Original post : 7 Dec 2012

Do you have a newsletter or a snooze letter?

newsletter not snooze letterNewsletters here. Newsletters there. Newsletters every bloomin' where.

I'm not going to talk about why you should do a newsletter today, I think most people realise that they are a great way of nurturing their prospect list, staying at the forefront of the readers mind, communicating developments and offers, demonstrating expertise and gaining some useful SEO juice into the bargain. So I'm not going to go into that.

I want to talk about making sure that your newsletter achieves these results. Do your readers look forward to your newsletters with bated breath, panting in expectation of the nuggets of valuable information you will impart? Do they make a cuppa, pull up a chair and settle down to an entertaining read? Do they pass your newsletter on to their friends exhorting them to read it and sign up for the next edition? OK, maybe a little too much to hope for, for most of us. But are they happy to receive it? Do they read it? Do they feel positively towards you having read it? Might they recommend it to a friend?

I get lots and lots of newsletters. My attitude to other people's newsletters is, I like to think, relaxed. It's the same for marketing emails. I'm happy for people to send them to me. Mostly they are of little interest to me at the moment but I feel sort of like: "we're all in business, trying to make a living, I probably don't want what you're offering - at least not right now - but I might meet someone who does and I can pass your information on". I might read it. I might not. But I have this really great bit of computer equipment that will get rid of all this stuff if I don't want it. It's called a delete key. If I decide I really don't want to keep getting your stuff I'll use the unsubscribe link. I only ever report SPAM that really is SPAM. If you're a bona fide business I tend to indulge you. This does mean I end up getting lots of email so periodically I cull.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that I get a lot of newsletters and I pretty much always look at them. Some I always read every word. Mostly I don't read them in detail, I skim and if I spot something interesting I read. Some people may disagree but I don't think I'm unusual (at least not in that respect).

So if most people are like me and you're producing a newsletter, how do you make sure yours is the one that gets read?

Here are my top 10 tips to having a bestselling newsletter:

  1. Make it newsworthy - the clue is in the title people. It's a NEWS letter. This doesn't mean that you have to break the latest MP expenses scandal or buy a telephoto lens. It does mean that you have to think like a newspaper. When you decide what you want to talk about think; "is this item interesting? Is there a particular angle I can take on this item? How can I make it relevant to my audience?" If you can't don't put it in.
  2. Grab the reader with a title - Most people use the "Catch Phrase" approach to the title "say what you see". so we have "John Smiths Newsletter". It's clear and if I'm a regular reader I know what will follow. But is it going to pique my interest? Maybe. Here are some particularly good titles I've received recently: "Are your videos falling flat? 17 quick-fix marketing tips", "Beer tasting this Thursday" (wonder why that one appealed?), "Holiday discounts are a dangerous drug". The reason these titles attract is basic marketing - they focus on the benefit to be gained from reading - knowledge, improved results, beer. They don't focus on functionality - it's a newsletter.
  3. Use html emails not attachments - ditch the PDFs. You mostly have but some people seem to cling on to them. An html newsletter is smaller so won't bust mailbox limits and without an attachment is less likely to be trapped by SPAM filters. Using PDFs for a newsletter also puts another hurdle in front of the reader. They have to take action to open the file in order to see if there's anything worth reading. In large numbers they just don't bother. Good mailing systems will also give you some valuable analytics information on delivery rates, open rates (though these are not a great measure), clicked links etc. which can help you improve your newsletter over time. PDFs do have a place for some highly technical information or very long documents, or where they are intended to be printed out. And they'll help you manage your mailing lists at the same time.
  4. Use great headlines in the copy - grab the reader and suck him in! The headlines don't have to be incredibly clever and creative but they have to make the reader want to read the story. Again, think like the reader: "Why would I want to read the piece - what's in it for me?" Think benefits.
  5. Include pictures - I'm not going to say a picture paints a thousand word because that would be too hackneyed. Doh! Images do though lift a piece of writing. They break it up, make it more accessible and can support the point being made. All good things. But don't rely on them because there are always those readers who turn the images off!
  6. Direct the eye - use highlights, sub headings, bullet points to draw the readers attention to important things. help the reader skim to the things that he's really interested in.
  7. Include back links - get the reader back to your website by linking from the newsletter to more detailed or related content or offers on your website. 
  8. Make it just right - not too long, not too short. No one has time to read a ten page newsletter but if it's short enough to be a simple email then best to just send a simple email.
  9. Make it relevant - segment your market and send relevant information to different groups. Make sure you put people in the right groups though. I suspect that a clothing company who send me an email regularly think I'm a woman. I get lots of emails about women's clothes and only the occasional one about men's. And before anyone asks, no I don't have anything to reveal, I don't want you to call me Judy and I don't wear my wife's clothes. They don't fit.
  10. Send it frequently and regularly - think of any newspaper or magazine. They have a set schedule. They don't just decide not to produce a Cosmopolitan this month. Remember it's about engagement and building a relationship.  When your newsletter arrives in their inbox you want the reader to think "Ah ha Fred's newsletter - nice title." Not "Who the @#~$ is Fred?

What do you think? Which are your favorite newsletters and why?


I agree with your comments. Having just sent out our monthly newsletter I wonder if our clients await with bated breath when it appears in their mail! I would like to think that our monthly newsletter has topics that our readers find helpful and informative. This month for example, it is about the latest budget and how it affects people who have small businesses. If you have read it what do you think?
Comment by Claire Norfolk - 8 Dec 2012 12:10
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