Email Marketing: Tips For Creating Newsletters That Get Read

Newsletters are one of the most cost-effective ways to market your business. In fact, every $1 spent on email marketing yields a return of $45 to $51—provided you do things right. Read on for 10 tips to help you create newsletters that actually get opened and read.

Is email marketing worth it?

Compared to the other modern marketing options out there, e-mail marketing can feel pretty ‘old fashioned’.

But what if I tell you that newsletters are still one of the most cost-effective and relevant ways to market your business?

In fact, if and when done right, every $1 spent on email marketing yields a return of $45 to $51.

In other words you can achieve a lot even with a limited budget – including taking advantage of the following benefits:

  • It’s a way for you to stay in touch with prospective as well as existing customers and help build / strengthen relationships.
  • Regular communication helps keep your brand top-of-mind.
  • Aside from giving your readers useful updates, your newsletter content can help you highlight specific capabilities or aspects that are unique about your business.

Most importantly: Timely, interesting, and pertinent content will drive traffic to your website and even increase sales.

All this to say that you shouldn’t be overlooking the opportunities that come with email marketing.

How to create successful email marketing campaigns

Now having said all that, I have a confession.

To be honest I’m not subscribed to many newsletters anymore. Mostly because I don’t actually have time to read them but also because the ones I have signed up for ended up being disappointing.

That’s why I’ve compiled these tips—some common sense (but often ignored), others from personal experience—that will help you develop newsletters that actually get opened and read.

Let’s get straight to it!

1.    Well begun is half done

As Benjamin Franklin said, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Everything starts with the basics—including creating a successful email marketing campaign. In other words: Before you start writing away, it’s important to have a plan.

Part of that plan is defining your goals. What do you want to achieve with your newsletter?

  • Want to promote a new product or service?
  • Do you want to drive traffic to your website?
  • Is the goal to increase sales?

Whether overarching or publication-specific, set goals and then prepare accordingly.

You’ll also want to think about practical elements such as newsletter frequency and the style (both in terms of design as well as the tone & voice) you’d like to go for.

For example:

  • Will you send out weekly or monthly newsletters?
  • Should you opt for a single topic or curate multiple topics?
  • Will it be a plain text, rich text or an HTML email newsletter?
Email marketing: Post-it notes, photos, and ideas are displayed on a wall

2.    Do the legwork

The next step is to do your research, which includes analysing what works and what doesn’t in your industry.

You’ll want to make note of the following:

  • Why are people subscribing for certain newsletters? What draws them in?
  • What is the sign-up process like?
  • What kind of content was particularly compelling?
  • Which calls-to-action elicited a response from you?
  • What would you do to improve on these if it were up to you?

Yes, it’s incredibly time consuming and sometimes even boring, but if you want to succeed, you have to do the necessary legwork. (Or hire someone to do the research and writing for you.)

3.    Subscribing should be easy

To grow your email list, you’ll need to make subscribing easy and worth readers’ while.

Email marketing: Shows a screenshot of The Atlantic's easy signup widget
It’s easy to sign up plus you know exactly what you’ll be getting and just how frequently before you subscribe

Here’s what you should keep in mind:

  • Let readers know what they can expect if they choose to sign up.
    For example: Special deals exclusive to subscribers or first dibs on limited edition items.
  • Keep the signup form as simple and non-intrusive as possible. No one wants to provide tons of personal information just to subscribe for a newsletter.
  • If you have a dedicated subscription page, make it easy to navigate and the signup widget / plugin easy to use.
  • In building your email list make sure that recipients have opted in to receive your newsletters. That is, that they have given permission to be contacted for marketing / promotional purposes.
  • Don’t forget to let subscribers know of your Terms and Conditions and / or Privacy Policy at sign up.
Email marketing: Shows a screenshot of Cathay Pacific's dedicated "unsubscribe" page
Cathay Pacific makes it super easy to unsubscribe – you can do so directly in the email or visit their dedicated “unsubscribe” page.

Finally, it should be just as easy to unsubscribe as it was to subscribe. I know it hurts but this is a reality of email marketing. Subscribers will, at some point, choose to stop receiving your updates.

Don’t be clingy and force subscribers to jump through hoops and endless confirmations just to be removed from your email list. That will only leave a bad taste in the mouth.

4.    The little details matter

It’s easy to forget about the little details when preparing a newsletter – after all, your focus is on content and presentation. But the “from” field, your subject line, and the preview text (the opening line should really be stellar!) are just as important.

Those are the first elements subscribers will see, so make sure you put consideration in to those as well.

One last thing: There’s really no excuse for resorting to clickbait email subjects. I despise clickbait and I know you hate it with passion too. That’s exactly how your readers will feel so just don’t do it!

5.    Content is King

There’s a reason why someone subscribed to your newsletter—you made a promise of what they could expect. Live up to it.

Remember that a large part of your newsletter’s success hinges on the quality of your content.

  • Why did readers sign up in the first place?
  • What kind of content would readers deem useful or interesting?
  • How do we create content that is a win-win for subscribers and for the brand?

What you send out – whether informational, educational, humorous, or something else entirely – should always be of value to the reader.

(Naturally, ‘value’ depends on your audience and industry.)

What that means is that you shouldn’t send something just for the sake of sending something. Be thoughtful and meaningful about what you write. Curate quality content that is interesting, creative, helpful, or memorable.

Here are some additional tips:

  • You might want to find a unifying concept or idea for that newsletter to keep you on track.
  • Keep your content focused and your paragraphs short. Content should be easy to read and easy to digest.
  • Incorporate images to break the text up and keep things interesting.

What it comes down to is, with every newsletter you send out, aim to have subscribers glad that they signed up.

6.    Choose the right words

This should really be common sense: Your readers are human, so you need to sound like one too. That’s where your word choice and writing style come in to play.

Email marketing: Image shows a portion of a KLM newsletter
KLM encourages you to find and book tickets directly (“find tickets”) and indirectly by sharing interesting content that instills a sense of wanderlust

Get rid of all the jargon and stop trying to sell something every chance you get. Focus instead on being approachable and offering value.

If you don’t know how to do this, you should really consider hiring a copy / content writer – someone who can take a step back and consider things from the readers’ perspective while still pushing for your objectives.

As a marketer, your instinct is to sell. But if your newsletter is nothing more than a decorated sales letter, you’re leading readers straight for the ‘mark as read’, ‘unsubscribe’ and ‘delete’ buttons.

Your content must be balanced even if the goal is to increase sales.

To summarize:

  • Choose the right words
  • Deliver value and the sales will naturally follow
  • If it’s content you wouldn’t appreciate either, then rethink and rewrite

Newsletters are a valuable resource in your marketing arsenal. Treat it as such and put in the care and effort it deserves. There’s no shortcut to quality content.

You may also be interested in:
Copywriting Tone, Voice, and Style
Message Framing: The Basics
Copywriting for a Millennial audience

7.    Segment where possible

As the saying goes, you can’t be everything to everyone. This applies to your newsletter too. That’s why – where possible – it would be wise for you to segment your subscribers and give each group what they came for.

You can do this by giving subscribers an option to select the kind of information they’d like to receive at signup or simply observe what kind of content resonates with which subscribers.

8.    Nail the call-to-action

If you aren’t putting much thought into your calls-to-action then you’re seriously underestimating their importance. Why? Because a great call-to-action has the power to increase conversions and sales.

You’ll want to put extra thought into the words you choose as well as the design elements. And do be consistent with your calls-to-action.

Finally, resist the urge and limit how many you use per newsletter.

9.    Create killer landing pages

Once someone has opened your email, gone through the effort of reading the teaser text, and clicked-through to read more, make sure you give them a reason to stay.

Link to logical, well-structured pages and create effective landing pages that inspire readers to take action.

10.    Test, test, and test some more

Your newsletter’s performance will improve as long as you continue to test, test, and test some more.

Everything from the design and how it will show up on different devices, which you should preview before you officially send the newsletter off, to content and calls-to-action should be tested until you find what works best for you.

Again, without this effort you’re limiting your own success.

Bonus Tip: The first link / button tends to get the most clicks, so plan your newsletter’s structure accordingly.

Measure What Matters

Now that you’ve sent off your newsletter it’s time to gauge its success. The key performance metrics that you need to know in email marketing are as follows:

Open rate: a percentage showing the total number of subscribers who opened the email.

Click-through rate: the percentage of subscribers that clicked on a link, call-to-action, or image within the email. It shows your readership’s engagement level.

Unsubscribe: the percentage of people that have chosen to opt out of your email list.

Hard bounce: refers to an email that couldn’t be sent (it is returned to sender) because the email address is not valid.

Soft bounce: refers to a temporary delivery failure, which can be caused by a full inbox, very large email size, or email server issues (offline / down).

Head over to Mailchimp to learn more about hard and soft bounces. And then visit Sendgrid for tips on how to improve your bounce rate.

Churn rate: refers to the number of subscribers that leave your email list during a given period of time.

  • Transparent churn includes spam complaints, hard bounces, and unsubscribes.
  • Opaque churn on the other hand refers to those who simply aren’t seeing your email. This could be because they no longer check that email account, the mail is landing in their spam folder or they’re simply not interested in reading your mails anymore.

Short on time? No idea what to write about? Can’t find the right words?
Stop worrying about it and leave it to me!

One last thing: Newsletters aren’t for every brand or business out there, so don’t feel obliged to start one. If it’s not suitable for you and what you want to achieve, don’t force it. There are other marketing tactics or resources you can take advantage of.