Author: Matthew Patterson
Publisher: Sitepoint, 2010
Aimed at: Web developers who understand CSS
Pros: Well written and well explained
Cons: Doesn't tackle technical issues
Reviewed by: Lucy Black
If you have ever had to create an HTML email you will know that it isn't easy. There are few obvious tools to use let alone the difficulties of actually dealing with a mailing list. However, if you are looking for nitty gritty details on how to do it then you might be disappointed by this book. Overall the focus of the book is on management, design, psychology and law. These are fine subjects as long as this is what you mostly want to know about.
Chapter 1 is well-written waffle on "Why Email". It covers all the usual ground, including why email advertising is so hated, different uses for email publicity and so on. You can safely skip this chapter.
The second chapter is still mostly waffle - "Planning an Email Campaign". It covers such topics as "how long should an email be?" and "how often should I send emails?". All fairly obvious questions that have no obvious answers and none are provided - go with what works seems to the the verdict. The only useful part of this chapter is a brief mention of metrics that measure how successful your campaign is - but the details of how you might implement such metrics is glossed over.
Chapter 3 is called "Design for the Inbox" and is full of obvious design points such as an email inbox is smaller than a web page and don't rely on images because most email clients don't show them. Well despite the advice being obvious you only have to look at a few HTML emails in your inbox to discover that not all HTML email creators take notice of the restrictions or design effective HTML emails. How many emails do you get that are simply blank image boxes with no clue as to what they might be about?
Chapter 4 moves on to the technology needed and basically says use tables and don't rely on CSS. The most useful information is contained in the tables of which email clients support what. For some strange reason not all email clients are included in all tables so it can be a little frustrating. The examples given all use hand-coded HTML with not a helpful editor or tool in sight.
The final two chapters are arguably off topic in that Chapter 5 deals with permissions and basically not getting blacklisted or in trouble with your ISP. All good stuff but not really about creating stunning HTML emails that just work, which is what the title promises. The final chapter is on selling your services to clients - again not really about creating HTML emails, stunning or otherwise.
If you are looking for a book about managing and perhaps even designing HTML emails then you may find this book, which is slim and easy to read, helpful. However if you are looking for solutions to the technical problems encountered in communicating by email you may be disappointed. I for one am not convinced that it does what the title promises.