How to Write a Newsletter

Email marketing is killer. It works. It’s awesome. You need to do it.

But in order to truly harness the power of email marketing, it’s important to understand the psychology behind it and to know how to write emails that get results.

The statistics say that email marketing is effective. But statistics tell only part of the story. Statistics can’t predict whether your email marketing efforts will be effective.

Just sending a newsletter for the sake of meeting your weekly or monthly requirement is not effective.

Your newsletter is a valuable marketing resource, and it’s time for you to start writing them as such.

In order to create a successful email marketing campaign, it’s crucial to know the tricks of the trade.

Getting people to notice your emails, open your emails, click on the stuff in your emails, and respond to your emails is tricky.

Here are 13 tips and strategies that you should be using with your newsletters.

1. Give people a reason to opt in

Let’s take a step back for a minute. For you to get conversions in the first place, you need to have an active list of email subscribers.

The best way to do this is to give them a great reason to opt in. Just saying “sign up for our newsletter” isn’t appealing.

How can you approach this? Value. Pitch people with value. Give them an incentive to sign up. Check out this example from the Lands’ End website:

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Customers who sign up for their newsletter will get 25% off their orders. It’s a no-brainer for customers to opt in.

But the value doesn’t stop there. They continue by saying their newsletter subscribers also get access to exclusive offers. This implies they’ll get other discounts in the future as well.

Besides monetary discounts, think about other ways your company can add value to prospective newsletter subscribers.

It depends on your company and your industry, but try to get creative here. For example, an airline could offer priority boarding to customers who subscribe to their newsletter.

You could provide free online seminars or e-book downloads to anyone who signs up for your newsletter. If your company hosts events, you can offer free parking passes or free entry to subscribers.

Just think outside the box. The more people subscribe, the greater your conversions will be.

2. Stick to your goal

What do you want your newsletter to accomplish?

This should be the first question you ask yourself before you start writing. If you don’t know the answer to this, how will your subscribers know what to do?

Here are some common goals for email newsletters:

  • drive sales
  • increase social media presence
  • download an e-book
  • drive traffic to a landing page
  • promote a new product or service

There are tons of other goals your company might have. But if you’re struggling, use these to get started in the right direction.

Pick one and go with it. Trying to jam all these into one message is complicated and will confuse your audience.

Here’s a great example of a newsletter with a simple goal from Litmus:

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The goal of this newsletter is clearly to increase clicks to improve their engagement rates. Rather than just writing a lengthy article about the pros and cons of single vs. double opt-in landing pages, they give their subscribers an option.

They’ll get different content based on which CTA button gets clicked.

You can use a similar strategy in your newsletter, even if you don’t want to be as direct.

First, introduce your goal with the headline or opening statements. Then, discuss it in greater detail throughout the message by mentioning it once or twice. Finally, end with a strong call to action like in the example above.

Emphasize it. Don’t make it ambiguous. The customer should have a clear direction of what action to take after reading your newsletter.

3. Getting emails opened

Half the battle is getting prospects to open your emails.

Research from HubSpot found that companies with 1-10 employees typically receive a median open rate of 35.3% and companies with 26-200 employees receive a median open rate of 32.3%.

Here’s another look at the stats from SmartInsights. Find your industry in the list, and see how your open rates compare:

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These numbers aren’t exactly staggering.

I’ve found that the key to maximizing my open rate is making my emails as personal and interesting as possible.

For instance, I suggest using your first name as your from address.

Why do I suggest this?

The data says so. In one survey, researchers asked “What most compels you to open a permission based email?”

I know what would get me to open an email: the from line!

Do I trust the sender? Do I want to hear from them? Do I like what they write? Is it going to help me in some way?

The best way for me to find that out is by looking at who sent the information.

Just take a look at these numbers. The from line is leading the subject line by double!

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Most people are already drowning in emails and don’t want to open something from some questionable corporate entity. But many are willing to open something from a real person, who is reaching out to them one-on-one.

If you are signed up to receive emails from me, you expect to see “Neil Patel” in the subject line.

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I wrote the email, so I might as well be the one sending it.

Besides, it gives you, the reader, the authentic sense that you’re hearing from me as a person, not some disembodied email marketing software.

4. Craft an enticing subject line

You can’t get conversions from your email newsletter if nobody opens it. Your subject line can make or break the success of this marketing campaign.

Once you understand how to increase open rates with different subject lines, you’ll have a better chance of getting high conversions from your newsletters.

Take a look at this data about how recipients view the subject lines of a message:

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As you can see, the subject line can determine whether or not the message gets opened or reported as spam.

How can you entice people to open your newsletter? For starters, make sure your subject lines are not boring. Subject lines such as “March Newsletter” don’t give anyone a reason to open their emails.

Be personal: 82% of marketers report that personalized subject lines lead to increased open rates. Furthermore, 75% of experts say personalized messages drive higher click-through rates.

One of the most common ways to personalize a subject line is by using the recipient’s name.

Another enticing way to encourage opens for your newsletter is a time-sensitive subject line. Come up with a way to create a sense of urgency.

There’s valuable information in your newsletter that needs to be read right away. Breaking news is something your subscribers would want to hear immediately.

I’ve found that addressing a common issue or concern also works well.

For example, you might promise that the contents of your email can help solve a problem, provide readers with valuable information to improve their lives, or make them happier.

You’ll want to make it so that readers are so intrigued by the subject line that they can’t resist opening your email.

You’ll want to pique their curiosity and leave an information gap that can be filled only by clicking.

For instance, a B2B company might use a subject line such as “How to Double Your Sales in Just 30 Minutes.”

One of my highest open rates came from an email I sent asking for people’s help. I genuinely needed and wanted the response of my readers.

When I asked for readers’ help, it created an information gap between my request and the point of my request. Why did I need help? The result was an insane level of open rates.

I’ve seen other great marketers do the same thing. Jayson DeMers, for example, created this email subject line that caught my attention:

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He even used a smiley face.

Buffer knows that their audience wants to hear about social media tips. That’s why they use subject lines like this one:

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Throwing in some power words that stimulate readers and appeal to their emotions can have a tremendous impact as well.

Use these terms when you’re coming up with the subject line for your newsletter.

Here are just some of the power words you can use:

  • amazing
  • mind-blowing
  • jaw-dropping
  • blissful

According to studies by MailChimp, time-sensitive words in the subject line with the highest impact on open rates are:

  • urgent
  • breaking
  • important
  • alert

You get the idea. I recommend that you check out this list of 317 power words from Smart Blogger for more ideas.

Here’s something else I do to save time and effort and increase effectiveness of my email campaigns: I use or repurpose my blog article titles as my email subject lines.

This doesn’t work for every industry or email marketing campaign, I know. But it works for me. The goal of my email marketing efforts is to help people with great content. That content, of course, lives on my blog. So, I might as well use the title of my article as my subject line.

5. Write a killer opening line

Now that you’ve gotten readers to open your email, you need to draw them in deeper with an awesome opening line.

This is probably more important than you might think.

Why do I say this?

Because the subject line isn’t always the first thing that people see!

GASP!

Yeah, I know you’ve been told that the subject line is the most important element of an email. As I explained above, however, the from line seems to have a higher level of impact on whether or not the email gets opened in the first place.

But is that all? The from line and the subject?

No. The first line of the email is important too.

Most email browsers today display a portion of the message directly in the email browser. You don’t have to open the email to read a small section of it.

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Depending on the length of the subject line (and the viewport of the browser), the body of the email has two or three times as much visibility!

It’s not just desktop email programs that do this, though. Don’t forget about mobile devices!

Most mobile email apps show the opening line.

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So, what do you write in your opening line?

I like addressing each reader by their first name. This comes across as being personal and authentic, which is key for getting them to read on.

I also like to avoid the classic “Hi, my name is…” routine.

Instead, I prefer to opt for something like “I noticed that you…” or “I saw that we both…”

This approach helps the reader relate to me better and faster. I gain their attention by drawing upon a shared experience.

Make sure you get to the point of your email from the get go. Preliminary chatting might turn off people who simply want to find out what the email is about.

Just get right to the point so that you can make an instant connection.

Notice how Jacob McMillen did this in his email:

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Writing like this will earn the respect of your readers. You value their time. You give them what they need. They get on with their lives.

6. Connect in the body

This is where it’s time to really connect with your reader. It’s your opportunity to show how your product/service can provide them with real value and improve their life.

I suggest keeping it short and simple and not overloading your reader with extraneous information.

Remember, the point here is to gain their attention and build some initial rapport. You’re just looking to warm them up to advance them through the sales funnel.

You’re not necessarily going for the jugular right away.

Be sure to break up text into short, digestible paragraphs.

I also suggest speaking in second person and using you when speaking to readers.

Ask personal questions to give your email an intimate feel as if you’re talking face-to-face.

I think HubSpot gives some good examples of this:

  • Do you have unanswered questions about [topic]?
  • How, if at all, would you like to improve your strategy?
  • Is [benefit to them] a priority for you right now?

If you’ve ever read Ramit’s emails, you know he does a great job with this. The paragraphs are short. The tone is personal. And the whole point of the email is spot on: it’s filled with helpful, actionable information.

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7. Be consistent without annoying your subscribers

When people subscribe to your newsletter, they expect to hear from you on a regular basis. Make sure you deliver the newsletter to your subscribers as promised.

If they signed up for a weekly newsletter, you’d better send them a newsletter once per week. If they signed up for a monthly newsletter, sending them an email three times per year isn’t delivering on your promise.

Slacking off on your consistency will damage the reputation of your brand. Your subscribers won’t be interested in converting because your credibility is lost.

Conversely, people won’t be happy if they are expecting a monthly newsletter but instead get emails from you three times per week. This is annoying and could cause them to unsubscribe or report you as a spammer.

Take a look at the top reasons why subscribers report spam:

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Getting too many emails is at the top of this list.

I see this happen to companies all the time. Just because a person gave you permission to send them emails doesn’t mean you can take advantage of that privilege.

8. Discuss relevant content

As you just saw from the research above, people also unsubscribe from emails if they think the content is irrelevant. It’s important for you to stay on brand and on topic at all times.

For example, let’s say you’ve got a company that manufactures various home goods like couches, coffee tables, and lamps. You shouldn’t be talking about the local weather, politics, or recent sporting events.

It’s irrelevant to your brand, and it’s not what your subscribers want to hear about.

Also, it’s a pretty good idea, in general, to stay away from controversial topics in your newsletter. I’m referring to things like religion, politics, race, and things of that nature, unless, of course, your business is in one of those spaces.

People have a different perception of industries based on the relevancy of their email content:

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As you can see, the retail industry leads the way in this category. So if your company is in the entertainment, travel, media, or non-profit sectors, you may want to reassess the topics of your newsletters.

One way to make sure you deliver the most relevant content is by letting your subscribers choose what they want to hear about. They can also decide how often they want to hear from you.

When subscribers are initially signing up to receive your newsletter, let them customize these options. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about from Envato Tuts+:

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By default, new subscribers receive all emails. But if they want to hear from this brand only once a month, they can unselect the Weekly Digests option.

These subscribers can even decide what type of content they want to hear about. People who want to get newsletters about music and audio may not be interested in code or web design topics.

If you employ this strategy, you won’t have to worry about your subscribers thinking your content is irrelevant.

This creates more work for you because you’ll have to write multiple newsletters each week and month. But it’s worth it because your conversion rates will be much higher for each campaign.

9. Add visuals to enhance your content

If you’ve been reading my blogs for a while, you know how much I love using images and videos to explain concepts.

While your newsletter isn’t a blog, you can still use the same strategy. You need to understand not everyone will read every word of your content.

The average subscriber only spends 51 seconds reading a newsletter. Furthermore, people only read about 20% of the text on a page.

If you want your message to resonate with your audience, include visuals. Pictures and infographics make it easy for people to scan through your content.

In addition, try to use videos in your newsletters as often as you can. Emails that include videos have 96.38% higher click through rate and 5.6% higher open rates.

Even if they aren’t reading every word, they can still get a general sense of your message. This relates back to the notion of sticking with a common goal throughout your newsletter.

Take a look at this information about how visuals can impact a reader:

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People are visual learners. Using images and videos can help people process and retain information better. Don’t be afraid to add these elements to your newsletter.

Plus, visuals will make your message look a lot more organized. Nobody wants to read giant blocks of text.

10. Measure your results

The only way to find out whether your newsletter is converting is to take the time to actually measure that.

Whatever email marketing software you’re using should have these analytics tools built directly into the platform. Take advantage of them to see how you’re doing.

Look at things such as:

  • open rates
  • bounce rates
  • click-through rates
  • unsubscribes
  • forwards

Identify which types of newsletters had the highest conversions. Continue using the same strategies.

If some of your newsletters had terrible conversion rates, you need to understand what went wrong. Did you not have a clear goal? Was the content irrelevant?

Once you figure out why your newsletters aren’t converting, it will be easier for you to make the necessary changes.

But you can do this only if you’re actively tracking the results of each campaign.

11. Tell a story

As we discussed earlier, people don’t dedicate lots of time to reading the text and reviewing newsletters. You’ve got to come up with ways to keep your audience engaged.

Stories are interesting.

Once you hook your audience with a captivating story, they’ll continue reading it to find out what happens. What story should you tell?

Get creative.

You can tell your story or a story about your company. Again, just make sure it’s relevant. Don’t be boring.

Research shows storytelling helps boost conversions:

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It’s also an effective strategy for B2B marketers.

Not all your newsletters should be a story, but it’s definitely a good idea to throw some into the mix from time to time.

12. Create urgency

Here’s another thing I’ve learned.

Many people have a tendency to procrastinate. Maybe they’re wrapped up in something at the moment or just aren’t in the mood to complete your desired action right now.

This is no good because once they close an email, the odds they’ll come back to it are slim to none.

That’s why it’s vital to create urgency so that they feel compelled to take action right away.

Most marketers complain that the “most challenging obstacle” to their email marketing is getting people to take action by clicking on the call to action (or whatever the click goal of the email is).

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I’ve found that setting a tight deadline tends to work well for this.

For example, you might say that an “offer expires tomorrow,” or “get it before it’s gone,” or “only 10 spots left.”

This is essential for getting a prompt reply.

13. Nail the closing

Besides the subject line, the closing is arguably the most important part of an email.

It’s the point where a reader will decide whether or not they want to act on your offer and proceed any further.

The goal here is to wind down and transition into a well-crafted call to action (CTA).

What do you want them to do next?

Maybe it’s to check out a landing page, sign up for a course, download an e-book, or straight up buy a product/service.

Whatever it may be, your CTA needs to be crystal clear.

Tell them exactly what you want them to do next, and make sure there’s no guessing what that action is.

Some of us have the mistaken idea that we need to sneak in the CTA or somehow hide it in the email so it’s not so obvious. Please don’t make this mistake.

Your CTA is the money of your email—the reason why you’re sending it in the first place. Make it strong, unmistakable, and absolutely clear.

This email from StackSocial, while not exactly personal, does have a great CTA. You can see it directly in the body of the email—the place where my eyes are first going to look.

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Conclusion

The bottom line is that email still matters and can be just as effective as many of the newer marketing tactics.

It’s easy to get distracted by creating a sizzling-hot Twitter strategy, building a Facebook group, or starting your live video channel.

Those are all great things, and I don’t discourage you from implementing them.

But email still works—although not on its own.

To truly get results, it’s necessary to follow the right formula and understand the mindset of your readers.

Your email newsletters are an effective way to communicate and market to your subscribers. If you write them correctly, you’ll see higher conversion rates.

But you need to get people to opt in to your newsletter in the first place. Give them a reason to sign up.

Before you start writing, make sure you have a clear goal in mind. End the message with a strong call to action reflecting your goal.

Don’t rush when you’re creating a subject line. Use words and phrases that are personalized and create urgency to increase your open rates.

Be consistent and deliver relevant content. Let your subscribers decide how often they want to hear from you and what topics they want to read about.

Use visuals and storytelling tactics to increase your conversions as well.

Make sure you measure the results of each newsletter to see if it was successful.

If you follow these tips, you’ll notice a drastic difference in your newsletter conversion rates.

Here is a bonus infographic that breaks down the anatomy of an optimal marketing email for your viewing pleasure.

Click on the image below to see a larger view:

The Anatomy of an Optimal Marketing Email