I’m not gonna lie, email newsletters can be pretty bad, but that doesn’t mean all newsletters have to be that way. I’ve read some that I absolutely love. The difference between a great newsletter and a terrible newsletter is the latter tends to include the whole kitchen sink while the former cuts out the riff-raff to let the good stuff shine.
That’s why I wanted to share this list of 10 things in email newsletters that simply don’t need to be there. As Henry David Thoreau would say, “Simplify, simplify.” The most effective marketers know how to simplify their process and take things away, rather than tacking on more -- especially in a world filled with clutter and crappy content. So grab your red pens and start marking up the areas you should cut from your email newsletters!
10 Things You Should Nix in Your Email Newsletters
1) Generic Subject Lines
A few weeks ago, I received an email with the subject line “June Newsletter.” What do you think happened with that email? Do you think I clicked it? Nope -- I clicked the “delete” button and sent it right to my trashcan without opening it.
Okay, I’m not normally that ruthless, but this particular email sent me off the deep end. As an inbound marketer, it’s brutal to see a subject line with absolutely no value proposition. Why would I want to click on an email titled, “June Newsletter?” I have no idea what the topic of the newsletter is, what content I’ll find inside, or why I should even care. And with a lame subject line, the only thing I have to go by is the company or sender name -- so that brand or person better be something I genuinely adore, or it’s going in the trash.
Instead, try adding value before the email is even opened with killer, specific, personalized subject line. If you want to keep something standard for consistency like “June Newsletter,” make sure you also add a topic edition such as “The Donut Edition” or “The Photography Issue” so people know what they’re getting before clicking through.
2) Multiple Topics
Yes, email newsletters are designed to include several links and calls-to-action. But that doesn’t mean your content should be a jumbled mess of unrelated topics. If you include links to every topic under the sun, readers are likely to get confused or annoyed by your newsletter and unsubscribe.
If I really care about cats, but I don’t care so much about sports, I have the opportunity to tailor what BuzzFeed sends me based on my specific interests. That means fewer unsubscribes for BuzzFeed and more relevant content in my inbox. Sounds like a win-win to me!
3) Multiple Goals
Before you send your newsletter, remember to ask yourself, “what’s the goal here?” Do you want to get more views on your blog posts? More donations for a specific cause? More ticket sales for your events? General awareness for issues in your industry? Pick one overall goal, and stick to it.
Of course it’s okay to have secondary calls-to-action such as social sharing buttons and the obligatory unsubscribe link, but it’s good to stick to one overarching goal. For example, Skillshare sends a newsletter that notifies readers about upcoming classes:
Instead of their calls-to-action screaming “view this post!” and “donate now!” and “buy tickets!” and “learn more about our company!”, Skillshare’s overarching goal is to get people to sign up for classes. Simple as that. For your next email newsletter, try sticking to one goal and see if you can get more bang for your buck.
4) Multiple Audiences
The number two reason U.S. email users unsubscribe from a business or non-profit email subscription is that the content that is no longer relevant, yet more than 80% of email marketers send the same content to all subscribers.
Are you picking up what I’m putting down? Segmenting your email list can actually make or break the success of your email newsletter. I’ll go back to the BuzzFeed example above. If I have a cat, but never play or watch sports, I would much rather be put on a list for cat-only people instead of a catch-all newsletter meant for everyone (cat and sports lovers alike).
It’s inevitable that you’re going to have contrasting types of people on your list if you use only one list. To avoid unsubscribes from people deeming your content as “irrelevant,” start divvying up your list by persona. If you sell products to small, midsize, and enterprise businesses, for example, you could try creating three separate newsletters for each one.
For each email newsletter you send, stick to one specific audience, one topic, and one goal. If you find yourself sending conflicting emails, take a step back and try breaking your newsletters up into smaller chunks. Sure, you'll be sending more email, but it'll be way more tailored to the audiences you're sending it to (which could spell even more success for you).
5) Unnecessary Links and Calls-to-Action
Email newsletters are already prone to chaos due to featuring lots of different pieces of content, so reducing the number of links and calls-to-action is crucial. You don’t need to include a list of links throughout the main body of your email, and then also throughout a header, sidebar, or footer. With every link or call-to-action you include, think long and hard about why someone would click that particular link over another link in your newsletter. Narrow your list down to the most important ones, and nix the rest.
Once you go through your newsletter and scan for multiple topics and goals, it’ll be a lot easier to identify which links and calls-to-action should stay … and which should go.
Think about it. What types of branded content do you like to read on the internet? Chances are, it’s helpful, educational, entertaining, or relevant to your life in some way. It’s probably not overly promotional or self-serving, screaming “Me! Me! Me!” So don't let your branded content be that way -- it’s simply not worth risking the unsubscribes. Instead, start putting more ungated content in your email newsletters and see if it helps to improve your subscriptions, forward rates, and website or blog visits.
7) Newsless Newsletter Content
You can identify what “newsless” means by asking yourself one question: “so what?” As you’re going through every link, every headline, every feature, try to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and question whether or not someone would care. Is it timely? Is it relevant to the audience at hand?
If you’re noticing a huge number of “so what’s” as you’re going through, try revisiting numbers 2-4 on this list. It’s possible your cat-loving audience would be wild about an article about Grumpy Cat visiting Disneyland, but your sports audience would probably say, “so what?” If Grumpy Cat were visiting Fenway Park, on the other hand, it might be a more relevant story for your sports fans.
8) Bland Stock Images
When it comes to email newsletters, images really matter. Yes, you might run into some issues where images don’t show up -- that’s why it’s important to add alt text to your emails images. However, the majority of the time images do show up correctly … and they make a huge difference.
In this example, you can tell which brands are using stock images and which aren’t. I know immediately that I’m most attracted to the emails from Netflix and Ticketmaster because they showcase people I recognize -- one is an actress from my favorite TV show, and the other is a band I’ve seen live and listen to often. If you have the option, you should opt for that personal touch in your images.
If you don’t have a photographer on hand (or famous people), it’s definitely okay to use stock images in your email newsletters. I actually think LivingSocial did a good job of capturing the right persona with their image of women drinking at a bar. Just make sure the images you use will really resonate with your persona and don't feel contrived.
9) The Serious Tone
Who says your newsletter has to be so serious? Have a little fun with it! Throw in some punchy headlines or funny memes and see how your audience reacts. You could even run an A/B test with a serious, professional tone in your newsletter versus one with loads of humor and wit to see if your audience enjoys it. (If you want some writing tips to help you loosen up, check out this free ebook.)
10) Excessive Length
Although newsletters are usually much longer than typical branded emails, you certainly don’t need to include a novel in every newsletter you send. The whole point of linking and including calls-to-action is to get readers to visit your site. Be quick and concise with your descriptions -- maybe even try one sentence and an image to get your point across. Allow your readers to scroll through quickly and click through when they want to learn more.
Of course measurement is always important with every change you make to your newsletter, and these “best practices” are by no means perfect for everyone. BuzzFeed’s cat lover list might enjoy super long emails, while the sports fans just want 3 quick tips. Although this list is certainly a place to start with revamping your email newsletter strategy, please be sure to always measure and iterate! Don’t just take my word for it. And if you want more tips on how to make your email newsletters rock, check out this free, comprehensive guide.
What else should you cut from your email newsletters? Anything I forgot to add to the list? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Originally published Jun 24, 2014 9:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017