This post was originally published in 2017 with the title “Newsletter Marketing Best Practices for 2017” but as we reviewed it to see if it needed updating, we found that all these tips still hold true, so these tips are truly timeless. Let’s get into it!
Of all the major digital marketing advertising channels, email marketing consistently shows the highest return on investment (ROI). It’s the favorite channel of most top-level digital marketers, especially here in Silicon Valley. Newsletters, especially, have become a large component of email marketing best practices. As one of those top San Francisco digital marketing agencies, we can say from experience that newsletter marketing in particular is a workhorse that has proven itself time and again for us and for our clients.
We’ve assembled a guide of some dos and don’ts that should serve you well in your email marketing efforts this year. We’ve grouped them into five major categories: thoughtfulness, purpose, quality, accessibility, and function.
1. BE THOUGHTFUL
In this current era of privacy-focussed, ad-blocking, identity-masking, stay-off-my-virtual-turf internet behaviour, it’s more important than ever to handle your digital marketing outreach with care and consideration.
-Don’t get Spammy
Not only has deliberate email spam been illegal for fifteen years, it’s not exactly looked fondly upon by your customers. Your business shouldn’t sully itself with bad-practice, so try to follow one simple rule: If you’re not proud to email your newsletter to your mother, don’t trouble your customers with it.
-Don’t ever buy an email list
It’s slimy, but there are still people who would consider beefing up their mailing list through less than scrupulous means. Don’t be one of them! Be sure that you’re only emailing people who have actively given their consent by subscribing.
-Use a double-opt-in system to curate subscribers
While we’re on the subject of subscribers, there are plenty of ways people might find themselves on a mailing list that they wouldn’t be too happy about. There are bots that can autofill their information, there are well-meaning browser extensions that can trigger a subscription, a float-over ad might catch their credentials while they’re trying to find the X, and more. To avoid unpleasantness, send out a feeler email first, with a confirmation of a new subscription, so you can be certain that a new subscriber does indeed choose to opt-into your list.
-Be transparent about who you are
Include clear identifiers and contact options in your outreach content. Make it known who you are, and don’t make it difficult to trace your newsletter back to your site. If you can email them, they shouldn’t have any trouble contacting you right back.
-Don’t be pushy for a conversion
Your newsletter is exactly that: a “news letter”. It’s an update, or an informative piece, or an invitation. It’s not a hard-sell, and it shouldn’t be presumptuous. If your customers want to convert, let them follow your well-laid-out conversion path. Don’t try to lead, push, or induce your readership. It never ends well.
-Don’t try be sneaky with your unsubscribe button
If your readers want to leave your mailing list for any reason, they’ll find a way. If your unsubscribe button is too hard to find, or includes too many steps, it won’t take long before they set their inbox to filter your message straight into the trash manually. And worse, they’ll be soured at having to take the extra time to perform what should have been a simple, automatic task. And remember, if someone should unsubscribe, you’ve got 10 days to make it happen or you’re in violation of federal law.
2. WRITE WITH PURPOSE
-Don’t go in without a plan
Keep a clear goal; don’t throw everything at the wall hoping something will stick. Are you trying to get the word out about the goings-on at your business? To increase conversions? To strengthen a relationship with past customers, or to welcome prospective ones into the fold? Know your intent up front, and build your email around it.
-Keep it cohesive
When you write a newsletter, with a clear purpose firmly in mind, be sure that your content and structure support that purpose. If you’re showcasing your new blog post, don’t try to shoehorn in a link to your new sale-offer as well. An email is a single artefact, so lose the Swiss-army knife mentality. There’s no harm in writing another newsletter for a new purpose. You want each element to integrate with the others.
3. DON’T BE BLAND
Time is precious, yours and your customers’. Most people get tens or hundreds of emails a day. If you want yours to stand out, be sure that your content is engaging, creative, compelling, and attention getting.
-Quality speaks for itself
In our industry, content is queen. You don’t need gimmicks, shock-value, or any other crutch. If you’re writing strong content, it will always find an engaged audience. This should be the foundation of your newsletter marketing.
-Impersonal looks cheap…
…and your business deserves to stand out! Write a letter, not a form letter. Newsletters go out to a huge subscribership, sure, but the least you can do is to write a real, proper letter.
-Develop a persona to help you target content
We’re big fans of crafting characterizations of our ideal customers to help put more of a face on the kinds of people we’re trying to reach out to. While personas are valuable in just about every area of your business, in this case they’ll let you craft variations on your email marketing content specifically calibrated for each of the various demographics you’re talking to.
4. KEEP YOUR CONTENT ACCESSIBLE
Accessibility is key to user experience. If a user needs to jump through too many hoops to read it, odds are they’ll just walk away. The big thing in accessible content is being Mobile Friendly.
Email on the go is the new norm. It’s hardly uncommon for someone to read a newsletter on a phone or tablet from the couch, during a commute, and so on. Writing content with a desktop mentality runs the very real risk of alienating a majority of your readership.
-Use sensible image compression
Images are fine, but when we’re talking about mobile devices, you don’t want to bogart your readers wireless data. On a 5-inch screen, a well-compressed image will render much more quickly and will look just as good.
-Responsive design is your new best friend
There’s no way to predict which kinds of devices your customers are reading your email on. Responsive design lets your layout and size adjust dynamically for optimal presentation on any device. You can use a spoofing tool (Chrome has them built in) to mockup a variety of device types to test out your content before sending.
5. BE SURE YOUR EMAILS ARE FUNCTIONAL
You put a lot of work into your email marketing missives – they should work just as hard for you.
With campaign codes unique to each of your various marketing initiatives, you can track engagement with links in your content to see whether your marketing outreach is getting any traction. There’s no sense sending an email out into the void without a way to measure its performance.
-Don’t mistake an open for a read
So long as you’re tracking, it’s also very important not to over-represent your own findings. Just because someone clicked on your email doesn’t mean they went on to read it. An open is a good indicator that your subject line was successful, but it could have been the result of an errant click, an attempt to find the delete button, or a sudden loss of interest.
-Be liberal with links
If you need to track engagement, be sure you’ve left plenty of clear avenues for a reader to follow up. Interlink with your other content, or embed a call-to-action button. Make sure that your email isn’t just a dead-end.
-Keep social media buttons prominent
On the subject of embedded buttons and reader engagement, don’t skimp on the share buttons. They’ve become pretty ubiquitous in recent years, and the last thing you want is to stand out because you’ve forgotten to include them.
6. BONUS TIPS
-Don’t mistake bombast for flare
A more assertive email, either layout or imagery or even just sensationalism, isn’t necessarily a better one. When it comes to matters of style, in many cases, less is more. Don’t fall back on hackneyed scare-phrases (“Last Chance Offer! Only Three Days Left!!”) and don’t let even well-intentioned vigor overwhelm your readership.
-Don’t put yourself ahead of your content
Your newsletter marketing efforts shouldn’t be thought of as personal advertising. Of course they should share your branding, but that’s more about packaging than it is about content. Your emails live and die on their content, (remember: “Content is queen!”) so let that content stand on its own merits. Your identity may ghost over that content, but it shouldn’t ever supersede it.
-Stand out from the crowd
This tip needs to be used sparingly and carefully, unlike most of the rest of the instructions on this list. We talked earlier about how, especially with a mobile-forward structure, simplicity is usually the best approach. That’s certainly true, but there’s still room for a little bit of excess, so long as you’re sure you can pull it off, and so long as it will be appreciated by your particular audience. With CSS and HTML5, you’ve got more options than ever. Consider using interactives in place of links, like image carousels or infographic apps. This has the dual advantage of letting you more easily track your engagement, especially with particular goal completions.
-Don’t be afraid to automate!
We saved the easiest tip for last. Not every email communication needs to be part of some broad marketing campaign. Sometimes all you’re looking for is a thank-you-for-purchasing, or a reminder about an abandoned cart. If done tastefully (remember, you still want to avoid the form-letter motif) these simple emails, triggered by specific user interactions, can be automated. That way, you save a heap of time in the long run, and you’ve got a better assurance that no contact opportunity will get overlooked.
We hope that this list has been informative! If you’ve learned something about newsletter marketing, or if you think there’s anything we’ve overlooked, don’t hesitate to reach out and let us know. Normally we’d drop links to our social media profiles, but under the circumstances it seems more fitting to ask for an email instead.
Colibri Digital Marketing
We’re the digital marketing agency San Francisco trusts to focus on the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit. Based in the Bay Area, close to Silicon Valley, we’re the team with the sneak-peek into the future of digital marketing. If you’re ready to work with San Francisco’s first and only full-service B Corp-Certified digital marketing agency, drop us a line to schedule a free digital marketing strategy session!