How to Create an Email Newsletter People Actually Read

For most marketers, this will sound familiar. You’re sitting around a conference room, trying to figure out how to best engage your 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!

Suddenly you’re “volunteered” to do it. And you’ve got make sure that open and clickthrough rates don’t dip. Oh, and the first one needs to go out tomorrow.

That sound good?

I’ve been in that situation before, and I was terrified. Even though e-newsletters are one of the most common types of emails to send, they are actually some of the hardest to do right.

Want to ace your new email newsletter project, or rejuvenate an old one? Below are 10 things you need to make sure to do. And if you’re looking for some inspiration, here are some awesome email newsletter examples you can check out.

1. Evaluate whether or not you need an email newsletter.

I know it can be kind of scary pushing back on your boss about a project you’ve been handed, but if an email newsletter isn’t right for your marketing, you shouldn’t waste your time working on one.

To figure out what you need to do, first 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? Retain more customers?

If your industry isn’t really interested in email newsletters, or if your goals don’t line up with what a newsletter could accomplish, your time might be better spent creating something else like a lead nurturing email workflow or content for your blog.

So gather some data, create a plan-of-action (either for a successful newsletter or another activity), and go chat with your superior. Even if you disagree with his or her vision in doing 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 next?

2. Figure out what kind of newsletter you want to send.

One of the biggest problems with email newsletters is that they’re often cluttered and unfocused because they’re 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.

One 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.

An example of a great, topic-based email newsletter is BuzzFeed’s “This Week in Cats” newsletter. (Don’t judge … I recently adopted a kitten and I’ve become full-on obsessed with cats.) Though BuzzFeed writes about pretty much everything under the sun, they offer up one specific newsletter for people who love reading about cats. Because the niche is aligned with a specific interest, the articles have an opportunity to get way more engagement than they would in a newsletter featuring content from all over the website.

3. Balance your newsletter content to be 90% educational and 10% promotional.

Chances are, your email newsletter subscribers don’t want 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 it’s sender name pop up in my inbox, I want to scream. 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.

4. 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. Take a page out of SmartBrief’s book: On the subscribe landing page, it says what’ll be in the newsletter and gives potential subscribers a preview link. Check it out:

 

As a subscriber, wouldn’t that be awesome? You’d go in with open eyes knowing exactly who you’ll be receiving email from, what they’ll be sending you, and how often they’ll be sending it. As a marketer, having this information up front will help diminish your unsubscribe and spam rates as well.

5. 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 for subscribers — and fast. 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.

One company who does this really well is Thrillist. Here’s a collection of email newsletters I’ve received recently:

I’ve opened every single one of these because of the company’s subject lines. Even though I know that these emails are coming in my inbox every morning, the subject lines are what entice me to click.

If you need help with your email newsletter subject lines, check out this recipe.

6. 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 share equal prominence.

Instead, let there be one head honcho CTA — just one main thing that you would like your subscribers to do. The rest of the CTAs should be “in-case-you-have-time” options. 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.

Check out Second Glass’ email newsletter below, which was promoting their most recent Wine Riot event in Boston. It’s colorful and chock-full of information … but it’s also pretty obvious what they want you to do: purchase tickets for the event. By placing this CTA above all the other pieces of information, Second Glass increases the chance that their email recipients will click on it.

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