After having unveiled the best free email marketing programs for startups, the logical next step is an easy-to-understand guide on how to create great newsletters. This topic also regularly comes up on free help Friday, and in our marketing consultations. And it makes sense: Email newsletters are still the most efficient of these 10 completely free marketing strategies for startups and SMEs. So here is my take on it.
Creating great newsletters is a difficult topic to generalize. Results and best practices certainly depend on the niche you’re in. However, there are a few points that apply to most email newsletters, and you will most likely see positive results when you try some or all of the below mentioned ideas.
Why To Create Great Newsletters
Great newsletters are emails that are opened and read by people. And, most importantly, newsletters that are acted upon.
It is great to check your open rates and beat the 50%. However, there’s no point in having fantastic open rates if nobody acts upon your emails. On the other hand, 100% of recipients clicking your links won’t pay the bills if only three persons receive and open your emails.
So today we’ll cover all this in one smooth post.
The Perfect Subject Line
Since the subject line is your most important line of text, you should definitely give it some thought. Some experts recommend spending as much time on crafting your subject line as you spend creating your entire artwork. I find that a little OTT, but it’s certainly worth writing down a couple of thoughts first, let it sink in for a few days, maybe ask a good friend for advice, and then select one (or two or three – depending on your split-testing strategy).
There are a couple of guides solely focusing on creating subject line, hence I won’t dive into more detail here. I personally believe in trying a few different things via split-testing, including personalization, casual vs formal tone, imperatives vs statements.
Never try, never know, they say, so go ahead and see what your audience reacts upon.
HTML vs. Text Newsletters
One of the first decisions you need to make is whether you want to send HTML newsletters or rich text / plain text emails.
The difference is simple: HTML is what most newsletters look like. It is very visual, and gives you great design options. And no, thanks to email templates you don’t have to write a single line of code. Most newsletter systems offer a drag and drop interface for HTML newsletters. On the downside, it does look immediately like a newsletter.
Text-focused newsletters can be sent as rich text or plain text emails. These look very similar to ‘normal’ emails, and instead of lots of graphics you’d rather include a link to your website. Nonetheless, you can of course include an image, if you like.
Which option you choose mainly depends on your niche. Visually appealing products such as clothes or travel blogs rather opt for HTML, while a content producer may want to use text.
In a world that seemingly spins faster every single day, people have lost interest in reading page-long newsletters, and according to smart folks our attention span has drastically decre… hang on… uhh… look at that bird!
Hence it seems like a total no-brainer you to keep your newsletters short, and every trustworthy marketing advisor will tell you so. It is surprising how few companies actually manage to follow this simple advice.
Bear in mind the KISS rule: Keep It Short and Simple
GetResponse for example sends fantastic newsletters. Their emails are focused on one single topic, and their newsletters are usually simply the first paragraph of their new blog entry. So simple, so smart, so efficient. I recommend signing up for them.
Keeping newsletters short does serve four purposes:
- You don’t bore your recipients, since you get straight to the point.
- If your topic is relevant to the subscriber, they will click a link. That link is trackable. It shows you what people are most interested in, and usually leads to your website, which is great for you SEO score.
- In case that point / topic is not interesting to a subscriber, chances with a short newsletter are that it doesn’t annoy your recipient enough to unsubscribe. And hopefully they will find your next topic interesting again.
- It forces to you to select the very best stuff you created. That in turn makes you think about your audience again, and hence helps you to focus. Remember: Email marketing is all about human beings.
A wonderful side effect is that it takes very little time to create the newsletter. Once you designed your standard newsletter template, filling it with one paragraph of copy, an image and a call to action takes a couple of minutes.
Interact With Your Audience
If at all possible in your niche (and yes, it is possible in pretty much any niche), send out a few ‘interactive’ newsletters, and see how they perform against ‘traditional’ newsletters.
Interactive newsletters offer your readers a choice. This could be through the integration of a survey or simply putting two different links into the copy.
Of course, you should also always ask for people’s opinion where possible, if they liked your article, what their stand on the topic is, what they’d love you to write about next.
Make sure to evaluate your readers’ thoughts – I’m always surprised how many people duly ignore free feedback.
Note: With most newsletter systems, you’ll need to use a third party tool such as Surveymonkey or Google Forms to create surveys. The only email marketing provider currently offering native surveys is GetResponse.
Timing: When To Send Great Newsletters
Determining the right time to send your newsletters can be quite a challenge, since again this entirely differs from audience to audience. There is a lot of research out there, stating that most newsletters are read Tuesday and Thursday morning. However, with some companies I work(ed) with, I found that also the weekend can be a good time to share some enlightenments.
One thing most people agree on is that Monday morning is not the best moment to clog people’s inboxes with your latest insights. Apart from that I highly recommend playing around a little. And keep playing even after you believe you found the perfect timing – just play a little less.
Note: If you opt for SendPulse, their artificial intelligence tries to figure out the best time to send emails for you. One of the reasons why it scored high amongst the free best newsletter programs for startups.
Split-Test: From Great To Grand
Do yourself a favor: Use the split-testing option of your newsletter system. Most systems have this included in their basic plan, if they don’t, either upgrade or change your provider.
A split test is creating two versions of your newsletter, but with one single minimal change. This could be using a different subject line, swapping the lead image or experimenting with two different calls to action. To challenge your beliefs, write down your personal estimated result when sending the newsletter. You will be surprised how off you will be most of the time!
You could also split-test sending two entirely different newsletters. But to be honest, I find it hard to draw any wisdom from that. Testing minimal changes usually shows the best results. Especially your subject line should always be improved, since your most beautiful newsletter goes to waste if the subject line isn’t appealing enough for people to open it.
That One Single Hack That Increases Your Opening Rates By 30%
Indeed, there is one single hack that has helped to double many a newsletter opening rate. And yes, it is surprisingly simple to double your opening rate: Just send your newsletter twice.
Sounds a bit weird at first. But it starts making a lot of sense once I tell you that you simply send the second newsletter with a different headline. And only to all those people who haven’t read your newsletter before.
Many email marketing programs include this feature these days, since Drip introduced it in mid-2016. The only newsletter system which includes this in the free plan however is MailerLite – one of the reasons why it is the best free newsletter program.
Before sending your newsletter, you simple create a new headline and determine your waiting interval, after which the second newsletter is sent. In case your email marketing system doesn’t offer this feature, follow these four steps:
- Copy your newsletter.
- Change the subject line.
- Create a new segment with people who didn’t open the last email.
- Send your newsletter again.
Best is to wait 3-4 days before re-sending your emails, so your audience has sufficient time to open and read them. It could be a little embarrassing sending the same newsletter twice to the same person, who simply hasn’t checked her emails yet.
Of course, remember to include your re-sends into your split-test evaluations. Maybe the last version had a headline that beat all opening rates so far? It’s certainly worth learning from that.
Most Importantly: Do It
As always, key to success is to take action. Draft a newsletter, check it through with a friend, and send it. Again, as always, we all make mistakes, and there will be people who unsubscribe. But as long as you learn from your mistakes and keep going there is very little that can stop you.
If you want to discuss your email marketing strategy or newsletter results with me, sign up for FreeHelpFriday – I’ll be delighted to hear from you!
And yes, please make use of the comment function below or join our discussion on Facebook. Any thoughts or questions you may have on this topic are welcome.