Rules to Email By: Designing Emailers for the Masses

Image provided by Patchareeya99 at

Email campaigns are easy for web designers, right? It’s just streamlining a webpage isn’t it?

Well, yes and no. For the most part graphical emailers are basic HTML sprinkled with sensible graphics. They can have similar visual impact as web pages and sport most of the same code. However there are a few rules that you need to know to create successful emailers.

1. Avoid anything that raises a red flag.

One of the big obstacles to avoid is the spam filter. By their very nature mass emailers attract the attention of spam filters. Many legit newsletters and updates are caught and sent to spam gulag because of innocent mistakes made by the designer. Here are a few points from our friends at MailChimp (which you can find at

  • Using spammy phrases, like “Click here!” or “Once in a lifetime opportunity!”
  • Going crazy with exclamation points!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Coloring fonts bright red or green
  • Coding sloppy HTML, usually from converting a Microsoft Word file to HTML
  • Creating an HTML email that’s nothing but one big image, with little or no text (since spam filters can’t read images, they assume you’re a spammer that’s trying to trick them)
  • Using the word “test” in the subject line (agencies run into this when sending drafts to clients for approval)
  • Sending a test to multiple recipients within the same company (that company’s email firewall can only assume it’s a spam attack)
  • Designing HTML email in Word and exporting the code to HTML (That code is sloppy, and spam filters hate it.)

Some of these are more issues for the sender than the designer, but it’s always a good idea to know what to caution the client about. Not to mention you don’t want your client to get reported for spamming. According to MailChimp, spammers can be fined up to $11,000 per case (that’s 11k times the number of email addresses you sent the email to), so be careful!

2. Avoid using HUGE and mislabeled graphics.

If your entire emailer is basically one large image, you might want to reconsider. Dividing it up into smaller graphics with text as part of the code rather than the image will give the addressee, and their filters, more of an idea of what you’re sending. Proper labeling of images, titling of the HTML and correctly written code will make it through more often than sloppy, poorly labeled code. Remember, it’s all about being polite and clean. The more you present email as a non-threat, the more often they will be accepted.

3. Link graphics rather than attaching them.

Unsolicited attachments will get you sent to email no-mans land fast. Even if they are scanned for viruses, in many cases they won’t be allowed through unless they are coming from a recognized email account. Not to mention most email software isn’t equipped to handle large or numerous graphics very well.

Hosting the images you use on the clients or your own site will help insure a streamlined email that has a better chance of being delivered.

4. Sloppy code will get you blocked.

This goes double for code written in Microsoft Word. No, I’m not just saying that because I’m a Mac guy. The truth is code copied from Word will often catch the eye of spam filters because of it’s improper structure. If you don’t have HTML editing software (many good ones are available online for free) then use a simple text editor like notepad or textedit. This might require a lot of old school HTML knowledge but it’s not difficult to power through it. Double check your work to make sure everything is done correctly.

5. Properly identify the sender.

It’s important to let the addressee know just who your client is. You don’t want some vague email to draw suspicions, not to mention if they don’t know who you are they certainly aren’t going to be interested in hearing what you have to say.

Adding something as simple as copyright information may be enough, but I always try to go beyond that, often adding not only links to the clients website but often times adding their physical address and phone number. This helps give off a “we mean you no harm” vibe as well as conveying required information.

The next few are primarily for the senders, but if you are simply the designer, make your client aware of these to help keep them out of trouble.

6. Purchased mailing lists are a no-no.

I can’t emphasize this one enough. If you’ve just purchased a large mailing list to start advertising your business then you’ve just started on the wrong foot. Unsolicited emails are the bane of all email users existence and are likely to be reported. At the least, the sender will get a slap on the hand… at most, well, you remember the fines I mentioned before. That leads us to rule #7…

7. Don’t send unsolicited emails.

Building your database of contacts might sometimes be a slow process but it beats blasting potential customers with unsolicited marketing emails. In fact, there is no quicker way to get busted for spamming.

It’s great to plug your newsletter or emailing list on your website and use that as your database. Often emails get forwarded on by thoughtful customers and you build your contact list that way as well.

At the very least, make certain that unsolicited emails are personal and have information specific to that person. Sending blanket emails to people you know nothing about turns you into an email enemy, but sometimes you can avoid this by simply stating their name and having just a little knowledge about them and their interests. This might help you squeak by.

8. Be aware of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 plainly states what you have to do to be in compliance. At the very least read through it before you hit the SEND button.

9. Use an emailing service for mass emailers.

If you’re trying to start a campaign using your gmail account, think again. Most personal email providers won’t allow you to send an email to hundreds of people and many prevent you from sending identifiable HTML. I tried this myself from my gmail account the other day. The code made it but that’s what it was, just code.

There are many very reliable and helpful emailing services to choose from. Two of my personal favorites are MailChimp and Constant Contact. Both of these have limited trial offers along with support, forums, faqs and really good information on making your email campaign a success. Regardless of what service you use, they will most likely be happy to help you start your campaign on the right foot. These services won’t allow themselves to get blacklisted, that would be the kiss of death for their business, so you have a better chance of getting through if you follow their guidelines and tips.

Though it is possible to send mass emails from some business email software, you’re pretty much on your own doing this and the software company probably won’t be of much help.

Hopefully these rules will keep you from becoming public email enemy number one and keep your clients business growing throughout their campaign.

For more information over creating successful emailers, check out Constant Contact’s Learning Center, MailChimp’s Resources or just Google mass email rules.


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