If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of an email newsletter, you know that these marketing messages can be as dull as a dishwasher. I get it — when you’re not sure what to write, but you feel like an email has to
go out, why not send an update about products, services, and what’s going on at your company?
Unfortunately, the result is often a whole lot of generic, irrelevant content sent to a poorly segmented list — and that results in low open/clickthrough rates and lots of unsubscribes. That means best case scenario, your reputation is dinged in your subscribers’ eyes; worst case scenario, your reputation is dinged by Return Path and future email deliverability is negatively impacted.
But there are awesome email newsletters out there. So what separates the triumphs from the tragedies? And how do you ensure your email newsletter is successful? We’ll dive into these questions later in this guide, but first, let’s define what an email newsletter is, and what it isn’t.
What Is an Email Newsletter
An email newsletter is an email from a business that communicates announcements about products, services, industry, or general company information. It includes a mix of content, like event reminders, surveys,
educational information about your product, service, or industry, and promotions and other offers.
An email newsletter is not a dedicated promotional email that contains information about just one offer; a digest that simply summarizes a roundup of content you’ve published; a lead nurturing email (although a side effect certainly may be a better nurtured lead); or a transactional email that provides order information or prompts a shopper to complete a purchase.
These other types of emails are important parts of your email marketing strategy, and you can learn more about them in this guide. Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s discuss why you would send an
email newsletter, and how it could help you hit your goals.
Why Send Email Newsletters? Do You Even Need One?
Most business owners and marketing teams have been there — you’re sitting around, trying to figure out how to best engage leads and customers, sell more products, or just “stay top-of-mind” for your target
audience and someone decides there’s a solution that can solve all of those problems at once: an email newsletter! And then it is up to you to create, launch, manage and tweak. Oh, and make sure that open and clickthrough rates don’t dip. Does that sound good?
Even though email newsletters are one of the most common types of emails to send, they are actually some of the hardest to do right. It’s hard because it includes a mix of different types of content about different parts of your business, including event reminders, surveys, educational information about your product, service, or industry, and promotions.
And because it’s not an email designed to serve one purpose — say, about one promotion, one digest of previously published content, one lead nurturing email, or one transactional email providing order information, email newsletters have a difficult time trying to get readers to complete a call-to-action.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. If done right, you could develop a really engaged subscriber base, and potentially nurture them into qualified leads and customers. At the very “least,” you could engage your company’s evangelists, and they could help bring in business. And that’s definitely something you don’t want to miss out on.
Not everyone needs a newsletter.
Actually, many businesses don’t need a newsletter. In fact, most of you probably have better things to do with your time than search for content and compile it into a messy template that no one’s going to read in the first place. Or your newsletter might be wildly successful and an integral part of your marketing strategy.
REASONS You Might Need A Newsletter:
- Your boss is making you send one out.
- You have an internal newsletter (in which case this guide isn’t all that relevant).
- You have had recent proven success with newsletters.
- You think you will have success with this method and it is the best use of your time (you have nothing else to do?).
Advantages of Newsletters:
- Spread brand awareness. By building habitual communication with your email subscribers, you enable them to recognize your brand and associate it with a positive sentiment.
- Leverage existing content. Many companies do quick summaries of their most popular blog posts and link to the articles from their newsletter.
- Include different types of content. For instance, the same newsletter can contain a popular blog post, a new offer, an announcement of an upcoming event, information about a discount, and a link to a survey.
- Guaranteed reach (unlike social media).
Things to Consider When Deciding To Create A Newsletter
In your industry, are there successful email newsletters that people like to subscribe to? What’s in them? With the resources you have available to you — budget, time and internal support — could you be successful?
It’s a lot of.. work, you will need the time and manpower to:
- Proofread copy
- Create compelling calls-to-action
- Design it to work for multiple inboxes and devices
- Avoid spam triggers
- Brainstorm clickable subject lines
Unlike blogging, there’s no redo or update button for newsletters. You need to have a lot of content/other stuff going on for a good newsletter. You shouldn’t waste your time working on an email newsletter if it isn’t right for your marketing. So do some research.
In your industry, are there successful email newsletters that people like to subscribe to? What’s in them? With the resources you have available to you — budget, time, and internal support — could you be successful? Then, re-examine your business’ goals. Are they trying to increase the number of leads? Better qualify leads to speak with salespeople? Close more deals? Or retain more customers?
If your industry isn’t really interested in email newsletters or you lack the internal support to send them out, it might be time to reconsider. Or if your goals don’t line up with what a newsletter could accomplish, your
time might be better spent setting up lead nurturing email workflows, or not even sending emails in the first place — perhaps creating content for your blog, instead. So gather some data, create a plan of action (either for a successful newsletter, or another activity), and go chat with your team or boss or partner. Even if you disagree with the vision in an email newsletter, your boss will be glad you came prepared with a plan for success.
Okay, let’s say you’ve found that you should do an email newsletter. What’s next?
The Anatomy of A Great Email Newsletter
As mentioned earlier, one of the biggest problems with email newsletters is that they are often cluttered and unfocused because they are supporting every aspect of your business. Product news goes right next to PR stories, blog posts go next to a random event week…it’s kind of a mess.
Email — whether it’s a newsletter or not — needs one common thread to hold it together. A way to help reduce the randomness of an email newsletter is by keeping it to one very specific topic. So instead of it being about your company in general, maybe it’s dedicated to one vertical.
By tying together those pieces of content all under the umbrella of social media for business, the email newsletter would be much more focused and engaging.
ANATOMY TIP #1: Balance the content of your newsletter to be 90% educational and 10% promotional.
Chances are, your email newsletter subscribers aren’t down to hear about your products and services 100% of the time. While they may love you and want to hear from you, there’s only so much shilling you can do before they tune out.
Case in point: I have a thing for shoes, and I especially love this one shoe site. I willingly opted in to the company’s email list, but it now sends me emails 2-3 times a day to buy, buy, buy…and when I see its sender name pop up in my inbox, I want to scream. Now, if they sent me educational content — maybe about the latest styles of shoes, or how to pair certain styles with certain outfits — I might be more inclined to buy from them, or at least start opening their emails again.
Don’t be that company. In your email newsletters, get rid of the self-promotion (most of the time) and focus on sending your subscribers educational, relevant, timely information. Unless you actually have an exciting, big piece of news about your product, service, or company, leave out the promotional parts.
ANATOMY TIP #2: Set expectations on your ‘Subscribe’ page.
Once you’ve figured out your newsletter’s focus and content balance, make sure you’re properly communicating about them on your subscribe landing page.
Get specific: Tell potential subscribers exactly what will be in the newsletter as well as how often they should expect to hear from you. As a subscriber, wouldn’t that be awesome? You’d go in with open eyes knowing exactly who you will be receiving email from, what they will be sending you, and how often they’ll be sending it to you. As a business, having this information up front will help diminish your unsubscribe and spam rates as well.
ANATOMY TIP #3: Get creative with email subject lines.
Even if your subscribers sign up for your emails, there’s no guarantee that they will open your emails once they get them in their inbox. Many marketers try increasing familiarity with their subscribers by keeping the subject line the same each day, week, or month that they send it.
But let’s face it, those subject lines get old — fast — for subscribers. Why? Because there’s no incentive from the subject line to click on that specific email right this instant. A better approach would be to try to have a different, creative, engaging subject line for each newsletter you send.
ANATOMY TIP #4: Pick one primary call-to-action.
Okay, part of what makes a newsletter a newsletter is that you’re featuring multiple pieces of content with multiple calls-to-action (CTAs). But, that doesn’t mean you should let those CTAs all have equal prominence.
Instead, let there be one head honcho CTA — just one main thing that you would like your subscribers to do, and the rest of the CTAs are a “in case you have time.” Whether it’s simply to click through to see a blog post or just to forward the email to a friend, make it super simple for your subscribers to know what you want them to do — and then do it.
ANATOMY TIP #5: Keep design and copy minimal.
A newsletter can easily feel cluttered because of its nature. The trick for email marketers to make a successful email newsletter look uncluttered revolves around two things: concise copy and enough white space in the design.
Concise copy is key because you don’t actually want to have your subscribers hang out and read your email all day.
You want to send them elsewhere — your website or blog, for instance — to actually consume the whole piece of content. Concise copy gives your subscribers a taste of your content — just enough that they want to
click and learn more.
White space is key in email newsletters because it helps visually alleviate the cluttered feel, and on mobile, makes it much easier for people to click the right link.
ANATOMY TIP #6: Make sure images have alt text.
Given that visual content is incredibly important to the rest of your marketing activities, it’d make sense that you’d want to include them in your emails…right?
Right. But email’s a little bit trickier. Most of the time, people won’t have images enabled, so you’ve got to make sure your images have one essential component: alt text. Alt text is the alternative text that appears
when images aren’t loaded in an email. This is especially important if your CTAs are images — you want to make sure people are clicking even without the image enabled.
ANATOMY TIP #7: Make it easy for people to unsubscribe.
This seems a little counter-intuitive, but it’s key if you want to maintain an active, engaged subscriber list. Don’t use weird language like “Alter your communication with us.” Don’t hide an unsubscribe button behind an image without alt text. Besides keeping your list healthy, having a clear unsubscribe process will help ensure your email isn’t marked SPAM before it hits the rest of your list’s inbox.
ANATOMY TIP #8: Test, test, test.
You need to find out what works for your company and your list. Just like different cultures of people prefer different things, different groups of email subscribers prefer different things. So use these email newsletter best practices as a jumping off point…and then experiment to find your secret sauce. Run an A/B test on subject lines. Change up your CTA copy. Heck, even try not including images. The world is your oyster for your email newsletter, so find out what it likes.
How To Measure Your Email Newsletter
What if your newsletter was tanking, but because you weren’t checking the hard data, you kept on doing it?
Talk about a lot of wasted time and resources. To make sure you’re armed with the right information to guide your marketing decisions, you should keep your eye on the following metrics. They’ll give you a pretty comprehensive picture of how well your newsletter is doing, which’ll help you figure out whether you should be investing time in email newsletters.
- Click Throughs – One of the reasons you ’re sending an email newsletter in the first place is to get people to click on something (or a few things)…so tracking the number of clicks you get on newsletters over time is a great way to judge if your newsletter is useful.
- Conversions – The reason you send emails isn’t just to get clicks — you want people to do something after they click, whether it be consuming a piece of content or becoming a customer. If your email tool is hooked up to the rest of your marketing software, tracking this metric becomes easy.
- List Growth – Over time, you’ll want to get more and more people clicking and converting on your email newsletters because the more they do those things, the more likely it is you’ll hit your monthly goals. More people in your list generally means more people will click on your email, and more people will convert to the content.
- Forward Rate – If you ’re trying to get people to forward your emails, you also need to keep an eye on how many people are getting the content forwarded to them. Your “forward rate” isn’t a set-in-stone number — you’ll need to look at a composite of metrics to see how forwards impact your email newsletters and database growth.
- Delivery Rate – We’re talking about all of those emails that aren’t hard and soft bounces — bounced emails that can’t be sent to an inbox because the inbox is full or the address isn’t valid, among other reasons. So your delivery rate is the total number of emails sent minus the total number of bounces, divided by the total number of emails sent.
- Overall ROI – If you’re going to use email newsletters to grow your business, you should be able to tie their efforts to your bottom line. With closed-loop analytics, you can figure out how many visitors, leads, and customers your email newsletter content generates, and how much revenue they all bring in.
Conclusion and Checklist
Now, you’re probably realizing that sending an email newsletter requires juggling a lot of moving pieces. You’ve got to worry about proofreading the copy, creating compelling calls-to-action, designing the email to work for multiple inboxes and devices, avoiding any spam triggers, and brainstorming clickable subject lines, all while staying within the confines of email law.
(Oh, and if you mess any of it up, there’s no “redo” or “update” button.) So here’s a comprehensive checklist to make sure you don’t miss out on any of these crucial steps:
- Determine your newsletter’s goal.
- Gather your content.
- Design your template.
- Add in body content.
- Add in personalization tokens and smart content.
- Choose your subject line and sender name.
- Tidy up loose strings.
- Make sure you’re legally compliant.
- Test different browsers and email providers.
- Analyze and iterate.
You need help sending better emails? At Creative Canvas Media, we keep your best interest in mind. Our teams use industry best practices and current trends to guide you in finding the right digital marketing strategy for your business.
If you’re ready to focus on your customers, request a no-obligation demo with our team to learn how we can have your digital marketing handled.