Using Color in HTML Newsletter Design

    July 9, 2003

Looking over the newsletters below, you may wonder if this is one of those personality tests based on your color preferences. And in some ways, it is.

The colors you choose for your HTML (or print) newsletter absolutely contribute to your publication’s personality. That’s why it’s important to choose wisely.

For your electronic publication you have 216 color choices (if you want it to be web-safe, that is). How do you narrow that down to just 4-6 colors perfect for your publication?

Because each publication is unique, we can’t say: use red, black, and tan and your readers will love it. Rather, you’ll need to take into consideration both your subject matter and your audience. In general, men tend to prefer primary and secondary colors (like green), while women prefer intermediate colors (a primary and a secondary combined). But really, when it comes to your particular readers, it’s better not to generalize and instead really study what works and what doesn’t.

We respond to color so strongly that marketers have found that changing the color of a single sentence, may double or triple response. Alternately, choosing the wrong color may cause many of your subscribers to unsubscribe.

So, how can you pick the right colors for your publication? Here are the steps we’ve found to work in the past:

  1. PAY ATTENTION. During your time online, really notice the colors you respond positively to on the screen (they may be dramatically different from those you like on paper). Consider, too, which combinations are most pleasing (and which are most jarring).
  2. SOLICIT FEEDBACK. Start a reader panel, and send several newsletters to those readers who volunteer to be on it (offer some kind of reward, drawings or discounts, etc.). Encourage honesty and ask straightforward, specific questions (“Which color/s did you like least?” instead of “Was there anything you’d change about the publication?”).
  3. CONSIDER SAMPLES. Collect HTML newsletters and review their colors with your reader panel. We’ve gotten you started with five color schemes below. Try to separate the color scheme from the layout (but remember, some colors look better in smaller doses or next to certain colors). Rank the newsletters and describe why you do or do not like each newsletter.
  4. TEST YOUR RESULTS. Once you have a few colors you like, try them out in your newsletter design. Also, shuffle each color around in the layout–you may find the red you love is too bright for a sidebar but just perfect for your headings.
  5. PRACTICE PATIENCE. Finally, give each color scheme time to settle. You might send each out to a group of readers, asking for their opinions (make sure to tell them it’s a test). Give yourself a couple weeks to think about the decision. Once you’ve picked a color scheme, stick with it–that’ll ensure your readers recognize it each month.
  6. Want more tips on making your newsletter personable?
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