Fantastic Newsletters: How to Write Them
I’m a subscriber. When your website’s form pops up, inviting me to subscribe to your newsletter, I comply. Sign me up! In my own defence, I have a reasonable explanation: as a business writer, my newsletter obsession is partly founded on professional curiosity.
Email newsletters are a proven, effective marketing tool. But a peek at the open rate statistics of email marketing software providers such as Constant Contact reveals that most email newsletters, up to 85 percent in many industries, go unopened.
Considering a newsletter launch? Before you dive in, join me as we stalk the common newsletter in its natural habitat, the Inbox. Let’s look at a few easy basics to help you beat the open-rate odds, increase your chances of success, and deliver compelling, readable newsletters.
A. Define your purpose
What is your specific intent in sending each individual newsletter? Know exactly what it is you’d like your audience to understand or do after reading your newsletter. Write it down. That’s your foundation. And at the same time …
B. Maintain a reader-centred focus
Remember that your newsletter exists in service to your readers. Focus on your audience: what do they want from you? What are you giving them?
Giving demonstrates value and builds trust. Trust builds connectivity and underpins relationships. People want to work with or buy from those they like and trust.
C. Think like Zorro: Get in. Make your mark. Get out.
And follow the ABCs of journalism: Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity.
While the infamous shrinking attention span (“You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish!”) science that had us all reeling in horror has been busted as a myth, we all have way too many demands and distractions upon our attention.
Your audience has no time, and they need maximum ease.
Plus, reading isn’t comfortable for everyone. The National Institute of Health estimates that roughly 10 percent of adults in all walks of life have reading difficulties and disabilities.
Lanie Champigny, a leading speech-language pathologist who works in British Columbia’s public education system, sums it up this way: “Think about language fluency—how easy are the words to quickly grasp? Minimum processing effort matters.”
Summary: Trim fat, remove jargon. Clear, short, and simple wins.
D. Use imagery – visual presentation counts
Research tells us people consistently remember pictures better than words, and that pictures help us retrieve information. So it is doubly important that your images are relevant, purposeful, and add value. Consider your image a visual tagline for your written content.
Beyond making your words more memorable, imagery
contributes beauty, professionalism, and branding identity;
creates interest and highlights key points; and
assists with sharing and helping others understand new ideas and information.
Think beyond photos. Visuals can include:
Graphic design elements including colour combinations
Text layout (don’t make readers’ eyes travel too far from left to right – use a shorter column width)
Font choice (use large fonts, and when choosing, consider what feeling or tone you want to convey)
Font colours – think about contrast. For example, if you are using a white background, a dark grey font produces considerably less eyestrain than does black.
Summary: Relevant imagery in any form adds value and makes your text more memorable.
E. Proofread and polish
True story: I was considering purchasing a course from a writer who claims outstanding success in persuasive copywriting. I subscribed to her newsletter and read through six of them. All of them had more than one typo, grammatical error, or error in usage. Gasp! I unsubscribed.
While I admit to ownership of the mug, I’m not the prickly grammar police, gleefully pouncing on minute errors. Anyone can make a typo.
But errors in written business communication can impact trust and credibility, cause loss of revenue, and send prospective clients elsewhere.
So, try this:
Print it out. This is a newsletter so it's short, right? Research conclusively proves what most of us know and have experienced first-hand: reading on screens has a negative effect on reading performance in comparison to paper.
Give it to someone else to read. There’s nothing like the cold, clinical eye of another to guard against errors.
If you don’t have a fresh set of eyes to review your piece, read it slowly, aloud.
Summary: Check, check, and check again to eliminate errors.
At the very least, errors send a message about your attention to detail. And in this digital era, your mistakes will be open to global scrutiny.
F. Write an interesting—and shortish—subject line
Think of your subject line as a Lindt chocolate with the wrapper still on. Or a fortune cookie. Or the literary equivalent of (spoiler alert!) Thor’s potbelly reveal in Endgame: intriguing, entertaining, irresistible.
Some of the very best headlines perform one or more of these functions to engage readers:
promise a benefit
evoke an emotional response
touch on a universal human experience
convey a sense of urgency
provide a solution
share an insider secret
Ideal length? Marketing automation software company Marketo crunched the numbers and says shorter is better than longer (with an optimum length of 7 words)
If you’re stricken with subject-line block, let someone else do the work for you. Consider using free online tools such as Sumo’s terrific headline generator.
If you follow these basic steps, you’ll increase the chances that your newsletter will be opened, read, and acted upon. But these are my guidelines – now I’d love to hear yours.