12 Dec 2019 • BLOG - News
How To Plan An Effective Newsletter Strategy
12 Dec 2019
Newsletters are one of the most important parts of email marketing. Not only do they offer ample space for advertising, but they also help to maintain the relationships between customers and companies.
At first glance, the topic of creating a newsletter may seem to be one of the easiest elements of marketing: you open an email platform, write up your text, choose your contact list and send. Unfortunately though (or maybe fortunately – because you can get creative with it), it’s not so easy. At least not if you want it to be successful. If you want your newsletter to have the desired outcome, you need to nail its creation.
In this article, you will learn all the basics on how to create and send newsletters. You will learn how to develop a well thought out newsletter strategy, which criteria an email software must meet and how to choose the best design. We will also show you how to target audience groups with different content and how to find the best time to send your newsletters out.
The strengths and weaknesses of newsletters
The immense popularity of newsletters isn’t a coincidence. Email marketing is one of the most effective marketing channels. The average ROI is $38 for each $1 invested and 72% of customers prefer to be approached via email. Well-designed marketing emails sent regularly, like newsletters, guarantee constant website traffic, webinars and other event registrations and product sales. As newsletters statistically form the largest part of all marketing emails sent, they hold a great deal of marketing potential.
Creating a newsletter has a number of advantages, from the driving traffic, to saving cost, and integration with other platforms. Here are just a few:
Constant source of traffic
One of the main reasons for creating a newsletter is the regular website traffic that it generates. Organic engagement on social media platforms like Facebook is declining dramatically. Banner advertising is rarely noticed in the era of ad blockers. Written press releases sent by email will often be ignored by journalists and online editors.
Luckily, this is not true for newsletters. Emails that reach someone’s inbox are usually seen, and the likelihood that they will be opened is high, provided that the subject line is appealing and the sender is recognized (as you will learn more about below). Well designed newsletters containing relevant content will enhance your chances of the reader clicking on the call-to-actions for more information.
Another factor that is not to be underestimated is how much money you save compared to other using other marketing tools. Paid advertisements like banner advertising, Google AdWords, Facebook Ads and influencer marketing are considerably more expensive than newsletter marketing. The cost of a newsletter software is usually low. Labor costs are also lower as the newsletter is created and optimized faster than other media. Depending on the chosen provider, newsletter creation may even be free. This way, costs are minimized.
Easy performance measurement
The success of a marketing tool is based on whether it reaches the required relevance or not. In order to find out, performance must be measurable. Measuring the performance of a newsletter is simple. The statistics section of your email software provides you with all the information about open rates, click rates, unsubscribe rates, bounces, which user terminals were used to open the newsletter and when, which links are clicked on, etc. These KPIs will help you accurately calculate the Return On Investment (ROI) and produce target-audience relevant newsletter content.
Independence from third parties
When you create a newsletter, you are independent from other service providers and softwares. Publishers and influencers, as well as social media platforms and Google, are much more likely to increase ads cost than an email service provider is to increase the cost of its product. And even if they do, prices usually only increase by a small amount. With other marketing tools, increases are usually in the three, if not four, digit range.
Easily linked to other online marketing channels
Newsletters and other marketing tools such as social media can be combined very well. And last, but not least, newsletters can reach recipients anywhere. Whether they are in the office on their work computer, on the sofa at home on a tablet, or on the go on their smartphone, emails can be opened and read anywhere.
Targeted customer care
All the above reasons prove that emails are a great medium for targeting audiences and customer care.
Where there is light, there is also darkness. Even if newsletters provide many benefits, they also have a few shortcomings.
Absence of physical haptics
Unlike with analog advertising media like brochures, flyers, magazines, etc. there is no haptic experience with email newsletters. For instance, a desk calendar is visibly looked at all year round. Emails, on the other hand, do not have such a physical presence.
Ease of deletion
The fact that emails tend to be deleted more quickly and less intensively read than other media cannot be denied. There are many reasons for this: a full inbox, unappealing subject lines, content that is not relevant, etc. Although these inhibiting elements can be minimized, except for the first one, a 100% interaction rate can never be guaranteed. This is true not only for newsletters. but for all marketing tools.
If one weighs up the benefits and drawbacks of newsletters, then it quickly becomes clear that the benefits by far outweigh the drawbacks.
Summary of the strengths and weaknesses of newsletters
What Makes a newsletter strategy successful?
Planning is key to the success of any newsletter campaign and should not be overlooked under any circumstances. Take the time to define your strategy. When planning a newsletter, it is important to be systematic and go through different stages. This can be challenging, but a well-thought-out newsletter strategy will pay off in the long run.
Step 1: Set out your goals
The first step in developing your newsletter strategy should always be defining your goals. It can be helpful to review your business goals, visions, and corporate values before you do this: it will give you a good overview of your company and its main aims, which your newsletter should also be working towards.
To identify the aims of your newsletter strategy, you should consider why it is that you want to create the campaign. The more clarity you have on the reasons behind it, the more successful you will be. Ask yourself the following questions:
What do you want to achieve? Do you want to make potential and existing customers aware of new blog posts, special events, or products? Or is it more about, winning new customers and strengthening bonds with existing customers?
The goals you should focus on will depend on your company, as objectives can vary greatly across different industries and organizations.
Step 2: Develop your KPIs
The definition of specific KPIs is super important when planning your newsletter. KPIs are key figures that help you to measure the success of your email marketing campaign and, in turn, of your overall strategy. They are a reflection of how well your email marketing is performing.
Some of the key figures include:
- Open rate
- Click rate
- Deliverability rate
- Sign-up rate
- Click-through rate
- Bounce rate
- Spam rate
- Conversion rate
- Rate of new subscriptions, etc.
Note that KPIs will depend on the goals you have previously set. You should identify and evaluate KPIs that are crucial for achieving your goals. This allows you to analyze and evaluate your campaigns and objectively determine their success or failure, and to adapt your strategy at any time.
Step 3: Find the optimal sending time
When planning, you should consider the best time to send out your marketing email. The time at which you send out your newsletter is critical for its success. It is vital that you reach your recipients when they are likely to be in front of their computer or have their phone or tablet in their hands. But how do you find out what the best times are?
This can be achieved by analyzing your target group and carrying out various tests. Try and send out your newsletter at different times to identify when your open rates are at their highest and, therefore, when the majority of recipients read your emails.
You can also use analysis tools that show you when your target group is active on your website. You can use this knowledge to send out your campaign at the time when they are active.
The best thing you can do is to concentrate on analyzing your target group and evaluating your A/B tests and tracking systems in order to find the best dispatch time for your campaigns.
Step 4: Create content guidelines
The content of your newsletter is essential to achieving your goals. Setting up content guidelines ensures that your content sticks to your defined aims. So, your newsletter content should ensure that your goals are met, and they guide and motivate your target group to perform certain activities.
Consider what type of content is most appropriate for your strategy and audience. If you’re struggling for inspiration on potential topics, then we recommend taking a closer look at the newsletters of your competitors and successful newsletters from other companies (it goes without saying, though, that you should not just copy exactly what they’re doing). This is a good opportunity to find inspiration and ideas for new, potential content areas, products, and events.
Another method that can work well is a preliminary survey. This lets you ask your target audience what content they want to be featured in your newsletter. A target group survey can give you new ideas and inspiration. You can incentivize people to take part by offering with a freebie giveaway, etc.
Step 5: Choose your newsletter software
Once your newsletter strategy is in place and you know exactly what your objectives are, and which resources you need to meet them, all you need to do is ensure that you have the technical infrastructure to meet your needs. Essentially, you need a professional newsletter software to create, send out, and evaluate your email campaigns.
There are plenty of free ways to create and send your newsletter. WordPress, for example, allows you to send emails directly from your website’s back end, and many hosts provide an SMTP relay which can be used to send your newsletter. That said, we would advise against using these services, as they come with a high risk of damaging your deliverability and reputation.
You need to choose a professional provider that can meet your requirements and can guarantee both high deliverability and the security of your data. Of course, there are many email service providers out there on the market and choosing the right one is not easy. The old saying remains true: We really are spoiled for choice!
First, think about what features you need to successfully implement your newsletter strategy and what services you value most. You can get a good feel for this by making a list and then comparing the various newsletter tools against one another.
To make your life a little easier, we’ve put together a list of items that any professional email service should offer:
- A drag-and-drop email editor to create newsletters in minutes;
- A selection of pre-made and customizable responsive newsletter templates;
- Personalization, for the creation of individual email content;
- Segmentation options to divide up contact lists and target different audiences;
- Integrated image editing for easy image adjustment;
- Responsive subscription widget to build legally compliant newsletter subscriber lists;
- Intelligent contact management for efficiently dealing with contacts’ data;
- Optimal deliverability to ensure emails reach inboxes;
- A/B testing, to try out your campaigns;
- Detailed statistics, so you can optimally analyze your sent newsletters;
- A free trial, so you can verify that the newsletter software meets all of your needs;
- Compatibility with other systems and services, such as WordPress, shop systems, etc.;
- GDPR compliance and other certifications.
Step 6: Build a contact list
Before you can finally implement your newsletter strategy and create and send your campaigns, you need email recipients. Building a high quality contact list is often considered a challenge, but as long as you take a couple of factors into consideration, it’s not that difficult.
Stay away from bought lists
This is fundamental: resist the temptation of buying email lists. Purchased lists contain email recipients who have probably never been in contact with you, don’t know your company at all and don’t want to receive your emails. This makes the risk of your being blocked and ending up in the spam folder very high. The damage is significant, as your deliverability and reputation will suffer.
Win subscribers with a responsive sign-up widget
When building your email list, use a responsive sign-up widget connected to a double opt-in form. Double opt-in ensures that no fake email address enter your database and damage your reputation and deliverability. This minimizes the risk of being classified as a spammer by your recipients or their ISPs.
Add the sign-up widget to your different pages on your website, like your home page, blog, resources pages, etc.
You should also be sure to request as little information as possible when users are registering, as giving up too much data can be seen as a deterrent. To make sure you secure your subscribers as soon as possible, just ask for their email address. You can ask for further information later on. Additionally, you should highlight the benefits of signing up and show your users what great added value your newsletter offers them.
Top tip: Divide your email recipients into specific segments and guarantee that you actually deliver the added value you have promised. This allows you to tailor content to each segment.
Use landing pages as newsletter lead generation
As well as a responsive subscription widget, you can create special newsletter landing pages in order to grow your contact list. The advantage of a landing page is that you can align the entire page with the newsletter subscription and apply all of the optimization options that apply to landing pages.
Users visiting your newsletter landing page will not be distracted by any other elements on the website, as the entire focus of the page will only be on subscribing to your marketing communications.
This is the best opportunity to present all of the advantages your newsletter offers to your customers. Make it clear what your potential recipient will be missing out on if they do not subscribe. Ideally, you will already have defined this in your newsletter strategy.
The advantages of a newsletter could include:
- Special offers;
- Latest industry news;
- Invitations to exclusive events;
- Access to exclusive content such as e-books, courses, checklists, or guides.
Granting access to exclusive content upon registration – such as a step-by-step guide or a discount – will significantly increase your subscription rate.
And finally the time for planning has come to an end! Now you can create and send your newsletter.
Step 7: Creating a newsletter
A newsletter is formed by the following three components: design, content and legal information. We will discuss all three in detail below.
Newsletter design – the first impact
The first step to creating a newsletter is setting up a corresponding email template. You can use a template provided by your email service provider and amend it as necessary. Alternatively, you can upload a newsletter template you have already created or that you have bought from a third party. In this case, make sure that the selected layout is responsive so that your email campaigns will be perfectly displayed on every end device.
Our advice: don’t use several columns in your newsletter. As many recipients will initially see incoming emails in preview mode, the ideal width of a newsletter is between 500 and 680 px.
Follow the best practices of email design. A clear structure ensures that subscribers grasp the content and core message(s) immediately. The following layout is proven to work for classic newsletters, like the ones promoting new content. Insert your company logo in the upper section so that the readers immediately associate the newsletter to you. Add images in order to attract the readers’ attention, followed by a brief text and a clear CTA (Call to Action).
If you work with different types of newsletters, you will need to use different newsletter designs. Ensure you act sensibly here. The colors used should correspond to your CI. Combine these colors with large white areas. This ensures clarity and professionalism.
Clearly separate the upper section, main body and the footer of your newsletter from each other. Where appropriate, use images or color contrasts to carry out visual separation. Ensure that the embedded links have sufficient space between them in order to avoid erroneous clicks.
Newsletter content – the centerpiece
The sender’s name, subject line, and header are part of the content and are the first step in the creation of the newsletter content.
Choosing a sender’s name
The average email user receives almost 125 emails every day. In order for your newsletter to be noticed by your subscribers, devote most attention to your sender’s name.
We recommend using your brand name. Either choose a non-personal name like ‘Mailjet Marketing Team’ or if you are a sole proprietor, the combination of your own and your company’s name. In case you are a personal brand, only using your own name is conceivable.
Formulating a subject line
After the sender’s name has been chosen (and it should stay the same for all future newsletters), the subject line should be defined. Along with the sender’s name, the subject line determines whether or not your newsletter will be opened.
The tone and language should match the style of your brand. Be bold and try out something new. Amusing text, questions, citing the recipient’s name, or even emojis, all jazz up the subject line and draw attention to your newsletter. As you’re are probably very reluctant to be labeled as a spammer, avoid the use of “spam words” like free, only available today or only available now at all costs.
Writing the heading
The heading is the third text element that you customize. Together with the subject line, it summarizes the email content and motivates the recipient to pay attention to your newsletter.
Creating newsletter content
It is now time for the core text: the heart of the newsletter content. Possible content may include:
- Promoting the latest blog articles
- New freebies like guides, white papers, studies, etc
- Invitations to seminars, webinars, and other events
- Special marketing campaigns like advent calendars, yearly calendars, etc.
The following rule applies: an email usually has a key message. The newsletter is one of the few exceptions. You can draw attention to multiple contents here. However, make sure not to advertise too much content at the same time. Research has shown that the majority of recipients click the first call-to-action.
Therefore, you must always have your primary objective in mind when creating it. Place the most important information at the beginning or near the beginning. The more subscribers have to scroll down, the higher the likelihood that content further down will not receive any attention.
Images etc. optically enhance the newsletter. But beware! Too many graphical elements impact negatively on the deliverability rate as this is a favored tactic of spammers. ISPs know this well and often block emails containing large image components. So you should aim to have a balance between text and graphics. We recommend a ratio of text to image of 60:40 or 70:30 in favor of the text.
When you create your newsletter, don’t forget to add Alt tags to the images and scale them down to the size you want. Bear in mind, that some email clients block images so that subscribers just see a large white area.
Likewise, some newsletter software packages distort large images. In this case, it means that the images in question have to be modified afterwards with an image editing program. This costs valuable time. For newsletter solutions with integrated image editing programs, obviously, no external processing is necessary.
Those who conduct email marketing must adhere to certain legal guidelines. The newsletter must contain T&Cs and an unsubscribe link.
It’s also a legal requirement that the recipient has given consent to receiving the newsletter. So stay away from sending unsolicited marketing emails as these are legally regarded as advertising. The practice of double opt-in, mentioned above, avoids legal disputes, warnings, and expensive financial penalties.
Both also provide a threat if you (after May 25th, 2018) use a newsletter software that is not compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Step 8: Sending your newsletter – now things get interesting
Once you have created your newsletter, test whether it’s displayed correctly on different screens. Use the preview version to check how the email is displayed on desktop, tablet, and smartphone. In addition, send a test email to yourself and view it on different end devices to be on the safe side. If everything is OK, then send or schedule your marketing email to be sent out later.
Step 9: Analyzing and optimizing newsletters
Simply creating and sending a newsletter is not enough. In order to be successful (in the long term), you need to analyze the performance of your newsletter thoroughly. This helps identify your strengths and potential weaknesses and optimize your emails.
Track the following metrics for newsletter analysis:
- Open rate: The percentage of subscribers who have opened the newsletter.
- Click rate: The percentage of recipients who have clicked on at least one link (Call-To-Action).
- Conversions and/or revenue per click: The percentage of readers who have executed the desired action after left clicking on the target page (purchase, download, read complete blog article etc).
Use this data to determine the exact performance of your newsletter and make any adjustments to individual elements. We recommend always implementing these adjustments using A/B testing.
Want to know more about how to plan an effective newsletter strategy? Check out our Email Growth Playbook, a database of 60+ tactics to help you increase the performance of your email campaigns.
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