Sending an email newsletter requires juggling a lot of moving pieces. You've got to worry about proofreading the copy, creating compelling calls-to-action, designing the email to work for multiple inboxes and devices, avoiding any spam triggers, and brainstorming clickable subject lines, all while staying within the confines of email law.
(Oh, and if you mess any of it up, there's no "redo" or "update" button.)
So if you're wondering how to make sure you won't miss any steps, keep on reading. Inspired by an old post from HubSpot Academy Leader, Mark Kilens, we pulled together a completely updated and comprehensive checklist for anyone looking to send an email newsletter. If you're sending newsletters, bookmark it in your browser or print it out and hang it up on your cube -- you don't want to miss out on one of these crucial steps.
How to Create an Email Newsletter
Here are 11 steps to create the best email newsletter for your business or personal goals.
Step 1: Figure out your newsletter's goal.
Before you start drafting a single word, make sure you're fully aware of the newsletter's goal and how it fits into your larger content strategy. (Have one in place? Go ahead, skip to the next section.)
Is your newsletter supposed to help you generate leads? Get more email contacts? Send traffic to your website? Figure out your goal and let the rest of your decisions flow from it.
This metric should be something besides opens and clicks, by the way -- it should be more closely tied with your overall marketing and business goals. Opens and clicks can give you an indication of the newsletter's performance, but they shouldn't be the only numbers you care about.
Step 2: Gather your content.
Once you have a goal for your newsletter, you'll have to find content for it. Depending on how early you set your newsletter's goal and how often you plan on sending a newsletter, you could be able to actively or passively find content. Active means you're going on the hunt for content that'll solve a specific goal. Passive means that you'll randomly stumble on it when browsing for other content, but realize it could fit in nicely.
When I used to put together newsletters, I tended to do a lot of active searching ... but I could have saved myself a lot of time if I were passive. Since I knew a newsletter needed to be sent each month, bookmarking links throughout the month would've been a great timesaver. Instead, I usually spent several hours clicking the "Back" button on my blog, hunting for content.
However you like to gather content is up to you, but great places to look for content are your company's blog, social media accounts, lead gen content, internal newsletters, and training documents.
Step 3: Design your template.
Make sure you've got an idea of how your newsletter will look before writing copy. That way you'll know exactly how much space you have to promote a piece of content -- there's few things more frustrating than trying to squeeze copy into too tight a space.
Your template doesn't have to be flashy or anything -- even newsletters with minimal text and color formatting will look great. The design just needs to make it easy for your recipients to read, scan, and click elements of the email. This means it should be mobile-friendly, too -- according to data from Litmus, 51% of all opens occurred on mobile devices in 2013.
If you want to get some inspiration for great email newsletter design, check out this post. I'd also recommend looking into pre-made templates if you're not familiar with designing emails -- it can save you a lot of heartache down the road. If you're a HubSpot customer, you'll have a bunch of pre-made templates in the email tool.
Step 4: Add in body content.
Next up: filling in the template with words and pictures. This will be the meat of your email newsletter, so spend time perfecting it. Most people keep the copy short and sweet to encourage clickthroughs, though some notable newsletter take the opposite approach. This post can help you with email newsletter copy if you need it. Be sure to add in some images if they can help support your copy.
Don't forget to edit your email thoroughly -- maybe even send it on to one of your teammates for a once-over. Remember, once you send the thing, you can't fix those embarrassing typos like you can with web content.
Step 5: Add in personalization tokens and smart content.
The best email newsletters I get feel like they've been written personally for me -- like a friend actually took the time to put together a newsletter with things only I would like. I open them, I click on them, I share them ... pretty much every time.
If you want your newsletters to feel that personal, you should do three things:
- Segment your emails and choose content that group of people will love.
- Add in personalization tokens. If your marketing software supports personalization, this is a really easy thing to implement that could have big results for your conversion rates. That being said, only add in a few personalization tokens -- you don't want to creep out your email recipients. ;)
- Also add in smart content. This is content that shows one thing to one part of your audience and one thing to another. An example would be a Smart CTA -- your leads would see a CTA for talking to your sales reps and your customers would see one about getting tickets to a customer-only event. Neither audience would want to see the other audience's CTA, so smart content will show only the right CTA to the right person.
Step 6: Choose your subject line and sender name.
Your audience may like different things, but we've found that having a sender name from a real person increased opens and clickthroughs. Try running an A/B test to see if it works for you, too. Whatever you choose, make sure it's something recognizable so recipients aren't confused as to why they're receiving your email.
Subject lines are a little trickier. Lots of things can help you put together a click-worthy subject line, including brevity and an immediately actionable value proposition. That being said, some really great marketing emails have been sent with the subject "Hey." Use the subject line best practices as a jumping-off point, then run your own A/B tests to see what your audience loves.
Step 7: Tidy up loose strings.
At this point, you'll have the email pretty much ready to go. While going through the steps above, I'm guessing you forgot two absolutely crucial things (I know I forget them almost every time I make an email): the alt text and plain text.
Alt text is the text that appears when a picture isn't loaded. Since not all email providers load images properly, you have to make sure the alt text is there so your recipients know what they're looking at. If you're including a CTA that's an image, your conversion rates will definitely suffer without alt text.
Some email clients also won't display HTML properly, which is why you need to make sure your emails look great in plain text. Make sure the links are easy to click and that it's clear what the email is about without the photos.
Step 8: Make sure you're legally compliant.
Before you hit "Send," be sure that your emails are all good from a legal perspective. The biggest law you need to worry about? CAN-SPAM -- it requires that you have a footer in your email with your address and an easy way to unsubscribe from emails, among other things.
Check out this post to get the down-low on CAN-SPAM -- you don't want to get dinged for sending out something unintentionally illegal.
Step 9: Test different browsers and email providers.
Email providers don't all read email code the same way -- what looks fine on Gmail in Chrome will look terrible in Outlook, for example. So you need to test out emails in the most popular browsers and email providers.
Step 10: Send.
The moment of truth! Click "Send" and then wait for the data to roll in.
Step 11: Analyze and iterate.
Fast-forward a few days: The data's in. What do you do next?
Check to see how your email newsletter performed on the goals you set back in step one. See which parts of your email got the most clicks, and which parts of the newsletter contributed most to your goal. If you have closed-loop analytics, measuring this all will be pretty easy.
Once you have that data, you have a direction to go in for your next email newsletter send. Whether your next send is in a day, a week, a month, or a quarter, you'll have insights to make the next newsletter even better.
What other tips do you have for creating successful email newsletters? For more inspiration, check out these awesome newsletter examples.