Publishing Your Own Newsletter: Part 11

It’s time to begin wrapping up this series on publishing your own newsletter. This week, we’ll talk about the boring, but necessary, testing, and the resources that are out there for newsletter publishers. Next, I’ll discuss getting sponsorships for your newsletter.

Test or Fail
Every newsletter you send is a test of your professionalism, and a reflection on the competence of you organization. Just like this column. The fact that the first 249 columns I wrote had no grammatical errors (actually, readers tell me there was one) doesn’t make it okay for this column to have an error. First-time readers don’t care about my track record (or that of my editors). They would read this, think I’m careless, and click away.

The same goes for your newsletter.

When it comes to testing your newsletter, think of every single issue as a pass/fail exam. If you value your readers’ time, then don’t waste it by sending out any of the following:

  • Unedited copy. Spell check is a good start, but not enough. Read it out loud to make sure it sounds good, then go back and check your homonyms again (you’re vs. your, its vs. it’s, etc). This is no time to rush.
  • Pointless copy. You’d think that by the time you’re testing, you’d know that the copy had a point to it, but it just isn’t so. I can’t think of anyone whose “random musings” are worth my time. How about yours? Your excitement about sending a newsletter is not of interest to them. Make it interesting and tell them something of value.
  • Broken links. Try to keep your links short so they don’t wrap — because wrapping will break most links in plain-text email. Test, test, test. From both inside your firewall and outside.
  • Bad formatting. Be sure to test formatting for both the plain-text version and the rich-text version. Test on Outlook Express, in Netscape, in AOL, and in a Web-based email system, such as Hotmail.
  • Rich-text to AOL addresses. Regardless of what subscribers requested, send AOL addresses plain-text email. Yes, I know about AOL 6 and 7, but what percentage of AOL users are using them, and what percentage of AOL users know what “rich-text” means? Look at An AOL Postmaster Guide for Internet Users for detailed information on how to send something other than plain text to AOL clients, but note that even the MIME header has to be different (see Part 3 of this series for more on MIME headers).
  • Printing problems. The first few issues of my newsletter went out without my having tested printing. It turned out that my phone number (for consulting services) was only half displayed on the printed version. What a mistake! Make sure the newsletter isn’t too wide for a single sheet of paper with one-inch margins.
  • Broken images. If you’re inside a firewall, you might find images loading without a problem because you’re from the same domain. Test from a dial-up connection.

Resources
My favorite newsletter about newsletters is Janet Roberts’ List-Universe.com. It’s daily, and a great example of what a newsletter should be: a spoonful of relevant information about a narrow topic. ClickZ also has many useful columns on newsletter publishing. It’s definitely worth subscribing, if you haven’t already.

Alexis D. Gutzman is an author, speaker, and consultant on e-business and e-commerce topics. She’s the producer of The Online Marketing Report. Her most recent book, The E-commerce Arsenal: 12 Technologies You Need to Prevail in the Digital Arena, was named one of the 30 best business books of this year. For up-to-date information about her research and speaking engagements, visit The Alexis Gutzman Group’s Web site.

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