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Content Management > Newsletters

Newsletters

posted on 2:45 PM, July 24, 2008
ExSite includes features to blast out fully-formatted newsletters.  This is not done by a special plug-in.  Rather, we use two other plugins in combination to get the newsletter functionality.
  1. use My Website or other CMS tools to build a formatted HTML document (the newsletter)
  2. use the Email plug-in to blast this document to a membership list

Preparation

Before you can send newsletters, you must prepare a special newsletter template that defines the appearance and layout of your newsletter.  This is done the exact same way you build any other web page template.  However, try to take the following additional considerations into mind:
  • Do not include menus and other website links like you would in a normal template, since the reader of your newsletter is not on your website.
  • Try to limit the newsletter template and contents to regular text and images—do not include other plug-ins, forms, and so on, because those are designed to work on your website, not in an email.
  • Name the template with the word "Newsletter" in it, or something similar so that you can easily tell the difference between newsletter templates and regular website templates.
You can create multiple newsletter templates, if you wish, with different layouts.  Each should have a "body" area that will take the main newsletter content.

Creating a Newsletter

To create a newsletter to send out, make a new page and have it use your newsletter template.  It is probably most convenient to use the Website Manager application to do this, because it will automatically make use of some special features that are useful for newsletters.  For example, it will prompt you to select your newsletter template, rather than just assume that you want to use your default template.  It will also look for any predefined body layouts that you may have installed (see below).  If you created your page another way, you can always reset the template and change the body later.

Edit your newsletter page using your favourite CMS editing tool, such as My Website.  Place text or library images into your newsletter as you see fit, exactly as if you were editing a page.

Remember, unlike your regular web pages, newsletters will be viewed from an email program.  That means your readers are not on your website, and may not even be connected to the internet.  For this reason, you should follow some special practices with newsletters:
  • Use the URL method of making hotlinks only.  This ensures that the links will work from any location.  (If you use the other methods, the links may only work from inside your website.)
  • Do not use plug-ins in your newsletters.  They may not work correctly outside your web site, and as such are disabled in newsletters by default.
  • Do not use Javascript, as this is disabled in email for security reasons.
Because you are creating this newsletter like a regular page, your website will treat it as a normal page by default.  In other words, it will appear in menus and sitemaps.  This is a useful feature, because it means you can automatically archive your newsletters on your site.  If you do not want the newsletters to be handled in this way, simply reconfigure the "page" to be hidden from menus (the page visibility option).  You may nevertheless want to sort it into a particular submenu, so that the newsletters are grouped together for convenience.

Also, if you include mailto: links in your newsletters, you may want to hide them from your menus, so that spam-bots cannot find these e-mail addresses.  (You cannot use the MailTo: plug-in to obscure email addresses, because it uses Javascript, which is disabled in email.)  Alternatively, you can send the email out with regular mailto: links, and then modify the page when done to use the MailTo: plug-in instead.  That way, the email version has simple hotlinks, and the archived web version has protected addresses.

Sending Newsletters

When your newsletter is ready to go, use the Email tool to create an email blast.  Use the button to create a new e-mail blast, and select the "newsletter" option.

Instead of giving you a place to write out the e-mail message, it will ask you to select a newsletter, and give you a menu of pages.  Your newsletter that you created above will be one of these pages.  Simply select it.  (In practice you can select any page from your site, but for reasons noted above, regular pages may not work very well outside your website.)

You can also specify other parameters, such as who to send to, when to send the email, a CC: list, and so on.

If the message is set to "active", it will be sent on the date you specified, or at the next bulk mailing time, if that date is now or earlier.  If it is set to "inactive", the message will be held as a draft and not sent.  (Simply edit the email and change it to active to send it.)

Test Messages

As with all Email blasts, you may want to set up a test blast first, and send it to a test recipient group (perhaps containing only you), just to confirm that it works and that you haven't done anything in your newsletter that is not appropriate for e-mail.

Advanced Layout Tricks

Some newsletters have complex layouts—not just a single column of text, but more of a "newspaper style" with multiple columns, different cells or boxes, and other tricks to break the newsletter up into different stories.

In simple cases you can get some of these effects by using the table tool to insert tables into your newsletter body.  For example, insert a table with one row and two columns, and that will give you a section of your newsletter with a side-by-side column layout.  You can use a different layout above and below this table.  You can optionally set background colors on either or both of the table cells to highlight them as a sidebar of some kind.  You may also want to set some "padding" on the cells to improve legibility.  These tricks can be performed with the table editor tool.

If you have a standard complex layout that you use all the time, then there are two techniques for initializing a new newsletter to use this layout.

Method 1.  Keep a copy of the HTML of the layout (containing some dummy text, perhaps) in a file in a convenient location.  When you want to re-use this layout, follow this procedure:
  1. double-click on this file to bring it up in a browser.
  2. select all, and copy it to your clipboard.
  3. edit your newsletter, and paste the contents of the clipboard into your blank editor.
  4. edit the newsletter to replace all of the dummy text.
Method 2.  Keep a copy of the HTML of the layout in a library on your website.  You can use any library, but it may be most convenient to make a special library called "Newsletter Layout" or something like that.  Keep the layout in a special content item named "body".  You can also give it a more lengthy description.  When you want to re-use this layout, follow this procedure:
  1. use the Website Manager to go to your newsletter
  2. under the "Template" menu, select "change body"
  3. select your special layout body from the options it provides to you.
  4. now you can edit the page using your favourite editor, to replace the dummy text.
With method 2, you can keep several layouts in a library, and choose from among them when you create a new newsletter.  However, when you use the "change body" option, you replace the entire contents of the newsletter with the dummy text of the new layout, so you should only do this for new newsletters.  (If you do this by accident, you can use the CMS rollback feature to recover the previous version.)

HTML experts can use the Website Manager to edit their HTML at the source code level to get even finer control over their presentation.