How to produce great email newsletters: 5 tips

Email newsletters are as popular as ever, so here are some little snippets I’ve learnt to keep your subscribers happy.

1. Dump your/your boss’s lengthy intro

Unless paparazzi regularly meet you at the airport and you eat at The Ivy three nights a week, your newsletter should not be a vanity piece.

Users sign up to receive something special when they join your mailing list, something relevant, interesting and more than they can get on your website. And they want to get to it straight away. They do not want to plough through your ramblings to get to the good stuff.

I once received a staff newsletter in which the chief executive used the intro to favourably liken a new strategic team to Hitler’s blitzkrieg style of warfare. When chief execs attack…

2. In fact, keep the whole thing short

People don’t read long things. This is a truth universally acknowledged for all things digital.

Jakob Nielsen’s research into newsletter usability found that users spend 51 seconds reading the average newsletter. If you’ve got a lot to say, restrict yourself to just the headlines and a short blurb for each article, then link to your website for the full story.

3. Show some personality

Newsletters are more personal than other forms of communication. You’ve been invited into someone’s inbox and are taking up precious seconds of their lunch hour. You might as well have popped round for tea.

Try using less formal language, use “we” and “us”, or “me” and “I”. Maybe even throw in a joke or wry observation if it feels natural.

4. It’s all about the subject line

(Well, it’s mostly about the subject line.) This is the main hook you have to get people to open your email. Your subject needs walk the fine line between clickably attention-grabbing and spam on toast. Go for intriguing but genuine.

Not sure where to start? Research how popular your ideas are with Google’s keyword tool. Even better, some email services offer A/B split testing – this lets you test two ideas for subject lines and see which one more people open.

Along with subject lines, your newsletter’s sender name is also pretty important. This appears next to the subject line in people’s inboxes. Again, go for something genuine-sounding and recognisable. Many people choose their own names.

The first few lines of the newsletter’s content are also useful. Some smartphones and web mail clients such as Gmail display the opening lines of emails even before they've been opened. Better write something interesting then.

5. Use a good bit of kit

You need an email marketing service if you’re sending to more than a handful of subscribers.

I wouldn’t want to sway your choice but you should definitely use MailChimp. (And they don’t even pay me to say that.)

I’ve been using them to manage clients’ mail campaigns for years now. It’s super-easy to use and you can do everything with it – seriously, everything. The reporting is excellent. And it’s totally cheap, even free up to a certain usage. Use it, just do.