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How to create a good newsletter: tips and best practices

Published by Incomedia in Guides and Tips · 27 May 2020
You want to send a newsletter to improve your communications and boost your business? Great idea!

A newsletter is a very powerful tool which allows you to keep your subscribers up to date on all the latest news and activities around your business. Communicating directly with your contacts increases your chances of turning them into clients, improving their image of you, and gaining their loyalty.

That said, there's an art to creating an effective newsletter. An art that you can learn, so let's start with the basics.   

What’s a newsletter?

First of all, let's clear a few things up. You've surely heard terms like newsletter, DEM, or transactional messages before, but are you sure you know what they mean and the difference between them?

To make sure, here's a quick reminder:

  • Newsletters are messages which companies send out to their clients at regular intervals to inform them about their activities. This can include a variety of topics: new products, company updates, tips, testimonials, events, training sessions, etc. In general, the goal is to convince the user to do something: visit the website, read the blog, sign up for an event, etc.
  • DEM (Direct Email Marketing), on the other hand, refers to sales messages: they are short-term campaigns sent out to promote products. Usually, these messages link to a Landing Page with all the information relating to the offer. The goal is to convince the user to make the purchase.
  • Finally, transactional messages are messages that give the user feedback: to confirm their registration, to send them a receipt of an order or payment, etc. Their purpose is to increase the user's loyalty to the service.

How to create an effective newsletter

The success of your newsletter depends on a lot of things: some of them relate to the actual layout of the newsletter, while others have to do with how you collect your subscribers. The best way to proceed is to review each step that leads to a user, and learn about the best practices to keep in mind.

Choosing the platform

If you're serious about using newsletters as a marketing tool, you can't send them through your normal email client, meaning the email service you use to send and receive your personal and business correspondence. There are two basic reasons for this:
  • Your newsletter could end up in your contacts’ spam folder, or worse, in a blacklist that would block all your future messages;
  • These services are not suited for managing email campaigns; using them would not only be too complicated, it would also be ineffective.

There's a simple solution. Use an online Email Marketing platform, which allows you to automate the steps for creating and distributing your newsletter, increasing your chances of escaping the spam folder.

There are many platforms available: we chose Sendinblue for our email marketing campaigns, and we're very happy with it. Try this service for free: when you sign up, you can upload your contact list and create your newsletter using a number of templates, then send up to 9,000 emails a month and monitor your campaigns’ performances in real time.

Collecting contacts

Once you've selected your platform, you'll need to create a database of contacts.

To do so, you can start by adding an online form on your website, inviting visitors to subscribe so that they can always stay up to date with your offers. Don't ask for too much information: the longer the form, the fewer people will want to fill it out. All you really need to know is their name and email: you can ask for other information later.

One tip is to offer something in exchange, a little gift to reward subscribers: this could include bonus content like e-books, reports, and guides, or giving them a discount code as a welcome gift. Offering something of value significantly increases subscriptions.

Registration forms are great, but you can also be creative: any occasion can be the right opportunity to do a bit of lead generation. Instead of a customer satisfaction form, include a sign-up sheet that clients can fill out in your store in exchange for a loyalty card. These are just two examples of equally effective ways to request their email.

Your goal should be to grow your database: the more contacts you have, the more chances you'll have to convert them into clients for your products/services. Even if your organization doesn't sell anything, the objective doesn't change: the larger your database is, the more people will learn about your mission and choose to support it.       

The most important point to remember when collecting contacts is that people must agree to receive your newsletter. Remember: using someone's email without their consent is illegal, and violates privacy laws.

Anyway, email marketing platforms can also help you deal with this: you can use them to create registration forms that include opt-in confirmation, as well as to import and add contacts you've gathered using other methods.

At this point, you can organize your contacts into lists depending on the interests and preferences they've expressed, rather than on the products/services they've already purchased. This is interesting because it will allow you to send only the most appropriate content to each list.

Another thing: don't forget to periodically clean up your database, removing users who haven't opened your newsletter in a long time, or those who asked to unsubscribe. Although nobody likes to see the number of subscribers in their database decrease, an optimized database will give you a better open rate (more on this later)  which will help evaluate how effective your campaigns are.

Establishing an editorial calendar

Great! Now you have a mailing platform and contact lists to work with. It's time to think about how to organize your activities in order for your newsletter to be effective over the long term. What you need is a strategy.

So before you go ahead and send your first campaign, take a moment to answer questions like:
  • Who is my audience? Who is the recipient of my newsletter, my target?
  • What am I aiming for? What do I want to get out of this? Website traffic, sales, better relationships with my clients?
  • What do I want to say? What will I send? Exclusive content, blog articles, special offers?
  • What mailing frequency can I keep up with? Daily, weekly, monthly?
  • What added value am I offering? Why should my contacts subscribe and follow me?

Having clear answers to these questions will help you set up your newsletters successfully and make sure that they become emails that your contacts look forward to, open, and read.

Your newsletter should become a regular appointment with your readers, so:
  • choose a fixed sending schedule and follow it;
  • select the best content you can offer;
  • establish a tone, a graphic identity, and a recognizable editorial voice
  • find a way to stand out from your competitors.

All done? Great, now you're ready to write your first newsletter!

Creating a newsletter

You made it: it's time to create your first newsletter. In order to have good chances of success, you need to pay attention to every detail, including those that may seem minor at first glance.  

The email's sender is a crucial factor in whether people will read the subject line and therefore open the email.

Make sure that your e-mails’ sender is clearly recognizable as part of your company/brand. To make it feel a little more personal, you can use a person's name, like your communications coordinator or president for example. Above all, try not to use “no-reply”. If you need to send out more than one newsletter, use different sender names and emails so your readers can immediately identify the different kinds of messages, for example: support@mybrand.com and newsletter@mybrand.com. Finally, remember that the sender is one of the most important elements when it comes to avoiding spam filters.

Together with the sender, the subject is the element that decides your newsletter's outcome: if it catches the user's attention and interests them, they'll open and read the newsletter; if not, your newsletter will go straight to the trash, and all your efforts will have been in vain.

When writing your subject, try to be clear, direct, and go straight to the point: inboxes display up to 50 characters, so try to communicate the most important information up front. Your goal is to be convincing: try using words that express urgency (ex: “today only”) or scarcity (ex. last ones available). A good way to engage readers is to use questions (ex: are you with us?), numbers (ex. 5 tips for...), or emojis (ex. Just a few hours left ⌛)

However, don't make any false promises that could undermine your credibility. Avoid caps lock and don't use excessive punctuation or words that can be flagged and intercepted by spam filters: free, gift, money, etc.

The preheader is the line of text that follows the subject and which gives the reader another preview of the message's contents: it helps them get a better idea of whether they want to open the newsletter or not.

Use this element to persuade your contacts: you have 100 characters available to highlight your main topics. Remember that unless you specify a pre-header, the first elements of text in your message will be displayed here, which may not be to your advantage.

When writing the body of your newsletter, always keep your audience in mind: this will help you find the best way to communicate what you want to tell them.

You can follow the inverted pyramid method: display your most general content first, followed by more and more specific content, until you get to the heart of the question. However, try to be clear and concise, and to lead with the most important content: not everyone wants to read the whole newsletter all the way through.

Emphasize the advantages and benefits of a product or service rather than simply describing its features: people are busy and want to know right away why they should be interested in something, and what they can get out of it.
Provide accurate and precise information, and if you have both informational and promotional contents, try to strike a balance: a good rule of thumb is that the “right” ratio is 80/20.

Make your newsletter easy to read by structuring your text into paragraphs, using bullet points where possible, and making links quickly identifiable, as well as creating a good balance of text and empty space and choosing an appropriate font size.

Your message should contain images as well as words. Select these images carefully, because they can do more than serve as graphic elements that make your newsletter prettier. Images can also draw attention, convey important concepts, support the text, and make it easier to understand and remember.

Choose high-quality images: ideally, you would use custom graphics created to convey professionalism and help you stand out from your competition. If that's not possible, there are excellent online services like Depositphotos that offer a wealth of stock images.  

Always optimize the image's weight before inserting them in your newsletter, and include an alternative description (ALT text) to be viewed in case the image itself can't be downloaded.

Finally, remember that a newsletter should never be made up of only images, because this considerably increases the risk of being marked as spam.

As we've seen, your newsletter has a purpose: to bring traffic to your website, to have people read your blog articles, to sell products, etc. That means that your entire message should be built in order to lead the reader to perform the desired action: this action is made explicit by the CTA, or Call to Action.

In fact, the CTA is the fulcrum of your message: you can display it as a button, a clickable image, or a hyperlink in the text to capture the user's attention and incite them to complete the action you want them to perform.

Pay special attention to your CTAs: they need to be clear, easily identifiable, and visually attractive. Use text that is concise, clear, and direct: don't be cheeky, but don't be afraid to ask either. Use action verbs when writing your CTA text. If you can, emphasize urgency or scarcity, try to offer a solution or highlight a benefit. Make sure that the CTA and the Landing Page it leads to are consistent.

When creating a newsletter, you need to define its visual layout: to do this, think about your objective, your audience, and the image your company/brand maintains throughout its communications.

In general, sending platforms provide you with an editor, with which you can set up your newsletter's graphics and content. They also have libraries of pre-set templates which you can browse to find the template that best suits your needs, and customize it.

A template should not only look good, it should also be clear and linear. The contents should be well structured, the key information should be immediately visible, and the CTAs should be highlighted appropriately. Users should want to open your newsletter, recognize it as yours, and easily under what you're offering as they read through it.

A responsive template is crucial: a significant part of your readers will open your newsletter on their smartphones, and they need to be able to read it comfortably.

Don't forget to include a few essential elements, like putting your logo in the header and legal information and unsubscribe links in the footer.

If you have a social media presence, you can also add buttons that link to your profiles in the footer or right above it.

Sending the newsletter

Your newsletter is ready, but don't click on the “Send” button just yet.

Once you do, there's no turning back: you won't be able to fix any incorrect information, spelling mistakes, or broken links. It's a good idea to do a test send and make sure that everything is correct, from the subject to the very last link in the footer.

Most of the programs for sending newsletters have a feature that allows you to preview what you're about to send. Use it to check that your newsletter also looks perfect when viewed on different email clients or mobile devices.

Once you're 100% sure that everything is perfect, you can finally click on the Send button, and immediately distribute that newsletter to your entire mailing list at once. Or better yet, you can schedule the date and time at which you want your newsletter to be sent.

Some studies show that it's best to avoid certain days and certain times of day: Mondays, for example, are the worst because working people's inboxes are full of messages that have piled up over the weekend. Unfortunately, there's no magic formula: think about your contacts’ daily lives and what might be the best timing for you. Then, all that's left to do is to try out different approaches until you find the one that works best.

Evaluating results

After all the effort you've put into creating your campaign, how can you be sure that it actually worked?

Luckily, you can measure everything: the sending platform will tell you exactly how many people you sent your newsletter to, how many received it, and how many opened it (open rate). You can also see how many of those who opened the newsletter then clicked on each link (click rate) to find out exactly what worked best and how many people you were able to lead to the Landing Page.

By combining this information with the information you can find in Google Analytics about the performance of your Landing Page, you can also assess conversions, or how many of the users who clicked on the newsletter then fulfilled your objective, like purchasing a product or reserving a service, for example.

All of this data is valuable information which you should collect and analyze carefully. In fact, it can provide you with useful feedback that can help you adjust your next newsletter to make it even more effective. Is your open rate disappointing, for example? Try writing your subject line differently. Does the click rate seem too low? Maybe the button's CTA isn't clear enough, or it's not eye-catching: sometimes, changing a color is all it takes to improve performance.

To find out what works best, just experiment and investigate: as you gain experience, you'll find the best way to communicate with your audience.

We'll end with a fun fact.

As you know, the worst nightmare for anyone sending out a newsletter is for it to be marked as spam. Spam refers to junk mail: unsolicited messages and advertisements, often with low-quality or even malicious content.

But do you know why it's called “spam”? Spam is the brand name of a type of canned meat that was very popular in Great Britain after WWII. In the 70s, there was a hit Monty Python skit in which a restaurant repeatedly suggested spam-based meals.

Inspired by the insistence with which the waitress in the skit pushed spam on the diners, unsolicited advertisements were nicknamed spam.

Luckily, after reading this guide, you now understand the best practices for creating excellent newsletters and making sure neither your readers nor their mail clients will flag them as spam.

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