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Jan 15, 2003
How To

Lotus Notes Users Can't Read Your HTML Email (Even When You Include a Text-Version)

SUMMARY: Ouch. If you have never seen what your lovely HTML email campaign or
newsletter looks like to Lotus Notes users, we have included a
screenshot in this article that is painfully educational.

You will also learn what part of the Net population still uses Lotus
Notes, whether this affects your marketplace, and what steps you
can take to improve your emails to Lotus users.
By Tech Editor Alexis Gutzman

According to the latest figures I can find, about 2% of the
world's email users use Lotus Notes. That sounds like a tiny
number until you consider the demographic they fall in.

As of 1998, 27% of corporations used Lotus Notes for employee
email. Although Outlook has made serious inroads on this number,
by 2000 an estimated 55,300,000 office workers worldwide still
used Lotus Notes. Millions more in government and education also
use it.

One of the reasons why Lotus Notes is still so popular is that it
provides some security against viruses.

For example, MarketingSherpa readers at Bacardi Corporation, the FBI,
the American Management Association, and Western Conn. State
University have told us they use Lotus Notes, often because their
IT departments want to be able to block incoming viruses.

Unfortunately for marketers and newsletter publishers, all
incoming HTML email can be affected by these security settings,
so the recipient will see a fairly hideous broken version of
your message wherein none of the images or links work.

Even more unfortunately, if your email system sends a text-only
version of your message along for systems that can not read HTML,
Lotus Notes users will not be able to see it. Instead, Lotus Notes
will ignore the text-version and doggedly display the hideous

I have posted a sample of what a typical HTML message looks like
when viewed by a Lotus Notes user here for you:

Is there a work-around? Not really.

If your target demographic includes Lotus Notes users, you

(1) On the form people use to join your list, add a "plain text"
option and label it "Recommended for Lotus Notes Users." If the
majority of your list are potential Lotus Notes users, then make
that your default option.

(2) Allow people to change their settings easily from HTML to
text at any time by using a simple form on your site, and put a
link to this form in every email you send.

(3) At the top of every message you send out, give a link to the
HTML version online. Lotus Notes users are used to this and know
to click on the link.

They do not blame you for the way it looks, but they will be
annoyed if they can not do anything with it, since none of the
images and none of the links work!

(4) Test your messages on Lotus Notes to see for yourself how
they appear.

(5) If your target audience is likely to be largely
big-corporate-America or government or university users, just
send plain text, and do not waste your time on HTML (or anything
further such as attachments, rich media, forms in email, etc.).

Background Notes:

As a background, most email marketing messages actually go out as
multipart/alternative messages, containing a plain text version
of the message for email clients that can not handle HTML, followed
by the HTML version for those that can.

Lotus Notes is group software, which means that a central
administrator can (and usually does) disable the rendering of
HTML in order to prevent users from inadvertently executing code
that would give them a virus.

Since choosing to display the HTML version is a client-side
decision, it takes place at the desktop level, what is actually
happening is that the computer tells the email client that it
knows what to do with the HTML part of the message, therefore
display that instead of the text part, but then the email client
(Lotus Notes or something else) intervenes and prevents the HTML
from displaying properly.
See Also:

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