Using the Message Composer

1. Using the Message Composer
2. Using Custom Templates

1.1. Listbox Composer 101: an overview

To send a new message from the Listbox Message Composer, click

Start New Draft

on the main page of the Messages section or Account section.  This takes you to the Message Dashboard.

The Message Dashboard

The dashboard shows you the status of your draft as you work through it.  At any point during message creation, you can save your message and return to the dashboard.

Sections you have already completed are shown in blue.  The next section that requires your action is shown in green.  Sections that you cannot access yet are shown in grey.  You can always return to a section marked in blue, but you must complete the section marked in green before the sections marked in grey will become available.

On the dashboard, you can perform 4 actions:

  • Name your draft (at the top of the page)  Naming your draft helps you differentiate between different drafts you may be working on at the same time
  • Share your draft (in the left column, under your list of existing drafts)  By default, drafts are private -- they are only visible to you.  If you would like other administrators and listowners on your list to be able to view and edit your draft, mark it a "shared draft".
  • Clone a draft/message (under Step 4)  If you would like to send another message, using an existing draft or sent message as the starting point, you can clone that draft.  A new draft will be made, named "Copy of <the first draft's name>"
  • Delete a draft (under Clone this draft)  Please use this option carefully! Deleted drafts cannot be retrieved.  Drafts will remain in your Existing Drafts list until they have been sent or deleted, though, so you may wish to delete drafts you are not planning to use.

Step 1: Select Message Template

In step 1, you can:

  • Name your draft, in case you did not do it on the Dashboard.  We strongly recommend naming your drafts!
  • Select one of the following template types:
    • A public template, one of the templates Listbox provides for all accounts
    • A private template, created for you through Custom Design Services
    • Send Web Page, which takes a URL you provide, and turns it into an email
    • Blank, an unformatted option which allows you to enter text and styling yourself.

Note: You can switch your template after you start entering text, but not all templates include the same number of sections.  Switch templates carefully if you choose to do so.

Step 2: Write Your Message

Step 2 is where you'll set up and write your message.

If you've selected a public or private template, you'll be shown the template, which you will edit by section.  To choose the section you want to start editing, simply roll your mouse over the section, and click on the yellow "Click To Edit" box that appears.

If you've selected "Blank", your entire message is one section.  Click in the box to begin writing.

This will open up an editor in the center of the page.

Note:  Changes are saved when you click "OK" in the editor window.  If you are composing your message directly, or making a lot of changes, please make sure to click OK from time to time, so your changes can be saved.

If you've selected "Send Web Page", you'll be prompted to enter the URL of the page you want to use.

All these options edit the HTML version of the message, which is the one that can include images, colors, text styles and more.  We automatically generate a "plain text" version of your message for you, which is included for email programs that cannot display HTML.  If you wish to edit the plain text version, or make the plain text version just include a link to the HTML version, please click the Change/Edit link for Plaintext Content on the dashboard.

Step 3: Pick List & Test

Step 3 lets you set up your draft as an email message.  Here, you'll provide:

  • The list your message should go to
  • The addresses that should get the test copy
  • the From: address the message will display
  • the Subject: line
  • the To: address (we recommend always choosing "The Receiving Member")
  • the Reply-to: address
  • the message footer (including unsubscribe links)

Note: if making sure that the message looks right in, say, Gmail or Outlook or any other email program is very important to you, make sure that you send a test copy to that email program.

Step 4: Send To Your List

This is your final review step.  We show you the email address that test messages were sent to, so you can go check those mailboxes for your test message.

There is a summary of what we're going to send, and how many people will be getting it. Check this number carefully! If you think it should be 10 people, and it says 10,000, now is the time to catch it, not after it is sent.

If you are sure that everything looks correct, schedule the message for delivery.  Want the message to go out right away?  Select "Immediately".  Want to specify a time and date in the future?  Click "Pick Time", and click in the box underneath to select the date and time.

1.2. Tips on using the Send Web Page option

Sending a web page as email is the fastest way to send branded, attractive messages to your list subscribers. If you have a web site, you can send a web page as email in just a few minutes! If you have a template you've used in past campaigns with other providers, you can also set it up as a web page, and send it from our composer.

To get started, just click Compose Message from Home. Get instructions on using the Composer.

What are the limits?

Before you send a web page as email, take a moment to think about what's on that page. Because email programs are not as fully featured as web browsers, some web pages won't work at all, and others may need some adjusting before sending as email. Please pay attention to the following elements:

Multimedia: By and large, Flash and other animated web elements will not work as email.  If you want to "include a video" in your email, the way to do that is to use an image of the video start frame, and make clicking on that image take you to the video on the web.

Frames: Web pages using frames cannot be sent as email. However, one of the frame pages can be sent. If you right-click on the main pane of your framed page, you should have an option to "View Only This Frame" or "Open This Frame In a New Window". Choosing one of these options will take you to a page that only includes that frame. That page can be sent.

Dark Backgrounds: Some email programs, particularly webmail providers, do not honor CSS or font color tags, and they will convert all the text in your message to black text. Using a black background (or another very dark background) means that subscribers using that program would not be able to read your message. Using color in your background is fine, but we recommend using colors that you can easily read black text on.

Content in Images: Some email programs (Outlook) and webmail providers (Gmail) turn images off by default. So, for instance, if you put the key information on your page in a graphic, and subscribers have graphics turned off, they may not be able to determine the point of your message. Images enhance your message, but try to avoid putting text and message content into the images.

Postioning: Some email programs, particularly webmail providers, will strip CSS which positions elements of your webpage, and can ruin the layout of your message. We recommend using HTML tables to layout your page instead of using CSS positioning.

1.3. Inserting a subscriber name (or other custom field)

If you've uploaded subscribers' names or other information you wish to insert into your message content, you can start using it in your next message!

You can add fields in two ways:

  1. Import a subscriber file that includes the fields you want, and information for your subscribers
  2. Create a custom field, and have subscribers enter their information

Once the field is set up, it will be available in the third row of the composer editor, in a drop-down labeled "Custom Fields".  Just select the field you want, and it will be inserted into your message at the cursor point.

If you would prefer to type it in, or use custom fields in a message you send via email, cach field you upload is accessible in an [INFO] variable. So, for instance, if you have a field called "First Name", beginning your message with


would display for your subscriber Susan Jones:

Dear Susan,

When you set up custom fields, you can also set up a default value for every field, so that subscribers without that field would not have a blank space. For the example above, for instance, you might want to make the default "Customer", so it would say:

Dear Customer,

for any subscribers without name information filled in.

1.4. How do I test my campaign?

The Message Composer actually requires that you send a test copy of your message before delivering it to your entire list.

After you choose your message template, and create your message, you will go to Step 3, Pick List & Test.

There, you can set the message From, Subject and other settings. You will select the list that receives the message at this time, so we can append the correct footer to your message.

Then, specify up to 5 addresses to receive the test copy of your message. We pre-fill the account administrators and listowners, but you can change the list to anyone you like.

Your test message is identical to the message we will send to your subscribers except for 2 things:

  1. Your Subject will have the label [TEST] added to the beginning, so you know it's the test copy and not the real message.
  2. Some links that are customized for individual subscribers will not be generated correctly for people who are not list subscribers.

If you're happy with your test message, you can just go to Step 4, Send To List!

1.5. What browsers does the composer support?

The Listbox composer supports the current versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari and Google Chrome. Using another browser may result in messages that will not display properly in all email programs.


1.6. How can I copy (clone) a message I've already sent?

Cloning a draft or message is a great way to save yourself time when starting a message.

Clone a Sent Message

To clone a message you've already sent, you can select your source message:

  • from the "View or Clone a Recent Message" in the Composer
  • by selecting the message in  the Messages section, then clicking "Clone Message" on the message display page

Clone a Draft

Cloning a draft is great if you want to test two different versions of the same message. It creates a copy of your source message, which you can then edit, test and send separately. Once you clone a message, they become two separate messages, so changes made to the source message will not affect the clone.

To clone a draft, select the draft. The "Clone" option is in the Draft Actions section of the sidebar.

What gets cloned?

Whether you're cloning a sent message or a draft, we copy:

  • the template
  • the HTML content of the message
  • the Subject, From, To and Reply-To settings
  • the initial list of test addresses

All of these elements can be changed once the message is cloned.

What is not cloned:

  • the plain text content of the message

The plain text version is automatically reset to auto-generate, based on changes to the HTML content.

Why shouldn't I just use copy-and-paste instead?

Because templates use HTML formatting to position elements and include styling, copying and pasting is more likely to produce unpredictable results than cloning an old message.  Using copy and paste is great if you want to include some old content from a previous message, but want to use a totally different layout or template.  But, if you also want to copy the look and layout of an old message, cloning will give you better results.

1.7. What should I use as my From: address?

There are 2 parts of your From: header -- the name and the email address. 

The name should always be something subscribers recognize easily. The email address should be one that makes sure your message gets through.

The best From: email addresses are either your list address ( or your virtual list domain) or at a domain you control.

Addresses at your ISP or email provider are a bad choice. They are linked to your ISP's authentication policies, which can change at any time. Right now, for instance, messages with AOL and Yahoo From addresses will bounce, because they have authentication policies that say mail with a From: address at any of their domains must originate from within their network. GMail, Yahoo, AOL, Outlook, Hotmail and other free email services are also bad choices.

Update your list's name

Add a new sender address at a domain you control

1.8. What should I use as my To: setting?

At Step 3: Send a Test, you can choose to whom messages will appear to have been sent to. There are 2 options: The List Address or The Recipient.

When they are created, all lists are set to have "The Recipient" shown as the To: address. This means each subscriber will see their address (and only their address) in the To: field. Since many spam filters check to make sure the To: field matches the email address the message is being sent to, we recommend keeping your list set to "The Recipient".

Setting To: to "The List Address" means that every message sent to your list will have the To: field set to your list email address. This option is sometimes used by lists whose subscribers may wish to filter messages by the To: address.

1.9. What is "plaintext" content?

Most email messages you send or receive contain two parts -- the HTML or rich text part, and the "plaintext" part. Most email programs are set up to display the HTML or rich text part by default, and the text part only if selected. So, the vast majority of your subscribers will see your message with all the images, styling and formatting you've created. But, some subscribers may see just a text version of your message.

Whenever you send a message to your list, a plain text version of the message is created and included for you. If you send the message from the Message Composer, you can edit that plaintext content at any time after you create message content by clicking the "Change/Edit" link next to Plaintext Content.
Clicking that link will let you see the auto-generated version of the message we've created for you, and change it, if you want.

1.10. Why can't I just write a message in Word, then paste it in?

Word, though it can save documents in HTML, doesn't really produce HTML for email.  That's because HTML formatting is moving in 2 different directions.

For the web, in around 2004, web designers started pushing to remove formatting tags from HTML, and replace it with CSS.  This has been very successful.  It's the thing that makes it possible to do things like have a blog, and just click "change templates" to totally overhaul the look of your page with the click of a button.  It has substantially simplified the web designer's life.  And programs like Word, etc., that convert documents from their internal styling to HTML have jumped aboard, and embraced it (albeit over time.)

HTML email has gone in the opposite direction.  Driven by security concerns, styling conflicts with webmail programs, and the extreme range of ages of email programs out there, the recommendation for HTML email is to use tables for layout (a HUGE no-no in the CSS world), font tags for styling, and more.

So, as time goes on, programs that automatically generate HTML for the web get further and further away from generating the kind of HTML necessary to get the correct styling in email messages.  That's a big part of the reason that we provide templates... because setting up tables for layout, among other things, is fairly difficult.

In general, we recommend, if you are more comfortable writing your message in another tool, writing the content in the other program, but wait to style your message until you're using the composer.  It will produce the best, most consistent results, as the tools we have available in the message editor are the native elements available in HTML.

2.1. Using Custom Design Services

If you are not HTML savvy, but would like a customized template that you can use over and over again in your messages, you may be interested in Custom Design Services.

Custom Design Services pairs you with one of our graphic designers, to create your own personalized template.  We start from your existing source materials (like the banner graphic you use on your website, a paper newsletter you already send, your letterhead, or other starting point for your design.)  You will discuss what the template should look like in a phone call with your graphic designer.  They will design a mockup, which will be sent to you for approval.  Once approved, your mockup will be turned into a template for the composer.  Custom Design Service templates are private to your account, and cannot be used by other customers.  The template can be used by any list on your account, any number of times.

Custom Design Services start at $200, and include 2 hours of graphic design service, which is sufficient to convert most basic concepts.  If you would like a more elaborate design, need a custom graphic made for your banner, or would like to build multiple templates on the same concept, additional hours are billed at $100/hour (and, of course, you will be notified before we do the work of our estimated time to complete it.)

To begin with Custom Design Services, please fill out this design request, which includes how we can contact you, and where we can look up your existing information, so we can have the most productive conversation possible.

2.2. Building your own template

If you are proficient with HTML, or have a web designer you use regularly, you may wish to design your own templates from scratch.

To use your own template, you will provide us with a file called body.htm, which should include the HTML structure of your message with any CSS inline.

Your template will indicate editable sections using the following div ID tags:

  • listboxUserTitle
  • listboxUserHeader1 through listboxUserHeader9
  • listboxUserTextBlock1 through listboxUserTextBlock9

Any elements not inside one of these blocks cannot be edited.  However, you are welcome to include static elements, like links to your site, social media, your address, etc. outside the editable blocks.  To include a link 

The listboxUserHeader and listboxUserTextBlock elements do not need to all use the same CSS.  CSS classes can be applied per-block, if you desire.  However, styling within blocks must all the same, and applied to the block div, not elements inside them.

Designing an HTML email template has some limitations.  For instance, it is generally recommended that HTML emails have a maximum width of 660 pixels.  We recommend you check out our suggestions for self-designed templates when designing your template as well as variables that can be inserted into your templates.

Once your template is designed, we also recommend testing it through, to confirm that you like the way it looks in different email programs.

Because templates need to interact with our composer, they must be sent to Listbox, and reviewed by customer support before they are available for use in the composer.  To reduce the possibility of delay, please send us your template one business day before you plan to create your first message using it.

2.3. Variables you can use in your templates

The following custom Listbox elements are available to be inserted in your templates:

[UNSUBSCRIBE_URL] : unsubscribe link

[MESSAGE_URL] : "view on the web" link

[SUBSCRIBE_URL] : subscribe link

[LISTNAMEHOST] : your list ID / email address

[USER_COCKPIT] : member settings link

[MEMBER_EMAIL] : the recipient's email address

[MEMBER_NAME] : the recipient's full name field (if you use this, please make sure you set a default value on the Custom Fields page.)

We recommend adding the following lines, styled as you choose, to your messages:

If you are having trouble seeing this message, you can also <a href="[MESSAGE_URL]">view it on the web</a>. 
Please add [SENDER] to your address book to ensure our emails reach your inbox.

2.4. Suggestions for self-created templates

Writing your own template is not for the faint of heart.  You need to know how to write HTML, by hand.  If you use a WYSIWYG editor like DreamWeaver or Coda, you will most likely end up with a template that will not look the same (or even close to the same) across different email clients.  If you don't know how to write HTML by hand, but you want a custom template, Custom Design Services is the best option for you. 

I know how to write HTML!

Great! Writing HTML for email is just like writing a web page .... if you were writing that web page in 1996.

Email is displayed in a large variety of programs, of vastly varying ages.  Also, a lot of email is displayed in webmail.  And many webmail programs, to make sure that email doesn't mess with the way their pages look, mess with the way the email looks instead.  So, many current HTML design "best practices" simply won't work in email.

For instance, layout in email is best done using tables.  Most people look at their email in a preview window, so the recommended maximum width is 660 pixels.  Font and center tags are totally fair game.

There's one exception when designing in Listbox.  We ask that you put your CSS styling (like font styling, which generally is supported across different email programs) in a separate style.css file.  How will it work?  When we send your message, we will put that CSS inline for you.  This also makes sure that the text you see in the editing window looks as correct as possible.

We recommend checking out the following articles for other specifics about designing HTML for email:

Due to the time requirements of template debugging and testing, Listbox Customer Service cannot provide HTML debugging assistance for self-written templates.

2.5. Restrictions on self-created templates

Your template will be reviewed by Listbox Customer Service before it will be available for use. Templates will be rejected if they:

  • attempt to obscure or remove any part of the Listbox footer, especially the "Unsubscribe Now" or "Modify Your Services" links
  • call external files, except for images
  • include Javascript or any interactive code

in addition to other reasons, at our sole discretion.

Once a template is put in place, you will not be able to modify the HTML or CSS; changes will require submitting a new template approval request.

Please note that Listbox Customer Service is not able to provide advice or debugging for HTML or CSS in your self-created templates.  If you require assistance with your own design, we are happy to refer you to one of the graphic designers who provide Custom Design Services.

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