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Troubleshooting Your First Email Campaign

Solving common problems with HTML email campaigns

Are you experiencing any problems with your first HTML email campaign? HTML email can be tricky. Few people get it right the first time around. Here are some common problems we've seen people having with their first email marketing campaigns, and some tips on how you can fix them.

This troubleshooting guide was written for new i-Emailer customers who are going through our New User Checklist. However, anybody new to email marketing is welcome to use it.

General HTML Email Problems

Common Issue:Recommendation:
None of my images are showing up when I open the email. There are several reasons this might be happening:
  • Your email program has images turned off by default. This is a common safety feature built into almost all of the popular email programs. You'll have to click the "Show Images" link or button to make them display. FYI, some email programs will bypass this safety measure if the sender is in the recipient's address book, so you might want to ask your recipients to "add me to your address book" during your opt-in process.
  • You're not using absolute paths for your images. This is only an issue if you are not using our built-in template designer. Generally speaking, your images should be hosted on a public web server somewhere. In your HTML code, you use absolute paths to "pull them in" when an email is opened. Here's how to code absolute paths.
  • The images aren't hosted on a public web server. If you know you are using absolute paths, but the images are still broken, are you hosting them on a password-protected intranet in your company? You'll need to move them to a publicly accessible web server (like where your web site is). We've seen people hosting images on their intranet servers, and when they test, everything works (because they have permission to that server). But when they send their final email, none of their recipients could view the images.
  • Images are not in GIF or JPG format. Most email programs can only display GIF or JPG formatted images. Make sure you're not trying to use TIF or BMP type files.
  • Your images are saved in CMYK format instead of RGB. This is rare, but we've seen some graphic designers try to use images that they saved in CMYK format (for printing), and then browsers and email programs wouldn't display them (they can only display RGB).
  • Your image files are too large, and need to be compressed. We've seen some people try to use graphics that are way, way too large for email. If your graphics were originally created in high resolution (such as for printing) then they most likely need to be compressed for the web. High resolution graphic files can be several MEGs in file size, which can take a long time to download. If you plan to work on the web a lot, we recommend a web design program like Adobe Fireworks, because it compresses files like a champ.
My really cool thingy won't work. JavaScript, ActiveX, Flash, and videos rarely work in HTML email. You can send them, but your recipient most likely won't be able to view them. That's because they usually require that you "embed" some special code or objects in your email---which also happens to be how viruses work. So most email programs will block your cool stuff for safety. Typical stuff we see getting blocked all the time: JavaScript rollover images, embedded movie files, ActiveX, and miscellaneous junk code that's copied over when someone tries to code HTML with Microsoft Word or some other sloppy WYSIWYG. This is going to sound really pessimistic, but if it's fancy and cool, don't expect it to work in HTML email (if you can, design it to fail gracefully).
Font formatting or CSS isn't working If your font styles aren't showing up the way you had hoped, it's probably because your HTML email is using CSS. There's nothing wrong with CSS in HTML email, but there are a few tricks to making it work properly.
  • Inline CSS is safest.
  • If you want to embed your CSS, then place your CSS under the <BODY> tag, not inside the <HEAD> tags like you'd normally do it. If you're an experienced web designer, this will seem "icky" to you. But most browser-based email programs (like Yahoo! or MSN) will strip out your HEAD and BODY tags so that your settings don't interfere with their own. If your CSS is inside the HEAD tags, you'll lose it all.
  • Linking to an external CSS file (even if you use absolute paths, like with your image files) is not reliable.
  • Don't even try CSS-positioning, and DIVs are not very reliable.

Email Delivery Problems

Common Issue:Recommendation:
I never got my test email.
  • Wait a while. It could still be in transit. We send emails super fast, but your ISP might be running a little slow. Wait up to 30 minutes.
  • Did you send a message to yourself? Some email servers don't like an email from you, to you, but sent from an outside server. Check your junk folder.
  • The email could have been accidentally sent to your junk folder. For troubleshooting tips, see "got sent to junk folder" below.
  • Did you send it to the correct email address? Maybe you typed it in wrong.
  • Maybe your email server is down. Are you receiving emails from anyone else right now? Is your account with your ISP overquota?
My email got sent to the junk/spam folder. Don't kill the messenger just yet. There could be several reasons the email we delivered got sent to your junk folder:
  • Your email has "spammy" content. Words like "free!" or phrases like "Order Now," "Limited Time Only," or just SHOUTING WITH ALL CAPS can get your email spam filtered. Read up on How Spam Filters Work and edit your email as necessary.
  • Make sure your subject line does not contain the word "test" or "testing"
  • Don't use "greeked text" in your body (lorem ipsum, etc). You might just be testing, but that looks like spam. Use content that's as "real" looking as possible.
  • Corporate email firewalls don't like when the recipient and the reply-to email addresses are the same (how many times have you received spam that looks like it came from yourself?). So sending tests to yourself might be a problem in a corporate environment. Try sending to your personal accounts (Yahoo!, Gmail, MSN, etc). Or, setup an email address like "" to use for your reply-to.
An email keeps hard-bouncing back, but I know it's a valid address. Read the SMTP headers (here's how). If the recipient's email server was properly setup, it might have included a message explaining why it rejected your email. Typical reasons for getting your email bounced back to you:
  • The recipient's email address no longer exists
  • Recipient's account is overquota, or temporarily unavailable
  • The email server doesn't recognize i-Emailer as a "trusted sender" yet (see how to get i-Emailer whitelisted) so it's blocking our emails.
  • The recipient is automatically forwarding email from his work account to his mobile device, and so the email header tracing information is not matching up, and the mobile device is rejecting it. In other words, the email says it originated from i-Emailer's server, but the mobile device got the forwarded email from his corporate server, so something's amiss.
My corporate email firewall keeps blocking my test emails. Corporate IT groups have to deal with way too much spam, so they install email firewalls to help control the situation. Very often, this is completely outsourced to a company like Barracuda Networks, IronMail, or Outblaze. Those firewalls use a whole bunch of criteria to determine "friend or foe."
  • Most often, the firewall just doesn't recognize i-Emailer as a trusted sender to be suddenly receiving HTML email with links, graphics, etc. It's a lot to take in at once. You may need to ask your IT group to "whitelist" i-Emailer.
  • Don't send to too many people at one time within your company. That can look like a spam attack.
  • Don't send from yourself, to yourself. Use a different reply-to: address, or try sending to one of your personal accounts, instead of your work account.
  • Try sending yourself a very simple text message from i-Emailer (no HTML, no images, or formatting). If it makes it through, you know it's something about your content it didn't like. Here are some tips on How Spam Filters Work.

Other Useful Resources:

  • Free Email Marketing Guide
  • Inbox Inspector: Generate screenshots of your email designs in all the major email programs, test all the major spam filters and email firewalls, and scan for spammy keywords in one click.