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From the Trenches

11 Ways to Breathe Life Into Your Email Newsletter

Right Source | August 1, 2013

There are a million blog posts with newsletter best practices: choosing an email provider, creating a mailing list, CAN-SPAM requirements, etc. If you haven’t seen at least 100 blog posts on a variety of those types of topics, then look out your window ‘cuz ya might be living under a rock.

Every email service provider can offer you technical advice about your newsletter. Things like “Your design should not be wider than x pixels,” and, “You need to include an unsubscribe link in your email.” I’m not going to waste your time writing another blog post about those sorts of newsletter best practices. I’m about to give you some bigger picture suggestions that will have a real effect on your newsletter’s ability to impact your marketing. I’m going to talk about your newsletter strategy, if you will.

These suggestions are not for the faint of newsletter-heart. If you’re not committed to spending time, money, and effort on your newsletter, you’re probably not going to get a lot from my tips (and really, why are you doing a newsletter at all?). But if you choose to follow my advice, you can count on a well-read, engaging newsletter.

Below are my suggestions for making the most out of your newsletter design and content.

  1. Brand it. Most newsletters have the company’s logo and name in them, but there’s more to it than that. Your newsletter design should reflect your company’s branding to give your customers and prospects a consistent experience when interacting with your business. I know, what you’re thinking. “My email newsletter provider offers customizable templates for free! Why wouldn’t I use one of those?” Most mail providers will offer that, but if you have the budget for it, a custom designed template for your newsletter is worth the time and money. It makes your newsletter seem more legitimate and does a better job reinforcing your company’s brand. Make sure that your content reflects the company messaging and maintains that established tone, too. The newsletter should sound like your company, as well as look like it.
  2. Make it responsive. Have you tested the design in Outlook? Gmail? On a smart phone? These days, your customers could be viewing your newsletter on almost any type of device. In fact, 44% of total email opens are now on a mobile device, so that’s something you should be prepared for when you’re designing. This is another reason you should consider having a custom template created – a design that looks good on your desktop might not look so hot, or worse, not even work properly on a mobile device. Taking this sort of precaution will make your business look more professional.
  3. Make it adaptable. You may think “responsive” and “adaptable” are the same, but that’s not what I’m going for here. Your newsletter should be adaptable in that it is easy for you to make changes based on that issue’s content. Can you change the heading on the “News” section so that it can be about your new hires for this issue? Can you add a call to action on the right side to promote your upcoming webinar and change it to a seminar promotion for the next issue?
  4. Include a table of contents. Email newsletters are thin and long – if your recipient sees the first few items but then decides not to scroll, he or she may miss some key piece of relevant information. Let your readers know right up front what they should expect from your newsletter by adding a table of contents. This makes it easy for them to decide which pieces they’re most interested in or at least pique their interest enough to keep them scrolling.
  5. Mix it up. Although newsletters are a great way to reuse some of your best content, you should be offering new, exclusive information to those on your mailing list, as well. If you’re just sending them the same content they could read on your blog, what’s the value of your newsletter? Mix your existing content with some tips, news items, suggestions, or fun tidbits. Keep your recipients interested and looking forward to the next issue.
  6. Consider segmenting. I know I said I wouldn’t get into the actual implementation of sending a newsletter, but this point is related to the content in your newsletter. If your business has multiple industries or verticals served, you should consider segmenting your mailing list and sending multiple newsletters with content targeted specifically to each segment. You know that the information your banking clients/prospects may find relevant is not the same information that your healthcare clients may be interested in. If you’ve already created enough content for both audiences, why not target each group with content subjects that are suited to them? By keeping the design the same but varying the content based on the recipient’s industry, you’ll likely see higher open rates and click rates.
  7. Nail your subject line. It’s taking the easy way out to just use the title of the first piece of content in your newsletter and insert it as the subject line or, *gasp*, use the same subject line for every newsletter. But the subject line for your newsletter is very much like the headline of your blog post, and we know that is important. In fact, it’s probably the most important part of your content. The subject line, like the headline, is most likely your one shot to convince a recipient to open. Come up with a thought-provoking (or better yet, click-provoking) subject line for each newsletter based on the content and audience.
  8. Don’t forget the snippet preview. Gmail snippets show the first part of the message of your email. It consists of the first words that appear in your email – whether those words are the first sentence of your content or the auto-generated “View an online version of this email” link. You’ll also want to optimize this text to accompany the subject line and entice recipients to open. Note that if your first line of content is an image, or is included in an image, and not actual text, it will not show up in the snippet preview. Speaking of images….
  9. Don’t be afraid to use images. The pure copy content of an email newsletter is the most important part (and rightly so), but if that’s all you have, it can be daunting and uninviting. You can use images to break up the content and make it look much more appealing! If you’re reusing blog posts, include the image you used for the post. Try out some buttons instead of links to your content. Even a well-placed line image can make a content-heavy newsletter appear neat and organized. It doesn’t matter how you choose to use them, but add some imagery to spice up your newsletter.
  10. Links, links, links. Link EVERYTHING! Ok, so maybe not everything, but it should be very easy for a reader to stumble upon your website from multiple places within the newsletter. Try linking the title of an article as well as including a “Read More” link or button at the end of the excerpt. Your logo should link to your home page. Your footer should provide the reader with other reference links to your website, like your contact page or a services page. The point is that if the recipient has any interest in you at all, it should be all too easy for them to get to your website and find out more.
  11. Give non-subscribers a taste. Sure, you’ve done all you can to get people to subscribe to your newsletter, but there will always be people who want to try before they buy. Put the hosted link to your most recent newsletter on your email newsletter sign-up page. Those who come to that page and aren’t quite sold on giving you their personal information will see exactly what they’re getting. If you’re doing your job correctly (and following these suggestions!), that visitor will be delighted with how remarkable your newsletter is and will sign up on the spot!

No matter which email service provider you choose, you can use these points to move the needle on your email newsletter from good to remarkable. After all, according to Content Marketing Institute’s 2013 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends research report, newsletters are still used by 78% of respondents (the third most popular tactic). Newsletters are an important part of your content marketing strategy, and it’s high time we all start thinking smarter about the bigger picture behind them. Think I missed any important tips? Let me know in the comments!

And while you’re in the newsletter mindset, sign-up for our newsletter to get the latest in content marketing news and marketing strategy.

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About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.