This is Part 2 of a series on newsletters. See Part 1 on the first step, which is to set up a list.
In this part, I show you how to format your newsletter’s design and how to structure the content.
All email services provide templates that you can use to design your newsletter. You’ll be able to choose the number of columns and perhaps some visual elements.
The number 1 principle is to keep your layout simple. Here you see my newsletter.
How many columns?
In my opinion, 3 columns will result in your subscribers feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to put their attention.
If you have repeated content that you want your subscribers to see each week, then consider a side column on the right. There you can put a square ad for a product or service. You could also highlight upcoming events each week in this area. The value of a right column is that you can put content on the top, so people won’t have to read the entire email to see it. Many people don’t get to the end.
Another method is to use one column but put a short menu at the top. In this way, people will see a headline for all of the content right away.
I like a one-column newsletter because I know that people can easily skim down and find everything.
What goes on top?
I like to put a banner from my website at the top. Although many people don’t display images, if they do, they’ll instantly recognize the email as coming from you. People remember images better than words.
Set up a content structure
When you have your template created, each time you want to send out an email you’ll just use that template. Or you may be able to duplicate a previous email and change the contents. Either way, the process should be easy.
Before deciding on a content structure, think about why you have a newsletter. Here are some good reasons to have one:
- To turn subscribers into loyal followers so they will buy from you in the future
- To sell a product or service to subscribers
- To offer links to content on your website so subscribers will visit; this increases your traffic, which is valuable for your search rank. You’ll also get more comments on your blog post. While your subscribers are on your site, they may buy something from you.
- To get feedback from subscribers about what they want
Of course, there are many opinions about how to structure the content of a newsletter. Here is what has worked for me.
Personalize the email
Be sure to personalize the email. All email services let you do this–find out how. The newsletter should start with “Dear [name].” A personalized email is much less likely to be considered spam either by email servers or by your subscribers. And people like it when you use their name.
Invite people to forward the email and to subscribe
Next invite people at the top to forward email to others. Also, invite people who might have received the email from a subscriber to subscribe themselves. Provide the link for them.
Add a personal touch
Optionally, add a short paragraph about yourself. You may want to make it very personal if that suites your audience. Or you may want to explain why you chose to write about the topic in the newsletter. You could talk about an experience with a client that you felt could be valuable to everyone.
You have to use your judgment with this item. You know your subscribers. A more business oriented newsletter may not warrant anything personal. On the other hand, I’ve seen newsletters that go out to executives with quite a bit of personal content.
People do want to get to know who you are. When they feel that they like you, they’ll feel comfortable buying from you.
Add a table of contents
The table of contents lets busy people immediately see your topics. If you write interesting headings here, more people will read on. I preface this with “In this issue:”
Some people put the table of contents in the right column.
Add your main content
It’s time for your main content. Usually, this is your most recent blog post.
Start with the blog post’s title and link it to the post’s permalink. The permalink is the unique link for your post, not your blog’s front page. If you go to your blog and right-click your latest post’s title, you’ll get a menu item that says something like Copy Link Location. Click that and then paste it in your newsletter.
While some people include the entire blog post, I don’t recommend it. Instead, I offer a short paragraph that summarizes my blog post and leads them to click. I often use the blog post’s first paragraph or something similar. Here are some reasons to include only part of the blog post in your newsletter:
- When I’m doing more technical posts, there are lots of images, which aren’t good for a newsletter. Many people don’t display the images and some services will consider an email with lots of images as spam
- I really want people to go back to my website. There, they can see other things I offer and may become a client.
- At my website, they can start looking around at other blog posts; Google likes it when visitors view several pages.
- Bringing people back to my site increases my traffic. Even though it’s people on my list, Google counts it and gives me “credit” for it when ranking my site in search listings.
Keep your content short. According to Internet usability researcher Jacob Nielsen, only 19% of subscribers read the entire email and they spend an average of 51 seconds on an email.
In general, people don’t read online, they scan. Keep paragraphs short and use lots of subheads and bullets.
Remember that images are often blocked by default, so your email shouldn’t depend on them. When you do include an image, add an interesting caption (your email service should let you do this) such as “See how your subscribers will increase.”
Tip: Add a short blurb to an older tip that’s related. Your newer subscribers won’t have seen it and your older ones may have forgotten it. This provides another avenue to engage your readers and more people will click through to your website.
Invite people to learn more at the end of your content. I say something like, “Learn more!” or “Find out how!” and link that text to my blog post. That means that I have 2 links to the blog post — one for the title and another at the end. Some people click one; some click the other.
Add a call to action
In a regular newsletter, you should always offer a product or service. I have a product of the month, with a discount. This generates a significant amount of income for me. People buy when I first announce the discount and again at the end, when it’s going away. People even buy after the discount is taken down!
If you can connect your content with your offer meaning that the two are related, it’s most powerful. But that isn’t always possible.
Besides offering a product or service, you can ask subscribers to provide feedback, ask questions or suggest topics. The more interactive your newsletter, the more successful it will be. You can even offer a contest!
For example, you could say, “Do you agree? Click Reply and let me know!”
What about sales letters?
Some marketers get away with only sales emails, but most people will get lots of subscribers unsubscribing if they do that.
Yet, you should sometimes send out a unique email about a product. Just don’t do it too often. Again, use your judgment based on what you know about your audience. Look at unsubscribes, too. Your email service has statistics that will tell you how many people unsubscribe for each newsletter that you send out. A small number is to be expected. If the number is larger, pay attention and make changes.
Always send a test!
You should have a secondary email address. By that I mean that your primary one will be email@example.com. That’s what you’ll use to send out your email newsletters. But you need another email address for testing. For this purpose, Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or Outlook.com are fine.
NEVER send out a newsletter without first sending out a test to your secondary email. (If you try to send an email to your primary email, it will be considered spam and may not arrive at all.) Then test each and every link. Reread the email thoroughly. Only then should you send the newsletter.
Set up a regular schedule
Your newsletter should be regular. Every week is great. If you can’t manage that, try biweekly. Tuesday through Thursday are considered best, but you can test other days. I once did an analysis of about 50 newsletters I had send out and discovered that Friday was the best day. If your subscribers don’t use your content at work, weekends might be much better. Again, look at the statistics that your email service provides and compare a newsletter’s statistics to previous ones.
Once you have your schedule, use your email services scheduling feature. So, if you want to send out an email on Tuesday morning, on Monday set it up to be sent out on Tuesday morning. You can even sleep in while your newsletter is being sent!
Are you struggling with getting out a newsletter? What are your obstacles? If you have a regular newsletter, what tips do you have to make it easy? Leave a comment!