“We should probably have a newsletter, don’t you think?”
You look up from your Monday morning third-cup-of-coffee to see your boss waiting for a response. “Oh yeah,” you say, hoping your eyes aren’t as wide as you think they are. “Definitely.”
Email newsletter definition
An email newsletter is a regularly occurring email - either daily, weekly, bi-weekly or monthly - sent to subscribers. This powerful marketing tool can contain a variety of content, including but not limited to announcements about products and services, company-related information and upcoming events.
Email newsletters are great ways to deepen audience engagement, enhance brand advocacy and improve sales.
Your boss smiles, nods and walks away, leaving you in a state of caffeinated panic. So you search:
You’ve never created a newsletter before, but clearly, that innocuous “we should probably have one” means that you’re about to. Maybe your boss assumes you’re an experienced newsletter junkie, or maybe he or she believes in a sink-or-swim philosophy.
Regardless, it doesn’t matter because you’re here now. And I’m thrilled to tell you that not only are you capable of sending out a newsletter, but you’re capable of sending out a knock-your-boss’-socks-off newsletter.
I was once where you are and trust me, it is possible to go from nervous uncertainty to cool confidence.
First, let’s look at what an email newsletter is. Email newsletters are an important part of both B2C and B2B marketing.
What is an email newsletter?
This article will help you not only create a newsletter from the ground-up with an email marketing software, but it will also prepare you to be an authoritative voice guiding the strategy from the beginning.
8 easy steps on how to create a newsletter
Here are eight easy ways to create an email newsletter that will impress your boss.
Let’s get started with the big picture.
What is the goal of the newsletter? Why does your boss suddenly want one?
Setting a goal in advance is important. It will not only help you craft content, but it will decide which results you should use to measure the success of the email newsletter.
Each email should include a strong call to action — by strong, I mean typically a large, impossible-to-miss button — encouraging recipients to do whatever will help you achieve your goal.
Potential email newsletter goals could be:
- Recipients registering for an event
- Driving traffic to your website
- Recipients interacting with you on social media
- The number of times an asset is downloaded
- Click and/or open rate
I’ve created a comprehensive list of different kinds of emails and the marketing strategy behind them. Choose the one that best matches your goals.
If you’re announcing a special event or massive sale, let your customers know by sending out a one-off email. If you’re like me and accidentally accumulate emails from all the retail stores you enter, you’re very familiar with these. They’re short, sweet and to the point, and they’re designed in a way that is visually stimulating and engaging.
The goal of a one-off email is to have recipients register for an event, interact with you on social media, buy from a sale or download an asset.
News blast email
Did your company just accomplish something really cool that everyone should know about, like winning an award, launching a new product, or hosting an event? (If an event, consider these event promotion tips!) In addition to sending a press release, blast out the news via an email to make stakeholders, fans and followers aware of the success. This will boost your click-through and open rates, resulting in driving traffic to your website and attaining social media interaction.
Be careful not to inundate people with these emails – send selectively or else people may feel harassed and annoyed. This leads to hitting the unsubscribe button, which is never the goal. According to a HubSpot study, 78 percent of consumers have unsubscribed from emails because a brand was sending too many.
If your company has a constant stream of activity happening every month – whether it be events, useful content, or promotions – consider a subscription newsletter. It will keep followers abreast of and engaged with the goings-on of the company, and it will feel less intrusive because they personally opted in to receiving information from your company.
Depending on the platform that hosts your website, it’s generally fairly easy to add a simple form that collects user data and exports it into an email marketing platform or CRM software system.
For example, Unsplash – a database of free high-resolution photos – sent out a newsletter detailing important accomplishments and news that happened in the month of February.
Below is just one of the many announcements they made in their newsletter. They split up each announcement with a button inviting readers to learn more about the news. Your newsletter should always leave a little mystery, too, so your recipients want to know more.
Have a killer blog with new content posting every day? Digest emails will inform recipients of the latest and greatest pieces of your company’s content in a quick, easy-to-manage way. You can also share content you’ve found around the internet that your audience will find relevant and useful.
This sets your company up as a trusted source of knowledge. It’s a great way to guide traffic to your content and website, and also establish a pattern of regular communication with your followers.
Now that you know what you want, you’re probably wondering how you make it happen. The first step is content - you can’t have an empty newsletter.
If you’re creating a digest email, I have great news – you have content you can repurpose! Write catchy introductions of the articles you’re featuring that will make readers want to know more, and consequently follow the links to your website.
If you need to hustle for new content, consider setting up a hub on your company’s intranet, Slack, or another common space, for you to aggregate news. Encourage your colleagues throughout the company to contribute. This will help unearth news and ideas that you might not have known about otherwise, and will give individuals within your organization a sense of ownership and pride for the content going out to the masses.
Keep in mind what your recipients want. If you haven't created customer profiles yet, I highly recommend doing so. This will help you decide what content will be relevant and interesting to your audience(s).
Remember, the average person has an eight-second attention span. No matter what kind of content you’re including, it has to be a quick, interesting, enjoyable read. If your brand has a recognizable voice or tone used throughout your website and communications, be sure to incorporate that in your newsletter content as well.
One of the benefits of email marketing software is the templates these platforms provide. Do some exploring and choose the one that’s the best fit for your newsletter.
Some benefits of email newsletter templates include:
- You can repurpose the same template for future emails
- You don’t have to worry about design elements as much because most of the work has already been done for you
- An email newsletter template, once mastered, makes the process so much faster
- Most programmed-in newsletter templates are entirely customizable meaning that when the time comes, you can add in photos or videos that can be displayed within the body of the email, or move things around to fit certain themes
When choosing an email newsletter template, remember that you’re dealing with people who receive (potentially) hundreds of emails a day. Make sure the email template you choose is sleek, appealing and easy to navigate – especially on mobile devices. Some of the highest rated email marketing platforms on G2 Crowd include MailChimp, Constant Contact, and iContact.
Next, insert the wonderful copy you’ve created.
Now, add attention-grabbing graphics that relate to your content. Incorporate your brand where you can, including in the email’s color scheme. This is a great way to help boost brand recognition in the future.
One thing to keep in mind: some recipients’ devices are not photo friendly, or they have settings on that block images from loading right away. Your alt-text is the words that will appear in place of the photo in these cases. Make sure your alt-text explains what the photo is so people feel comfortable – and intrigued – loading it. This can also be helpful for customers who may have impaired vision and use translation programs for emails.
I’ll pause here and add that I often draw inspiration from other newsletter examples. If you need inspiration for either content or design, here is one of my favorite newsletters: The National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) monthly subscription newsletter.
In this example, they do several interesting things that you could play with in your own newsletter.
The first item is a fun engagement opportunity that people will want to click on – and then it gets them to the NWF site, where they might wander around after taking the quiz. Magical.
The content is also broken up with a call to action – or in this case, a call for entries. It provides a break from the text blocks and again, is a different way to entice readers to the website.
Lastly, each piece of content drives NWF’s mission, which “works across the country to unite Americans from all walks of life in giving wildlife a voice.” This newsletter informs recipients of the latest news about American wildlife, while also educating and engaging them with the information so they can spread the word
This merging of fun and mission-driven content is what all newsletters should aspire to.
Now that the newsletter is created, it’s time to think about how you’ll send it.
Most likely you already have a database of customers, stakeholders, and/or potential clients that you can send to. Instead of sending in bulk to everyone, consider using marketing automation software. This will help you segment that list of customers in your CRM. Ways you can segment include by interest, purchasing behavior or demographic. This segmentation allows you to strategically personalize the email.
For example, if you know certain groups of people will be more interested in the cocktail event than in the blog about recruiting tactics, put the event information at the top of the newsletter. Keep in mind that such an event will probably only be relevant to customers who are local to the venue. Here’s some other event marketing strategies you can implement to reach those folks that are most interested in events.
If you are sending to a group of new or potential customers, consider tweaking the newsletter introduction paragraph to include more about who your company is and why they should care.
For example, best-selling author Ann Handley’s newsletter includes this introduction. It welcomes new readers, offers the option to learn more about the newsletter’s purpose through an external link, and says hello to return readers.
Personalization will result in going back through your content and design, making adjustments here and there. If you’re rolling your eyes and groaning – you’ve already spent so much time perfecting the content and now you have to go back?! – trust me, it’s time well spent. A little personalization will make readers pay more attention and feel appreciated.
Speaking of personalization, now is the time to think about your subject line. Look back on which emails pop out within your inbox – you decide whether it’s worth clicking based on the subject line, right? How funny, snappy, and interesting it is?
When possible, include your recipient’s name in the subject. This will immediately grab their attention. Next, think about what your audience’s wants and needs are, and what the newsletter is hoping to accomplish (refer back to the strategy). Considering the personality of your brand and your audience can help in crafting the perfect title, too. Just make sure it’s short!
Again, the subject line can be different for each segmented list. In fact, I would encourage A/B testing software so you can get a feel for what kind of content your audience will click on.
Take some time to read through this compliance guide. We’re trying to make a good impression on your boss, and a legal oopsie won’t help matters. Especially when penalties can be up to $41,485 per email. Yowza.
The law that guides these rules and regulations is called Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM).
Once we’re all done feeling weird about pornography being lumped in with marketing, let’s go over the important things you need to check off before you hit the big Send button, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
- Don’t use false or misleading header information.
- Don’t use deceptive subject lines
- Do identify the message as an ad
- Do include your valid physical postal address so recipients know where you’re located
- Do tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you
- Do honor opt-out requests promptly
- Do monitor what third-parties you hire to handle your email marketing (you’re still responsible for being legally compliant)
So basically, don’t be sketchy or harass people.
Keep in mind these rules are subject to change, and everyone is responsible to keep up to date with any legal compliance issues. For example, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has kept marketers on their toes with changes the past year. Always double check you’re being compliant!
I know we just went over this, but this is a trap you don’t want to fall into. Make sure “unsubscribe” is easily accessible and visible. Don’t make people work for it. We’ve all been there, and it just creates brand animosity. And, as mentioned above, could get you in legal trouble.
Create a spot for “unsubscribe” in your email newsletter template - if there isn’t one already - so it is always there every time you begin a new one.
You’re so close and your newsletter is looking fabulous!
Don’t get overconfident – the best-laid plans can still go awry. Make sure it isn’t because you didn’t test the email thoroughly.
- Test on different devices. Androids, iPhones, tablets, desktops, etc.
- Test on different browsers. Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Safari.
- Test on different mail clients. Outlook and Gmail, for example.
- Test your links (make sure they work and go where they are supposed to!)
- Test fields/personalization of names
At this point, you’re probably going cross-eyed every time you look at this darn newsletter, so send it to a few colleagues as a test. Also ask them to read it and provide any feedback. Now is the time to find typos, awkward spacing and areas that need strengthening.
Take a deep breath. Say a prayer.
Just kidding, you don’t need prayers because you nailed it!
Sit back and relax. Most likely, your boss is probably thinking you’re a low-key newsletter guru. Maybe you’ll even get another desk fly-by congratulating you on an excellent creation. I hope so because you deserve it!
Now, give the newsletter a few days to live in the wild, and then use data to showcase how well you achieved your goal. The data results, such as the open rate and click rate, can also help guide you as you build the next newsletter.