You’ve spent months, maybe years, diligently sending newsletter after newsletter, agonizing over topics, subject lines, fonts, picture placement, and every little detail in the newsletter, but there's one problem: Nobody’s reading them. The few people that do, don’t respond to them.
And it doesn’t help that newsletters are posited as marketing cure-alls. Want brand awareness? Start a newsletter. Build trust? Drive engagement? Develop customer loyalty? Generate fresh leads? Retain customers? All roads lead to the same tired destination — newsletters.
That pressure seeps into your newsletters and strips them of the one thing they’re supposed to be — engaging. Before you give up on newsletters altogether or go back to begrudgingly writing lackluster ones, we have something for you.
An example-backed guide for crafting engaging newsletters — with everything from tapping into your audience’s biggest motivators and fears to making your emails stand out in crowded inboxes. Ready to revolutionize your newsletters? Let’s dive in.
1. Understand Your Audience
You can have the most versatile product in the world and still fall flat in marketing communication if your messages aren’t crafted with a particular group, i.e., a target audience, in mind.
Map out your target audience using the best clients you’ve had in the past, plus the dream clients you aim to work with. If you’re working with a diverse set, create buyer personas that represent different segments of your audience.
Google Analytics, website data, and social media insights can all help refine them. You can then tailor your newsletters to each persona, delivering the perfect content that resonates with their unique needs.
Frame.io demonstrates its understanding of its users’ biggest challenge by leading with that (see subject line), and then positioning itself as the solution.
Consider their demographic information, such as age, gender, location, and occupation, as well as psychographic factors like interests, hobbies, values, and aspirations. Even the language, tone, and style they communicate in are important.
The more you know your audience and refine buyer personas, the closer you get to creating better-performing newsletters.
2. Craft Compelling Content
When choosing topics, consider their relevance and value to your audience. Conduct surveys to uncover their interests, pain points, and desires, and provide actionable insights and solutions to their challenges.
Use the website and social media analytics to see what your target audience is discussing. Run topic ideas by followers with a Twitter, Facebook, newsletter, or LinkedIn poll.
Tools like BuzzSumo and Exploding Topics let you discover emerging trends and hop on before everybody else does. Keyword research, blog idea generator tools, and industry-specific forums can also guide content planning efforts.
As can preference centers through which subscribers decide exactly what kind of content they want to see.
Images, videos, and infographics enhance the overall appeal of newsletters. They act as text breaks and make the content more digestible and memorable.
Wherever possible, personalize email content to provide recommendations, and usage tips, or to mark important subscriber milestones.
Study user behavior to track newsletters they’ve engaged with, if, when, and how often they’ve read those emails, and modify email cadences accordingly.
3. Create Eye-Catching Designs
In an ideal world, good content would outperform aesthetics. But for newsletters to do well, it’s not enough that they educate the audience, they also have to look good while doing it.
Start by selecting a layout and template that reflects your brand identity. The email design, the color palette, and the fonts, all have to be in consonance with your brand.
Even basic changes like the strategic use of white space can help create a clean, visually appealing layout that lets your content shine.
Integrate images and videos that align seamlessly with your copy and tone. Alternatively, you can gamify content to improve response and click-through rates.
Single-column layouts like this one are becoming the norm because of their compatibility with mobile email clients.
It also helps to switch up your game every once in a while. After every two or three media-containing emails, send a plain text one to break the monotony, as XXIX does in this (mostly) text-only newsletter (see sample here).
Don’t forget to optimize emails for mobile. 43% of users check emails on smartphones and tablets. Compared to the 36% that use web email, mobile email users are a substantial majority you can’t afford to alienate.
Mailchimp offers customizable templates and a user-friendly interface for designing visually appealing newsletters, while ActiveCampaign provides professionally designed templates and mobile-friendly features.
Both platforms streamline the process and ensure your emails look great on different devices.
4. Optimize Subject Lines and Preheaders
Think of subject lines as the window displays of your emails. If your subject line is spammy, pushy, or simply unoriginal, most newsletter readers, who can be a judgy lot, aren’t going to open that email.
So instead of asking subscribers ‘What’s New in November?’ or telling them ‘Don’t miss this last chance to get 50% off!!!’ or ‘SHOUTING AT THEM IN CAPS’ – opt for subject lines that are concise and original.
Longer subject lines aren’t fully displayed on mobile devices, so try to keep your character count under 60.
You can use storytelling skills to build intrigue with a subject line like Seth Godin’s here.
Or a clever pun like Greenhouse does here.
Include the recipient's name or other relevant personalized information to skyrocket open rates by as much as 50%.
And if you want to boost open rates further, use preheaders. They occupy the precious real estate right below or next to the subject line. They can provide additional context and give subscribers a compelling reason to read your newsletter.
5. Structure the Newsletter
Newsletters should be written with clarity and readability in mind. To guide readers through the content, use clear headings and subheadings.
If your newsletters are typically long, organize the information into topic or theme-specific sections. This helps readers navigate through the newsletter and locate the most relevant sections.
Dovetail’s detailed newsletter is broken into several sections as shown below.
Consider incorporating a table of contents or a summary at the beginning so readers can cherry-pick the information of their interest. If the newsletter contains any featured content, like the best-performing blog of the month, display that first, even before the index.
The other problem with newsletters is that too many of them are a garbled mess of information with no end purpose. Whether it's reading an article, downloading a resource, or scheduling a demo, every email should let your subscribers know exactly what you want them to do next.
Always include a call to action (CTA) in your emails. In longer emails, separate CTAs displayed at the bottom of each section can propel readers to take the desired action.
6. Maintain Consistency and Frequency
Consistency is difficult to maintain in the long-term, but if you look at any highly successful brand, whether business or individual — from the trademark red and yellow colors of McDonald's, or Morgan Freeman's deadpan delivery — every one of them is built on the premise of consistency.
Your newsletter strategy should clearly define:
- The tone of voice
- The visual identity
- The frequency of sending
and abide by them.
Your email copy should be authentic and aligned with your brand voice. Do you want to cultivate the image of an authoritative industry expert, a methodical perfectionist, or an approachable innovator?
Real Life Example
The logo, font, image style, and color palette should be standardized across every newsletter. WeTransfer’s Wepresent newsletter displays perfect thematic and visual synchronicity (sourced here and here).
You'll have to decide if you're going to send weekly newsletters or do monthly check-ins. Most businesses operating in dynamic industries are expected to touch base with subscribers more frequently.
7. Test, Test, and Then More Tests
Your audience is constantly evolving, and so are their expectations. To keep innovating and optimizing your newsletters, you’ll have to test them.
Create versions containing different elements in your email and send them to a small sample of your subscriber list, then run an A/B test to determine what resonates best with your audience.
Findomestic, a credit card company, benefitted from an A/B test that found emails containing Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) had a 128% higher open rate and 133% more click-throughs than their standard HTML counterparts.
Campaign metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates can help you measure the effectiveness of your newsletters. They also pinpoint problem areas in emails that need improvement.
But tests and metrics can only determine the effectiveness of your past efforts. Combine them with regular surveys to get subscriber feedback about their expectations and preferences.
Use this data to make meaningful changes in your content marketing strategy that serves subscribers better.
8. Ensure Deliverability and Compliance
All the efforts you put into perfecting your newsletters will be pointless if your emails never make it to readers' inboxes.
Ironically, the more trouble you've had in the past with inbox placement, the more likely spam filters are to mark your future emails as spam, even when compliant with deliverability best practices.
To avoid that, focus on building high-quality email lists. List growth is incredibly important, but not if it comes at the cost of your sender's reputation.
Employ opt-in strategies like double opt-in to attract genuine and interested subscribers and minimize the chances of fake or invalid emails.
Every 6 months or so (more often if you have a longer list), clean your list using a bulk email verifier that enables you to verify email addresses from huge lists in seconds.
It'll remove inactive or invalid email addresses and optimize the overall performance of your newsletters.
Familiarize yourself and ensure compliance with data privacy laws and regulations like the CAN-SPAM and the EU GDPR.
Also, provide an unsubscribe link in emails to prevent spam complaints.
More Examples of Great Newsletters
There’s no better way to learn than by example, so we've gathered some of the best newsletters for you to get inspiration from.
SaaS Company Newsletter
As far as newsletter offerings go, Canva’s newsletter offers the complete package. From design challenges to feature announcements and personalized tips, it delivers variety in every newsletter.
Apart from the clean design, where the Canva newsletter wins is at driving engagement. It places user-generated content in its newsletters too, encouraging participation in its contest.
It also tracks user activity and then shares related tips to make subscribers feel valued.
Local and Small Businesses
ReadyMag is a website design platform, so it's not surprising that its emails have striking visuals, or that it maintains this unique retro look in all its emails. It's the diversity of content in their bi-monthly newsletter that'll have you doing a double-take.
In a third, they're taking on the task of running a job board for the creative professionals that form their customer base (see sample here).
Their single-CTA designs are eye-catching and compact without being overwhelming.
Video personalization platform BombBomb's podcast ‘The Customer Experience' features interviews, discussions, and solo shows centered around meeting customer expectations to drive revenue.
Now podcasts, as a form of newsletters, are stunningly versatile as they can be shared in their original form, and as transcripts, short clips, blog posts, and videos for minimal cost. If you’re not good at podcasting, you can always work with various podcast promotion companies.
This is exactly what BombBomb capitalizes on. It repurposes its podcast in most of these formats, making it highly shareable and catering to the varied consumption preferences of its audience.
Later is a social media management platform that collates its best blogs in the form of a newsletter.
It keeps its eyes on the prize: making the lives of its readers, mostly social media managers and strategists, easier. It gives them a run-down of the latest developments in social media so they don't miss a thing along with its opinions and tips, generating authority, trust, and loyalty in one fell swoop.
Crafting well-received newsletters requires finesse, strategy, and an unwavering focus on delivering value. By understanding your audience, creating compelling content, designing eye-catching layouts, optimizing subject lines and preheaders, structuring with clarity, maintaining consistency, testing constantly, and ensuring deliverability and compliance, you’ll pave the path to newsletter success.
Embrace experimentation, analyze data, and continuously refine your newsletters for sustained progress. Remember, the journey to engaging newsletters is an ongoing process—strive for continuous improvement, and watch your newsletter thrive.