HTML and CSS are the basic programming languages for web development and design. They are beneficial to learn for developers, marketers, and people in many other disciplines. Learning HTML can be used for situations like formatting a blog or email, working with a CMS, embedding external content on your site, and creating usable content.
I don't know about you, but when I travel, I'm terrified of leaving something at home. I obsess over making sure I have enough T-shirts, jeans, shoes, travel-sized shampoos, earrings, books, magazines -- because what in the world would I do if I didn't have them, but needed them? And even if I over-pack, I know I'm prepared for any situation vacation will throw at me -- a random fancy dinner out, a day at the pool, or just an afternoon out shopping with the family.
In the same vein, knowing HTML is like making sure you're fully prepared for a vacation. You may not end up using it every single day, but the times you do end up using it, you are so grateful that you had the foresight to figure it out. Knowing HTML can save you hours of frustration, precious time with your design team, or even money dealing with an external contractor.
HTML has always been nice-to-have knowledge, but it's becoming more than nice-to-have for the marketer trying to save a buck. (And that sounds like every marketer I've met.)
In fact, there are a bunch of situations I've caught myself in in which handy HTML knowledge saved the day ... and thus, this post was born. If you're not quite convinced that you'd benefit from knowing basic HTML, keep reading. Here are seven* scenarios you might find yourself in that can be fixed with just a bit of HTML know-how.
1) When Formatting in Your Blog Post/Email/Landing Page Goes Awry
Sometimes, I swear my content has a life of its own -- and a mean streak. That blog post that I worked on all day will suddenly have images with funky spacing, no text wrapping, and outrageous sizing, and, of course, all looks okay in my WYSIWG editor. Luckily, with some HTML knowledge, I can dig into the post to remove and tweak code that is causing the problem.
HTML Pro Tip: If you find a bunch of funky tags you want to remove, copy the raw code and paste it into a raw text editor. Then, choose the Find and Replace option -- you can search for offending snippets of code and leave the "replace" box blank. Once you're done, you can paste it back into your HTML editor, and poof! De-bugged formatting.
2) When You Paste a Blog Post Into Your CMS From Word or Google Docs
Lots of people don't know that writing a blog post in a typical word processing program -- like Word or Google Docs -- and then copying it into your CMS will give you lots of HTML headaches. Sometimes, when you do that, your CMS will add extra snippets of code to your piece that will mess up formatting.
With some HTML knowledge and the pro tip above, you can easily remove any offending snippets when transferring content from Word or Google Docs to your CMS.
3) When You Need to Tweak an Email Template
I'm going to take a wild guess that you don't want every email you send to look exactly the same. While sending consistent emails is a great thing most of the time, there will be specific campaigns you're going to want to customize emails for. This could be as simple as right-aligning your images instead of left-aligning them or changing up the color of your text to stand out in your subscribers' inboxes.
With HTML knowledge, though, you can make these changes yourself, instead of relying on an in-house designer or hired development shop. Seriously, it's empowering to make the changes yourself and move on to more pressing marketing matters.
4) When You Need to Make Your Content Easy to Read
One of your top concerns when creating content is to make it easy for people to consume. This means using formatting (bold, italics, headers, colors, etc.) to make your content scannable and digestible. And while most WYSIWG editors will let you easily apply those formatting options to your content without touching code, not all will. So take control of the way your content looks by souping it up with some <b> and <h2> tags.
5) When You Need to Make Your Content Easy to Use
With long-form content especially, you need to make it easy for people to find the content they want. An easy way to do that? Use HTML to create internal links. See them in action in our glossary of website optimization terms -- isn't it easy to jump to the letter you need? This is an easy hack to do yourself, if you know HTML.
6) When You're Embedding Content on Your Website From Other Sites
One way to easily spruce up your blog posts is to use embedded content -- you know, posts from your social media accounts that can supplement your blog content. We're talking embedded YouTube videos, tweets, Facebook posts, Pinterest boards, and SlideShare presentations.
If you know HTML, you'll know how to embed content in the first place, not to mention troubleshoot any issues if the content isn't appearing correctly. It's been a lifesaver more than once for me!
7) When You're Pitching Guest Posts
Almost every guest post we receive in a Word or Google Docs format. And while that's a great way to judge whether we'll accept the post or not, once we've accepted the post, those formats are time-consuming to format in our CMS (because of the reasons mentioned in bullet point #2).
To save your new guest post editor time, attach a Word and an HTML plain text document to your guest post pitches. Trust me -- they'll be grateful, and maybe want to invite you back to post more often.
*Bonus Scenario: When Your Internet Goes Out and You Want to Save Your Team Time
Okay, I know I said that there would only be seven scenarios in this post, but I couldn't help but include this little tidbit. This isn't something you'll run into maybe ever, but this happened to me last week so I had to share.
My internet went out the afternoon I was on deadline for the next morning's 8 a.m. slot (yeah, we're a pretty agile team) and all of a sudden, it happened: MY INTERNET WAS GONE. Cue panic attack ... until I remembered that I could write the post -- and format it with the correct HTML snippets -- in my computer's text editor to save my teammates time.
And that's the story of how HTML saved my life and the post I was working on. I wouldn't recommend doing this every time you blog, but it can come in handy when you're in a pinch and you know what you're doing.
So really, think about learning HTML as one of your New Year's resolutions. It could be something that ends up saving the day on that random day in June when you need to make one little formatting tweak.
When has knowing HTML come in handy? Share your stories with us in the comments!
Originally published Jan 8, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017