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How to Write a Newsletter: The Ultimate Email Marketing Guide

By: Joyce Chou — December 19, 2019

Email is a time-tested tool to drive sales and conversions. In fact, according to HubSpot, more than 59% of marketers say that email is their biggest source of ROI. Moreover, consumers across all industries prefer hearing from businesses via email.

Of course, the most effective newsletters take more than simply drafting something and clicking send. To successfully engage with your subscribers, your newsletter must entice readers and encourage them to interact with your content.

The key to doing this: crafting email messages that inspire readers to act.

Below, we’ll show how to do just that. You’ll learn how to write a newsletter that people will actually read, and find out best practices to get the most from your email marketing.

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9 Steps for Writing a Newsletter People Actually Read

1. Begin with the end in mind

Before writing your newsletter, consider:

  • What is the goal of your newsletter?
  • Why are you sending it? What do you want your reader to gain from your message?

Having clarity on your end goal helps keep your newsletter intentional and purposeful. This objective will serve as a guide to ensure you’re keeping the subscriber top-of-mind in addition to accomplishing your content goals.

One way to start with the end in mind is to establish your call to action (CTA).

For optimal results, focus on one CTA. For instance, your newsletter might be trying to get users to make a purchase, sign up for a free trial of your service, or something else. Whatever your ultimate goal is, having two or more CTAs can divert your reader’s attention, so stick to just one.

2. Craft an intriguing subject line

Your subject line creates the first impression of your newsletter emails. It determines whether or not your subscriber decides to bother clicking—as such, you need to make it enticing.

To create a click-worthy subject line, keep these tips in mind:

  • Mention the benefit. What’s in it for the reader? If they can immediately glean value from your subject line, they’re more inclined to read on.
  • Keep it short—ideally less than 50 characters. The majority of users view emails on their mobile devices, where screen space is limited. Make your subject line succinct and to the point to help subscribers easily digest your topic.
  • Use numbers. Whether to introduce a list or share an interesting stat, numbers perform well because they are specific and evoke curiosity.
  • Make your subject line actionable. Use phrases that incite action and a sense of urgency, like “Don’t wait” or “Last chance.”
  • Don’t mislead your subscribers. In other words, avoid a subject line that deceives or overpromises—you can expect readers to unsubscribe if you do.

Emojis: yea or nay?

According to Forbes, 56% of brands that used an emoji in their email subject line reported a higher open rate than those did not include an emoji. Adding emojis offers a touch of humanization, making your company relatable.

Of course, it’s worth considering whether your industry is “emoji-compatible.” A newsletter for a legal company may seem overly casual and out of place. Add pizzazz with emojis only if it matches your brand voice and industry.

3. Make the body of your email concise and interesting

Your reader’s clicked on your email—now what?

The body of your email is your opportunity to connect with your subscriber. But with an average attention span of 8 seconds, you’ll have to capture them right away…and keep them engaged.

Jump right into it by:

  • asking a question,
  • highlighting a benefit,
  • or telling a story.

Whichever route you choose, make it interesting but concise. The key is not to overindulge but to give readers enough information to nurture the relationship and offer solutions. Check out how Brian Dean does just that in one example from his newsletter.

Brian Dean email example

Brian’s email immediately opens with a “quick story” that’s written in short, digestible sentences.

How long should your newsletter email be? According to Constant Contact, emails with 20 lines of text (or roughly 200 words) generally perform best in terms of click-through rates.

Remember: your email content should align with your ultimate digital marketing goals. In other words, it should follow a content strategy that supports your end objective. Whether it’s to increase engagement, boost lead conversions, or drive traffic to your site, identifying and documenting your content strategy positions you to achieve your company’s marketing goals.

4. Use proper formatting and design

As you craft your newsletter emails, remember to pay attention to formatting and design. A cluttered email can be visually overwhelming and discourage subscribers from reading.

To format an email for better readability, keep these best practices in mind.

  • Avoid large chunks of text. Instead, aim for shorter sentences and paragraphs so that your subscribers can easily consume your message on the go.
  • Bold, underline, or italicize key pieces of information that you want to draw your viewer’s attention to.
  • Limit the number of different fonts and colors used in your email. Keep your email visually simple.
  • When appropriate, use numbered lists and bullet points to break down your content into bite-sized pieces. Lists are more scannable and can help emphasize your main points.

HTML vs. Plain Text Emails

Perhaps you’re debating between whether to use HTML in your emails or take a plain text approach. Which one performs better for email newsletters?

Just as their name suggests, plain text emails are simple in nature and lack the styling enhancements of their flashy HTML counterparts. This makes them load faster and compatible with every device. HTML emails, on the other hand, tend to be more visually engaging but run a greater risk of getting caught in a recipient’s spam filter. Not to mention, with HTML emails, you need a responsive email builder tool so that your emails will also work on mobile devices.

What does the research say about these two types?

When it comes to email marketing newsletters, there’s a strong case for using both.

According to research from HubSpot, users generally claim to prefer HTML emails. Yet in spite of this, HubSpot’s A/B tests showed that simpler emails generally performed better with regard to open and click-through rates.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you should throw out HTML from your emails, though. Take a hybrid approach instead.

One solution is to give readers the option of receiving plain text versions of your newsletters. Or, use HTML emails but keep the coding fairly simple. The example below from Email on Acid is an HTML email that appears just like a plain text email, with the exception that it has embedded links.

(Image credit: Email on Acid)

5. Add spice with visual content

Embedding multimedia in your emails breaks up text, while also driving readers’ eyes to key areas and preventing them from getting bored. After all, if your email runs on the long side, text alone likely won’t be enough to maintain a reader’s attention.

So add some spice by including visual content such as a GIF, high-quality image, infographic, meme (when appropriate), or video. Actually, simply adding the word “video” to your subject line can increase your open rates. So you’ll improve user-experience, bring life to your message, and bolster your email marketing metrics.

Remember to find just the right balance of text and visuals, though. Too much visual content may make your email load slowly and as a result, perform worse. Below is an example of how Vox’s Future Perfect newsletter incorporates images into its text-heavy emails to keep readers interested.

Vox Future Perfect newsletter email

6. Give thought to your CTA placement

Placement of your CTA in your newsletter should be logical. Build interest rather than inserting it immediately in the introduction of your email. That might be in the middle of your email, or toward the end.

While it may make sense to place your CTA above the fold, your newsletter will also look more sales-y. And remember: your subscribers signed up for your newsletter hoping to get something valuable from your emails, not just a sales pitch. A blatant CTA at the top of your email might make readers feel duped and push them to unsubscribe immediately.

For an example of ideal CTA placement, check out the American Council on Exercise’s ACE Insights newsletter. Its CTA appears at the end of each email, while the rest of the body focuses on providing readers with its informative articles.

ACE Insights newsletter

For longer emails, consider repeating your CTA—but avoid doing so excessively. The idea behind including more CTA buttons is that the more your subscriber sees it, the more likely they’ll click.

7. Give readers the chance to unsubscribe

When people want to unsubscribe, let them.

After all, you only want highly qualified subscribers that are interested in your brand and may convert into customers. For those who don’t fit this mold, there’s generally little you can do to change their minds—and that’s perfectly fine.

In fact, keeping people on your list that have not opened or clicked on your email in months costs you money. Your company pays for each subscriber in your database, so releasing hundreds, even thousands, of unresponsive subscribers could save you money in the long run.

Giving unengaged readers the opportunity to unsubscribe (or doing it for them) also helps improve your newsletter’s performance metrics, i.e., its deliverability and open rates. More of your emails will get through the spam filters, landing you in the primary inbox and getting in front of the people who actually want to read your content.

Where should you include your unsubscribe link?

You can add it directly in the body of your content, like so:

If you’d rather not receive these emails from me, you can unsubscribe here.

Or, if you’d rather have a less obtrusive link, then include it in your email footer.

8. Segment your emails for a more personal touch

A whopping 75% of subscribers are more likely to click on emails from a segmented campaign—that is, targeted emails sent to a specific segment of your audience rather than your entire subscriber list.

It makes sense; emails that are personalized for a specific group tend to be more relevant to their recipients. Readers will have more reason to not only open your email but also click on whatever CTA is inside.

Segmenting your mailing list into different groups allows you to tailor your newsletters so that they better speak to your subscriber’s needs. In fact, customizing your email campaigns for different audiences is so effective that it can lead to a 760% boost in revenue.

For an idea of how to segment your emails, consider these possible approaches:

  • Brand new subscribers – Send a welcome newsletter to start a budding relationship.
  • Location – Target users in an area where you plan on hosting an event.
  • Purchase history – Upsell and/or cross-sell solutions to customers based on their previous orders.
  • Stage in sales cycle – Identify subscribers at different stages of the buyer’s journey and create content that supports each stage.
  • Open rate – Reward your most active subscribers by sending them a sweet deal.
  • Inactivity – Wake up inactive leads by creating a re-engagement campaign as a last chance offer to remain on your list.

Finally, a powerful way to segment your database is to allow your customers to do it themselves. Brands like Penguin Random House give their subscribers a list of preferences to pick and choose from.

Penguin Random House email subscription

(Image credit: Campaign Monitor)

As a result, customers select choices that excite them, increasing the likelihood that they’ll engage with your content.

9. Test different aspects of your newsletter

Testing your work is critical for any working content marketing strategy. In regards to email marketing specifically, it’s important to gauge whether your newsletters are creating your desired results and if you need to make any adjustments.

Unfortunately, testing email campaigns is often pushed to the bottom of the “to-do list.” But taking the time to monitor your analytics and test various elements of your newsletter can ultimately enhance your outcomes.

To kick off the testing process, choose key performance indicators to track in your email campaigns. That might be:

  • Deliverability rate – How many of your emails were actually delivered? Even better, how many of your emails actually made it to the intended inbox as opposed to the spam or promotional folder?
  • Open rate – How many subscribers opened your email? Across all industries, the average email open rate is 14.79%, but it’s best to look to your own industry for a benchmark to aim for.
  • Click-through rate – Are subscribers clicking on your links in your content? If so, which links did they click and where were they located in the newsletter?
  • Unsubscribe rate – Many marketers cringe at this metric. However, tracking it can help identify any trends and patterns associated with changes in your strategy or content.
  • Spam – How many subscribers report your content as spam? If you notice a high rate, it’s a sign that you may not be tailoring your newsletters to the needs or interests of your target audience.
  • Conversions – How many subscribers acted as you hoped they would? This could mean a sale, downloading your free content, registering for an event or webinar, or something else depending on your newsletter goals.

A/B Testing Your Emails

A/B testing can help determine what kinds of emails are resonating with your audience, dramatically improving your results over time.

The following are key elements that can be tweaked to discover what’s working, and what isn’t:

  • Sender name
  • Subject line
  • Preview text
  • Send time
  • Images
  • Headlines
  • CTA button (size, color, and text)
  • Layout

To start, focus your efforts by only testing 1-2 components at a time per email. With consistency, you’ll create the ideal formula that boosts engagement and conversions.

Conclusion

An effective email newsletter can nurture customer-brand relationships, drive more conversions on your website, and increase user engagement.

To kick off your email marketing efforts, devise and follow a content strategy that aligns with your business’s goals. Once you reel in subscribers, segment them to create more personalized content.

Finally, regularly test your newsletter emails to ensure your subscribers are actually opening and reading them. Make any necessary changes along the way—and don’t be afraid to be bold. Experiment. Over time, with more insight, your newsletters will get better and better—and your subscribers will love you for it.


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