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Email Marketing 101

It’s one thing to send e-mails to your audience. But it’s quite another to do it effectively. Here…let us help.

How does HTML Email Work?

You gotta crawl before you can walk — which is why it’s important to understand how HTML works before you jump in to designing and coding. Here’s a basic roundup of must-know info for any email designer or marketer.

Multipart-Alternative MIME Format

Here’s the good news: Robly can automatically format your HTML email into Multipart-Alternative MIME format, which is what allows your e-mails show up looking the way they’re supposed to. When it comes to sending HTML email, you simply can’t type a bunch of code in or attach HTML files with images and fire it off — namely because your recipients’ email apps will automatically break image paths, move images into temporary folders on your hard drive, and cause your once-beautiful email to render incorrectly — that is, it will look like a bunch of hieroglyphics. What you need to do is send HTML emails from your server in Multipart-Alternative MIME format. What happens is your mail relay software packages your HTML code alongside a plain-text version of the message. That means if for some reason the HTML doesn’t render for any reason, the plain-text version is there as an automatic backup. If it sounds relatively complicated, that’s because it is — and that’s why it’s easy to make mistakes. But that’s where we come in.

Image Files in HTML Email

With Robly’s email designer and templates, hosting images is a non issue — we do the hosting for you for free, no FTP or image tagging required.

Adding images and photographs to email messages is the main reason HTML is useful. Unfortunately, you can’t just attach images along with HTML code. Best practices dictate that the best way to include images is to host them on a web server, then place them into an HTML email using absolute paths (those are paths that include both a root directory and all subfiles or folders). That means that whenever an email is opened, the HTML code downloads the image directly from the server whenever the message is opened. This is how open tracking works–a small, invisible image gets attached to the email, and when the recipient opens it, the server receives a request for the invisible image and keeps track of each time it’s downloaded. This is also why, sadly, email applications that automatically block images can result in inaccurate open-rate stats.

If you code your own image tags in HTML, do it this way:

“img alt=”” src=””

NOT this way:

“img alt=”” src=”images/logo.gif”

HTML Email Delivery

While setting up forwarding lists or cc’ing all of your customers on one email seems like a good idea, the truth is that this practice can cause a lot of problems (especially if a customer decides to reply all) — this prevents individual tracking or personalization. What’s more, when customers can see your entire recipient list, it makes you look like an amateur…no good!

At Robly, we use a dedicated mail server capable of sending an enormous quantity of emails every hour, and we’re able to send your message to each individual on your list at extremely high speeds. That way, you don’t have to worry about your bandwidth limits or ISP problems.

Designing and Coding

A Solid Toolbox

Coding HTML email requires a few important tools:

  1. A Design application. Programs like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and Fireworks allow you to create layouts and templates with graphics.
  2. An HTML/text editor. Examples are TextWrangler and BBEdit for Mac, or NoteTab Pro and HomeSite for PC. WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) programs can also generate HTML, but oftentimes inserts unnecessary code that can trip the spam alarms. One thing to keep in mind is that most WSIWYG programs are made for designing web pages, not email, and don’t always format or create code correctly for that purpose. So if you really want to learn to do HTML correctly, start at the beginning and use a reliable text editor.
  3. Your own web server. This is where you’ll host all your images and archives. It’s also super important to come up with a system and procedure for organizing and archiving. It’s a good idea to make a folder on your website where you can store images for email newsletters — this gives you an absolute path you can use in your HTML code — as well as one for storing archived newsletters. With Robly’s built-in archive functionality, a copy of every email you send from our system is saved and can be automatically updated on an archive page on your website by simply pasting a piece of code that we generate. So easy, yes?
  4. An FTP program. File Transfer Protocol applications are what you’ll use to move image files from your computer to the server once you’ve designed your email. Examples are Fetch for Mac and CuteFTP for PCs.
  5. A guinea pig, so to speak. Having one or two machines with as many different email applications and accounts as possible is a good way to see how your HTML designs show up under multiple sets of circumstances.

Design Guidelines

Going for your own design? Here are some things to keep in mind.

Set your width to the 500-600 pixels range. We know, we know — you’re probably used to 800 X 600 pixel resolution screens or higher, but HTML email is most often viewed in a preview pane that only fills up a portion of the whole screen, so anything less than 600 is a safe bet. Less is more — simple designs, layouts, and tables are ideal because ultimately, email applications will do some crazy things to your coding. Complex layouts, tables with too many rows and columns, or too many embedded tables is asking for trouble, but a straightforward two-column table with one row across the top should be fine. Tables coded with colspans (table cells that span across multiple columns) oftentimes don’t work with email applications. Lotus Notes is notoriously finicky with tables.

To simplify your tables and colspans, consider breaking them into separate tables — one for the header, one for the body, and one for the footer. Simple.

A word to the CSS maestros: a lot of those timesaving DIVs and positioning codes won’t work, but we’ll get to that later.

Special Considerations for Webmail Services

A significant portion of your recipients will be using web browser email clients like Gmail, Yahoo!Mail, or Hotmail. There are a few things to know when you code your HTML emails for browsers:

Any <HTML>, <HEAD>, and <BODY> and tags will be stripped to keep your code from messing with theirs. That means that any background colors in your <BODY> tag won’t render. You can place your email inside a bigger, 100% wide table, then set the background color of the table, and use CELLPADDING as needed. But no DIVs! They won’t work!

Any CSS placed inside of <HEAD> tags will be lost. So use embedded CSS instead (rather than linking to CSS files hosted on your server), and make sure it’s placed below the <BODY> tag.

Do lots of testing. Even basic CSS is starting to get stripped by webmail clients, so looking for bugs and glitches ahead of time is key.

CSS in HTML email

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS for short) are great for web design, but don’t work perfectly in HTML email. As we mentioned above, DIVs and positioning don’t work. You’ll have to use tables and use CSS for simple font formatting and colors.

Make sure you design your CSS with a solid “Plan B” strategy. That is, if you stripped the CSS out entirely, make sure the design and content would still look acceptable. Try doing exactly that: strip any CSS before sending and double check the visual result.

Be careful if you’re using a WYSIWYG editor. They oftentimes insert CSS and DIV coding by default. Unless you understand HTML code well enough to go back and remove what’s unnecessary (huge pain), we recommend avoiding them.

And definitely DO NOT use Microsoft Word. It also adds a lot of code and makes for a bigger headache. Either learn to code HTML from scratch, or use Robly’s built-in templates.

Other Stuff That Won’t Work in HTML Email

Most email applications will block Flash, JavaScript, ActiveX, and background music files. Blame the computer virus makers — these are all commonly blocked nowadays unless the recipient is using a browser to render the HTML email.

The easiest way to work around this is to incorporate links from text or an eye-catching JPEG or GIF in your HTML email to a landing page on your website. That way, the recipient is redirected to a webpage that contains the music, animation, or movie file you’re trying to share.

Seven Things That Make a Downright Dapper HTML Email Newsletter

  1. Your company name in the From field. Recipients should immediately recognize that the email is coming from you. Someone is much more likely to mark an email as spam if they can’t figure out who it’s from. Not rocket science.
  2. A relevant subject line. Be succinct, and include your company or newsletter name here. Don’t use excessive punctuation (!!!), cheesy tag lines, or colors.
  3. Personalize the To field with the recipient’s name. Not their email address. Robly lets you merge customer names into this field if it’s in your database. Check out this post for more info.
  4. A one-click opt-out link. This link should immediately remove people from your list. Make it easy to find (consider putting it in both the header and footer), to reduce the risk of being labeled as spam or marked as “Junk.” With Robly’s Managed List function, you can use our *|UNSUB|* tag to generate an unsubscribe link (which is required in every email you send from our system), which instantly removes any recipient who clicks on it. These links are built into our HTML email templates.
  5. Include an option to “View this email in your browser.” This should link to the archived version of the email that lives on your server in the event that the email gets messed up from being forwarded or what have you. Robly will automatically keep archived versions of all your campaigns. You can use our *|ARCHIVE|* tag or, if you use our built-in templates, the link will automatically live at the top of all of your emails.
  6. A valid, physical mailing address. Additional contact info beyond this is great and highly recommended–it makes your emails look more reputable.
  7. Include reminder text. Something to the tune of “You are receiving this newsletter because you signed up for it on our website.” This serves as a little reminder for people who forget that they’ve opted-in (we’ve all done it), and helps prevent your emails from being marked as spam and therefore reported to ISPs. Should someone report you as a spammer, this reminder can prevent you from being blacklisted by a server admin. Our built-in templates automatically include this information into your email footers. Phew!

Plain-text Email Know-How

Occasionally, people can’t view your email in HTML. This can happen if a recipient is using a mobile device to read your email (aka it happens quite often), so it’s important to have a good plain-text version of your HTML email. Otherwise, you could get marked as a spammer — spam filters will penalize you for only sending HTML. Once you’ve created an HTML and version of your campaign, Robly automatically generates the plain-text version and package it with the HTML version in multipart format and sends them out. Your recipients’ email applications will decide which version to display.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in HTML Emails

  1. Not coding absolute paths to images. Remember that relative paths won’t work. You must host images on your server, then link to them in your code.
  2. JavaScript, ActiveX, and embedded movies won’t work. End of story.
  3. Overly complicated designs. Remember: less is more: especially since a lot of the functionality from CSS for websites doesn’t translate to HTML email.
  4. Not including an opt-out link. It’s illegal not to do this. Not to mention infinitely frustrating to your recipients. Make sure you read and understand the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003.
  5. Incorrect CSS linking. Web browser-based email applications strip <HEAD> and <BODY> tags, so incorporating your CSS in between <HEAD></HEAD> tags won’t work – it has to go below the <BODY> tag.
  6. Stale permissions. If you’ve been collecting email addresses without sending any emails, there’s a good chance your subscribers won’t remember you. And when you suddenly start sending them newsletters, there’s also a good chance they’ll mark your email as spam. Consider sending an update that re-invites subscribers to opt in to your list, or at the very least a little reminder about how and when they signed up. As a general rule, about six months can go by before people forget about opting in to something.
  7. Sending without permission. Just. Don’t. Do. It. It’s one thing to get email addresses, and another to use them correctly. Here is a list of ways that can put you into the spam can:
    • Using an email list from a tradeshow. Doesn’t matter what the fine print says: if you weren’t given permission, then it’s not considered opt-in.
    • If the recipient didn’t opt in, you’re spamming them. It may be technically legal for you to send them email marketing, but they’ll likely report you as a spammer.
    • Getting a list of members from a trade organization. Anyone who is part of a club that shares contact information for keeping in touch with one another isn’t giving you permission to send them newsletters. If you sent them a personal note, that’s one thing. Adding them to your list is entirely different — and entirely not okay.
    • Business cards don’t count, either. Again, trading contact information that you put into your own database does not count as opting in for any sort of newsletter. This includes any sort of situation that involves a fish bowl full of business cards collected for a prize.
  8. Using a WYSIWYG editor for your HTML. They just don’t cut the mustard — they add junk code you don’t need and aren’t ideal for coding for email applications. Also, Robly has free HTML templates you can use…just sayin’.
  9. Not testing thoroughly. Before you blast out an HTML email campaign, you really should test it in as many email applications as possible, and on different operating systems, then with different ISPs. This will help you sort out any and all glitches early on, which means less testing in the future. And always send a copy or two to yourself before sending it to your list.

Designing With Spam In Mind

When it comes to email newsletters, learning about spam filters is a necessity. The truth is your emails must be designed in a certain way in order to get past them. Everything must be just so…it’s kind of like beating World 8 of Super Mario 3. You gotta know what you’re doing.

First things first: a look at how different spam filters work.

Bayesian Filtering

What and How: A filter that functions by collecting information about emails that users mark as spam. It’s statistical by nature — the filters read messages, compare them to other junk emails, and look for common threads in subject lines, content, hyperlinks, senders, and so on. As time goes on, these filters learn to scan each message for all these traits, and every time something looks suspicious, it’s assigned a score. So spam-like subject lines (like “Super Awesome Deal Time!!!”) might earn 1 point, while use of colors in the copy could earn 2. Words like “mortgage,” “Viagra,” and “porn,” will indubitably rack up points. And once a certain number of points are accumulated, the email is automatically marked as spam and routed into the junk folder. For a behind the scenes look at how server admins filter some of these emails, check out SpamAssasin.


A blacklist is just what it sounds like — and you don’t want to end up on one. Server admins and ISPs track the IP addresses of servers where spam is generated, and add them to blacklists. Emails that come from a server on the blacklist are deleted immediately: access denied. This is another reason why getting permission to send email to your recipients (and keeping proof of opt-ins), ideally through the double-opt in system. By comparison, a whitelist automatically lets emails from a specific IP address through, and a greylist contains IP addresses that are temporarily blocked.

Email Firewalls

A firewall is meant to keep a network secure, and are oftentimes used to manage email servers with lots of traffic (aka those of large companies). They use a combo of adaptive filters, blacklists, community reporting, and customized algorithms to keep their servers spam-free. If you’ve ever had trouble getting an email through to someone at a large company, chances are it was because of the firewall. Think of them as the bridgekeeper in Monty Python, only far more paranoid. They can cause problems early on, when you first start sending campaigns, but eventually your emails should go through. But you can always speed up the process by contacting the IT department that manages the firewall and ask them to whitelist your IP address.

Challenge/Response Filters

These filters are more likely to occur with at-home recipients. If you send an email to someone and you aren’t already in that person’s address book, then you’re considered a potential spammer. The filter then sends back an automatic reply that requires you to answer a question or click a link in order to prove that you are indeed a human being, not a brain hungry zombie spambot.

Getting whitelisted up front is a great way to ensure that your emails get delivered. When people opt-in to your list, remind them to add your company email address to their address book. Any time you send a newsletter, make sure the reply-to address is valid, and that someone checks it after every campaign that’s sent out and takes care of any autoreplies that need tending to.

How to Avoid Spam Filters

Okay, so what are the best ways to avoid being blacklisted, tagged as a spammer, and being reviled in general? Well, a great place to start is to read through some of your own spam/junk mail and avoid doing those things.

To wit:

  1. Don’t use colorful fonts or use crazy styles and formatting. Remember: less is more.
  2. Don’t use multiple exclamation points!!!!
  4. Avoid spamtastic words like “Viagra,” “mortgage,” “refinance,” or “porn.”
  5. Avoid using hard sell lines like “Limited Time Only,” or “Click Here Now!”
  6. Double check that your HTML code is clean, especially if you’re using a WYSIWYG editor (they tend to add extra code you don’t need). Spam filters can see that excess code and might mark you as a spammer. In addition, if your code has missing or empty tags, the same rule applies.
  7. Dummy text is a no-no, even if you’re sending a test email to yourself. You want your email to be as close to the real thing as possible — duplicate content raises red flags as well, so no cutting and pasting the same paragraph multiple times.
  8. Don’t use the word “test” in your subject line.
  9. Please for the love of jeebus don’t use “creative” spelling like “V14gr4” or “Fr33 Stuff!”
  10. Body copy is necessary in an HTML email — if you only send images, spam filters (with nothing to read) will think it’s junk.
  11. Always include the plain-text version with the HTML version.

Testing and Troubleshooting Your Email Designs

Remember what we said about testing a campaign before you send it? We’ll say it again: test test test. Once you’ve built a template (or made your life easier by using one of ours), you’ll need to test your template to make sure it works in different email applications.

Web designers take note: testing email campaigns is more involved than testing web pages — namely because there are more email applications than web browsers. Testing a web page in Safari, Firefox, Chrome, et al is all fine and good, but when it comes to email there are more applications than browsers, which means there’s more testing to be done. The key is creating a simple, solid template early on and testing it as much as possible from the get go — that way you don’t have to retest every single time you send a campaign.

Test in Multiple Email Applications

Testing is a critical part of the email marketing process, especially when you’re creating a template for the first time. Email clients render things very differently from each other, and it’s important that you make sure your campaign looks right in each mail client.

The email clients you will need to test will vary with your subscriber base. You can see the breakdown of your subscribers’ mail clients in the Reports section.

Here are a list of possible email applications you may find necessary to test:

  1. AOL. Has a report spam button, so make sure not only that your campaign has clean code and no spam alarms, but that it looks relevant  — it’s really easy for users to click that button. Note that AOL 9 has a small preview pane (about 194 pixels wide) and if your email is too wide (and your logo happens to be aligned to the right), recipients may never see who the email is from.
  2. Apple Mail. Apple’s free email app has a big preview pane, doesn’t do too much image blocking yet, and also comes with a filtering system that learns, so make sure to check for deliverability issues.
  3. Microsoft Entourage for Mac. Like Outlook for the Mac.
  4. Microsoft Outlook 2003. Three vertical panes mean less preview area; this version has better spam protection than previous versions.
  5. Microsoft Outlook 2000. Flash and videos are more likely to work with this version because it predates a lot of the spam and malware that’s standard nowadays, but that doesn’t mean you should use them.
  6. Microsoft Outlook Express. The preinstalled version of Outlook that comes on most Windows computers. Blocks images by default, as most programs do.
  7. Microsoft Outlook 2007. Background images, most CSS, Flash, forms, and animated GIFs won’t fly here.
  8. Lotus Notes 6.5.3 and 6.5.4. Very large companies tend to use this platform, and the best advice is to keep things über simple. This application is finicky.
  9. Eudora 6.2. No complaints here.
  10. Mozilla Thunderbird. A free application that’s getting more popular. Supports HTML email well — version 1.5 has a pop up warning feature that shows up across the top of a message that says “Thunderbird thinks this message is a scam.” There’s a “Not a scam” button just in case — so as long as your emails look professional it shouldn’t be a problem.

Browser-based email applications

Testing in browser-based email applications is a must, and are becoming increasingly popular with time. They’re free and tons of people use them. Pay particular attention to how they alter your HTML and CSS code.

Spam filters are almost always set very high — when testing, don’t tinker with the junk mail settings, just leave them at “default.”

Gmail. Spam filters are forceful, to say the least. CSS support is slim to none — it strips embedded CSS and all “class” codes. For CSS to work in Gmail, the use of inline styles is necessary unless you want all your fonts to default to 13 px black Arial. Check to see if your fonts end up wrapping incorrectly or messing with table cells.

Hotmail. <BODY> and <HEAD> tags get stripped, which means background colors and HTML get lost.

Yahoo!Mail. Aggressive anti-spam filters, and do the same as mentioned above for Hotmail.

Yahoo!Mail Beta. A better browser interface — adds a preview pane. HTML support thus far is great.


  1. Check different ISPs. Send emails through different ISPs — they’ll alter your messages before landing in a recipient’s email application. So an email checked in Apple Mail will look different when coming from Comcast, Time Warner, or AT&T.
  2. Send tests to friends and guinea pigs. Ask your friends and colleagues to look at your campaigns and tell you if anything looks wonky or broken.
  3. Try using a service like to run a test email to check for things like broken links or tips on how to make your campaign less spammy.

Email Marketing Basics and Best Practices

There are a few things you should know before you start sending out your awesome email campaigns. Namely spam, legal issues, and measuring overall performance.

Spam…that’s a delicious canned meat, right?

Well, yes, it is. But it’s also the common name for someone who sends out unsolicited email. If you want to read about how that came to be, read this Wikipedia article. (Hint: It involves Monty Python’s Flying Circus.) So what qualifies as SPAM?

Spam is an unsolicited email that’s send to a list of people. If you buy a list of email addresses and write to each person individually, that isn’t spam. If you send an email to all those people at the same time using an email service provider like Robly, it’s SPAM.

The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003

On December 13, 2003, the CAN-SPAM (short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing) Act was signed into law, and the Federal Trade Commission is required to enforce it. Each violation can cost you up to $16,000, so it’s worth it to know what it’s all about. So here it is, straight from the FTC’s website:

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information – including the originating domain name and email address – must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines. The subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message.
  3. Identify the message as an ad. The law gives you a lot of leeway in how to do this, but you must disclose clearly and conspicuously that your message is an advertisement.
  4. Tell recipients where you’re located. Your message must include your valid physical postal address. This can be your current street address, a post office box you’ve registered with the U.S. Postal Service, or a private mailbox you’ve registered with a commercial mail receiving agency established under Postal Service regulations.
  5. Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Your message must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future. Craft the notice in a way that’s easy for an ordinary person to recognize, read, and understand. Creative use of type size, color, and location can improve clarity. Give a return email address or another easy Internet-based way to allow people to communicate their choice to you. You may create a menu to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to stop all commercial messages from you. Make sure your spam filter doesn’t block these opt-out requests.
  6. Honor opt-out requests promptly. Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days. You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request. Once people have told you they don’t want to receive more messages from you, you can’t sell or transfer their email addresses, even in the form of a mailing list. The only exception is that you may transfer the addresses to a company you’ve hired to help you comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
  7. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf. The law makes clear that even if you hire another company to handle your email marketing, you can’t contract away your legal responsibility to comply with the law. Both the company whose product is promoted in the message and the company that actually sends the message may be held legally responsible.

Any questions? Talk to your lawyer.

What To Avoid

Okay, we know you’re here because you want to do right by your customers without getting reported for spamming. And it happens: legitimate email marketers can get reported for spamming if someone clicks that button in his or her email program.

When that happens, an alert is sent out to the ISP, which in turn sends a warning to the sender. If you get up to five warnings, you’re in hot water. Up to 10 and your emails will get get blocked, and more than that and your email server gets blocked. Unless you can provide proof that whoever reported you opted-in, none of your emails will get to the ISP.

And it doesn’t end there. ISPs will also scan reported spam for URLs and domain names. If your company’s domain name shows up, any future emails you send with that domain name in it will be blocked, no matter where it’s sent from or who sends it.

As you can surmise, getting blacklisted is pretty easy. And if it happens, it can be a long, arduous process to clear your name.

So remember:

  • All recipients must opt-in to your list and using a double-opt in system is best.
  • Business cards in fish bowls don’t count as opting in.
  • If it’s been more than six months since you’ve emailed your current recipients, shoot them a friendly reminder about what’s going on before you start sending out your campaigns.
  • Buying a list from a third party does not mean that a single person on that list opted-in to your newsletter.
  • Business contacts that live in your address book aren’t fair game for newsletter campaigns…they didn’t opt in, remember?

Double Opt-In

Using a double opt-in is the best way to manage how people sign up for your list. When you use Robly, it’s required. What this means is that a recipient must complete two steps before successfully signing up rather than one. So here’s what happens: First, a customer signs up through your website. Then, he or she receives an email with a link that asks the person to confirm. Last, the link gets clicked, the email is added to your list, and the IP address, date, and time are logged, and you have proof of opting-in. If you’re concerned that people won’t follow through with the confirmation link, don’t be. It’s becoming standard operating procedure, and you’ll have list of people who genuinely want to hear from you, which means no erroneous sign ups, fewer bounces and unsubscribes, and fewer abuse complaints.

Measuring Performance

Now that you have all the important info to start sending a successful campaign, how do you actually track and measure success?

Open Rates

This is how many people open your email, and 20% to 30% is considered average. Track this over time, as the rate will fluctuate between your first email and following emails.

Click-Through Rates

Click-through rates measure how many people click on a specific link. Consider tinkering with the number of links per email, using product photos with links, wording, and sending more focused emails to segmented lists to try and see what is more successful.

Unsubscribe Rate

For well-maintained lists that are contacted regularly, an average unsubscribe rate is less than one percent. Check your rate after each campaign and pay attention to spikes or sudden changes. If you’re sending too often or not often enough, your rates may change.


Bouncebacks are happen when an email isn’t successfully delivered. There are two types: a soft bounce is an email isn’t successfully delivered, but the email address exists. Perhaps the recipient’s mailbox is full or the server was too busy. It’s worthwhile to resend soft bounces. A hard bounce is undeliverable because the email address doesn’t exist or there’s a typo in it. All hard bounces should be removed from your list … Robly will take care of that for you. We’ll also remove a subscriber when we’ve tried a bunch of times to deliver it and been returned a soft bounce. Robly lets you read the information generated from bounces so you can see why it happened, but it’s always good to double check hard bounces for any obvious typos.

SMTP replies for bounced email

If an email gets bounced back to Robly, the server that it bounced from generally puts what’s called an “STMP reply” into the header. It contains information as to why the email bounced, which helps us determine whether it’s a hard or soft bounce.

Occasionally, though, the servers use non-standard codes and messages, while firewalls can insert incorrect messages, like “this email address no longer exists, as a means of tricking list management systems into removing email addresses. As such, we’ve implemented an option within your bounce reports called View Full Headers, which allows you to read all the information within the headers in order to determine why an email address bounces.

Expand Your Audience

If you noticed that you’re getting new subscribers after each campaign, then congratulations: you’re sharing valuable content that people are probably forwarding along to others. If not, figure out ways to make your content more engaging and interesting. It also never hurts to encourage sharing by:

  • Including a note at the top of your email that says, “Feel free to forward this to a friend”
  • Placing a “View this email in your browser” link at the top of your email that refers to the archived version of the campaign on your website.

The Grand Finale: The Checklist

Now that you have a solid background on what it takes to create a successful email marketing campaign, it’s time to get crackin’. Here’s a checklist to help you create the first campaign, which we hope will lead to many more.


  • Choose content and frequency. What’s the goal of your newsletter? Why should people subscribe to it? What kind of information will you be sharing that they can’t find elsewhere? Should it be sent once a month or biweekly?
  • Hone the brand, personality, and tone of your campaigns. What’s the voice of your newsletter? Is it formal? Corporate? Laid-back? Commercial?
  • Get permission. Always make sure your recipients opt-in. You must ask for and receive permission before sending newsletters or promotions.
  • Have a privacy policy. This is where you address issues like tracking personal information or marketing to children under the age of 13, which are important to address if you’re collecting click-through and open rates.
  • Know the laws. Make sure you know the CAN-SPAM rules, and check with your attorney if you have any questions.
  • Set up “reply-to:” email addresses for your campaigns. Consider newsletter@, email@, or info@. But make sure it works and that someone checks the account regularly. It’s a good idea to avoid using names in case that specific person leaves the company.
  • Have an abuse@ email address. Even the cleanest lists will get complaints, and whether it’s because someone forgot they opted-in, or accidentally or intentionally marked your message as spam, ISPs will need a way to contact you via email, and is the most common format, and the one they’ll try first. You should also register this address at which is a resource that anti-spam organizations will use to ascertain how responsible a company is.
  • Set up feedback loops with major ISPs. Register your IP addresses with AOL and MSN if you plan on sending lots of email marketing from your company server. They can send you a report if their users report your emails as spam. You can also register for reports at which will automatically send you alerts if users on their system report your email as spam. Robly’s IP addresses are all registered so we can deal with deliverability issues if and when they come up.
  • Set up test accounts with AOL, Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo. And don’t forget to test as many computer email applications as possible, too: Outlook, Apple Mail, Lotus, Entourage, etc. Lots of testing on the front end will save you headaches later on.
  • Add a double-opt in form on your website. This is the best way to build a solid list, and consider this an entry point for segmenting your lists. You could create different categories of sign-ups, like “press,” or “industry” (just make sure you create customized confirmation screens and emails for each) that set expectations about content and frequency. Invite customers to sign up by posting links on your site, social media, and in emails.
  • Design an HTML template. Different occasions may call for different templates, but if you’re not a designer, choose from one of hundreds of built-in templates.
  • Add real content to your test campaigns. No dummy text, and no copy pasting multiple paragraphs. It triggers the spam alarms!
  • Make a plain-text alternative. Creating a solid template for this early on is a great idea, but make sure you include this alternate email: it’s important!
  • Test those templates. Send them to as many guinea pigs (friends, family, colleagues) as possible, in as many different email applications and machines as possible. Open, click, repeat, and check your reports to make sure your tracking works, as well as your reply-to email address.
  • Create a test list. Use your own email addresses (come on, we know you have several…but if not, make them) and subscribe to your list from all of them. Then use that as a test list to double check what your campaigns look like.
  • Check your website. Make sure you’ve created the archive version of your newsletter for your website and that it works, and that any landing or e-commerce links and pages are working.
  • Prepare for traffic. Once you’ve sent your first campaign, be ready and available afterward for any customer assistance, especially if you’re dealing with e-commerce.
  • Send the campaign. Yay!
  • Check your stats. Robly provides real time stats, so if you log into our system after you send your campaign, you can watch the magic as it happens. We track for 2 months before archiving.
  • Review performance. Go back and analyze your reports after a few days. Check open and click-through rates and compare them to your web traffic as well as sales. Was there a surge? If not, why? What was the ROI for that campaign?
  • Learn and plan. Learn from what people did or didn’t click on or respond to and use that information to start planning the next campaign.


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