IT intelligence: text emails

Take care over the design of text emails, says Sue Fidler.

When we talk about email, we always concentrate on HTML - it's more sexy and fun because it gives you nice design, formatting and pictures.

But about 20 per cent of those on your list still just get text emails, so it is essential to use an email tool that sends both text and HTML and allows users to chose.

There are many easy tricks that can improve the design of your text emails.

Most importantly for usability, URL links that break across lines don't work. If you include the URL (uniform resource locator, or web address to you and me) in your copy, most people won't find it - it doesn't underline in text emails. If you have a long URL that breaks across the line, only the first part will work. Put URLs on a separate line and keep them short.

Either use a URL mask (a redirect) or put an extra page high up on your site with a simple URL.

Another trick is to keep the lines of copy very short. When Outlook forwards text emails, for example, it breaks paragraphs into separate lines and adds a > in front of each one. This makes text much harder to read, so keep sentences short and use lots of paragraph breaks to space them out.

The lack of images in text emails can make them very boring visually, so space out copy, add URL links to separate lines and think about using extra characters. For example, using a line of dashes can break up text.

Highlight very important text or a link with > or *. Use spaces to align text and indent bullet points.

Don't forget the unsubscribe option; it's a legal requirement. The law also now requires us to add our company name, registration number and registered address on all emails. And it's best practice to include your charity registration number.

Finally, think about your brand. How does your charity's name look without the sexy logo and coloured font? Are there other ways to highlight who you are?

• Sue Fidler is an independent charity ICT and internet consultant 


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