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Publishing your Newsletter

5.- Message design

Now that you've decided whether HTML or plain text would be more appropriate for your newsletter, it's time to do a mailing. The next three steps have to be performed together. Doing the actual mailings requires:

Designing the newsletter,
Sending the newsletter,
Processing failed-mail messages, subscribe requests, and unsubscribe requests.

Going It Alone
In this part, we are going to assume you want to take on this task yourself. It's rather time-consuming to go it alone, but if you have the time you can save money. However, you may decide that you would rather sign up with a service to handle these things.

There is still another option, and that's to outsource creation and mailing to someone else - someone who really understands the ins and outs of e-mail marketing, is a great writer, and is creative about content and promotion. If you don't have the resources in-house to create content for a professional newsletter, then you might be better off letting someone else handle it.

Designing Your Newsletter
If you're going to use plain text, then design isn't much of an issue. However, if you've decided to use HTML, then the sky is the limit. The easiest thing to do is to use your site layout as your newsletter template. If your banner isn't too graphics-intensive, this can work. If you rely on flash or large graphics, then the load time of your newsletter may be a problem. Another option is to use seasonal designs in your newsletter.

You probably have certain navigational elements in your banner, which may not be entirely appropriate for your newsletter. I suggest you copy your banner, then add or modify the links in your banner to include whichever of the following are appropriate:

Sponsorship information
Link (or email) to subscribe
Link (or email) to unsubscribe
Link to forward to a friend

Letting people unsubscribe is very important. You are legally required to give people a way to unsubscribe from your newsletter right in the newsletter. You can embed the e-mail address in links, so when a reader clicks on the unsubscribe link, his address is automatically sent to the form on a site that removes addresses. There's no possibility that he will send a message from the wrong account, trying to unsubscribe an address that isn't even on the list, and then when he continues to receive the newsletter, get upset with me. So far, this system has worked flawlessly.

Forward to a Friend
The forward to a friend link can be handled two different ways. If you want to get fancy, you can have the link open a Web page, which allows the visitor to enter his own e-mail address and his friend's e-mail address. Alternatively, you can have the link open the e-mail software on his own computer so he can send the link himself. The disadvantage of the latter solution is that if he is reading your newsletter from a public or shared computer, it might not be configured to send mail from his account. Also, you can't keep track of how many times the message was forwarded.

The advantage of using a link that opens e-mail is that he will have access to his own address book, and be familiar with how to send the message. This is the code I use to permit readers to forward my newsletter to a friend (you will need to change a few things):

<A href="mailto:?Subject=
http://www.domain.com/news/newsletter.html">Forward to a friend</A>

The first thing you probably notice is the bit of HTML code "%20." This represents a space to your computer. You can't include spaces in links, so you can't tell the software to use a subject line of "I think you should read this Newsletter." In order to avoid having your subject line be one long word, use "%20" everywhere you want a space. If you're familiar with HTML, you probably noticed that there is no "To" address in the link. The way a mailto link usually works is like this:

<A href="mailto:john@doe.com">Send me mail</a>

The reason the Forward-to-a-Friend link has no e-mail address is because it is not known. The reader will have to provide that, and he'll see, when his e-mail client opens up, that the "To" field is blank.

Including a Subject and a Body
Back to our big, hairy link up above. By including the "?Subject=" in the link, you provide the subject line for the message. Pick one that the recipient will want to receive. By including the "=" in the link, you tell the e-mail client what to put in the body of the message. If you click the Forward-to-a-Friend link up above, you'll see that it puts the URL of the newsletter into the body of the message. We don't recommend sending the entire newsletter, although you could do it. Of course, in order for this link to work, the newsletter needs to be somewhere on your Web site, so you can provide the URL.

None of this will work in plain text e-mail. You'll just have to rely on people hitting the forward button to forward your newsletter.

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