When I first started here at Campaign Monitor, I reached out to a number of the frequent readers of this blog and asked them about some of the challenges they faced with email marketing.
One of the most common challenges I heard is that it’s often difficult to come up with content for email newsletters and campaigns.
It’s a completely understandable problem, so I wanted to share with you how we plan, create, and send our monthly newsletter in the hope you’ll take away some ideas you can implement into your own newsletter building process.
The whole process of planning and sending our newsletter starts with ideas. Most of the time, our newsletter contains links to content we’ve published on our website—mainly in the blog—but also in the ‘Guides’ and ‘Will it Work’ sections.
We currently publish 3-4x a week on the blog and produce other longer-form content as well. So how do we come up with ideas for all this content?
I personally subscribe to over 50 marketing blogs via Feedly, and I’ll read nearly every post they publish. These blog posts cover topics such as conversion rate optimization, copywriting, content marketing, and more.
The posts I read on other blogs serve as inspiration for content on the Campaign Monitor blog. If I see a great tip on conversion rate optimization that’s also applicable to email marketing, I’ll repurpose it with an email focus and add it to our ideas list.
We curate ideas on a Trello board to keep them all in one place. One of my favourite things about Trello is that each board has it’s own email address, so whenever I read an interesting article that we might be able to use on the blog, I email it to the board with a few notes.
Not every idea makes it into production. Currently, there are about 50+ suggestions sitting there. However, the more ideas you have available the more you have to work with during the planning stage.
At the end of each month, I’ll sit down with Ros (our Community Manager) and we’ll plan out the content and newsletter for the next month.
This usually involves looking through the idea list and moving any concepts we like into the ‘Scheduled’ column. We’ll then assign them all a due date and an author and build out the Editorial Calendar for the month.
Once we’ve planned the material for the month, we’ll use that content to outline the Newsletter. We’ll look at what content we have coming up and choose the most relevant content for our newsletter subscribers.
If you’re a subscriber to the Newsletter, you’ll know we generally like to have an overall theme—so we’ll group similar articles together in the middle section of the Newsletter. Take the May Newsletter for example:
Once we’ve decided what content to add in, we’ll actually create a wireframe of the Newsletter, putting all the chosen content pieces into their respective places and drafting the copy. Here’s one of the first revisions of August’s Newsletter:
By wireframing the Newsletter as opposed to jumping right into creating it, we increase our ability to collaborate, move things around, change copy, etc. It’s also a much better way to plan out the email in the context of how it will actually look (as opposed to writing the copy in a Word document and trying to work from there).
We use Balsamiq for this as it allows myself and Ros to work together—even though we’re in completely different parts of the world.
At the end of the planning stage, we move on to actually creating the content. We plan the Newsletter at the beginning of the month, but don’t usually send until near the end of the month, giving us time to write and publish the needed content on the blog.
Once content has been published, we’ll put together the newsletter using Canvas. We create the basic outline of the newsletter first—using the placements, headlines, and copy we devised in the wireframe.
Then we’ll hand our work over to the design team to create the beautiful icons that make our newsletters look so awesome.
4. Test and send
When all the content and icons have been added, we do several rounds of testing to make sure the material displays correctly in all browsers and size formats.
Because it’s built in Canvas, it’s automatically optimized for viewing across desktop and mobile devices. However, content creators like myself sometimes muck things up: like writing button copy that is too long and forces the button to appear larger than we’d like on mobile.
To do this testing, we use the testing tool in Campaign Monitor. The tool shows us how the email will look on a variety of devices and email clients, and helps us spot any issues we’ve accidently created.
Once all is good, we’ll send it out to our newsletter list.
What you can learn from our process
Now that you’ve seen our process from start to finish, there are a few takeaways you can keep in mind when creating the next email newsletter campaign of your own.
Your blog content makes great email content
Email is one of the most effective drivers of traffic to a blog, and email subscribers are 3x more likely to share your content on social media than those arriving from other channels. So repurpose your blog content in your email newsletters to give your blog traffic a solid boost.
Don’t have a blog? Curate
If you don’t have a blog, then curating content can be a great way to maintain a regular email newsletter without the hours of work associated with creating high-quality content. Make a point of reading news and educational pieces about your industry and find a way to save the best pieces (Setting up a Trello board works well). Then use that content in your email newsletter (possibly with some commentary). Although you won’t be driving traffic back to your own site, the fact that you were the person that helped the reader find some interesting content will reflect positively on your brand.
Use wireframes to collaborate
We’ve found wireframing the newsletter to be a highly effective way to collaborate on the newsletter amongst the team. However, we only do this because we have multiple people (myself, Ros, designers) involved in the process. If you’re just producing and sending a newsletter yourself, you can jump straight into your email marketing tool and start writing. Tools like Canvas make it easy to create, edit, and reposition content as you work.
Implement design elements
We’re fortunate enough to have a great design team that can create custom icons for our newsletter, but if you’re not in that position, that’s okay, too. You can use beautiful stock images in your newsletter, or find some stock icons from around the web.
Test your campaigns
Don’t forget to test your campaigns before they go out. There’s been a few times when we’ve written copy that has botched the design of the email in different clients or devices. Try sending yourself a test copy and opening it on different devices and clients, or use design and spam testing tools to see how your email looks in various clients without the hassle of actually checking it on multiple devices.
By constantly reading and hunting for new ideas, and working through a simple, collaborative process, we manage to build our email newsletter each month without too much stress or hassle.
Building your newsletter can be just as easy. In fact, we challenge you to try out a couple of these tactics for getting ideas and simplifying your newsletter creation process. We’d love to hear if it helps.
Your turn: What’s your process for planning and executing your monthly email newsletter?
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