Email marketing is one of the most effective ways to grow and build relationships with your audience. More than 92% of Americans over the age of 15 use email, and worldwide, more than 4 billion people are checking their inboxes. While there are many things to consider when writing an email newsletter, approaching it thoughtfully and creatively will deliver an impressive return on your time investment.
Below is the Content Journey guide to writing an email newsletter that will get read. Follow this advice to see your audience grow, deliverability improve, and engagement increase.
Understanding Your Audience
Before diving into the details of how to create a superb newsletter, it’s crucial to truly understand your audience. The characteristics and needs of your readers will influence every step in the process.
Whether it’s the subject lines, the layout, how often you send newsletters, or the content itself, your audience is the key. A newsletter that doesn’t resonate with them will lead to disappointment at best and spam complaints at worst.
Companies that don’t tailor their newsletter strategies for their subscribers face significant challenges with a disengaged audience down the road.
Creating Buyer Personas for Your Email Newsletter
Buyer personas are detailed descriptions of typical customers. Many companies create a persona for each segment of their audience. When planning your newsletter, you can consider what each type of subscriber would like to see or how they each would engage with your content.
To determine what groups you should create, look at any data you have on your current clients and subscribers for trends.
For each group, dive into their demographics. What’s the average age of your typical subscriber? Do they read emails on their phones during their commute or on their personal computers? Knowing this information helps you tailor your content to make it easier for them to stay engaged.
Consider what brought these subscribers to your door. How did each person hear about your business, and what made them sign up for your newsletter? For each group, assess their relationship with your services. Are they recipients, advocates, or assisting a loved one? What hesitations and concerns will each group have?
Buyer personas can be incredibly detailed or simple and straightforward, but considering them as you create your newsletter strategy will make your email marketing significantly more effective.
Avoid the “batch and blast” approach to email sends whenever possible. Instead of sending the same email to your entire list, use your buyer personas and other subscriber data to create different segments of your list and deliver unique messages to meet their needs. Segmented lists receive 14% more opens and double the clicks compared to a batch and blast strategy, according to MailChimp.
While you may not have detailed data for each email address, you can make informed assumptions based on how they signed up. Did they download a piece of content specific to mental health providers, or did they opt into emails while completing an in-person registration?
You can also categorize people based on their email interactions – what they open and the links they click on. For example, clicking on content specific to readers with loved ones with addictions indicates they may fall into that group.
Next, you will personalize your newsletters with those segments and other data. The power of personalization is clear – click-through rates can surge by 14%, conversion rates by 10%, and open rates by 82%!
If your subscriber shared their first name during sign-up, incorporate it into the subject line, preview text, or email body using your Email Service Provider (ESP) merge tools. Tailor content to specific segments, addressing their unique interests and needs. For instance, if a segment is focused on seeking help for a loved one, include dedicated resources and tools that resonate with that group.
Depending on your ESP, you may be able to schedule different sends to the various segments of your list or create rules to display specific pieces of content within the email based on a subscriber’s data. Either way, your subscribers will receive content curated specifically for them.
Developing a Content Strategy
Your email subscribers have invited you into their inboxes. Now, let’s be respectful of their time and make it worth their while. As we dive into what to include in your newsletter, we must note that the content you should choose depends on your specific goals. For example, consider whether you aim to foster a supportive community around mental health or provide updates on events at your treatment center.
Once you’ve decided what you want to achieve, you can begin crafting content. Design your emails as if you were creating them for one person from one of your buyer personas. Don’t write your copy as if you were speaking to a group.
When I receive an email from Target, I’m not reading it as a group with all the other women in the segment, ages 30 – 50, who bought girls’ footwear in the last six months. Target doesn’t write me an email saying, “You elder millennials love buying these shoes.” Instead, the email reads as if someone from Target thought about me and said, “Here are some shoes we think you will like, Kristen.”
You want your subscribers to look forward to opening your emails because of what they’ll learn or how it will make them feel. Your overall newsletter goals and the audiences you’ve already defined will help shape what your newsletter needs to say. For additional ideas on what content to include, check out our post on 15 wellness newsletter ideas your readers will love.
Crafting Attention-Grabbing Subject Lines
For better or worse, subject lines have a lot of power. They are one of the first things readers see in their inboxes, and 33% of your subscribers will choose whether to open your email based ONLY on your subject line! So, you want to write subject lines that get attention.
When writing a subject line, consider:
- Create Urgency. Infuse urgency with words like “now,” “today,” or “deadline.” You’ll see an immediate boost in your open rate. But use them sparingly! If there is nothing time-sensitive in your email, any trust you built will erode, and readers may start ignoring your emails altogether.
- Be Concise. Craft concise subject lines — ideally about 33 characters — to ensure people on mobile devices can read it in full.
- Have Fun. Be witty and fun when appropriate to engage and delight your audience. Frequently scan your own inbox for inspiration.
- Avoid No. Avoid using questions in your subject line that subscribers can answer with the word “no.”
- Personalize. Consider personalization by incorporating the subscriber’s first name. For instance, “%first_name%, time is running out to register for our free webinar.”
Considering Sender Name and Pretext
Beyond the subject line, your subscribers consider the “from” field and preview text when deciding whether to open an email.
Ensure your sender name won’t cause any confusion. When using a person’s name, consider including the organization afterward. For example, instead of just “Jane Smith,” use “Jane Smith, Mental Health Resource Center.” The human connection you create with a personal name is valuable, but you want to avoid seeming tricky by using a name that your subscriber may not have heard of.
If the subject is short enough, the inbox may display additional text beside it. ESPs refer to this text as the preheader or pretext. For personal emails, the inbox will show the opening line. For emails from brands, you’ll see text specifically written for this space. You can use the preheader to clarify the subject line and provide more details about the email’s contents. It’s also another opportunity for personalization.
Embracing Layout and Design
The design of your email can be as important as your content, but you don’t need a degree in graphic design to create a stunning email. Many ESPs offer templates for creating polished emails, and the website Really Good Emails is a fantastic site for design inspiration.
Your newsletter should feel like an extension of your business. Align your logo, colors, and fonts with those on your website and printed materials. When designing your email, consider white space as critical as the images and words you include. Your readers’ eyes need a place to rest, and a well-spaced email enhances readability.
Prioritize what you want readers to notice first, especially considering what’s “above the fold.” Just as you don’t read every word in brand emails, your subscribers won’t either. Make it easy for them to find the most important information.
Aim for Frequency and Consistency
Once you decide on your content, you can determine how often to send it.
For many companies, a weekly newsletter fits the bill. This frequency helps you stay top of mind, remind subscribers of upcoming events, and share news while it’s fresh.
If your news is less frequent, opt for a monthly newsletter to maintain a connection without overwhelming your subscribers. On the other hand, if your content is tied to current events or you just have a lot to share, consider sending more than once a week.
Consistency is the most important thing. Once your audience is accustomed to opening your emails at a specific cadence, warn them if you change your schedule for upcoming holidays or time off. Unexpected changes – such as sending daily instead of weekly – can lead to spam complaints and damage your credibility and reputation.
Use A/B Testing
If you are going through the trouble of writing a newsletter, you should go through the trouble of optimizing it. A/B tests are the gold standard in email marketing and are simple to run and understand.
Many ESPs have built-in A/B testing capabilities. A common feature is the ability to send Variation A to 25% of your list, Variation B to another 25%, and then automatically send the better-performing version to the remaining 50% after a specified time.
The most common element to split test is your subject line, though testing different sender names is also a common practice. You can also consider trying the design and the content, and if you have tickets or products for sale, you can even test different discounts.
Include Calls to Action (CTA)
Calls to action (CTAs) help you reach your goals for your newsletter. It’s what drives subscribers to take the desired action—whether it’s clicking a link, registering for an event, or making a purchase.
To encourage continued reading, use buttons or text links with phrases like “Learn more” or “Read on.” CTAs involving event registrations should invoke a sense of urgency with copy like “Save your spot” and “Register today.” Whatever action and text you choose, the reader should know what to expect when they click on your link.
Analytics and Tracking
Measuring the success of your newsletter through analytics is crucial to understanding what works, what doesn’t, and how to optimize your efforts. It takes a lot of time to write a fabulous newsletter – make sure you are getting your best return on investment.
Most ESPs offer a range of reporting features, but not all metrics are essential for all companies. Determine what metrics best depict your progress toward your goals.
The click rate will be an important statistic for a mental health newsletter sharing short story snippets and directing readers to your site. Others may find conversions or open rates more insightful.
“Risk” can be a handy metric because it is calculated based on what is important to you. You can choose opens, clicks, or conversions and divide it by those who have unsubscribed + those who have marked your email as spam. Risk is a stat to monitor over time for an early warning sign if your engagement starts to slip.
Once you’ve identified your top-performing newsletters, you’ll know to lean on those strategies for future editions. Likewise, you can also learn from underperforming editions. What sets them apart?
The most critical aspect of tracking email performance is noticing the changes over time. While there are benchmarks in email marketing, the best comparisons will be within your organization. It allows you to ask and answer questions like, “Are you getting more engagement than you were last month?” “Why is that?”
Avoiding Spam Filters and Tackling Deliverability
An email newsletter is only effective if it makes it to the inbox. That’s why it’s essential to know a few things about deliverability to keep your emails out of spam folders and in front of your subscribers.
First, here’s something that surprisingly won’t send you to the spam folder: Contrary to how things used to operate, using specific “trigger words” in your subject line is not a significant factor of deliverability. While it can play a part, it typically works in combination with other signs that your email may not be legitimate.
Engagement, on the other hand, is a significant factor. It will raise red flags if many subscribers aren’t interacting with your emails. When it has been 60-120 days since a subscriber opened or clicked one of your emails, consider removing them from your lists. Some email providers even turn abandoned email addresses into spam traps, and if you get trapped, you may end up in everyone’s spam folder on your next send.
Warming up your domain and dedicated IP and authenticating your sending address through your ESP platform is critical for good deliverability. Review your ESP’s documentation or consult with a professional for more information.
Why Subscribers Mark You as Spam
As you review your email metrics, anything more than 0.01% spam complaint rate should trigger you to review your strategy. Here are a few things to consider:
- Is your unsubscribe link easy to find? If not, anyone looking to unsubscribe will abandon the search and mark you as spam.
- Is your content relevant to your subscribers? Is this what they expected when they signed up? Confusing or irrelevant emails lead to spam reports.
- Do your subscribers recognize the sender? Unfamiliar names often get marked as spam.
- Subject lines that entice readers to open but don’t match the content can annoy subscribers and lead to spam complaints.
Excessive spam complaints can jeopardize future emails, and ESPs will suspend accounts for high rates. Keep these considerations in mind to continue to optimize your deliverability.
Remembering Mobile Optimization
Chances are, more than 50% of your subscribers check their emails on their phones — especially if your audience skews younger. Luckily, creating a mobile-optimized newsletter has never been easier. The most popular ESPs offer mobile-responsive templates that let you drag and drop your content into place.
When you see a test send of your email newsletter on your computer, you might see two images you placed side by side. But, on your phone, the same email might display the images in a stack instead of shrinking them to fit the screen side by side. That is mobile responsiveness in action, ensuring a smoother experience for your subscribers.
Building and Growing Your Subscriber List
Building and growing your subscriber list will be one of the most critical pieces of your email marketing puzzle and an ongoing initiative.
If your target audience includes current clients or customers (and it should), find opportunities to collect email addresses and gain explicit permission to email them. You can integrate these asks into initial paperwork, online forms, or appointment bookings.
You can also create email gates for valuable content. When you create this lead magnet, a pop-up window or overlayed form can prompt your visitors to sign up for your newsletter to access your report, guide, or worksheet.
When you point someone to an option to sign up for your newsletter, ensure they have the right expectations for frequency and content. Even if you’re not offering an immediate incentive like “free shipping,” you can emphasize the value of your emails. Let potential subscribers know what they can learn or the resources and tips they’ll gain by subscribing to your newsletter.
Complying with Email Marketing Regulations
Email marketing may feel like the Wild Wild West, but there are rules here. The CAN-SPAM Act applies to every business sending emails and, among other points, mandates that any commercial email must include an option for the user to unsubscribe and a valid physical address.
GDPR or CCPA, the European and California data privacy laws, may not apply to smaller businesses or nonprofits. But it’s still good practice to be aware of the data you’re collecting and to respect all subscriber requests for deletion.
Your subscribers trust you with their data. Let them know that you take the responsibility seriously. At the very least, assure them that you won’t sell their email addresses and that they can unsubscribe at any time.
Final Tips for Writing a Newsletter
It might feel like a lot to absorb, but this information is key to crafting a newsletter that truly gets read. Once you have a few editions under your belt, analytics and subscriber feedback will guide you in refining and optimizing your email strategy.
We can still go deeper into any one of these aspects to take an email marketing program to the next level. If you’re interested in additional support, contact Content Journey. We understand the ins and outs of newsletters. By letting us focus on the email marketing aspect of your strategy, you can dedicate your time to your business.