have opted-in to receive your list. The most common way to opt-in is to subscribe to a particular mailing list, either via a website or a social media link. If people visit your website (regardless of whether they purchase something), they tend to be interested in the information you are providing. You can include an email sign-up box on all pages, allowing users to join your list. A ‘soft opt-in’ is is when a customer has bought something from you and, on this basis, you assume that they might like to receive information about other products/services. They might also have opted in ‘softly’ if they have been given the option to refuse to receive communications from you and they chose not to select this option.

Ask your recipients to add you to their contact list

Getting emails delivered to the inbox is pretty much guaranteed if your list members have added you to their address book/contact list. You can ask them to add you to their contacts in the first welcome email that you send them when they sign up to receive your messages. It’s also a good idea to remind them in the body of other emails that you send.

Take care with your subject line

The subject line of your email will also affect the likelihood of your email making it to the inbox.  We have considered how to write a good subject line in a previous post – the key message here is that your subject line should not be significantly longer than 35 to 50 characters because the longer it is, the more likely it is that it will go to the spam folder.

Make it easy for them to unsubscribe

This might sound like a strange one but making the unsubscribe link prominent can actually help overall deliverability to your list. It is much better if your recipients choose to unsubscribe, rather than marking your email as spam. Email service providers such as Gmail, Hotmail and others keep track of spam complaints and may penalise you for it, affecting how many of your other emails get delivered. By making it easy for your list members to unsubscribe, you minimise the risk of the email service provider blocking all the emails you send.

Finally, it is important to understand that there are laws governing the sending of emails to a list – you can read more about email spam and the law in one of our earlier posts.