To get you started on the path to e-mail newsletter creation, I collected the 6 P’s of e-mail newsletter production. Let’s make some newsletters that get opened, enjoyed, and most importantly, acted upon.
Is your list imported from a few years ago? Then you probably want to make sure the folks on the list still want to receive your e-mails. Always get permission by making sure your online contacts have opted into your list. The double opt-in method is the best for online sign ups. For offline contacts, make sure your database has information about when, where, and how the contact was added to the list. Even if you have permission of your recipients, they might not want to be bombarded by endless offers .
- Make sure it's relevant. When you are excited about something, you want to tell everyone. Exercise restraint by asking, “Does the information in the e-mail have valuefor your recipients?” This question is more important than it was years ago because e-mail providers and ISPs have added “relevance” in their definition of spam.
- Make unsubscribing easy. Although it’s tempting to hide that unsubscribe button in wee fonts at the bottom of the page, let’s think about your own e-mail subscriptions. Making it hard for recipients to unsubscribe just makes people leave with a less positive view.
Decide your point before you begin. Newsletters often have value-added content, like recipes, question and answer segments, and personal testimonials. Make sure your supporting content helps support your point.
What’s your message? Is the e-mail promotional? Instructional? Academic or practical? Does it need to generate sales? Are you aiming for list sign-ups or referrals? Sadly, the answer can’t be, “All of them.” Pick one and act on it.
Another reason for having a point is measurement. It’s easier to evaluate whether or not this was a successful e-mail drop when you have only one criteria for success.
An e-mail inbox is a busy place for a newsletter to arrive. Your recipient probably not been eagerly anticipating your newsletter—make yours worth engaging with.
When you can’t have only one point, and you need to have several, ask “What do you want people to do when they get this e-mail?” Determine why someone would want your e-mail, and then tell them what that is immediately.
Once you’ve determined what action you want your recipient to take, prioritize the other information. Most people are only willing to read a newsletter that requires no more than 3 scrolls, keep it short and snappy.
You may not have to design an e-mail from scratch. There are basic layouts that work best for html. These basic html layouts are available from all kinds of designers:
The trickiest part of design is that there are over a dozen major e-mail clients with code rendering all over the map. In Outlook, Gmail and most major e-mail clients, images are not shown by default. Readers have to click a link or button to download and display them.
A basic understanding of HTML will help you. Using nested tables and inline CSS will help get your e-mail into more inboxes than spam folders.
No matter how perfect your images are, if they can’t be seen, they may have a negative impact on how the message is received. To stay on top of e-mail client default image settings, check out this list from Campaign Monitor.
How do you work around image restrictions? Here are a few ideas:
- Use text instead of images for important content like links, calls to action and headlines.
- Add a text-based link to a hosted Web version of your e-mail.
- Don’t use PNG images if you have the option.
- Ask recipients to add you to their safe list or address book.
- Use the alt attribute on all images, just in case.
- Test your design with no images or images turned off.
Scheduling e-mail newsletters requires committing resources. It’s just not something you can pull together in your free time. Plan time for the editorial process, for pulling together multiple content sources, design time and production time. You will save more time by allocating time for statistics evaluation. Give yourself a day to review the data from the last drop to tweak and edit for your next send.
How do you know how much is too much? Test. And test again. Did you send your newsletter three weeks in a row and drive up unsubscribes? Try every other week. See what frequency drives engagement.
Remember that most recipients only subscribe to twelve or so e-mail newsletters at a time. If you’re only one of twelve, you’re lucky to be there.
If you have a diverse list, you’ll want to test your newsletter in as many clients as possible. Make sure every link is working and that all personalization and fall back terms work as intended. Send test e-mails to people who can give you honest feedback.
Always include a plain text version. Some people don’t like HTML e-mail. They might be using their phone, using older clients or have a locked down system. Provide a plain text alternative to every e-mail, so that the reader’s own server or program can choose which version to display.
Have you tested it in a mobile? More and more people only receive e-mail through their mobile phone and it introduces a whole new world of room for formatting error.
More resources for e-mail newsletter design here:
What have you learned from e-mail newsletter design?