Build an Email Newsletter to Build Relationships

Last week, I wrote about what “email marketing” means to most people: sending an advertisement to a list of email addresses. In fact, that is the essence of most organizations’ email marketing efforts.

But what I think effective email marketing is really about is building relationships. That is where the power is. And you can’t get there by sending ads to third-party lists. The content has to be appreciated, even expected, by the recipient before a relationship can form.

For small businesses, the easiest way to develop content an email recipient will appreciate is to put together an email newsletter. But what makes an email newsletter good? Here are some thoughts based on my experience.

Making It Good

It’s from someone. People build relationships with other people, not with faceless corporations. So your newsletter needs to be written by a real person. And the personality of that individual needs to come through in the writing.

It’s about something specific. Don’t do the same old tired topics everyone else is doing. Look for a topic that not only will attract your target audience but also is not adequately covered elsewhere. That approach additionally creates a promotional opportunity — unique content not found anywhere else.

It’s useful. And I mean the content and the structure of the newsletter. Make it about something meaningful to your target audience. But also structure it in a way that’s easy to read. For example, when I ran The Online Advertising Discussion List and later the ClickZ Forum, in each digest mailing, I would create a table of contents and put a brief summary of each post there. That way, readers could browse the table of contents and know right away if they wanted to scroll down farther.

It’s delivered at the right pace. How frequently should you send an email newsletter out? It is a common question that really depends on your content. If it changes weekly, then you should mail every week. How often is subjective. You want to avoid sending people more content than they can read. But in my opinion, you should send it at least once a month. Any less frequently than that, people will forget they signed up to receive it and will be mad at you for “spamming” them. (I’ve seen it happen.)

Putting It Together

We’ve talked about content. Now let’s talk about the mechanics: How do you actually compose and send an email newsletter?

When it comes to anything email, plain text is the best way to go. Every email client is different, so if you want to ensure readability, compose your newsletter using a text editor such as Notepad, BBEdit (for the Mac), or what I use, UltraEdit. These programs only output “plain Jane” text that will be readable by any email client.

Insert hard line breaks after every 60 characters of text. If you don’t, your lines could end up breaking funny, leaving the lines of your newsletter grossly uneven and jagged. (For example, 2 words on 1 line, 15 on the next, 5 on the next, etc.)

Make sure the URLs are short. If they extend over 80 characters in length, you run a pretty good chance that they will be nonfunctional when your subscribers get their copies of your newsletter. The reason is that most email programs put a hard return after 80 characters as the message is being sent out. (Unless, of course, you’ve already put hard returns in after every 60 characters, as I mentioned above.) This is done regardless of whether character number 81 is in the middle of a URL or not.

Sending It Out

To send your email newsletter out, you need some sort of list management software. This does the job of adding and removing email addresses as well as emailing your newsletter. There are basically three solutions, all with tradeoffs:

    Free hosting services. Topica’s an example. Tradeoff: These services put advertising in your mailings.

    Paid hosting services.’s an example. Tradeoff: These services charge upward of $150 per month for lists with 50,000 subscribers.

    Mailing list software. You can run this from the desktop. Tradeoff: You are limited by the speed of your Internet connection.

Though services such as Topica and are tried-and-true methods of list management, I’ve been impressed with a desktop solution I discovered while putting together “The ClickZ Guide to Email Marketing.” It is called PostCast and is basically an email server attached to a Microsoft Access database. It lets you extract data from an email message, put that data in the right fields of a database, then lets you do mailings against that database.

Would you believe it? Those damn ClickZ editors are kicking me off my soapbox. I’m out of space for this week.

Next week I’ll finish my missive about PostCast and give you a set of best practices that will keep you off the Realtime Blackhole List.

Type at you then!

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