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Create your own HTML e-mail newsletter

Download a newsletter template and send it to a subset of your Outlook or Thunderbird contacts--without the messages getting caught in spam filters.

The other day, a friend asked if I how he could spiff up the weekly e-mail he sends to the members of his bowling team. I told him the simplest way was to download an HTML newsletter template he could customize and then send from Outlook or any other e-mail program.

Start by locating and downloading a newsletter template. You'll find a bunch of free ones at Templates Box. After you download the template you like, open it in an HTML editor. My favorite is the Composer component of the Mozilla Foundation's free SeaMonkey Web suite.

You could simply open the blank template file in Microsoft Word, add your text and images in that program, and then save the file with the .html extension, but I recommend that you instead use a WYSIWYG HTML editor such as Composer. Word and HTML don't always get along so well.

Previous versions of Word added all sorts of extraneous code to HTML pages, which created a cottage industry of utilities that cleaned up Word documents for publishing on the Web. Word 2007 is said to generate much cleaner HTML, but I've used Composer since the 1990s, and the program is great for customizing HTML templates.

Even though you may think all your recipients want to hear from you, follow a few rules to avoid looking like a spammer. First, send the newsletter only to people who are expecting it. Unless your bowling team is used to hearing from you weekly, give all your would-be readers a chance to opt in.

Second, always include a contact link so people can unsubscribe. Third, use a descriptive subject, but avoid all caps, excessive exclamation marks, and other spam-like terms. (If you're planning a newsletter for a Viagra support group, you're out of luck.)

Once you're happy with the look and content of your newsletter, save the file with the .html extension. Copy the newsletter by opening it in your HTML editor and pressing Ctrl-A and then Ctrl-C. Next, open a new blank message in your e-mail program, click in the body of the message, and press Ctrl-V to paste in the newsletter.

Sending an HTML e-mail newsletter via the Mozilla Foundation's SeaMonkey Web suite
Paste your HTML newsletter into the body of your message, put your own address in the To: field, and put your recipients' addresses in the Bcc: field. Mozilla Foundation

Now all that's left to do is to put your own e-mail address in the To: field, your recipients' addresses in the Bcc: field, and a descriptive-but-not-spammy phrase in the Subject field. If you plan to send the newsletter to the same group on a regular basis, create a subgroup in your Contacts list or address book with just those e-mail addresses. Then you can simply select that group in the Bcc: field each time you send out a newsletter.

With all the elements in place, click Send. If you're given the option, send the message as both HTML and plain text. That way, people who have HTML deactivated in their e-mail program by default will still see the text of your newsletter.

In fact, it's a good idea to view your newsletter as plain text before you send it so you know what it will look like to non-HTML recipients.