HTML Email Best Practices
July 16, 2008 10:38 AM   Subscribe

I've been coerced by a client/employer to start using HTML email messages for communications with our customers. Please help me do this in the most net-responsible way possible (or tell me to burn in the special hell reserved for people who put markup on the SMTP wire)

I'm looking for advice on "How to be Good" as opposed to "how to sneak around the canned meat filters"

These five things come to mind ...

1. SPF records for all our domains/servers we'll be sending from

2. Multipart email, providing both a text and HTML version

3. Host the images on our servers so we're not wasting their bandwidth

4. Unsubscribe link in the body of the message allowing people to opt out

5. Email indicating who sent the message with a physical address

Are these steps still considered standard best practices? Are there other steps I can/should take? Custom email headers that should be set outside of of "From", "To", "Reply-To"? Is there unsub info that should be put in the headers?

Any help or a nudge in the direction of a good resource on this would be appreciated.

Finally, Yes. I know. I use mutt and Mailsmith for my personal email. I'm not a fan of HTML email. That battle was lost a long time ago.
posted by alana to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
If you are communicating with actual customers that have an ongoing relationship with your company, then there is nothing unethical about it. As long as you aren't bombing them 3X a week with marketing messages, and you make it easy to opt-out, you are fine.
posted by COD at 11:04 AM on July 16, 2008

HTML at all and poorly-formed multipart occasionally get caught up in especially paranoid filters (read: government organizations).

Hosted images will display as empty boxes in most clients until you've trusted the sender. For this mail admin bandwidth is not an especially conserved resource for us right now and external images require an active connection to retrieve, as well as incurring a "viewed" log entry. I'm on the fence about this one, there's no perfect answer IMO.

Process bounces. Ignoring them will get you blacklisted by plenty of places.

You may want to investigate DKIM, eBay, PayPal and Gmail are onboard with it so it's likely to become actually useful in the future. Also be aware that SPF causes havoc with forwarded email accounts. If there's any chance that someone is blindly forwarding to gmail your messages will fail SPF checks and bounce silently. Yes it's a PEBCAK problem on your clients' end but it's still your fault just like always.
posted by Skorgu at 11:24 AM on July 16, 2008

If this is mail going to multiple customers at once, you should add at least the RFC 2369 headers List-Help and List-Unsubscribe.
posted by nicwolff at 11:30 AM on July 16, 2008

I highly recommend Campaign Monitor, both as a service and as a reference. They've got info on the legal/ethical stuff as well as the extra-special hell that is writing HTML/CSS for email. (I've also heard good things about MailChimp and Emma.)

I've used their service for a while now and am a really big fan; they do all that multi-part proper sending stuff, and the first time you send to a list with more than a handful of people, they check with you to make sure you got it legally/ethically. It's way cheaper than becoming an expert, IME.

If you'd rather DIY, I'd look at their references anyway, all free and way useful.

I don't get anything out of making a recommendation, I really am just a very happy client. I send a monthly newsletter to about 10,000 customers of my employer, and I can't imagine doing it w/out Campaign Monitor.
posted by epersonae at 11:41 AM on July 16, 2008

Ditto Campaign Monitor. Also not affiliated with them, other than as a really happy client.
posted by twiki at 11:57 AM on July 16, 2008

Has nobody chimed in with PHPMailer class yet?!
posted by shownomercy at 12:15 PM on July 16, 2008

Mailchip. Easy, cheap, reliable.
posted by ReiToei at 3:33 PM on July 16, 2008

It was alluded to above, but remember that many clients such as GMail will not show your images initially, but will use the HTML version, so your mail should make a little sense without them. I see a lot of HTML email that uses a huge banner image straight from the marketing people that is blocked for a good portion of the audience.
posted by smackfu at 5:46 PM on July 16, 2008

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