How to Breathe Life Into a Boring Email Newsletter

    by Corey Eridon

    Date

    March 29, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    boring email newsletter intermediate

    If you've ever been on the receiving end of an email newsletter, you've likely been more bored than that shamelessly cute baby to the right. I get it -- when you're not sure what to write, but you feel like an email has to go out, why not send an update about products, services, and what's going on at your company?

    Unfortunately, the result is often a whole lot of generic, irrelevant content sent to a poorly segmented list -- and that results in low open/click-through rates and lots of unsubscribes. That means best case scenario, your reputation is dinged in your subscribers' eyes; worst case scenario, your reputation is dinged by Return Path and future email deliverability is negatively impacted.

    But there are awesome email newsletters out there. So what separates the triumphs from the tragedies? And how do you ensure your email newsletter is successful? This blog post will break down why email newsletters fail, and how you can ensure your recipients love every newsletter you send!

    Why Email Newsletters Often Fail, and How to Make Yours Succeed

    First, let's define what an email newsletter is, and what it isn't. An email newsletter is an email from a business that communicates announcements about products, services, industry, or general company information. It includes a mix of content, like event reminders, surveys, educational information about your product, service, or industry, and promotions and other offers.

    An email newsletter is not a dedicated promotional email that contains information about just one offer; a digest that simply summarizes a roundup of content you've published; a lead nurturing email (though a side effect certainly may be a better nurtured lead); or a transactional email that provides order information or prompts a shopper to complete a purchase. These other types of emails are important parts of your email marketing strategy, and you can learn more about them in this blog post .

    Now that we're all on the same page, let's examine why email newsletters often fail, and what you can do to prevent said failure.

    Poorly Segmented List

    As with any email marketing, the content in your email newsletter should be relevant to your audience. And that doesn't happen without list segmentation. The problem is, often email newsletters are sent as the catch-all content -- it's so generic, it can apply to everybody on your email list!

    Or no one at all ... because as we'll discuss in more detail in the next section of this post, generic content doesn't get you far. Your email newsletter should only go out to those recipients who are interested in the subject matter of the newsletter. I can tell you right now that there are people on HubSpot's own email list that don't give a whit (not a typo) about marketing automation, but are extremely interested in how to get leads from social media; and vice versa. If my newsletter focuses on the latest social media developments -- is it wise to send that newsletter to subscribers who wanted to hear about marketing automation software? I think not.

    There are two ways to remedy this. The first is to marry the interests of both list segments and write a newsletter about, say, social media marketing automation . The more list segments you have, however, the more difficult it will become to create newsletter content that applies to everyone. If you're facing this problem, the better solution is to tailor content to each list segment. This means either segmenting lists yourself and creating newsletter content that is relevant to that list segment, or letting recipients opt in to newsletters about a specific subject matter.

    Finally, whenever you create a call-to-action on your website for a visitor to sign up for your email newsletter, be as clear as possible about the content of that newsletter. Setting these expectations up front will help you capture those who truly want the content your newsletter will cover, and filter out those who will ultimately be disappointed with the content of your email.

    When properly segmented, email newsletters have one of the highest click-through rates (CTRs) of all email types -- far exceeding promotional or transactional messages. This is the first step you should take on your way to creating a successful email newsletter.

    Information Overload

    Email newsletters often suffer from a few types of information overload: either the breadth of information covered is too wide, the quantity of information is too overwhelming for any reader to actually consume, and/or the information is just plain not interesting. Let's break down how to avoid each of these problems.

    We'll begin with the issue of covering too wide a breadth of information, which we touched on in the first section of this post. If you send an email about too many subjects, it's too unfocused to be relevant to anyone. Let's play a game of "one of these things is not like the other" to demonstrate the concept further. You run email marketing for a clown college, and for your next email newsletter, you want to touch on the following topics:

    • Clown financial aid application deadline
    • Clown work study programs
    • Clown intramural sports leagues
    • Student loan options for clowns

    What would you leave out? The information about sports leagues, right? It's not that some of your prospective and current clown students aren't interested in sports clubs at the school, it's just that not all of them will be -- and doesn't it make sense to talk about what that entire list segment does care about (paying for school) and save the sports talk for another list segment that does care about extracurriculars?

    Just as you should provide your readers a focused subject matter in your emails, you should help them maintain that focus by limiting the amount of text in the email. Often email newsletters try to write an entire article about their subject matter -- but is an email really the place to detail what options clowns have for student loans? If it requires more than a couple sentences of explanation, a web page is the more appropriate venue. Write a brief description of the content in your email newsletter, then include a link to read more on your website so your reader isn't overwhelmed with text in the email. Not only is this easier to consume, but it also drives visitors to your website, provides opportunities for reconversion, and gets you more indexable pages filled with great content to improve your SEO !

    Finally, newsletters often suffer from talking about information that no one cares about, which usually takes the form of self-promotional content. It's not that you shouldn't talk about your product, service, or company -- that's part of the definition of an email newsletter. But there's a way to present that information that demonstrates value for the reader, instead of appearing like a relatively meaningless press release or announcement. Ask yourself the "so what?" of any announcement you're making. For example, why does it matter to the reader that you're launching a new product? Will it make them better at their jobs? If so, how? Announce the feature, and then explain the end benefit of that feature for your reader. If you can't think of an end benefit, nix the content from your newsletter.

    Competing Calls-to-Action

    In most email marketing, with every new call-to-action you include, the effectiveness of each is diluted more and more. So in an email newsletter with so many different pieces of content contained therein -- surveys, deadlines, offers, product launches, etc. -- it's easy to break one of the cardinal rules of email marketing: including only one call-to-action!

    So how do you get past this? The first step is acceptance -- there will be more than one call-to-action in your email newsletter. But that doesn't mean they have to compete with one another. Take a step back, and ask yourself what you want your recipients to do when they read your newsletter. What's the point?

    Let's revisit our clown financial aid example. Perhaps the email marketing manager decided the point of the newsletter is to show prospective students the options they have at their disposal to pay for school -- financial aid, work study, and student loans. These may all point to different pages on the website when the reader clicks through on the story, but the call-to-action on each of those pages could point to one all-inclusive guide about paying for clown college. The end goal is the same: getting clowns to pay for school. Each of those pieces of content, the pages a reader lands on when they click through, and the calls-to-action available to them on those pages all contribute to that goal.

    You can also use design to emphasize one particular story over others. For example, if the financial aid deadline is the most important part of the newsletter, it should act as a feature story and take up more room in the newsletter than the rest of the stories. In fact, let's look at how else design can make or break your email newsletter.

    Inconsistent Design and Layout

    Because email newsletters are a compilation of stories, many businesses change the appearance of the emails from send to send to accommodate the ever-changing content. It makes sense -- images could be different sizes from week to week, there might be an uneven balance of content, or you can't decide which content should be prioritized. But instead of making the difficult choices, marketers often just adapt their newsletter design to accommodate that send's specific needs.

    Don't do it! Not only does it take lots of time to edit your email template, but it confuses your regular readers. Use a standard format for every single newsletter so it is recognizable to your subscribers. That means the same layout, the same image alignment, and the same placement of links and calls-to-action so your reader can scan and find the information they want. For example, I get a weekly email from Urban Daddy called "The Weekender" that summarizes events going on around Boston that I might be interested in. Take a look.

    email newsletter example

    Notice how the format for each story follows the same structure, as does the overall email. First, I know I can scan the email for big, bold days; so if I want an activity for Saturday, I can scroll down to that day. And if I find one heading or picture that interests me, I know I can read a short blurb of copy, and find more information via the link in the story's footer -- along with date, time, location, and contact information. Following this consistency for every email means when I see it in my inbox, I know it won't require a lot of my time to scan and consume the information I want.

    Vague Subject Lines

    This is an easy fix, but such a common email newsletter faux pas. Often, the subject of an email newsletter is something along the lines of Weekly [Company X] Newsletter or Monthly [Product Y] Update . What does this mean? What will the reader learn? The interesting part of the email isn't the frequency at which the recipient receives it -- it's the juicy information you're divulging!

    Let's continue to work off the Urban Daddy example above. The subject line of that email is:

    UD | Waffles, $1 Oysters, and... Iceland

    They don't mention that this is the weekly digest I receive -- I already know that's what Urban Daddy sends me! Instead, they mention some of the best offers around Boston this weekend that prompt me to open the email. Just as you must demonstrate the "so what" within the email copy, so must you explain the value of the email with a descriptive and enticing subject line .

    Email newsletters have the opportunity to be chock full of interesting content, and as such are a very useful inbound marketing tool. So it’s a shame when marketers put significant time and effort into compiling and sharing their best announcements, offers, and content in an email newsletter, only to have it fall on deaf ears. Use these tips to ensure your next email newsletter is a smashing success and leads to an ever-increasing, dedicated list of subscribers that look forward to reading your email content.

    What components of email newsletters do you find valuable? Share your recommendations in the comments!

    Image Credit: Big yawn

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