How to create an effective email newsletter

Bad Email Newsletter Is Never Read By Subscriber

I want to ask you a question.

We are all busy people, and we all get lots of emails every day.

When you look through your inbox, how long does it take you to distinguish information you need from spam and sleazy sales pitches?

Your eye is so trained to recognize this stuff, that you almost spend no time reading it.

Have you ever wondered why email newsletters get deleted from the first glance or end up in the farthest folder without ever being read?

Because they either too long, boring or excessively “advertizy”. You strive to put everything into your newsletter, and you desperately want your reader to purchase your product right from the first shot.

You are pushing…

You are imposing…

Such a letter is meant to get discarded in 3 seconds or less.

Here is what it looks like:

Bad Email Message Sample

Just picture yourself walking down the park thinking about your business…

Then all of a sudden, some strange guy runs into you, and starts selling you a wrist watch. You have never seen him before, you have no idea what this is all about, and most importantly…

You are just walking around. Your mindset is far away from the “Buying” mode.

So what makes an email newsletter good?

Well, to explain that, let me draw another mental picture.

Imagine you are walking in the same park and coming across your old friend Richard.

You are starting a conversation, and now, you are walking together discussing things and enjoying the nature around you.

You are telling him you have been looking for a new cool wrist watch for the past few days since the old one suddenly broke. He is telling you that his best friend John sells unique wristwatches in downtown, and if you don’t mind he can call him and ask for a favor and discount for you.

Now, not only do you want to buy a wristwatch from John, you actually thank your friend Richard for doing this favor for you.

Cool, huh?

But that’s not all yet.

Not only will you buy from John this time, but if he sells you a great product satisfying you for years, you are also very likely to consult with him about any other purchases in that same area.

Getting back to the analogy with our mailing list…

  1. It is essential to become friends with your subscribers and share their pain.
  2. You should offer a solution to their pain without pushing them anywhere.
  3. You have to prove yourself as a reliable source of information by offering good solid advice that actually works.
  4. It must be something he can readily use with great success.

People like free information, and if it’s good and solid, most of them will think: “Oh my God, his free stuff is great! It solves my problem and does what I want! I just cannot wait to see his PAID stuff! It must be a million times better!”.

Hard choice between plain text and HTML message format

Most of us regularly receive HTML messages. Every time you get an HTML message in your inbox, the first thing you are sure to notice is…

It’s an ad, because no friend of yours who writes emails to you on a regular basis will bother creating a message with nice fonts, HTML formatting, images and links leading some other places.

So there is no doubt when you look at it. You know this message is going to sell you something.

It is a double edged sword. If you do it right, you can succeed, but if you do it wrong…

Well, you’ll raise a red flag in the eyes of your subscribers. They will recognize it as an ad, and discard it without reading.

I do not want to lie to you, since I only recently started dabbing in this area myself and cannot say for sure whether I am good at it or not. It is more art than science to create cool-looking messages that people actually want to read.

If you prefer the HTML message format over other options, and think you “got it”, use graphics and formatting in moderation, and only where it makes your newsletter easier to read.

Create a bit smaller messages with large pictures to catch attention of readers right away.

Don’t be text-only! Use a big image and a smaller text above or below it. The text must be short and to-the-point. It’s the key!

Excessive formatting, changes to font style, size and color can make a document difficult to read and may distract from its content.

Too much of the “good stuff” will definitely engage all spam filters that will be happy to kill your letter while it is still “airborne”.

Here is an example of what I consider to be an A+ message from Apple:

Good HTML Email Message Example

Although plain-text format is extremely simple and non-expressive, it still has its own advantages over HTML format. Plain-text messages normally do not engage spam filters and are not automatically recognized by readers as junk.

It means that if the matter you want to talk about does not require images to grab attention, you can safely use plain text for your newsletters.

A short plain-text teaser can work as good as a colorful HTML alternative, if composed correctly, but the delivery rate will be much better.

What I find works best is just giving people a short teaser with a link that leads to a web page where more information can be found. If the message is crafted correctly, people will get anxious to click on the link and open the page to read the full story.

The main advantage here is that you have absolutely no problem putting pictures, videos, flashy graphics, and other jumping stuff on this page, because your reader is already mentally prepared to see it.

Still… Do not overdo it! Your page should not invoke the “closing” reflex in your readers.

Personalize newsletter or not to personalize?

Sure you can use a regular email client to perform some kind of mass mailing by putting a bunch of people in the TO, CC or BCC field. Technically it works but not the way you really want. If you use this approach, everyone on the list will get the same email message.

There will be no personal salutation, and you will not be able to mention important personal details such as products ordered, order numbers and so on. Your message will always start from “Dear, friend!” or “Dear, reader!” that usually engages spam filters.

Besides, if your message contains more than a certain number of recipients in the TO, CC or BCC list (often over 100), it will be discarded by your outgoing mail server without delivering it to a single recipient. And even if it gets delivered this way, everyone on the list will see each other’s email addresses in the TO or CC field, which is a violation of most privacy policies!!!

If you BCC a message to your subscribers, once received, it will contain the “undisclosed recipients” note in the TO field, which looks weird and almost always triggers spam filters.

In case your message can not be personalized, it is better not to start with any salutation at all, but instead get straight to the point of the matter.

Frankly speaking, I find myself that the “standard” salutations such as “Dear John!” and “Hello John” leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Just because “everybody does it” does not make it proper or gives you a good reason to do it too!

Instead, quite the opposite is true. Since everybody does it, YOU should “do something different”, if you want to stand out.

Personalization is an excellent tool, and in today’s world, it’s not even a question of “IF you should do it or not”, but rather “HOW you should do it” in order to engage your reader.

There is a little bit more in creating a good message than just personalization itself.

To explain this, I am giving you an example message:

Dear John,
On September 15, 2009 you have purchased a widget from us. Now, we would like to offer you a new product called “Gadget”…

It IS personalized with a lot of details, but very boring and “standard”. In fact, it is too “hackneyed” and “standard” that no one is going to even notice it.

But here is the same information presented a bit differently:

I just had a talk with my team, John, and I am now absolutely certain that our new product Gadget will compliment Widget you bought from us back in September so perfectly that your sales should theoretically increase by at least 50%…

To be able to do this type of personalization in your messages, you definitely need a perfect database-driven mass mailing software.

Doing this with a regular mail client is simply impossible.

I promised to give you a FREE 30-day trial version of iMacMailer email marketing software so you could test my tricks on your website while you learn. Here it is (sorry for such a big button :)).

Provide your readers with an ability to unsubscribe

Place a link or text with “unsubscribe” instructions at the bottom of every email message you send. You can choose to use a clickable link or ask your reader to just reply to your message with the “unsubscribe” word in subject.

You can use a bit smaller font for your unsubscribe instructions, but neither hide it too much nor make it extra visible.

Place the link at the end of your message. Use some blank space between the end of your message and the unsubscribe link so that the reader would not accidentally click on this link.

Your unsubscribe instructions should discourage your reader from unsubscribing.

It should sound like the reader will miss a rare opportunity if he leaves your mailing list, which is definitely true, since you do give away a lot of good and useful information to your subscribers.

This sample reflects all the principals described above:

Unsubscribe Link Example

Supplement your mailing list with an RSS feed

You may double the number of mailing list subscribers if you use an RSS feed for the web pages with the full stories you publish on your website. It has 100% deliverability since there is no spam filters to bypass.

Every person visiting your website will be able to subscribe to your feed and then receive notifications every time you publish news stories or update the old ones.

RSS Feed in Safari

Use email cycles to bring continuous traffic and generate strong sales

Use your email newsletters to bring new traffic to your website every day.

When you compose your newsletter, do not place the entire story into it. Instead, use a very short and enticing teaser with a link that leads to a web page with the full story published on it. If your reader gets interested in the information you give him, he will click the link to open the page and read it.

He will expect the page to be interesting and worth reading. It means that on this page you can display banners, feature promotions and offer discounts for the products complementing his interest.

Do NOT try to “force” every reader to visit your web page though. If this particular subject is not of interest to him, he will not buy whatever you offer anyway, and as a result, you will just spoil a good relationship for nothing.

I also want to mention that advertising products that are beyond the field of interest of your subscribers is really a bad idea. It’s called “off-topic”, it irritates people, and makes them unsubscribe from your mailing list.

Treat your subscribers as your friends. Not only it is profitable in the long run, but it also makes our world a better place to live.

Relationship is important, and to reinforce it, on some days, send newsletters with good and solid information without advertising anything, just as an appreciation of their loyalty.

Do not squeeze your subscribers for money every time you send them a message.

Email newsletter must start with a catchy title

Title or subject is very important. It is the first thing your reader will see. It must be catchy and make your newsletter stand out in the reader’s mailbox.

Do not make the title “advertizy” or excessively long. The only purpose of a title is to grab reader’s attention and make him read the newsletter. It is not intended for carrying any significant information.

This sample title would definitely work:

British queen Elizabeth II bought United States of America for 1 million pounds this Tuesday.

Use headers, sub headers and paragraphs when presenting information

Many people read headers and headlines only, and ignore everything in between.

If you do not use headers and sub headers, or present the whole thing as a solid block, there is good chance that such a newsletter will not be read.

Big blocks of black letters stuffed together intimidate people. They think: “How the hell am I going to read it?”

You do not waste any paper by adding more whitespace and breaks in the text on a web page, therefore you can be very generous with this kind of stuff.

Your text will look better, and it will be much easier to read.

Use video clips and audio tracks, if necessary

You are free to use video clips and audio tracks on the web pages where you publish the full stories of your newsletters. Utilize any means necessary to explain and show information better. As a result, it will increase your sales because more people will understand it.

Videos beat text-only letters 3:1 on average. If you have ever watched TV Shop shows, you know what I mean. Sometimes it is a real joy just to watch how gracefully a product is used by a salesperson, even if you are never going to buy it.

You can use video clips showing the problem itself, the solution of the problem with your product, and the final result. Whatever you think would work better.

Take advantage of the “above-the-fold” viewing area

The first portion of your message or page that is visible without scrolling is called “above-the-fold”.

When you present information on a web page or in an email message, the biggest concern is not whether the reader is going to read it, but whether he is going to scroll it down to the end.

80% of people NEVER SCROLL web pages and email messages down to the end!

Wrap your head around this number. Most of people just look at whatever they can see on the screen right now and ignore the rest.

This portion above the fold is very important since this is the only thing that a lazy person will ever read.

It must be the most convincing part of your letter. Even if it does not sell your product, it should at least make your reader anxious enough to scroll and read the whole thing to the last word.

Ok, guys. I am a little sleepy. It’s 10:35 pm now, and I am going to bed.

See you tomorrow!