Email newsletters are an excellent marketing and branding tool. They give us the opportunity to talk directly to our customers, keeping them up to date and in the know. Just like any tool, however, it’s possible to use them incorrectly (just imagine sweeping the floor with a rake).
With that in mind, I’d like to share 6 best practices that’ll elevate your newsletters and add real value to your customers’ inboxes!
- Define what you want your newsletter to achieve.
Before you can start building a better newsletter, it’s important to clarify what you want the newsletter to do and how you’ll measure its success, so that you can later determine whether all your hard work is paying off.
At its core, a newsletter is an advertisement. We don’t tend to think of them as such, but that’s exactly what they are. To be more accurate, they’re really a collection of advertisements, and that’s not a bad thing; in fact, it’s what gives them value to our customers! So, be sure to advertise the products or services your company offers and your customers care about; after all, that’s the reason they subscribed in the first place.
By effectively highlighting the things your customers care about, your newsletter should convince them to click on links for more information, whether that’s to download relevant content, register for an event, or simply learn more.
- Make sure your content adds value.
Successful email newsletters are the ones that add value to your customer’s inbox; they do this through advertisements, highlights, offers, and information that your customers find relevant or exciting. Deciding what that content is will largely depend on your type of business. Subscribers to a trendy retail store’s newsletter will want different things than those who subscribed to Old Desk Clocks Weekly.
Remember, it’s all about bringing value to your customer. As a great rule of thumb, you should ask yourself two questions: “What do your customers want from you?” and “What do you want to advertise?” Answering those questions and identifying where they overlap will give you exactly what you need to populate your newsletter with relevant content.
- Use your layout to encourage people to read your content.
Once you’ve decided what’s going into your newsletter, it’s time to get to the design! You can have the most compelling, valuable, and relevant content out there, but if your customer can’t easily scan the content and find what matters to them, it’s not doing them (or you) any good.
How you lay out your content is one of the most important (newsletter) decisions you’ll make. An effective layout will help your customers find the things they care about, while a poorly designed one can quickly see your treasured newsletter relegated to the recycle bin. Many marketers end up making their content work with a fixed newsletter template their designer has already created for them. Designing your newsletter template to optimally showcase your content, however, is the way to go.
When laying out your content, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Break up content: Use white space, images, changes in background color, horizontal lines, text headings, and other signifiers to break up your content into digestible chunks. These should be easy for a customer to scan as they casually scroll down the email.
- Keep text to a minimum: Short, bolded headings, brief paragraphs, and bulleted lists will draw and maintain your customer’s attention. It can be helpful to think of each individual text area in your newsletter as a brief sales pitch.
- Limit the length: This is a tricky one, because as marketers, we tend to want to share as much content as possible to help our customers make an informed decision. The fact is, however, that concise newsletters tend to outperform lengthier versions. Keep the number of sections (or calls to action) between 3 and 8 at the very most.
- Use imagery wisely: Pictures really are worth a thousand words. In addition to using images to break up content and make it easier for your readers to navigate your newsletter, include a visual element that corresponds with and supports each individual section to help draw in and focus your readers’ attention.
- Have a main highlight: This is whatever you want to advertise the most. Think of it as your top story. The main highlight will stand out from the rest of your content visually and will usually be placed above the fold (more on that later).
- Keep similar offers in a similar design: This is important, as it will help your customer navigate your email with ease and find everything that matters to them (versus becoming overwhelmed by several different competing design styles and assuming other content isn’t relevant to them).
Most of these best practices reflect the fact that people rarely read entire paragraphs of text; they skim the page for the things they find interesting. As newsletter editors, our job is to make that as easy for them as possible.
- Keep your most important content above the fold.
Above the fold refers to everything your customer can see on their screen when they first open your email, without having to scroll. This is the ideal place to show off your main highlight. You should try to keep your logo, newsletter banner, and links near the very top and minimize the amount of precious real estate they take up above the fold.
Instead, use it to immediately grab your customers’ attention with your most important content. There are several ways to accomplish this, but the most effective tend to include a full-width image, short and concise copy, and a designated Call to Action. Research has found that newsletter recipients only spend an average of 51 seconds checking out your newsletter — a little more than half of that time above the fold — so make it count.
- Make sure upcoming events (and anything else out of the ordinary) stand out.
Unless you’re running an event coordination business, chances are your customers aren’t seeking you out primarily for your upcoming events, webinars, and in-person meet-ups (remember those?). So, how do you advertise or highlight something your customers didn’t subscribe to your newsletter for without causing that newsletter to look messy or disorganized — or worse, inundating your customer with irrelevant information?
Well, sometimes the best way to blend in is to stand out. While you generally want a sense of uniformity for each section in your newsletter, this distinct change in focus necessitates a distinct change in design as a visual cue for your readers. Simply put, since these aren’t what your customers normally come to you for, they should not look like your other offers.
Actually, this advice works well for anything your newsletter is promoting that is outside of your company’s normal product or service offerings. It is always important for a change in focus to stand out, both to advertise itself as distinct and different and to prevent it from distracting customers away from your regular highlights, offers, and content.
- Don’t forget the importance of a well-designed footer.
You’ve made it to the bottom of your email newsletter! Now what? How should you close out your well-written, well-designed masterpiece? With an understated footer, of course!
The footer is an important part of any email: it provides contact information, required links, social media icons, and any other required information, such as disclaimers. But, it’s also important that your footer doesn’t distract from the stuff you want the customer to engage with (the rest of the email).
A great footer is one that is clearly distinct from the body of the newsletter, is easily readable, and stays out of the way:
And with that, you’ve done it! You’ve created a newsletter for the ages. One that effectively advertises the things your customers care about (and subscribed for), adds value to their inbox, respects their time, and shares information relevant to them, all while driving clicks and conversions. You are officially an Email Newsletter Hero (yes, a largely symbolic title, but still true) and deserve a big cup of overpriced coffee or tea (go ahead, you earned it)!
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Jared Claunch is an email developer with several years of experience creating high-performing emails and landing pages for a large variety of businesses and industries. He specializes in the creation and implementation of powerful, responsive email templates with a focus on scalability and user experience.