By George Passwater published July 7, 2011

Email Newsletter Checklist: 7 Key Elements to Remember

Ever hear this? “Email marketing is dead.” Really? If that’s the case, then why are so many content marketing strategies incorporating email marketing and seeing substantial results?  According to research from Junta42 and  MarketingProfs, 61% of B2B marketers are using email newsletters in their content mix, and of those, 55% consider them to be effective (only in-person events and webinars are more effective). For those successfully using email in their strategies, the email newsletter is key for keeping in touch with clients and nurturing leads. Even when I double-check my work, I sometimes feel like I missed something after I developed my own email newsletter. That’s why I decided to create a checklist of the most important newsletter elements and make sure I have them crossed off before I hit send.

Planning

I’ve seen many email newsletters in my inbox, and some make me wonder if they actually went through any planning before they pushed the publish button. You don’t have to put together a business plan, but you do need to plan your email newsletter content to match your overall content marketing strategy. Did you set goals for your newsletter? If you didn’t, you really should.  For instance, if your goal is to educate your readers and establish yourself as a thought leader, consider including more informational content in your newsletter.

Make sure you develop the newsletter around the goals and ensure they’re measurable. Think about it; how will you know if the newsletter was successful? Speaking of planning, do you have an editorial calendar for your newsletters? Setting one up, just as you do for the rest of your content marketing activities, will help you plan things like:

  • The schedule of your email newsletter: Do you have a consistent schedule?
  • Special dates: Does your schedule take into account for special dates or events?
  • Opportunities for reuse: Do you have a plan to repurpose some content in your blog, upcoming event or informational products?

Design and layout

I’m no designer, but I know when I see a design I like and I know how important it is to make newsletters effective. Even if it has the best copy in the world, a poorly designed template can turn off your readers and cause them to hit the dreaded delete button. A few things to keep in mind for an appealing design include:

  • Appealing colors and a natural blend of copy and design. (No dark backgrounds with blue text).
  • Keep the layout free of clutter – no one wants to navigate through a busy email with too many visual elements.
  • Videos and photos are great, but trying to pile them throughout the email make me want to scream; keep it to just a few photos or a link to videos.

Readability

Many newsletters fail to keep the reader engaged due to one simple error – they don’t make their content readable. Oh yes, there’s a difference between readable and unreadable content; ever try reading a one-paragraph, 500-word article? So, what are some ways to ensure your newsletter passes the readability test?

  • No large paragraphs. Keep a paragraph to 3-4 sentences.
  • Avoid content overload by not putting everything in the newsletter. Learn to link out to your website or blog too.
  • Keep it consistent and use standard faces and sizes for your font.  Some standard fonts to use in your newsletter would include Helvetica and Arial.
  • Add subheadings, where possible, to break-up sections.

Subject line

OK, this one is a no brainer.  For your subject line, craft one that’s compelling, related to the newsletter content and makes the recipient click and not hit delete. When you’re looking at developing a great subject line, consider these points: Ask yourself, “How does this make the recipient feel?” Try to draw on emotions or general curiosity.

If you have a numbered list of points, try to integrate that number into your subject line just as I have with the headline of this post.

Sharing

Do you think your newsletter is only for your existing subscribers to read? Actually, it’s not.  What do you do when you read something that’s WOW? Do you keep it to yourself or share it out? Yep, you share it out with your friends, connections and family. This is what you need with your email newsletter. Now, how do you get your existing subscribers to share your message?

  • Ask them to share it with someone who will benefit from it.
  • Give them many options to share it. This includes email, social media and other methods.

Calls to action

Most of the email newsletters I get have a good amount of valuable resources without trying to sell me something. Or do they? An effective call to action isn’t an ad or a button telling me to buy now; rather it’s subtle but effective. Some great ways to keep your readers engaged involve getting them to see more about you and your business. Consider these simple but effective calls to action:

  • Add icons and links to connect with you on social networks. Check out the Content Marketing Institute Newsletter for a perfect example of this.
  • Invite your reader to an upcoming event.
  • Ask the reader to subscribe for their own updates if someone forwarded the email to them.
  • Welcome feedback and see what your readers think of you.
  • Add links to other relevant content, such as your blog.
  • If you have to add a sales message, keep it small and let your content speak for you instead.

Testing

If you just write something and send it out, will it succeed? How do you know? Unless you’re Professor X and can read minds, you will need some method to test your message. What elements of your message would you test? Try these on for size:

  • Do A/B testing with different subject lines or even different opening statements.
  • Not everyone’s email client is the same; test on multiple email clients and operating systems.
  • Speaking of that, are you testing your content on mobile devices? Does your message fit and display properly for those on the go?

Thorough testing gives you a better shot at success, and it will show when you go through your email analytics. I could go into more with these metrics, but I will save that for another post.

Content Marketing With Effective Email Newsletters

Email newsletters are not dead; they are very much alive and remain an essential element to successful content marketing. When you incorporate each ingredient, you have a checklist for successful email newsletters. Do you have a checklist for your email newsletters? What would you add to this list?

Author: George Passwater

As a B2B copywriter and coffee drinker, George uses the power of content and caffeine to help businesses boost visibility and sales revenues. You can usually find him blogging at georgepasswater.com or writing compelling copy for his clients. Connect with him on Twitter at @GeorgePasswater and on LinkedIn.

Other posts by George Passwater

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  • http://twitter.com/brencournoyer Brendan Cournoyer

    Great point about readability George. While long, endless paragraphs might fly in print novels, they just don’t work online. Short, readable graphs are where its at. It’s the same reason why numbered lists and sub-headers are so effective — people like to scan points quickly. Long paragraphs with too much “gray on the page” will only serve to turn folks off.

    • http://twitter.com/GeorgePasswater GeorgePasswater 

      Thanks, Brendan.

      This is one of my pet peeves for any type of online writing. If I see a huge chunk of text with no breaking point or some type separator, I don’t even bother. Just like you said, people like to scan and big blobs of text won’t do the writing any favors.
       

  • http://www.allurenewmedia.com Brody Dorland

    Good stuff George…One other thing for people to consider is a mobile-friendly email template. A recent Hubspot webinar on email marketing indicated that roughly 80% of emails are first going to be opened on a mobile device. With such a big number, companies should consider testing and optimizing their email templates to ensure that the mobile experience is solid and will entice recipients to dig in to your links/calls to action when they get back to their computers. 

    • http://twitter.com/GeorgePasswater GeorgePasswater 

      Thanks, Brody.

      Glad you enjoyed the post.Great point! I talk about testing on mobile devices, but having a template specific for mobile is a good idea. I do testing for mobile, but having a template would make things easier and save time on campaigns. 

  • http://www.lcubed.com.au LukeF

    Thanks George,

    We have found that (amongst out clients) there is a tendency to focus on either technology or design elements. As you point out there is much more to think about. 

    I will be referring people to your article as a means of opening minds…

    • http://twitter.com/GeorgePasswater GeorgePasswater 

      Thanks for the kind words, Luke.

      Yes, there’s so much more to putting together an effective email newsletter. It takes a good amount of planning and integration into your other content marketing mix. 

      Wonderful! Love helping open minds to what it takes to create new opportunities with content. 

  • Karen_ampola

    Would love some examples of “award winning” newsletters…any links suggested for this?

  • http://www.bestoffiverr.com Charleen Larson

    Brody Dorland makes a good point about sending mobile-ready email but I’d have to say it depends on how well you know your audience.

    Mine consists of ladies 40-65, many of whom were late to the Internet and don’t have smartphones.  (Surveys are useful!)  Most of them don’t even have Twitter accounts.

    So making my emails mobile-ready is on my worry-about-it-next-year to-do list.  For a more general audience, though, I agree it’s pertinent.