How to Format Your HTML Email for Maximum Results

HTML email messages are gaining popularity, especially in newsletters. As more recipients are able to properly support this email type, there are fewer compatibility issues. Here are some techniques that can help to improve the way your HTML messages appear.

File Size

To ensure your email gets the most exposure and doesn’t seize up your audience’s email client, you’ll want to limit the total file size of the page to 50K. This means you should limit the message length and the number of graphics you use. By keeping it “lighter,” it loads faster and more people will read it.

Hosting Images

People often think that when they send an HTML image that has embedded images, that they are actually sending the images with the email. This is incorrect. In fact, you are sending directions in the HTML code, which instructs the recipient where they can find the images.

Most email companies will require that the images for your HTML email message be hosted on your server. And you’ll want to make sure that each image is given an “absolute reference.” This means you’ll need to use the image’s whole address because the browser has to locate your site on the web to retrieve the image.

The Wrong Way to Link Images…


The Right Way to Link Images…

The difference between these two images is the first will work only when you view it on your company’s website. The “absolute reference” will work when anyone with HTML capabilities who is connected to the web opens it.

Text Backup

Even today, there are quite a few people who can’t view HTML emails properly. This can be especially true because there are so many different web-based platforms like AOL, Yahoo, MSN, etc. This is more of a problem with business-to-consumer email than business-to-business email.

Most larger publishers offer what’s called “sniffer technology.” Sniffer technology basically “sniffs out” each email recipient to determine if they have HTML capabilities or not. When the email is being loaded on the computer the sniffer determines if the party does not have HTML capabilities. It then it sends the standard text version instead.

Picking Font Types

Authoring your email in HTML does make it tempting to use any one of a zillion different fonts, but results show that the best fonts for marketing messages and readability are basic. Stick to text fonts that are 10 or 12 point, in either Verdana, Arial or Times New Roman for your message.


Professional business messages look best when text is displayed on a clean white background. Anything else runs the risk of distracting from the messages content and can make it difficult to read. The wrong backgrounds can really cheapen the image of the email piece.

Words vs. Graphics

The most effective messages use graphics sparingly. Don’t overdo it with graphics. Believe it or not, well-written copy beats out slick graphics in most cases. The exception to this rule is email that needs to show products or catalogue items. Otherwise, in most business-to-business scenarios, use graphics to accentuate your message, but not as the focal point of your message.

Animated Graphics

Anything too flashy or animated will likely put off more people than it attracts. In email messages that are going to a rented list, be aggressive and witty with your copy, not your animations. If an email is too busy, it can distract people from the messages purpose. There are some cases where animation illustrates the message, but this should not be attempted without a strong creative crew and ample testing. If you are mailing to your own list of customers or opt-in prospects, you will have more leeway in creative department.

Italicizing Text

Italicizing copy doesn’t look very good when it displays on the Web and can make it harder to read. If you want your text to stand out in an email, consider using bold or red.

Underlining Text

Using underlined text indicates to some that the text is a hyperlink and they might get confused when they click on it and nothing happens. I’m not going to say that you should never use the underline format, just be careful when you do.

Using Attachments

Attachments aren’t good for text or HTML email campaigns. Most people will not open an attachment from someone they don’t know. I won’t even open an attachment from someone I do know without calling them first to make sure it’s not a virus. A number of corporate firewalls block attachments from unknown sources.

Also, some people use a dial-up modem to get their email and don’t want to wait to download an attachment from someone they don’t know. If you want to give them something downloadable, offer it as a download from the Internet, not an attachment.

There is an exception to this rule. If you have an autoresponder set to deliver a document automatically when it is requested, sending attachments is acceptable and can be done effectively.

Graphics: Maximum Width of 600 Pixels

In an HTML message, watch your image dimensions. The recipient shouldn’t have to scroll to the right to see your entire message. In order to avoid this, make the graphic narrow enough to accommodate most systems. I recommend using a maximum width limit of 600 pixels for all messages. A good friend of mine who is a highly experienced graphic designer is even more conservative. She will not create any HTML email piece wider than 575 pixels.

The Bottom Line

The formatting tips discussed in this chapter help to improve your message readability, compatibility and aesthetics. The guidelines set forth in this chapter are considered standards by many, but your list rental house may have their own formatting requirements. Be sure to check with your representative.

Properly formatting your messages prior to sending them to your list broker or the company that will do the mailing can also help you avoid delays and will improve your results.