Quick Tips for Successful E-mail Newsletters

It’s been about 15 years since I developed my first e-mail newsletter. It’s not rocket science. But I still come across clients that are missing the basics.

Here are some tips to get you started — or to help you quickly review your existing e-mail newsletter and confirm that you’re still in line with best practices to make it successful.

It’s All About the Reader, Not You

Remember: When you’re developing an e-mail newsletter, make it relevant and interesting to your audience. This sounds so simple, but I still see clients whose e-mail newsletters are “all about us” — we’ve hired a new VP of sales, we landed a new client, etc. That’s nice, but what’s in it for the reader?

Many times this type of information, if included at all, should be relegated to a brief sidebar — it’s not the meat of your e-mail newsletter. If there’s more to the story — for instance, you’ve added new functionality that may benefit other clients to land the new customer — then that might warrant a full-blown article.

Think About the Competition

I’m not talking about your company’s competition. I’m talking about the competition for eyeballs and time that exists in the inbox.

Many companies develop their e-mail newsletter content in a vacuum. Put it in context. Why would someone read your e-mail first? Why would they read it at all? If you can address these questions and come up with honest reasons justifying the readers’ interest in your e-mail, you’re on the right track.

Include a Table of Contents

This seems simple, but it’s still surprising how many e-mail newsletters lack this fundamental feature. Studies show that most people spend just a few seconds deciding whether to read an e-mail. By incorporating a table of contents at the top, the reader can easily see everything your e-mail newsletter has to offer and decide whether to read it. If the first story doesn’t engage them, the last one might.

Be sure your table of contents is as descriptive as possible. Actual article headlines, which change from issue to issue, will engage better than section titles that are the same each time you send. More descriptive, benefit-oriented headlines work better than general ones with nothing to offer the reader.

Headlines Aren’t Enough

One of my clients sends an e-mail newsletter to drive traffic back to an online publication. The content is an image of the magazine cover with a list of headlines. While some publications have headlines that are interesting and descriptive enough to draw people in, most don’t.

The shortcut here is to include the headline and the first sentence or two from the article. This is better than a headline alone.

A better strategy is to write some original copy about each article that entices the reader to click-through and read more. “Teaser” copy works very well here. Don’t give away the key points of the article, but let people know what they’ll learn if they read it.

For instance, if the article lists top industry trends for the coming season, let them know that if they read it they will be rewarded with that. It’s a quid pro quo — you need to let the reader know what they will receive if they give you the time it takes to click-through and read the article.

Incorporate Video

This is somewhat new. A recent Forrester Research report stated that video in e-mail is increasing CTRs (define) significantly — double or triple what the same e-mail received without video. There are ways to benefit from this trend without costly technology. Check out my recent column on video in e-mail for tips.

Have a Goal

Back in the mid-1990s, we developed e-mail newsletters just to do it. E-mail was a new frontier and we needed to get in and play to figure out how to leverage it best.

Fast forward to 2009. E-mail is a proven effective marketing channel. But many companies still neglect to assign bottom line, quantitative goals to their e-mail marketing efforts. Many e-mail newsletters are primarily used for branding and to drive awareness, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop quantitative goals.

Open and click-throughs are good, but the closer you can tie your goals to the business mission, the better. Think in terms of lead generation, sales, and other conversion metrics. Even things like how much time people coming from e-mail newsletters spend on the site versus visitors from other sources can be useful and justify your efforts.

Until next time,


Need practical tips for taking your successful e-mail marketing program to new heights? Sign up for a full-day workshop with Jeanne Jennings and Tamara Gielen on Feb. 1, 2010 in Miami Beach, FL, in conjunction with the 2010 Email Evolution Conference.

Jeanne is off this week. This column was previously published Oct. 5, 2009.

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