Newsletters can be painful to think about and difficult to write, but they don’t have to be.
Many people tasked with writing a regular newsletter feel that it’s difficult to find fresh content. Others don’t have the time to think through their content.
Then there are instances where there’s so much information that can be added, it gets difficult for entrepreneurs to streamline content for the best impact.
My experience with newsletters has been with nonprofit organizations and service providers, so in the following tips, those are the types of clients I most often refer to.
However, any organization that sells products, services, or support for a cause can use newsletters both as an effective marketing tool and method to stay in touch with customers.
For nonprofit organizations as well as content creators, remember that a newsletter is not an appeal for donations. It is not an aggressive bid for pledges or a hard sell for any product or service. And a newsletter should never be an interruption to your reader.
It should be anticipated by the reader, looked forward to, and missed if it doesn’t show up. A newsletter is a way to build and strengthen your relationship with your audience. It is regular contact with each person you do business with, and it is, or should be, positive reinforcement for them to continue their relationship with you and your business.
There are a few simple rules to go by: Inspire your reader, capture their imagination, and keep them engaged with useful content. In so doing, you’ll retain your relationship with them. If your reader feels like it’s an intrusion or just a play for money, you could lose them as a customer, and you could even harm your image.
If your newsletter isn’t getting the results you want, or if you’re struggling to get started with creating a newsletter, there are a few simple things you can do that will help.
The first question I ask clients when starting a newsletter project is:
Why are you sending out a newsletter? What do you want it to do for you?
Most organizations I have worked with always answer these questions in the same way:
These are goals of a sort, sure—but they aren’t goals you should hang your newsletter on. Think about it for a moment:
Your newsletter is not going out to the general public—at least, it shouldn’t be. Your newsletter should be something you send out to people who already know who you are and what you do.
Your audience is already familiar with ways to participate and what resources, services, and products you have to offer. They gave you their contact information, after all. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be on your newsletter list.
Newsletters are about thinking and reporting news. Use them to build trust and strengthen the relationship you have with your reader.
Consider more targeted goals:
You can make customers feel good with gratitude by sharing success stories, showing how they helped, or how their business with your organization had an impact.
You become an expert when you teach readers to do more, do something better, or teach them something new. Improving your status brings attention from other experts who may not be involved in your industry.
Early on, I stated that a newsletter is not an aggressive sell. That doesn’t mean you should leave out calls to action in your newsletter. By all means, use them. However, I find that a subtler approach generally works best. Use calls to action such as:
You should also check your metrics to make sure you have the correct goal in mind. A newsletter shouldn’t be too concerned with driving traffic to a website. After all, your readers are already familiar with your company and should be visitors to your website. A newsletter will bring new traffic to your website only when the content is shared.
Your percentages will vary from these averages, depending on the size of your mailing list. For an email newsletter, open rates of 13%-18% are average. Click-thru rates are 1%-2% on average, and unsubscribers shouldn’t be a concern at all, unless you notice significant spikes.
It’s actually a good thing to have a few readers unsubscribe. That is much better than having your newsletter sent to the spam folder or just ignored and deleted, which can throw off your numbers.
I suggest not using a no-reply email to send out your e-newsletters. Try to have it signed by someone important in the organization, like the VP of Marketing or Community Outreach.
Remember, one of the main goals of a newsletter is to build trust and strengthen relationships. Your readers should be able to reply to a newsletter and share their opinions, good or bad, about a feature story or any topic in it. These responses can be very helpful by giving you a better idea of what your readers want.
Responses also show you how their relationship with you evolves over time. You don’t have to check responses every day, but an actual live person should look at reader responses on a regular basis, depending on how often your newsletters are issued.
Your readers know that your newsletter goes out to groups of people; however, they still want to feel as though you’re talking directly with them on a more intimate, personal level.
When writing your newsletter, write to a specific group. You should use first- and second-person, because these are more natural ways of writing and are more similar to the way we speak. Be clear on who your audience is, so you can tailor content specifically to them. Some good ways to do this are:
Segmenting your list will limit distractions and keep your letter customer-committed. It helps to have a single audience in mind, so your tone is more engaging.
You’ll also find creative ways to provide relevant content more easily, and readers will pick up on the fact that you know and appreciate them.
Great content will inspire your reader, teach them new things, and make them feel unique and important as part of a select group. It will also strengthen the bond you’ve work so hard for after getting them on your list in the first place.
You don’t want to bore them into unsubscribing and losing their interest all together. Providing valuable, well-written content is the key to continued and growing interest.
Coming up with great content is a matter of focus and perspective. It’s easy to fall into a bad habit of throwing things on the page because you’re pressed for time. Too many topics fighting for the limited space available can cause your newsletter to be cluttered.
Here are some common bad habits that you should avoid:
If you want to provide excellent content, keep these basics in mind:.
When creating an email newsletter, your microcontent is actually more important than your actual articles. The microcontent is what will get read first. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets read, so you want to make sure it is clear, easy to understand, and attention-grabbing. Email newsletter microcontent is:
From line Subject line
Bolded text Linked text
Now consider the frequency of your newsletter. You need to send out your newsletter as frequently as possible, as long as you can create high-quality content. If you don’t send it enough, you have a loss of performance and interest, but if you send it out too often at the cost of quality content, you damage your credibility and lose readers (and possibly customers) that way, too.
High Frequency + Low-Quality Content = Unsubscribe or Spam
Low Frequency + Low-Quality Content = Ignored
Low Frequency + High-Quality Content = Low Performance/Low Results
High Frequency + High-Quality = Best Results
In order for your organization to keep its audience, you must keep them interested. That means, in today’s busy world, you must reach out to them frequently.
As long as you have high-quality content, this shouldn’t be a problem. Readers aren’t going to mind getting your emails because the content is enriching to them and they love receiving it.
Of course, they aren’t going to read every newsletter you send. However, they will be more likely to save them, read them later, and even forward them to potential new customers when the content is good, useful, and interesting.
Maybe you have tons of amazing content ready to go and a newsletter already started. If so, you might be able to cut your current newsletter in half or in thirds and send a shorter newsletter more frequently.
I strongly recommend that your organization send out a weekly newsletter, or at least a bi-weekly newsletter, as long as you can keep content high quality, to get the best results overall in customer engagement.
If you have multiple newsletters to send out for several programs, check your list segmentation to make sure there is a need for each newsletter. If you do need to send out multiple newsletters and there is overlap with your mailing lists, stagger your mailings so readers aren’t buried in emails all at once.
You absolutely do not want customers getting irritated with you because you load up their inbox with too much for them to absorb all at once. This will cause every newsletter to get deleted at the same time.
Your newsletters should go out as consistently as possible—provided the content is beneficial—and it should be clean and easy to read. Keep the pictures sized consistently. If there is one large picture at the top for your feature story, all the images for other stories and topics should be a smaller size and formatted the same way.
Leave plenty of white space to divide your content, and use a single-column format. White space gives the eye a rest and helps the reader feel more at ease than when being faced with a solid wall of text.
A single column is mobile friendly and easier for the eye to follow without being distracted. Teaser-text is OK to use, but the headlines are much more important. Headlines and links need to be finger-friendly and easy to tap without the risk of hitting several links at once.
Links and buttons should be in large text, and always make sure that your newsletter is mobile friendly: most emails are checked by mobile phones these days.
You want your newsletter to be as simple and clean as possible, so resist adding elements just because it looks “boring.” It may be counterintuitive, but boring is a good thing—boring is easier for busy people to scan quickly. It also allows you to target where the eye is drawn to by varying the font, text color, or popping in an image to highlight your message.
Plan your newsletter according to content and frequency. If you start with content and frequency, it provides you with a map to outline upcoming issues well in advance and eases an enormous amount of stress.
For example, you may decide that you want your weekly newsletter to have one feature story and three top stories. Anything else will be plugged in as a constant, depending on the needs of your organization. Based on this decision, you can easily determine the next steps to take for the future of your newsletter, whether planning one week ahead or several.
Constant items are things like a calendar for the week ahead. These won’t need to be created each week. Using the above example, you have four different “buckets” to fill each week, or 16-20 buckets each month. Now you know how many content pieces you need to create for the month, and you can plan them by subject or timing.
Suppose you have a month or two where there are six items in a week, and you need to choose only the four your newsletter has space for. That is where your social media presence helps because you can integrate it with your newsletter.
How, you ask? Because social media gives you an unlimited number of “buckets” to use. Where your newsletter is limited to four items, social media has no limit, so the additional two items you have can be published as well. You can do a quick tweet or post multiple times a day on any topic, multiple topics, and new ideas.
This is a great way to test the story ideas and see which ones should get the more valuable newsletter space. It also eases the pressure of making sure everything gets brought to your reader’s attention.
Once you’ve been able to do this, it’s time to execute! You have your buckets sorted and planned, and you’ve put everything on social media that you wanted feedback about. Maybe you even used a few teasers about the big feature story coming up. Now it’s time to follow through.
Because you know how many features and top stories you need for the month, you can use any spare time you have to work ahead and avoid getting into a bind with deadlines.
If you’re struggling with your newsletter, or you want it to do more for you, try one or all of these steps. You’ll see that a newsletter is a valuable marketing tool, and a great way to build trust and strengthen relationships with customers.
Laura is a busy mom with a teenager, 3 dogs, a cat and a lizard. She loves to write and help other writers on the journey through this ever-changing industry.