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A Rough Guide to Newsletters

July 15, 2011

Email newsletters are very much alive and kicking and an essential element to successful content marketing. For those successfully using email in their strategies, the email newsletter is key to keeping in touch with clients and nurturing leads. In this article we tackle some basic questions about newsletters, which may form the basis of a useful checklist.

Why use email?

Email is the most cost-effective and highest ROI (return on investment) marketing medium and a newsletter is the perfect medium to encourage customer retention.
Email provides excellent measurability. No longer do you need to guess how people will react to your news publication. With email, you can measure who opens and clicks on your email. This not only means you know who in your audience is engaged, but also what information is interesting and of value.

The measurability gives the data necessary to allow optimisation and improvement in your marketing. You can test different messages and improve marketing based on facts. This means no more meeting room arguments as to what might be better - you can do it, test it and find out what is better.

What about readability? Your content is what will keep your customers reading your email. After they sign up they will read your next two or three emails. If they like the content they will continue reading, but if they don't they will unsubscribe or emotionally unsubscribe. Emotional unsubscribing is when someone will not bother to actually unsubscribe, but continue to receive your newsletter and hit delete without even skimming it.

In your content don't talk about yourself and how good your company and products are. Today's readers are skeptics. The most effective newsletters deliver information of interest and value to the reader without being full of marketing and sales speak. If you provide thoughtful, helpful and insightful information that is of value to your readers on its own, then you will build your relationship and trust so that they will become interested in your products, services and spending money with you.

Avoid overload by not putting everything in your newsletter and don’t use lengthy paragraphs, just stick to 3-4 sentences per paragraph.  Use consistency of standard faces and fonts such as Helvetica and Arial and add sub-headings where possible to break up sections.

How long should my newsletter be?

Content should be short, scannable and in small chunks. Readers spend just seconds skimming over emails, picking up on general keywords and topics. Should something be relevant from skimming they will then slow down and read more carefully. Start by writing your email, then remove half the words and then review and remove some more. You'll be getting close then to having just the key information.

Where do I put the full details that I want to share?

Link from the short, scannable email text to landing pages with can contain the full articles and information.

How often should I send?

It needs to be regular enough so you are not forgotten and not so frequent that your readers feel spammed. Monthly is very common and anything between two weeks and two months is reasonable. Be consistent, too; don't send two emails in three weeks and then none for six weeks.

When should I send the email?

The perfect time to send your email is when your reader is going through their emails and they have no unread emails left. This is, of course, much easier said than done but it is a guiding principle. For many campaigns, the prime time is between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Friday. Your list and email content will affect the ideal send time. The best approach is to test different send times to see what works for your audience.

Should I send graphic emails or simple plain text only emails?

Graphic emails with appropriate use of layout, images, colour and fonts perform better than plain text emails in almost all instances. Graphic emails are created using HTML, the same language used for web pages.

How do I ensure the email displays correctly?

You will need to ensure your email displays correctly in major email clients. Having your email HTML created by an email coding expert is a good first step. The rules of acceptable HTML are different for emails and for web pages, so make sure you use an experienced email service provider like Extravision, who can do it all for you.

How do I know if I'm getting to the inbox?

There are many factors that affect deliverability. Using a good email service provider like Extravision will mean the specialist technical issues around deliverability are managed properly.

Who should I say the email is from?

The 'email from' name - that is, the name the reader sees in their inbox when they receive the email -  is a very important human filtering factor when deciding to open an email.

Emails which come from your boss or partner get treated differently from emails from someone you've never heard of. So, the 'email from' name should be a name your reader is likely to identify with. It should only be the name of a real person if you are sure the reader will recognise the name. If not, then use your company name.

What makes a good subject line?

Simply ask yourself“How does this make the recipient feel?” and draw on emotions and general curiosity. The purpose of the subject line is to persuade someone to give you another 20 seconds of their attention and get them to open and scan the body of your email. It is not to explain the whole contents of the email or your offer.
An example of a bad subject line is 'March Newsletter'. This tells the reader nothing about what is in the newsletter or why they should be interested. Just as bad would be 'Buy product X now'. Before asking someone to buy, you need to give them a reason to want to buy. You can't do all of that in the subject line.

What about Calls to Action?

An effective newsletter call to action is subtle, but effective and shouldn’t be an advert or button asking to “buy now”!  Think about adding social network and blog links, invite your reader to a forthcoming event, invite feedback and if you do have a sales message, keep it small and let your content speak for you instead.

What does 'above the fold' mean?

'Above the fold' is a phrase taken from the world of direct marketing. In email terms it means the part of the email seen in the preview window or the part you can read before scrolling down.
It's an important part of the email as it is seen first. Unless it hits home, it is unlikely someone will read further. It needs to have headlines and text to drive people into the email body. Should I test before I send? Thorough testing also gives you a better shot at success; you can try some split testing of different subject lines and opening statements and you should also ensure that your message fits and displays OK for people on the go with mobile devices.

How do I measure success?

The fundamental metrics are 'delivery', 'open' and 'unique click' rates, expressed as percentages. Extravision and all good emarketing software and emarketing agencies will provide these statistics.
'Delivery' is the ratio of the number of emails that didn't bounce to the number of emails sent.
'Open rate' is the ratio of number of people opening to number of emails delivered.
'Unique click rate' is the ratio of people who clicked links to the number of emails delivered.
The most significant aspects are campaign data quality and value of content. Campaign data quality includes the accuracy of match of your message to the target audience and the audience history. If it's the tenth email this month for which there is a low match to readers' interests, then don't expect a good response if you send an email that might just be relevant.

If you want to get started with a newsletter, or you need some help with your existing newsletter, please call us for a chat on 0161 817 2929 or email [email protected]


Posted by Jenni Malley

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