More About Writing Great Newsletters

In my last article, I expressed some concerns that the differences between promotional emails and online newsletters were becoming blurred. More and more companies send out “newsletters” that are simply virtual junk mail in disguise. This is bad news for commerce sites genuinely trying to publish quality newsletters that add real value.

The response to that article has been amazing. Dozens of people have emailed me both to express their agreement and to tell me about some terrific newsletters they subscribe to. To everyone who wrote in — thanks!

Here are some random thoughts that might help save some newsletters in danger of becoming virtual flyers.

If you need to promote sales through email, send out promotional emails separately.

Many companies online have a legitimate need to promote their products or services through email. No problem. Build up an opt-in list and send out promotional emails.

But keep that list separate from your newsletter list.

Let your promotional emails do the heavy lifting when it comes to building traffic and promoting sales. And a virtual flyer is exactly what some customers want from you. They want to hear about new introductions or great price deals.

With the sales efforts happening through the emails, you can now develop a newsletter that is clearly focused on adding value to your company and building the relationship between it and its customers. Now you can create great content, develop a compelling voice, and build an audience of customers who look to you as a trusted source of information.

Just be sure that everyone on your team understands and respects the different roles of your promotional emails and your newsletters.

Don’t let your newsletters become Web pages!

When given the choice, most people now choose HTML over text when subscribing to newsletters and even discussion lists. (At the I-Copywriting Discussion List, our HTML subscribers outnumber text subscribers by a ratio of three to one. And that’s a list about words and writing.)

And that’s fine. If people prefer HTML, give it to them.

However, at the same time that some newsletters are turning into promotional emails, others are turning into inbound Web pages.

Full navigation links that match the Web site. Content intro links. Short intro text. Scannable subheads. And so on.

All of a sudden, what you’re sending out ceases to be a newsletter at all. It’s simply an alternative home page being pushed out to a subscriber base.

If delivering an HTML Web page is what you intend, that’s fine. But it’s not a newsletter.

Just because you are using HTML doesn’t mean that you have to use it a lot.

You can use it for headings and formatting. But you don’t have to add graphics and photographs. An HTML page doesn’t have to look like a Web page. (And the smaller the file size, the more your dial-up subscribers will thank you.)

Write your newsletter in a text editor first.

Give yourself the freedom to write it just the way you want. Get the flow right. Get the rhythm right. Let the quality of your writing sing out. Once you have a great newsletter in text, then format it in HTML.

If you do it the other way around — if you design before you write — you will be bound by design considerations that will disturb the flow of your text, break it up into small pieces, and probably diminish its grip and impact as a piece of writing.

As you can probably tell, I’m a traditionalist when it comes to online newsletters. I like to read great text that is engaging and compelling and leaves me looking forward to the next time it appears in my inbox.

Here’s a final thought on the subject of HTML newsletters:

Text emails come from individuals. HTML emails come from marketing departments. So if your newsletter is intended to carry the voice and character of an individual, talking one-on-one with the audience, stick with text.

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