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How to make your newsletters stand out

November 04, 2016

Sending high-quality newsletters

Newsletter were and still are one of the most powerful tools of digital communication. In fact, an e-mail opt-in is often more valuable than a Facebook page “like”. While social media channels are not very reliable in the long run due to various filter mechanisms, a newsletter subscription might last for many years.

Man's hand holding newsletter graphics
Keeping a few things in mind, it is possible to create a high quality newsletter. Photo © sdecoret / Fotolia

On the other hand, I’ve never heard anybody complain about having an empty inbox. The number of e-mails we all receive on a daily basis has been constantly increasing, while a day still lasts only 24 hours. Heavy users, bloggers and journalists all keep complaining about “too much information.”

In general, mass mailings belong to one of the following 3 groups: First, unwanted messages, which do not necessarily have to contain words like “Viagra” in their subject; they are always spam. The second group are all kinds of automated notifications. Social media sites and most other account-based online platforms tend to over-inform their users and send out an e-mail as soon as something happens on your profile. Very few users fine-tune these messages, but let their mail clients do the filtering instead. The third group are genuine newsletters: these mass mailings are sent to a list of subscribers who usually sign up on online registration forms. Newsletters are the virtual equivalent of advertising brochures.

Google’s Gmail service helps users focus on important e-mails by splitting the inbox in “real” messages, social-media notifications and promotional messages like newsletters. Such semi-automated filter mechanisms have become quite popular, but they guarantee that anything that doesn’t stand out becomes quite invisible sooner rather than later. The effects of so called “information overload” have to be considered when defining your newsletter strategy: In order to actually grab users’ attention, your newsletter content must be truly remarkable and offer additional benefits for all subscribers.

The definition of this added value depends on context. While coupon codes work well for online retailers, an HR company might delight their readers with exclusive recruiting ideas. Deliver good content to your subscribers and your newsletter will get noticed.

Technicalities of platforms: make sure your message gets delivered

Sending the same message to hundreds or maybe even thousands of users is far from trivial. The spam score needs to be as low as possible, the design must work well with different e-mail clients on the desktop and on various mobile devices. Austria and European law requires the so called “double opt-in process” in order to protect users form unsolicited messages.

A number of newsletter service providers focus on newsletter management systems. In addition to basic features, they offer analysis tools as well as clustering and automation features. If your newsletter has been around for a while, some of your list members will become inactive; some addresses will bounce and some recipients will ignore your newsletters altogether and never even open them. Removing these symbolic recipients is crucial in order to keep web analytics' data significant. It’s not about the number of subscribers, but about open rates and click rates. These 2 parameters are merciless benchmarks for your newsletter strategy.

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Amount a newsletter was opened over time.

The first newsletter is the most important one

Most companies send their newsletters on a fixed schedule. If, for example, your newsletter is delivered on the 10th of each month, chances are very high that a potential lead who subscribed on the 11th does not remember this opt-in a month later. Satisfying the user’s vested interest as soon as possible is quite crucial.

That is why modern newsletter tools include a feature usually called “campaigns” or “automated timeline”: Independent of the regular schedule, new leads get sent a newsletter instantly after subscribing. If this first issue makes the reader go “Wow!”, you have a high chance that the reader will wait for the next issue in anticipation. Keep repeating the “wow factor” and soon enough people will look forward to reading the next issue and your open rates will increase.

Analytics play a very important role. Split-test experiments and user segmentation offer additional insights. You need to find out which types of content work extraordinarily well and use these insights to improve your click rates on an ongoing basis. Preferences do change over time. If your newsletter ever gets delayed for some reason and subscribers keep asking about their next issue, then you know you did a truly awesome job.

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