Broadcast e-mail HTML Newsletters: Best Practices

Sep 18, 2008 2:14 pm

Hi

With more and more clients shifting to e-mail newsletters and the release of the new broadcast e-mail module, I thought it would be helpful to start a e-Newsletter "Best Practices" thread. Right now I have more questions than answers, so hopefully some of you with more experience will help me out.

The clients I service don't have a working knowledge of HTML editors like Dreamweaver and thus need a simple way to edit and send out their newsletters. To date, I have been creating a newsletter Template using the Tiny MCE editor (in ver 5.8) that they can copy and use as a starting point for their newsletter. Essentially fill in the body section.

I have included some simple CSS in the header for formatting A, TA, TD, and BODY tags to control some font characteristics.

The one problem with Tiny MCE is that it sizes fonts using font size="x," for example. The problem is that there is not enough control over the font sizing and sometimes the text is too large or too small for headlines, for instance. In addition, the preview does not always match the e-mail received once sent.

Is there a way that Tiny MCE can tag fonts as PX sizes for instance, OR better yet, is there a CSS setting that will allow the font size="x" to be tagged so there can be more control over font sizing?

This is my biggest problem today, but if others have learned best practices on how to effectively compose HTML newsletters, please pass along your suggestions, tips and lessons learned on best practices.

Thanks
Paul berg

Sep 18, 2008 2:40 pm

HTML support in email clients is greatly varied. For the most part, stylesheets cannot be used/trusted, and some webmail clients strip them out completely, or arbitrarily prohibit certain tags. (Comcast.net's webmail, for example, just eliminates everything inside of H2 tags.)

The best way to use HTML in email is to fall back to the HTML 3.2 or 4.0 specifications, and to keep things very simple. Use tables, foreground images (not background), and no DIVs.

Sep 18, 2008 4:25 pm

Good info.

Is there any way to modify Tiny MCE so it offers more control over font sizes? Or do we just have to live with the delivered e-mail being different from the preview e-mail?

Sep 19, 2008 2:03 pm

I think your last sentence hits the nail on the head. TinyMCE (the editor currently in use) offers one preview of the message, but there is also a separate Preview function available from the Broadcast Email module. This second Preview screen will usually offer up a much better representation of what the final will look like.

It is possible to tweak TinyMCE's stylesheet, so that it is closer. The key is that everything that happens inside the editor "window" happens as children of this class:

.mceContentBody

Sep 19, 2008 2:58 pm

Yes - when I choose the preview from within Freedom broadcast e-mail editor I see the preview, which I assumed would come pretty close to the actual broadcast e-mail.

It is when the e-mail is sent and viewed within outlook or eudora, the fonts seem to be sized differently than when viewed in the preview section of Freedom broadcast module.

Going from the TinyMCE Editor to Freedom's Preview is not too bad, but it is nice to know this too can be tweaked.

My current problem is having the sent e-mail more closely match the Freedom preview if at all possible. It would be nice if the fonts tag generated by TinyMCE was in "px" units, which is more universally correctly displayed in a variety of end user software and e-mail clients, and thus resolve the problem.

What it does now is size fonts generically with sizes 1,2,3,4,5,6,7.

If it used "px" as a unit of measure, that would be one solution. If it had the ability to apply "H" tags, then at least one could control the text size with a CSS "H" Tag (with the caveat that some clients strip CSS as you mentioned earlier)

I also see a "styles" drop down in the "Text Editor help files" in Freedom but do not know how that works and also do not see it in my Tiny MCE Editor.

Sep 19, 2008 4:21 pm

OK - Here is a workaround that seems to translate the generic font choices to px units of measure.

What I am not sure of is if there are unintended consequences of doing it this way. Let me know if you have any thoughts and I will add results of any testing I find.

I cant get the "broadcastemail&optout" string to center on the page. Any help here would be appreciated.

Here is the CSS embedded in the newsletter head:



<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">
<html>
<head>

<title>Title</title>

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1" />
<style type="text/css">
<!--
A {
 color: #CC0000;
 text-decoration: none;
}
A:hover {
 text-decoration: underline;
}
BODY {
 font-size: 12px;
 font-family: verdana, geneva, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
 background-color: #CCCCCC;
}
TH, TD {
 font-size: 12px;
 font-family: verdana, geneva, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
}
.broadcastemail&optout
{
 font-size: 10px;
 font-family: verdana, geneva, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
 text-align: center;
}
font[size="1"] {
 font-size: 12px;
 line-height: 21px;
 }
font[size="2"] {
 font-size: 13px;
 line-height: 20px;
 }
font[size="3"] {
 font-size: 14px;
 }
font[size="4"] {
 font-size: 16px;
 }
font[size="5"] {
 font-size: 26px;
 }
-->
</style>

Sep 19, 2008 4:34 pm

OK - Adding <CENTER> below the <HEAD> tag centers the opt out text string. Will have to test to see if it works across various e-mail clients


Here is the revised CSS


<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">
<html>
<head>
<CENTER>

<title>Title</title>

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1" />
<style type="text/css">
<!--
A {
 color: #CC0000;
 text-decoration: none;
}
A:hover {
 text-decoration: underline;
}
BODY {
 font-size: 12px;
 font-family: verdana, geneva, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
 background-color: #CCCCCC;
}
TH, TD {
 font-size: 12px;
 font-family: verdana, geneva, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
}
H {
 color: #ffffff;
 font-weight: bold;
 font-size: 18px;
}
.broadcastemail&optout
{
 font-size: 10px;
 font-family: verdana, geneva, arial, helvetica, sans-serif;
 text-align: center;
}
font[size="1"] {
 font-size: 12px;
 line-height: 21px;
 }
font[size="2"] {
 font-size: 13px;
 line-height: 20px;
 }
font[size="3"] {
 font-size: 14px;
 }
font[size="4"] {
 font-size: 16px;
 }
font[size="5"] {
 font-size: 26px;
 }
-->
</style>

Sep 23, 2008 6:24 pm

This site gives you a great overview of what CSS email clients and web-based email support.

http://www.campaignmonitor.com/css/

Oct 27, 2008 10:20 pm

This is all good stuff - thanks for contributing, guys. Here is an excerpt from our developing procedures manual - using an upcoming Accrisoft platform-based domain - regarding how to set up SPF. Does anyone else set this stuff up?

Setup DNS SPF - Part 1

Sender ID Framework Overview

http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/safety/technologies/senderid/overview.mspx

An excerpt from the Overview follows:

"SIDF has been approved by the Internet Engineering Task Force to help
increase the detection of deceptive e-mail and to improve the deliverability of
legitimate e-mail. SIDF is an e-mail authentication protocol designed to be
implemented at no cost for all senders, independent of their e-mail
architecture. Today, SIDF is the leading solution embraced by more than 12
million domain holders, sending nearly 50 percent of all legitimate e-mail
worldwide.

When receiving networks include the SIDF results with their existing antispam
solutions, SIDF can improve e-mail deliverability while also reducing false
positives. Although it will not stop spam completely, SIDF can help improve
online trust and confidence when it is used with reputation data and antispam
and phishing heuristics.
How Sender ID Works

Sender ID seeks to verify that every e-mail message originates from the
Internet domain from which it claims to have been sent. This is accomplished by
checking the address of the server that sent the mail against a registered list
of servers that the domain owner has authorized to send e-mail. This
verification is automatically performed by the Internet service provider (ISP)
or the recipient's mail server before the e-mail message is delivered. The
result of the Sender ID check can be incorporated into the filtering tasks that
are already performed by the mail server. After the sender has been
authenticated, the mail server may apply conventional content filters and
consider past behaviors, traffic patterns, and sender reputation when
determining whether to deliver mail to the recipient."

Use the Sender ID Framework SPF Record Wizard

Goto the Sender ID Framework SPF Record Wizard at
http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/safety/content/technologies/senderid/wizard/default.aspx
and work through the following (with brightearthfoods.com as an example).

Step 1 of 4: Identify Your Domain

Please enter the domain name for which you want to create a new SPF record:
'brightearthfoods.com'

Step 2 of 4: Display Published DNS Records

The wizard has checked DNS for information about brightearthfoods.com
including: SPF, MX and A records. This information is displayed below.

If an SPF record was found, you can verify its contents here and use the
remaining steps of this wizard to modify the record if necessary. If no SPF
record was found, you can use information from the domain's MX and A records to
create a new SPF record.

Click Next to continue. No SPF Record Found. A and MX Records Available
No SPF record has been found for the domain brightearthfoods.com. However, MX
and/or A records currently exist for this domain.

Addresses Listed in A records
207.57.118.13
Mail Servers Listed in MX Records
mx1.emailsrvr.com 66.216.118.97
mx2.emailsrvr.com 69.20.48.242

This information may be of assistance in creating your new SPF record.

Step 3 of 4: Create SPF Record

Use the form below to create or modify your SPF record. Some parts of the
form have already been filled in with information the wizard found in DNS for
brightearthfoods.com.

Domain Not Used for Sending E-Mail

Please check this option if this domain is not used for sending outbound
e-mail. Domains which do not send out e-mail will have no outbound mail servers
(What's this? The outbound mail servers of a domain are the computers under the
domain's control that connect with the inbound mail servers of other domains and
hand off E-Mail messages to them for delivery.):

No mail is sent from domain: [Unchecked]

Inbound Mail Servers Send Outbound Mail

If your inbound mail servers are also used to send outbound mail, you should
add this option to your new SPF record. If you are not sure, we recommend you
add this option, since most inbound mail servers can at least send outbound
non-delivery reports (NDRs). (What's this? This policy indicates whether a
domain's inbound mail servers (usually listed in the domain's DNS MX records)
are also allowed to send mail outbound. Since most inbound mail servers can at
times generate non-delivery reports (NDRs) or delivery status notifications
(DSNs), most domains include this policy.)

Domain's inbound servers may send mail: [Check]

These addresses are currently listed in MX records for brightearthfoods.com.
Check each MX address that is a valid outbound e-mail server for this domain.:

mx1.emailsrvr.com [Check]
mx2.emailsrvr.com [Check]

Enter any additional domain names whose MX records refer to valid outbound
e-mail servers for brightearthfoods.com (one domain name per line).:

[None]

Outbound Mail Server Addresses

If all the IP addresses listed in A records for brightearthfoods.com in DNS
are outbound mail servers, you should include this option in your new SPF
record.

All addresses listed in A records may send mail: [Unchecked]

These IP addresses or domains are currently listed in A records for the
specified domain. Select each IP address that should always be indicated as an
outbound mail server.:

207.57.118.13 [Checked]

Enter any additional IP addresses (or ranges of addresses) you wish to add to
your SPF record (one address or address range per line). Examples: 1.2.3.4
1.2.3.4/24

[None]

Enter any additional domain names whose A records refer to valid outbound
e-mail servers for brightearthfoods.com (one domain name per line).

'onemosssphere.com'

Reverse DNS Lookup

Check this box if all the reverse DNS records (PTR records) for
brightearthfoods.com resolve to outbound e-mail servers for the domain.

All PTR records resolve to outbound email servers [Unchecked]

Enter any additional domain names whose PTR records resolve to valid outbound
e-mail servers for brightearthfoods.com (one domain name per line)

[None]

Outsourced Domains

(What's this? If mail sent on behalf of a domain is at times actually
delivered to its recipients by the computers of another domain, such domains are
considered "outsourced" domains. This situation often arises when a domain has
outsourced the running of some of its online applications to a third-party. A
second common situation occurs when mail from a domain originates within the
domain's computers but is relayed to the outside world through those of
another.)

Enter any additional domain names whose SPF records refer to valid outbound
e-mail servers for brightearthfoods.com (one domain name per line).

'onemosssphere.com'

Default

Does brightearthfoods.com send e-mail from any IP addresses that are not
identified in the above sections?

[Unchecked] Yes; mail may legitimately originate from IP addresses not
identified above.
[Unchecked] No; this domain sends mail only from the IP addresses identified
above.
[Unchecked] Neutral; this domain makes no statement about whether mail may
legitimately originate from IP addresses not identified above.
[Checked] Discouraged; mail may legitimately originate from IP addresses not
identified above, however, use of such IP addresses is discouraged and may not
be permitted in the future.

Scope

What e-mail identities can this SPF record be used to validate?

[Unchecked] The Purported Responsible Address (PRA) derived from RFC 2822
message headers
[Unchecked] The MAIL FROM (or reverse-path) address derived from the RFC 2821
protocol's MAIL command.
[Checked] Both.

Step 4 of 4: Generate SPF Record

A new SPF record has been generated based on the information provided by you.
This document has not been published to the DNS. Click "Select All" to select
and copy the SPF text record. Paste your SPF text record in a notepad or word
document and provide it to your network administrator to insert into your DNS
record.

Instructions: Your SPF record must be published in DNS records of type TXT
under brightearthfoods.com Consult the documentation of your DNS administration
tools for further details on publishing this.

v=spf1 mx ip4:207.57.118.13 mx:mx1.emailsrvr.com mx:mx2.emailsrvr.com
a:onemosssphere.com include:onemosssphere.com ~all

Copy the generated SPF record and goto the next section entitled "Setup DNS
SPF - Part 2"

Setup DNS SPF - Part 2

Goto 'Administrative Interface' from http://vps.securesites.com, and login

In Domain Name and Domain Registration Summary [on the left hand side],
select the 'brightearthfoods.com' Domain Name

'Add Resource Record'

Add one TXT Records similar to following:

[@] IN [TXT] v=spf1 mx ip4:207.57.118.13 mx:mx1.emailsrvr.com
mx:mx2.emailsrvr.com a:onemosssphere.com include:onemosssphere.com ~all [1 day]

'Add Resource Record(s)'

which yields the following new Records:

Resource Record Add Submission Results
The following resource record(s) have been added:
brightearthfoods.com. 86400 IN TXT "v=spf1 mx ip4:207.57.118.13
mx:mx1.emailsrvr.com mx:mx2.emailsrvr.com a:onemosssphere.com
include:onemosssphere.com ~all"

Setup DNS SPF - Part 3

Verify that there are no other records to add after completing all
integration work.

"Support for Sender Policy Framework protocol for outbound email messages &#8211;
In order to prevent email notifications generated by [SAAS] applications from
being blocked as SPAM, [SAAS] will support the SPF protocol allowing your DNS to
make [SAAS] an authorized sender of email from your domain. This will support
the case where you have entered a custom sender email address as the default
FROM value for notifications originating from your [SAAS] account and ensure
that the messages are not detected as Spam by the receiver's email system."

Oct 28, 2008 10:11 am

As to if anyone else is setting up spf; we have been reluctant to embrace this in it's entirety since it was not a mandatory email standard and the prospect of retro-fitting hundreds of domains was a lot of work. However, on a case by case basis we have added the spf record to domains who have encountered difficulty emailing to some addresses.

We are also considering adding it to new domains. One of the issues regarding this is that it is not always possible to identify all valid sources. For example many customers send email on behalf of their domain from their home computers and laptops and use their ISPs server. They never think to advise of this and if they do, they rarely remember to tell us if it changes.

Of course this can be accommodating by checking the box that says accept domains not listed in the SPF record, but then what's the point? It's like saying we put a lock on the door but it's ok to come in through the open window.

Oct 28, 2008 12:03 pm

NormPrev, what we've run into with at least one client is with the ability of Broadcast Email penetrating certain popular domains (hotmail, yahoo) - we're still testing to see if how much of a difference this makes. However, all the major email service providers that I know of use it to enhance their penetration. When one is sending out thousands of targeted messages from the Freedom server, it seems to me that setting up SPF to accomodate is almost a requirement.

Are there some other DNS-type settings related to the Freedom server that people are using to accomodate email penetration?

Oct 28, 2008 1:37 pm

No disagreement there. It is probably good practice to set it up wherever broadcast email is being used or moderate outgoing email traffic is expected.

We just have not seen it as necessary for many of the smaller sites. Except for the big boys, I have not seen that it is being checked by many other mail servers. In fact I'm not sure that we know how to set it up on our own servers to do the check on incoming mail.

However, I expect we will need to reevaluate these decisions before long.

Oct 29, 2008 10:35 am

Hi

I have added SPF records to many of my domians and have noticed a SIGNIFICANT drop in bouncebacks from spamers spoofing e-mail addresses using one of my domains.

What the spammer will do is send out e-mails and use one of my domain addresses in the FROM setting. When the recipient gets the spam and rejects it the bounce comes back to my (good) address. The spam filters dont filter this since it is technically good e-mail. The SPF record in the domain seems to stop the vast majority of this.

Sometimes a server can get mailbombed with this stuff and overload the server and shut all the istes down. I have had this happen on a couple of VPS1 servers and have snce moved to VPS3 where there are better safeguards. The SPF can help guard against this as well.

Since adding the SPF records to domains, I have not seen any downside o doing this. They have been in lace for about a month

Here are a number of usefull links for SPF Records and other helpful sites

http://www.openspf.org
easy to sreate spf record and other easy to understand info

http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/safety/content/technologies/senderid/wizard/
microsofts answer to SPF. I have not used this yet

http://domainkeys.sourceforge.net/
Some other reference a tech support person suggested to me

https://www.senderscore.org/
Check sender for spam reputation

http://www.dnsstuff.com
one of the many utilities checks to see if a given domain is on a spam blacklist. If your doman is listed, it offers help in removing. Lots of other good utilities for diagnosing and investigating all things DNS. Well worth subscribing to. It will also diagnose all DNS records for a domain and indicate if the SPF record is set up or not.

Oct 29, 2008 10:39 am

Oct 29, 2008 6:59 pm

Here is an example

Once the wizard at openspf.org generates the SPF record entry, add a new dns record entry at TXT type record and paste in the SPF code

example:

paulberg.com Text Record (TXT) v=spf1 a mx ~all

Oct 30, 2008 12:47 pm

Great information Paul, and I don't disagree that it is certainly worth adding the SPF record when we add new domains.

The issue, as I see it, is that we do not have a process to test if incoming emails have a valid spf record. I'm sure that there is a settings in sendmail that probably can be used, but to the best of my knowledge, Verio hasn't implemented it as a standard configuration and my guess is that many of the other data centers operators haven't either.

That implies that there are probably millions of domains with mail servers who are not checking the spf record. Also, it appears that the big boys are not always rejecting email without the spf info unless they are getting a lot of mail from a specific domain such as in an email blast.

If Verio and other data center operators adopt the method then we would certainly put in the effort to retro fit it to hundreds of web sites that to date have not had a large enough email volume for it to be a problem.

Oct 30, 2008 2:31 pm

Hi Norm

You make a good point

It is one of those things that is gaining acceptance but may not be universally implemented on servers. The way I look at it is that it only takes a few seconds to add a SPF record to each of the domains I have, so why not add it for whatever good it does. Hopefully the infrastructure will grow over time.

I dont really understand al the technology behind it, I just know it has helped un-clog my inbox and offered a safeguard to a mailbomb problem I had.

I also get fewer support calls and complaints from clients. Some have called me to ask if I have done something because they are suddenly not getting all the bouncebacks from spoofed mail. If you do implement it, advertise the fact so it creates goodwill with the clients. Who knows, you could actually charge a fee for adding it to the domain and make "lemonaide" out of the work to implent it on all your domans. My experience is that the results are noticable, so the value is there and something that could easily be charged for as a service to your client.

Using DnsStuff.com will scan a domain and indicate if a SPF recirrd in included in its DNS record and if so what it is. Its worth a trial account to check out.

Oct 31, 2008 2:15 pm

Hi Paul:

You make a persuasive argument. It prompted me to pose the question on the providertalk lists about how to implement SPF checking on incoming email on our own servers and what issues that might raise.

DKIM key

Nov 9, 2012 5:23 pm

has anyone set this up for Accrisoft's email marketing tool?