Starting an Email Newsletter for Your Business

A business newsletter should be an integral part of your email marketing plan. Sending regular, targeted, relevant emails to customers and potential customers will help with building and maintaining brand awareness and loyalty in a way that is that is cost-effective and relatively painless.

If you’re a small business taking your first step into the online world – perhaps after just having created your first website – the immediate advantage of email newsletters over traditional printed newsletters and advertising is minimal cost.

Sure, to get it right you will probably have to expend some cash on the right software, copy, and imagery, but it will be nowhere near the amount you’d pay for printing and then mailing hard copies of something you have no way of tracking the effectiveness of.

In case you haven’t noticed, these days people are glued to their phones. A good chunk of that time is spent checking email inboxes, and a good chunk of that chunk of time could be spent reading your email newsletter.


Content

Once you’ve settled on some concrete goals, now it’s time for the fun part: content creation! If you’re scratching your head thinking, “Content? That’s a very broad term…” you are correct. If this really is your first foray into the internet world, you better familiarize yourself with content, because it will absolutely be referred to time and time again.

Content, in a web sense, is essentially the stuff that fills up every website page, from text and imagery, to video and sound, in order to engage web users. Whatever kind of email newsletter you’re aiming to create, it needs content.

Exciting! But what kind of content? Again, this will depend on your end goal. Chances are, you came up with some neat ideas during your brainstorming session. If you’re still unsure, here are some typical newsletters businesses send to their customers:

The consumer newsletter

If you have an ecommerce store, it’s easy to keep your customers abreast of what’s happening in your store and even things that are relevant to their interests. For instance, if you sell makeup, your newsletter could include links to new releases, special offers, trends, and beauty news.

This ASOS newsletter incorporates current trends and has a clear CTA in the form of the “Shop Now” button in the top center.

This Domino’s Pizza newsletter showcases its current offer and ties it into the winter season for an added personal touch.

The roundup newsletter

If your business has a blog (or is a blog!) or you run an online magazine, a content roundup of your best and most important pieces that were published lately. This could be weekly, biweekly, monthly -- whatever makes sense in terms of how much you publish.

The New Yorker’s culture newsletter uses it as an opportunity to present (very!) old content in a single column.

The monetized newsletter

Maybe you’re planning on your newsletter being your product. Successful examples of a monetized newsletter include: daily bitesize news newsletter, The Skimm; and NextDraft, which promises the most fascinating news stories of the day delivered straight to your inbox. These kinds of newsletters tend to make money through advertising and sponsorship.

Creating a content calendar

When starting anything, you need to plan ahead. With an email newsletter that means being organized and keeping on top of things. For your campaign to be effective this newsletter needs to be sent regularly. Your unmissable content needs to be gracing your customers’ eyes as much as possible, otherwise they’re apt to forget who you even are.

Planning in advance is a good way of ensuring you stick to a schedule. Sticking to a schedule is made easy when you implement an editorial calendar.

The term “editorial calendar” can sound a little frightening, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. All you need is a simple calendar where you can organize and monitor the content you’re planning to include in your newsletter and when you’re going to send it. What you use is up to you. Google calendar is a handy, free option. You could even use Excel, or free online software like Zoho.

If you will be sending more than one type of newsletter, color coding different kinds of content will help you differentiate things quickly. For instance, blue could be for promotional newsletters, while red could for your blog roundup.

Writing compelling copy

If writing isn’t your bag, adding a copywriting wizard to your marketing team isn’t a bad idea. If this isn’t possible, chances are you’re a better writer than you think. The key is not be intimidated; you’re writing an email newsletter, not the next Pulitzer Prize winner. If you follow a few simple rules, you’ll be on your way to writing effective email copy if you bear a few things in mind.

Keep it personal

Everyone likes to feel special. Making a subscriber feel like you care isn’t hard!

  • Use your name

    This is something you can play around with a bit to see what your subscribers are receptive to. You could use the sales person’s name as sender. For example, “Cindy from X Company” or it could simply be “Cindy”. If this is a little too personal you can change it to “X Company Newsletter” so they know exactly what to expect.

  • User their name

    This is so easy to do! Opening an email and reading “Dear Steve” (assuming your name is Steve) is far more pleasant than a generic, “Dear Customer”

  • Write in the second person, using “you” and “yours” pronouns throughout. Try make it about them, and not about you.

Talk about how you can help your customer

You can wax lyrical about how your product is the best product ever until the cows come home, but if you don’t mention how exactly it will benefit your customer, chances are they’ll bounce out of your email pretty soon. As you’re drafting your email copy, a good question you should keep asking yourself throughout is, “what’s in it for them?”

If it’s short, it’s sweet

This is in regards to:

  • Sentence length

  • Paragraph length

  • And overall length

You may love Tolkien-esque, five-page long descriptions of a single tree, but it’s unlikely your subscribers do (at least when it comes to emails). The stats are in, and they confirm that the majority of online content is scanned and skimmed at best.

In a study, Dejan Marketing found that one in five people read web content word for word, while the majority scan, skip, and only read key items of interest. This is why short scannable copy is key. Make it easy for your reader to find what you promised in the subject line of your email and bring it all together with a nice prominent CTA button.

Proofread, proofread, proofread

While typos getting through to content published on your website or blog is never ideal, at least you have the option of editing it later. With email newsletters there is no such option; once it’s out there, it’s out there. So make sure to read through it carefully, and get another pair of eyes on it if you can.

Visuals

You want your newsletters to me memorable, and imagery and video can play a large part in that. However, using too many can make your newsletter look cluttered and also render it unopenable. Try only to go for images that are relevant and will enhance your message. Be sure to compress them as much as possible.

If you want to include video, rather than embedding it in a email itself, include a thumbnail from the video with a link it to where the video is hosted. Not all email clients support video, so this is a good compromise: you’ll be able to provide video content without sacrificing the look of your newsletter.

Subject lines

If you aren’t extending your now-stellar copywriting skills to your subject line, you’re missing an opportunity. The first thing your subscriber is going to see of your email is the subject line. Sure, it’s what’s inside that counts, but if your subscriber isn’t engaged enough to bother opening your email, then what’s the point? Here are some essential tips for composing an openable subject line.

Brevity

Like with body copy, it’s best to err on the side of shorter… but not too short. Stats on this tend to be contentious, but do point towards shorter (but not too short!) being better:

  • According to Mail Chimp there is no statistical link between length and email opens

  • According to Return Path, subject lines between 61-70 characters have the highest read rates

  • According to Yes Lifecycle Marketing shorter subject lines (between 1 and 20 characters) had the highest average open rates, while longer subject lines (61+ characters) had higher open rates than medium-length subject lines (21-60 characters)

What this basically suggests is that length is just one of the factors that will encourage a subscriber to open an email. When it comes to mobile optimization concerns, subject lines tend to cut off on smartphone email inboxes if they’re too long, so that’s also something you should bear in mind.

Intrigue and engage

The question, “What makes a subject line clickable?” is not all that different to “How long is a piece of string?” This will be dependent on your audience, ultimately. You’ll probably go through a lot of trial and error before happening upon the kind of subject line that gets your emails opened.

We’ll talk more about testing a little later, but for now, here are some tips that could help make your subject line more interesting:

  • Address your audience’s needs

  • Use urgency

  • Be mysterious

  • Use humor

How you use any of these will be dependent on your main audience. Certain kinds jokes and pop culture references won’t elicit the same response from Millennials as an older demographic, so the group you are targeting inside out really is key. And remember to always keep the subject line relevant to what’s in your email! Clickable ≠ clickbait.

Sometimes keeping it straightforward is key. Sometimes all you might need is one word. Just make sure that in trying to make your subject line witty and unique, it doesn’t become too obscure.

Keep keeping it personal

What we said earlier applies here, too. Hopefully your name is in there as the sender. Also use your customer’s name in the subject line, just like friends would. You could also include something about their location, if it’s relevant. But try to show a little restraint when getting personal, you definitely don’t want to come across as creepy.


Design

Once you’ve figured out what content you’re going to include in your newsletter, the next most important thing is figuring out how it’s all going to look. If you’re not so design-savvy individual, don’t despair: any email marketing tool worth its salt comes with templates that you can easily customize into the most attractive newsletter for your business. We’ll talk more about why you should use one of these handy platforms in a bit.

For now, let’s take a look at some of the essential elements every email newsletter should have.

Essential elements

  • Header

    The header is the first thing your reader will see when they open your email, so make sure it’s easy on the eyes. Here, you should put your email newsletter title or headline, your company name, and company logo.

  • Logo

    Branding is important so your company logo should be included prominently, in the header and the footer of the email at least. Try have the color scheme of the email complement that of the logo for consistency. This will also help the recipient know what to expect when they open the email.

  • A good balance of text and images

    As a general guideline, Mail Chimp advises a ratio of 80% text to 20% images in an email as many email clients block the automatic download of images, which may in turn cause your mail to be marked as spam or just deleted entirely by the recipient. You should also ensure the image is hosted on a proper server -- many email marketing tools will allow you to hose images on their server.

  • A clean, minimal layout

    As you may recall, less is more when it comes to copy and visual elements, and it’s also the case when it comes to how you lay them out. Try to keep the columns to a minimum and make sure each section is clearly labelled and distinct so that your reader can easily find what they’re looking for.

  • Social media buttons

    If your subscribers keep up with what’s going on with your company through a variety of channels, then you’re more likely to stay on their mind. So why not make it easy for them? Including social media buttons somewhere in your email newsletter is a no-brainer.

  • CTA

    Every newsletter you send should have include at least one actionable CTA for the main purpose of your business, whether that be a link to your store or one to your blog.

  • Make it mobile-friendly

    There is a reason why the term “mobile optimization” is mentioned so much. It’s not just a passing phase – it’s actually really important. With so many people glued to their phones and devices far smaller than your classic laptop or desktop these days, it’s important that your newsletter is readable across a variety of devices, particularly those with smaller screens. The best way to do this is to ensure your design layout is responsive. Many email marketing platforms provide responsive templates.


How often

A reasonable frequency for sending newsletters

How often should you send your newsletter? Like with most things when it comes to email marketing, this will depend on your audience.

According to Marketing Sherpa, 86% of people they surveyed said they would like to receive promo emails at least monthly, while 15% wanted to receive promotional emails every day.” While this paints a “less is more” picture, you shouldn’t necessarily dismiss that 15% who desire more frequent contact right off the bat.

Whatever frequency you decide, just make sure it’s consistent. Sending it out on the same day and time will establish an expectation from your audience. It will also show them that you will meet their expectations.

Timing

Much like frequency, when it comes to timing, there isn’t really a secret formula to figuring out the best time to send your email newsletter. Ultimately it will boil down to what makes sense for your business and its audience.

When it comes to email timing, most people want a one-size-fits-all answer for what day they should send their newsletter and what time they should send their newsletter at?

The fact of the matter is, there isn’t one answer to that. There have been studies done on the matter, certainly. Mail Chimp found that mid-morning, Monday to Friday is optimal, but notes that this is highly dependent on your audience. Case in point, Wordstream found that their open rate increased exponentially on Thursdays at 8-9am, which would marketing logic would most probably dictate as being too early. Meanwhile, The Fast Company found that their email open rate remained unchanged, no matter what time of day they sent their email newsletter at.

In the end, figuring out how often you should send, what time of day and what day you should send your newsletter on will only be figured out through trial, error, and rigorous testing. Try to pinpoint past patterns in your email open rates and experiment with the time you send your newsletters and see if it makes a difference.


How to send your email newsletter

We’ve vaguely alluded to email marketing tools earlier in the article, but now we’re going to get into why exactly you should use one to implement your newsletter campaign.

Five reasons why you should use an email marketing tool

  1. Templates, templates, templates

    The majority of email marketing tools will give you access to a library with a whole host of customizable templates that will look good across different email clients. You’ll be able to choose a template that makes sense for your business and your content.

  2. They’ll take care of the tech stuff.

    Whether your recipient uses Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook, different email clients render emails differently. Even if you’re savvy when it comes to coding, ensuring your email will look good in every inbox it arrives in could end up being a nightmare if you decide to go down the DIY route. Do you really want to spend hours painstakingly coding the perfect newsletter only to find it still looks like garbage? And on that note...

  3. The BCC route just isn’t a good idea

    While it may seem incredibly simple to just slap your whole email list into the BCC section of your email client, type up an email, and hit send, this just isn’t advisable for many reasons. The risk of error is high when you’re doing things manually. What if you accidentally pasted everyone’s email into the CC box rather than BCC? You will have made all the emails on your list public, thus exposing them to spam. There are also so many moving parts when it comes to email campaigns when it comes to templates, tracking accurately just wouldn’t be possible. With an email marketing tool platform you’ll hardly have to give this stuff a second thought.

  4. It will manage your email list with ease

    According to the tenets of the Can Spam Act, every marketing email needs to provide recipients with an easy way to opt-out from receiving your emails in the future, and they should be removed from your list within 10 business days. This can be difficult to keep track of without an email marketing client. By using one of these tools, a clear unsubscribe button will be included in every email and will keep track of your list for you. You can also create opt-in forms for your website and social media pages. New subscribers will also be managed for you.

  5. Built-in Analytics

    Keeping track of how your newsletter campaign is doing is key to its success. Having a good grasp of analytics is also key to what we’re going to discuss next.


Testing

You’ve done it! You crafted the perfect email newsletter and sent it off to your subscribers. Time to forget about that old thing and start working on your next one, right? Wrong. You should keep on eye on your analytics from day one so that you’ll have a clear handle on what’s working and what isn’t.

Metrics to track

There are a plethora of metrics you could keep on eye on when it comes to analytics. Ultimately it depends on your goal. Do you want to increase sales, or do you just want to get more people on to your website? Here are just a few metrics we recommend keeping an eye on for newsletter traction:

  • Email open rate

  • Click-through rate

  • Bounce rate

  • Unsubscribes

Segmenting your email list

Delving into your analytics will also help if you decide to segment your list. Segmentation is breaking down your email list into smaller groups based on such elements like age, location or even just why they signed up to your email list in the first place. A good email marketing platform will come with tools that will make this process as pain free as possible.

If you find that your segments aren’t all responding to your email newsletter in the same way, you might want to consider tailoring the subject line to each group, or even composing different newsletters aimed at different target groups.

Once you have a handle on the metrics possibilities of your analytics, you can get started with A/B testing, which is essentially a way of experimenting with your subscribers respond well to what they don’t. This can be broken down into what certain segments respond well to.

When conducting A/B testing, you send out two versions of an email; one that is the control and will not be changed, while the other will be slightly different. Try stick to only changing one thing in the variant email, otherwise things will get confusing. Some examples of elements you can experiment with are the subject line, CTA placement, copy length and so much more.


Conclusion

The best thing to do to ensure your email newsletter gets new readers and drives business is to ask one simple question: would I read this? Be honest and don’t be afraid to try new things. Your customers subscribed because they wanted to hear from you, and you want to do things that help you stand out from the crowd. Use analytics and engagement data to find out what they’re happy with, and learn what should be cut out.

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