8 ways to improve your email newsletter

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Email marketing is one of the most powerful content marketing tools we have. But are you doing it right?

Sophie Al-Bassam

Depending on how you approach it, you can incite rage or excitement in your audience with one simple tool: the email newsletter. If you barrage inboxes several times a day with irrelevant CEO updates or lectures about how wonderful you are, people will be irritated and bored. If they have trouble unsubscribing, they will be irate. 

But if you send regular emails full of helpful tips or interesting insights (as hopefully we do with The Lead), then you are heading towards brand engagement, appreciation and perhaps even brand loyalty.

A man is smiling, looking at his mobile phone. He has a computer next to him.

Why invest in email marketing?

Consumers estimate they check email more than 20 times a day, across home, work and mobile. Email use is predicted to keep growing. And email marketing is booming right now.

"Since the pandemic started, the number of readers and ‘active writers’ on [newsletter platform] Substack have both doubled, and other providers such as Mailchimp have seen similar spikes in users,” says Wired journalist Oliver Franklin-Wallis.

Invest in email marketing so you don’t get left behind. Your competitors likely spend money on it: it’s the top content marketing method marketers use to nurture their audience. 

And is there return on investment to make it worth it? If you do it right, then yes. While it’s difficult to calculate return on investment, in some circumstances for every $1 spent, email marketing generates up to $38.

While there are many different types of email marketing, such as event invitations or product campaigns, we’ll focus on email newsletters and how to get started or improve them.

1. Make it good; add value

Pay attention, this is important: your email newsletter has to be relevant to your business and audience. It has to be interesting and aligned with your overall content strategy and be part of your content calendar.

With email marketing, you get to talk directly to your audience. This audience has chosen to listen to you by opting in. So don’t waste your chance. What do your customers or members want to hear? It could be how-tos, curated industry round ups, relevant news or highlights from your blog.

High-quality content will keep your readers subscribed and engaged. For example, I have never been to a Secret Foodies event. But each week I open and read their email for their excellent round up of Sydney dining and events in partnership with sister company Eat Drink Play. This means if I ever do want to organise an event, Secret Foodies will be front of mind.

Similarly, Bank Australia has a very pretty email newsletter thanks to its partnership with Lunch Lady parenting magazine. Hardie Grant media editor Georgia Lejeune subscribes to it even though she’s not the target audience. 

She says: “I love the design and illos of this one! Even though it's for parents I find the articles really interesting.” 

The Hope School newsletter, a partnership with Bank Australia and Lunch Lady.

2. Think mobile first

Your email newsletter must look good on a mobile screen. Why? Up to 46% of email opens are now on mobile. 

To get started with mobile friendly email marketing, keep your copy concise, break up your copy so it’s easy to scan, and ensure all images and videos are looking good before you send.

Here's an example from interactive storytelling tool Shorthand. You'll see that the design is responsive, showing beautifully for both computer and phone emails.

An email newsletter from The Craft with two different views, as it would show on computer, and as it would show on a phone.

This email newsletter is just as easy to scan on mobile as on a computer screen.

3. Entice with a bold subject line

We all receive dozens of email each day. We don’t read all of them, so you have to stand out right from the start with a solid subject line.

Think about how you can entice your audience with your subject line – can you pique their curiosity? Can you convince them they’ll miss out if they don’t read the email? Is there something in it for them, like a discount or offer? Have you personalised it by using their name or preferences?

Watch character length – email on mobile may only show 25-30 characters, so you don’t have much room to make an impression. 

Think that's not enough? Check out Morning Brew for inspiration. Their subject lines are a study in brevity, often mysterious enough to entice you. If you do happen to read the pre-header - the next line of grey text - you'll get a good hint on the topic.

Morning Brew's very short subject lines.

Another way to stand out from the crowd is to check out your competition with Really Good Emails – search by your industry to figure out how others have met with success.

4. Personalise content

Personalisation is increasingly important for content marketing success but many businesses don’t know where to start. 

First up, it’s important to know your audience. Ideally you’ll get to the point where you send different emails to different segments. This could be based on where they are in their buying journey based on web browsing data or based on age, life stage or interest area. 

For example, The Hustle asks for your topic preferences when you subscribe.

The Hustle asks for you information preferences when you subscribe.

5. Include a call to action

Try to keep just one overall objective for each EDM. What is it that you want your customers to do – visit your website? Buy a particular product? Send the email on to a friend? This should shape your overall theme and main call to action.

Make your main call to action simple and give it lots of space so it is easy to spot and enticing to click on.

For example, this email from Secret Foodies has several clear calls to action. They all direct subscribers to their website. They are in their own box and have space around them.

The Secret Foodies email newsletter.

The calls to action here are in bold boxes and throughout the email.

6. Keep it simple

We all love beautifully designed emails rich with interactivity and personalisation. But depending on your industry, bells and whistles are optional. High-quality, relevant content is one of the most important things, not how many GIFs or videos you include. All that fancy stuff can actually make your load time slower, and increase the likelihood of technical problems.

Visual appeal and brand consistency is important, but they don’t have to make the email complicated. Take Morning Brew, for example. It’s one of the world’s most popular email newsletters and is packed full of excellent news content. Is it clear and simple? Yes. Is it pretty? Not particularly. But more than two million subscribers seem to love it anyway.

7. Avoid the spam filter

There are two ways to avoid ending up in the junk folder.

A) Avoid readers thinking you’re spam
This is where editors get to gloat: one of the easiest ways to spot spam is through typos and the use of ALL CAPS or exclamation points in subject lines! So if you have a good editor, you’re more likely to get your email read. Word.

B) Avoid spam filters thinking you’re spam
For starters, don’t use common spam trigger words, stuff copy with keywords or include attachments to your emails, explains Hubspot.

8. Test and test again

Once your email newsletter is up and running, you want to improve your open rate and click through rate (CTR).

Your newsletter platform like Substack or Mailchimp will help you do A/B testing. Campaign Monitor suggests you may want to test subject line length or topic, the day or time you send it out, or the language of your call to action. 

Test one thing at a time, and with only two options. Once you get an answer to your question, you can shape your email newsletter accordingly, until you test it again. It’s should be a rolling, circular process.

Get it touch with me to chat about what you’d like to achieve with your email newsletter content.

Sophie Al-Bassam, senior managing editor

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