December 21, 2014

5 Tips for Creating Email Newsletter Content

Yesterday I covered some tips for building your list of email subscribers. DJ Waldow at Blue Sky Factory made a great point in the comments about setting realistic expectations by telling subscribers how often they’ll hear from you, showing them what your newsletter looks like, and sending a welcome email as soon as someone subscribes. All good ideas.

Today we’ll talk about writing content for your email newsletter. Here are some of the strategies I use as I’m writing for clients or my own newsletter.

  1. Build an idea repository. As you’re reading news sites and blogs, you probably stumble on some articles or stats that would interest your readers. I bookmark all of these links in Delicious so I can easily find them when I start writing that month’s newsletter. The same goes for any upcoming classes I’m teaching, articles I’ve written, quotes that have inspired me, or events I’m hosting that month. I should note that one of the drawbacks to the way I’ve grown my email list (primarily online) is that my subscribers are spread out geographically, so it doesn’t lend itself to promoting in-person events or classes. But it’s great for books or blog posts!
  2. Don’t try to tell the whole story. Email wasn’t meant to be epic, so don’t sweat it if yours is short and sweet. If fact, I’d recommend that approach. You can tease a few articles or links, but don’t include a 1,000-word article in the body of the email. Write enough to get someone interested so they’ll click the link and read the rest (this also keeps your email from getting too cluttered.) If you’re stumped for material, there’s no reason you can’t include links with attribution to other articles that relate to your industry. As the saying goes, “Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.”
  3. Include a clear call to action. What do you want your subscribers to do? Buy your ebook? Enter your t-shirt giveaway? Send you their feedback? Comment on your latest blog post? Make sure this directive is clear, and mention what they will get out of it. Also, “click here” screams old school e-commerce, so use specific actions as your anchor text. For instance, “You’re the expert! Tell us what think.” or “Enter to win a free t-shirt.”
  4. Craft an enticing subject line. I usually write my subject line at the very end to make sure that it relates to the content inside. I also focus on benefits like boosting your income, tracking your time, or winning something cool. Sometimes asking a question (like “Are you earning what you’re worth?”), keeping it short (“Surprise!”), or including the person’s first name in the subject line can be effective ways to spark subscriber interest. Nowadays people get so much email that cutting through the clutter is a real challenge. Be creative, and test out different ideas to see what works for your list.
  5. Before you hit send, ask “what’s in it for them?” It goes without saying (I hope) that you’ll proofread your newsletter and preview it in multiple email programs. But I also try to look at my newsletter through the eyes of my subscribers. Will they find something to help them grow their business that isn’t already on my blog? Or will they think it’s self-indulgent drivel? I include a monthly feature called “Rockin’ Freelance Resource” that highlights a website or other service in the hopes that readers discover something new from that.

KMN had asked about keeping newsletter content fresh in an earlier post. I’d say that in this regard newsletters are no different from magazines or other publications that publish regularly. Often special interest publications cover similar topics month after month and year after year. They keep it “fresh” by finding new experts who can give advice with a new spin (often similar advice just stated in a new way), citing new research or legislation that relates to the topic, or sometimes simply by packaging it with clever word play and artwork. In my opinion, it doesn’t have to be revolutionary to create value or help your subscribers learn something new.

What do you think? What makes you want to open a newsletter week after week or after month or month?

Want to learn more about writing and marketing for freelancers? Sign up for the Urban Museletter and get my monthly updates with tips and tidbits on the freelance life.

Comments

  1. Jennifer Margulis says:

    I think these tips are very helpful. Most newsletters are not doing it right — they are WAY too long. And often, even when I subscribe, I delete them right away. I think it's important to be clear, use big font, and not include too much (as you say here). When there is a lot to read through, I don't usually take the time. Photos and imbedded videos are good too!

  2. Susan Johnston says:

    @Jennifer: Thanks for weighing in! Photos are great, and in fact some email programs let you include animated gifs. But embedding video in an email is problematic for several reasons. I looked into it for a client several months ago, and the verdict was that it was better to include a link to a video on his website instead.

  3. ruth pennebaker says:

    This is an excellent list that reminds me to get to the point. It's so easy to drone on and on and forget who you're trying to benefit. Thanks for a great post.

  4. Susan,
    Thanks for this post. I am really glad that you touched on adding links to what you have already written. I guess I have a phobia of plagerism LOL!
    I guess it also depends on your subject as well. I mentioned before that I want to do an educational newsletter and even though some things are constant (Black History Month, Women's Month, etc.), you can still pull and LINK (thank you for this idea!) ideas that are fresh and current. Also, what do you think about Microsoft OneNote for organizing your work?
    And thanks again for this post!

  5. Susan Johnston says:

    @Ruth and KNM: Thanks for stopping by! I haven't used OneNote myself, but it sounds like that could another way to organize your newsletter material.

  6. DeneneWrites says:

    Great post, Susan! This is very helpful as I'm planning my next newsletter campaign!

  7. DJ Waldow says:

    Susan –

    Thanks for the shout out. I heard my buddy David Prince gave you the heads up about Waldow vs. Waldron. Classic. He's good like that.

    Just when I think I'm well-versed in the ways of email marketing, I come across a phrase like this:

    Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.

    Brilliant. Thanks for adding to my repertoire.

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community at Blue Sky Factory
    @djwaldow

  8. Precise and to the point. Thanks.