Email Marketing Web Development

Bad Email Chronicles: Excessive Reliance on Images in a Message (imagemap example)

The effectiveness of email marketing campaigns can easily be subverted by graphic artists who decide to get a little too fancy. Unless the image you’re embedding in the message is really essential, and adds a lot to what you’re trying to communicate, I recommend designing image optional emails. But it’s very common for the marketing department to be so in love with their pixel-perfect design that they put the whole message in an image – even though many email clients will block or suppress the display of images, at least initially.

This example, from an event promotion by the South Florida Business Journal, is particularly bad because I found that even once I turned on image display, I could not easily respond to the offer. They want me to click the button that says Register Now, but when I do, nothing happens.

When I first opened the message, I basically got a blank screen in Gmail (I use the Google Apps version with After clicking Display Images, here’s what it looks like:

Bad Email
Whole Message Embedded in an Image

There’s an email address in the message, but nothing happens if I try to click on that, either. I can’t copy and paste the email address, or any other info from this message – if I try, I wind up selecting the whole image rather than the text I’m after.

bad email - can't select text
Can't select text: the message is one big image

I had to look at the source code to figure out what was going on. They could have wrapped the whole image in an anchor tag linking to their Register Now page, and that would have worked better. But instead they coded it using an imagemap – an Old School HTML technique that used to be used a lot to map regions within a banner or navigation menu on a web page as links. The map sets XY coordinates within the image for different links. Looks like the designers here wanted to have most of the image mapped to that Register Now page, except for the link to the contact email. Imagemaps have fallen out of favor in web design because they’re not good for search engine optimization (SEO). And they’re a bad idea for email marketing. Gmail and several other prominent email clients ignore imagemaps, or offer limited support for them.

Probably what happened here was the web designers working with this email team previewed this as a web page and maybe tested it with Outlook (which does allow imagemaps), but didn’t realize it wouldn’t work at all for some segments of the audience.

And that’s the danger of getting too fancy, without understanding the tradeoffs that you’re making – including tradeoffs that mean you don’t get a sale or sales lead that could have been yours.

Clips Email Marketing column: Chef Takes Guerrilla Marketing Online

Chef Takes Guerrilla Marketing Online

David F. Carr, 07.27.10, 06:00 AM EDT

Taking reservations and collecting money online for an underground restaurant.


Russell Jackson speaks not very plausibly about maintaining “plausible deniability” about the years he ran the San Francisco “underground restaurant”SubCulture Dining.

In talking about his experiences, Jackson uses the phrase “if it actually happened,” as if it were all hypothetical. Then again, now that he has gone legitimate with a traditional brick-and-mortar, health-department-inspected restaurant called Lafitte (, he is promoting it on the Web and promising a “crazy intangible element that made SubCulture Dining work so well for so long.”

Jackson was part of a foodie movement in cities like San Francisco that achieved a small cult following for arranging gourmet dinners in people’s homes or other ad hoc locations. SubCulture Dining cultivated an air of hip exclusivity; you supposedly had to be “in the know” and with the right connections to know when the events were happening.

I spoke with Jackson to learn about the online marketing campaign he used to make SubCulture Dining successful, especially since that success helped generate the buzz that led to the opening of his above-ground restaurant. The process, he admits, took longer than he had expected. (More at

This is a case study of event marketing with EventBrite for an “underground dining” restaurant. Interesting one for me to report that I’ve done quite a lot of custom event marketing work with my web development clients, using my own scripts and (more recently) WordPress plugins to handle RSVPs and email invites. There are always advantages of having something custom built for your own purposes, but I’m impressed by the range of functionality EventBrite offers.

Chef Jackson and his business were also undeniably fun to write about.

Email Marketing Web Development

MailChimp Makes Email Broadcasts as Easy as Slipping on a Banana

After years of developing and maintaining my own system for managing email broadcasts, I’m in the process of moving most of my clients over to the MailChimp service. I learned a lot by building my own system, but it probably also has something to do with a penchant for doing things the hard way. I liked the fact that my custom system handled things exactly the way I wanted. But MailChimp’s application programming interface (API) is powerful enough that I ought to be able to do all those custom things, while letting a commercial service take care of all the hard parts having to do with handling email bounce errors and spam complaints.

I have a visceral dislike for Constant Contact, which I find very awkward to use. In contrast, MailChimp is a pleasure to work with. Maybe it’s just that the chimp mailman mascot makes me think of Curious George delivering newspapers. I always loved Curious George. Freddie is a little tubbier, probably just different enough to avoid copyright infringement, and he sets a mildly goofy, cheeky tone for the whole user interface and the well-done video tutorials.

The system is affordable, and there’s even a free account you can use for lists of less than 500 addresses, provided you don’t mind a discrete ad banner for the service inserted at the bottom of your messages. Otherwise, pricing starts at $15 for lists of up to 1,000 addresses.

You can see Freddie peeking over the edge of the campaign dashboard that greets you when you log in.

The MailChimp dashboard
The MailChimp dashboard

The service provides a very capable web-based tool for creating and email messages and templates. In particular, I love that they make it easy for you to save your own design as a template or upload your HTML (something Constant Contact seems to go out of its way to prevent you from doing).

Here’s a peek at the built-in designer/editor:

The MailChimp editor
The MailChimp editor

The application does a good job of walking you through the steps of creating an HTML email, generating an alternate text layout, and scheduling broadcasts.

Like other systems of this type, it enforces rules for list quality — alerting you to excessive complaints on any particular broadcast and telling you to clean up your act. I’ve run into some issues with this on political campaigns, where the candidates supporters from his last race don’t necessarily want to keep up with his latest campaign. But it’s better to know about these issues and address them than to have your messages blocked from reaching all users on an important service such as AOL or Yahoo Mail because you’ve generated too many spam complaints.

And even when they’re serving up an error message or confirmation, the service handles it with style.

Banana time
Banana time

Highly recommended.

Clips Email Marketing Web Development

My column launches on – IT Issues for SMBs

I’m now doing a column for the Business Intelligence channel on information technology issues for small to midsize businesses.

First column: Don’t Lose That Web Site on domain ownership problems that plague a lot of small organizations (and some that ought to know better). I’d still like to do an expanded version of this story for another publication, as there were a lot of details I had to leave out. (I also blogged about the topic here: The Danger of Losing Control of Your Internet Domain)

Second column will be for all the QuickBooks users: as your business grows, how do you know when it’s time to graduate to something more sophisticated (and typically more expensive). This will be a twice weekly feature, so I welcome suggestions on story ideas.