eNewsletter Basics: What You Need to Know to Choose the Best Option for You

Having an eNewsletter (aka electronic newsletter) is an excellent way to stay in touch with clients and build relationships with prospects. An eNewsletter can be produced significantly cheaper than a print newsletter and gives you the ability to know how many people are actually reading it.  However, many service professionals don’t make use of this important marketing tool because they quickly get overwhelmed by the technology involved in sending them.

This article will give you a basic understanding of the three basic formats for eNewsletters each with unique advantages and disadvantages.

HTML eNewsletters

HTML is the preferred format for most newsletter recipients. They are more visually appealing, easier to read and have a higher click through rate than text. You can include features such as active links to other web pages, shopping carts and newsletter sign up buttons. With a little extra code you can track metrics such as open and click through rates. This gives you valuable information about what people are reading and can help you fine tune your content.

An HTML newsletter can be opened and viewed in an email program provided the recipients email program is set up to display HTML. In older email programs, it was problematic to properly display HTML but increasing, email programs are designed and set up to automatically display HTML. You also have the option of sending an email with a brief description of your newsletter with a link to the full HTML version which is uploaded to your web site and looks like any other web page. While this is a good option if you have a large newsletter, it does decrease the open rate of your newsletter. Additionally, since an HTML newsletter is essentially the same as web page, it’s very easy to upload the newsletter to your web site for inclusion in a newsletter archive.

You can save a lot of time and money by creating an HTML template for your newsletter. A template consists of the elements that stay the same from issue to issue such as the layout, color scheme, header and footer. Then for each issue you can insert the text and graphics specific to that issue. For those who are trying to create a recognizable brand, you can create a newsletter template based on the look and feel of your web site. If your web site is well coded, you can save even more time by creating a template directly from one of your web pages.

Many newsletter distribution services offer user interfaces that will help you create an HTML newsletter. However if you hand code it yourself or pay someone to do it, you have much more control over the visual display of the newsletter and can do more things with it. HTML takes a while to learn and creating a newsletter in HTML can be very time consuming if you don’t know what you’re doing. Unless you are an expert at HTML and can visualize what code is going to look like when it is displayed, an HTML editing program is the way to go. There are several HTML editing programs ranging in price from free to several hundred dollars. You also need to take into consideration fact that different version of browsers display HTML differently. Unless you’re willing to dedicate the time and energy to learning HTML, it’s recommended that you hire someone to do this for you.

Text eNewsletters

A small but vocal minority prefer to receive text versions of newsletters. Text is the most basic way to send newsletter content so can be viewed by all your recipients whether they are using an email program such as Outlook and Lotus Notes or a web based email program like Yahoo or Hotmail. As the name implies, text-is-text which means you can’t include any formatting other than basic punctuation. This means no graphics, active links, bullet points, bold text or italics. Your newsletter will look as if it’s been done a typewriter. Since text is not as visually appealing, it is best to use this format when you know your recipients really want the information and are willing to put a little extra effort into reading it.

Text takes less time to format thus making it a good way to send extremely time sensitive information. Text newsletters typically put a lot of information in a relatively small amount of space so require less ink and print on fewer pages than HTML or PDF. Recipients who like to print the information for future reading prefer text for this reason.

PDF eNewsletters

PDF (Portable Document Format) is a file type created by Adobe. In order to view a PDF file, the computer it’s being viewed on needs to have Adobe Acrobat Reader. Most computers have Acrobat and it’s available for free on the Adobe web site If sending or using a PDF file, it’s a good idea to include a link to the Adobe web site so that recipients can download the software in the rare case that they don’t have it.

A PDF file is like an electronic photocopy of a document. It looks the same no matter who is viewing it. Unlike text or HTML, it can be viewed but it cannot be changed or easily copied into another document. This is a good way to send or post information if you want to make it more difficult for someone to take your content and use it as their own.

This file format is ideal if you’d like to have both an electronic version and a print version of the same newsletter. You can post a PDF file to your web site and send the same file to your printer to print hard copies for mailing or distribution at meetings and conferences. Print newsletters can get very expensive and in order to keep the cost down, it helps to have as few colors as possible. If you use PDF for your electronic newsletter, it is advised to post the newsletter to your web site then send an email to your recipients with a link to that file. This is due the larger file size of PDF which will be discussed in more detail below.

HTML versus PDF eNewsletters

An HTML newsletter can be formatted with the same look and feel as a PDF newsletter but will be a much smaller file size than a similar looking PDF newsletter. Images such as pictures and logos can be quite large and are typically the bulk of the overall file size in a PDF file. The larger the file, the longer it will take to download to the recipient’s computer. For someone using a dial up connection this can take minutes which is not only annoying but most people won’t wait that long and thus won’t read your newsletter. Additionally, many ISP’s block unknown emails with attachments so your PDF newsletter might not even get to your recipients in the first place.

The difference in file size between HTML and PDF is primarily due to the way the graphics are stored and displayed. PDF newsletters include the graphics in the file sent to the recipient. In an HTML newsletter, the images are not actually sent with the rest of the content. The image file is located on a server and is referenced in the code of the newsletter. Essentially what happens is the code in an HTML newsletter tells the recipients computer “Go to this server where the image is stored and display it here.” If the image file is large, it can take while to display but it does not radically increase the overall file size like it would in a PDF.

Both an HTML and PDF newsletter can be posted to your web site for future reading. Typically an HTML newsletter displays the same way and loads just as quickly (or slowly depending on the graphics) as any other page on your site. Although a PDF newsletter can be put into a web page, it is advised to put a link to the PDF newsletter on a web page and then have the actual file open in a new window. This is yet again an issue of file size. Inserting a PDF in a web page will make the page take a long time to download and display.

Which eNewsletter Format Is Best for You?

The best file format for you specific needs will depend on a number of factors. Things to take into consideration before choosing the appropriate file format include:

Text is the best option if…

  • This time sensitive information that needs to get out quickly.
  • You want to put as little effort and cost as possible into formatting your eNewsletter

HTML is the best option if…

  • You have pictures, charts or diagrams that you’d like to include in the body of the eNewsletter
  • Tracking open rates and clicks on links is important to you.
  • You want to archive your newsletter on your website.
  • You can afford to pay someone ($75 – $250) to format and send your newsletter

PDF is the best option if…

  • You want both an eNewsletter and a print newsletter.
  • The PDF is not going to be a huge file.

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