Do you write an email newsletter? Want people to actually open and read it? How about even look forward to it? Then this blog post is for you. In my experience, many people write newsletters in which they predominantly talk about themselves – and while there’s nothing wrong with that, if your objective is to get the majority of your recipients to open your newsletters and read them on a regular basis, then you might want to rethink your strategy. Here are ten tips for improving the quality of your newsletter content, and increasing the chances that it will actually get read.
1) Quality over quantity.
The first thing you have to remember as you compile your newsletter is that people receive many, many emails each day. They don’t have the time, will, or energy to read your personal essays. Therefore you should keep your content concise and to the point. I recommend writing a series of short paragraphs, each one with a relevant topic headline. This will make your content more accessible and “skimmable” for your readers.
2) Use photos (where it makes sense).
In my eZine I use a ratio of around 60% text to 40% photos. This ratio hasn’t necessarily been statistically proven – it’s simply what I find to be aesthetically pleasing. When used appropriately, photos can help to maintain your readers’ attention and communicate to them about your subject matter. However, it’s important that if and when you use photos, make them directly relevant to your text. Otherwise, they will come across as random and disorienting – like this photo of Gumby and Pokey:
3) Get creative with subject lines.
Does an email with the subject line “News from Joe Shmo” make you want to click and read immediately? I didn’t think so – me neither. I know this will sound funny, but I’m actually a believer in slight sensationalism when it comes to email subject lines. After all, their sole purchase is to get people to open your message. After they open it, whether they continue reading or not depends on your content. But the main thing is to get them to open it in the first place. Try and think about what the most interesting, out of the ordinary, or even slightly shocking thing in your newsletter is. Then translate that into a subject line. To help you get started, here’s a great article from Hubspot called 18 of the Best Email Subject Lines You’ve Ever Read.
4) Use an email template provider such as Mailchimp, Constant Contact, etc.
For this one you really have no excuse, as many template providers offer free plans for users. There are numerous advantages to using an email template for your newsletters. You can A/B test (more on that later) to experiment with different subject lines, layouts, etc. to see which one works best based on analytics. You can maintain a visual theme and identity that ties into your website and other business materials. You can easily schedule your emails to be sent at a certain time, as well as send test emails. The list goes on and on. Here’s a 2015 article that lists the “Top 10” email marketing providers. I personally use and love Mailchimp (photo below), but there are other great options as well.
5) Put yourself in your reader’s shoes.
For me, this one really comes down to how much of your content is giving-based or education-based, and how much of it is self promoting. What do your readers want to read about? What will they find most interesting and helpful? Some people may disagree with my stance on this or think it extreme, but I personally believe that a ratio of 80% giving-based content to 20% self-promotional content is a great balance with which to create your newsletter. When you’re providing your readers with relevant content that they can truly appreciate and put to use in their lives, not only are they going to look forward to the issues you send – they’re also going to pay more attention when you do promote yourself and/or your services.
6) Experiment and keep track of your results.
As mentioned earlier, when you do sign up for an email template provider, one of the benefits is that you can view analytics for your newsletters. One feature that Mailchimp provides which is amazingly useful is that you can “A/B test,” meaning you can for example send out half of your emails with one subject heading and the rest with another subject heading. Then in your analytics results, you can see what percentage of people opened your email in each group. It’s easy to see just how helpful this sort of testing could be for a variety of pieces of your newsletter.
7) Always always always send yourself a test email.
There’s a few different reasons for this. One is to simply see how your email looks in an inbox. Secondly, you’ll want to click on every single link in your email to make sure it goes where you want it to. There’s nothing more frustrating than realizing right after you’ve send an email to 1,000 people that you have a broken link inside. I also find that proofreading my newsletters in the inbox helps me to spot any misspellings or awkward sentences that I may have missed earlier. And finally, if you can get a buddy onboard who is willing to do a read over of your issue before you send it out, another pair of eyes is always immensely helpful.
8) Make it easy for people to unsubscribe.
This item is the simplest, and it’s also one of the most important. You need to make it easy for people to unsubscribe. As hard as you work to make your content interesting and engaging, there are going to be some folks who just don’t want to be receiving your newsletter – and they maintain the right to easily and quickly unsubscribe. This is one of the main reasons why I think it’s important to use an email template provider as opposed to just sending emails from Gmail, Yahoo, etc. “Please reply to this email with REMOVE in the subject box” might seem like a viable method to offer your readers, but the reality is that almost nobody feels comfortable doing that. They need to have an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email where they can get off your list with one click. Show them the exit sign.
9) Get your readers involved.
How? There are many different ways to go about doing this. One would be a poll on a topic that your readers are interested in. An added benefit of the poll idea would be that people would need to open the subsequent issue to see the results. Or you could feature a reader in each issue (what the feature is about would depend on your newsletter’s theme). You could even interview various readers on a chosen topic. Or you could invite your readers to vote on something, and the winning vote could have an impact on a future issue. These are just a few ideas and I’m sure you could think of many more. The important thing to remember is that when readers feels like they’re directly involved, they’ll become more invested in what you’re writing and will also be more likely to spread the word to others about you.
10) Put your personality into it!
The newsletters that I receive and look forward to reading every month are the ones in which the author has a writing tone and style that’s all their own – it has personality! This is of course easier said than done, but I’d say a good way to get started with this might be to ask yourself: how do I want to come across to my readers? Do you want to be funny? Dry? A bit self-deprecating? There are countless ways in which you can develop a tone as a writer, and it’s definitely worth giving some thought. Someone who does a particularly good job of this is my friend, trumpeter (and comedian) Nadje Noordhuis.
So there you have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these ten tips for improving your newsletter. If you consider one, great. If you consider all ten – even better! Whatever changes you decide to make, I have confidence that you’ll begin to see improvements and growth in your general reception, open rates, and subscription numbers. Good luck!