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your own newsletter

There are actually good reasons for running a newsletter or mailing list, among which are the following: You want to disseminate information to your readers. You want to make product announcements or announcements about updates to your site. Such newsletters are useful both to you (as a web designer) and to your readers: you get a chance to reach your audience with your information, and your audience gets the information they wanted (which was why they subscribed in the first place). There's also a side benefit: some of your readers will return to your ste to check out the new stuff mentioned in your newsletter.

Running a Newsletter

There are basically two indispensable things in running a newsletter: a way for visitors to your site to sign up or leave the mailing list; a way for you to post to the entire mailing list. Using a Third Party Service The easiest way to run a newsletter is to let a third party handle the dirty work, and you just send to the list. There are actually many free mailing list hosting services on the Internet - you can check our review of two such services from:

The advantages of using a third party service are: Hands-free - you don't have to bother about managing the list itself. Things like bounced mail, maintaining an archive of past issues, etc, are handled by them.

Confirmation of subscription - all the mailing list hosting services that I know of actually send your subscribers an email requiring them to confirm before they'll be added to the list. Although you may think this is a hassle (it is), it is actually useful because it will help in preventing cases where a person's email is used to subscribe to a list without his permission. At least, you won't be accused of spamming anyone.

Publicity - A not-so-obvious advantage comes from the publicity the third party service may give to your list. I have actually got new visitors to my site (and new subscribers) coming from people who were browsing the third party mailing list site. They saw my newsletter listed there, checked out my site and subscribed to the list.

No additional software needed - you do not need Smartlist, Majordomo, Listserv, or CGI access. All you need is to sign up. The disadvantages of using a free third party mailing list service are: Advertising - your subscribers are subjected to third party advertising. This may occur when they go to manage their subscriptions, and perhaps also before/after each email message you send. This advertising is understandable of course - the mailing list service has to recover its cost somehow.

Lack of total control - there was one time when I wanted to concatenate two mailing lists but found that there was no real way of doing it without forcing all the subscribers of one of the lists to reconfirm their subscription again, even though they had already confirmed their subscription when they first subscribed to the original newsletter. When you use a third party service (especially the free ones), there are no exceptions to their rules: you are forced to accept all their methods, rules, terms, and even their scheduled downtimes, etc.

Reliability - the free services are not always reliable. When they are down, they may lose new subscriptions and fail to deliver messages. I suspect that I have lost a number of subscribers that way.
If the disadvantages outweigh the advantages in your eyes, then you might want to run your newsletter yourself.

Using Your Own Software

Some web hosting companies actually provide sophisticated mailing list software with their hosting package. Some sites come with Majordomo, others with Listserv, and still others have Smartlist. Very often these packages are superior to simply using your own CGI scripts, since they allow people to subscribe or unsubscribe using both email as well as a web interface, allow users to check the archive of old issues, download certain files which you may want to make available to them, etc. Make sure you check what's the maximum number of subscribers the software can support before you commit. My opinion is that numbers below 1000 are just too little. You'll outgrow it in no time. (In fact even a few thousand is too little.)

If your web host does not provide this, then you can simply check out one of the free CGI mailing list scripts floating around on the Internet. For example, you can find our list of free mailing list CGI scripts on our other site:

Note that due to the nature of these software, the CGI scripts often require your users to subscribe and unsubscribe only using the web interface. Some scripts will automatically send an email to the subscriber with information on how to unsubscribe and the like. While not as useful as software that require the user to confirm via email before subscribing, it will nonetheless help you in weeding out some cases of people submitting bogus email addresses. You will then have to handle the bounced mail (delete the subscriber from your list) yourself.

In general, whether you are installing your own list processor or using a third party service, you should backup the entire list of subscribers to your own computer every now and then. This is prudent, since it is always possible that the hard disks of web hosts and third party services may crash. When this happens, you will at least have your backup copy of the list to fall back upon. Don't rely on their backups. The only reliable backup is your own!

What to Write?

What should you put in your mailing list or newsletter? That's really up to you, of course. Some people hold discussion lists (where even subscribers can contribute to the list). Others use it as a place to make product announcements. My Logtime mailing list was designed for users of the software to receive notification everytime a new version is released. Still others give tips and other information in their newsletters. This is what's newsletter does. Incidentally, I would suggest that your newsletter contain things useful to your readers rather than just one whole string of advertisements. If your newsletter also caters to webmasters, you can always use our articles subject to the conditions stated under each article on It's helpful to use third party articles now and then because it helps you deliver your newsletter on time without having to write for every issue.

Formatting Your Newsletter

Although you may be tempted to beautify your newsletter with the latest HTML code, be aware that a large percentage of your readers may be using email software that cannot handle HTML code. To them, your page will be extremely difficult to read (they will be reading your HTML tags interspersed with the actual text). In fact, even if their software can handle HTML code, some people do not like having HTML coded email messages.

I would suggest that you play it safe and write your newsletter in plain text with a maximum of 65 characters to a line. To write in plain text, switch off any HTML formatting options that your software may have. If you write more than 65 characters to a line, some of your subscribers' email software will wrap the line at the 66th character, resulting in your hard work appearing mangled.

Although you may not have facilities like bold, italics and colour in your plain text newsletter, you still have certain formatting abilities: Put space between each paragraph

You can emphasize a particular word by enclosing it in asterisks: eg, *recommended*.

Although you might think that you can underline things using the hyphen or underscore character, remember that some of your users may be using fixed pitched fonts while others may be using variable pitched fonts. This means that the length of your lines will vary according to the type of fonts they use. I would suggest you simply use hyphens to separate chunks of text rather than as the underline character. Again, keep those lines within 65 characters. Remember, content is king, not formatting. If you really need to format it nicely, put it on a web page, and place a link to it in your newsletter.

Putting Links in a Newsletter

Since you should not use HTML code, how do you place links in your newsletters? Simple. Don't put HTML tags (with "a href") and the like, just put the unadorned link like: Modern email software will automatically make that into a clickable link.

Likewise, when giving email addresses, don't simply dump the email address, prefix it with "mailto:", like the following: Again, this will be rendered as a clickable link by modern email software.

Get Started! You probably have enough tips to start you off on your own newsletter here. The rest of the stuff pretty much depends on what you want your newsletter for.

Happy writing!

Copyright 2000 by Christopher s l heng. All rights reserved. Get more free tips and articles like this, on web design, promotion, revenue and scripting, from or subscribe to the FREE newsletter by sending an email to

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