Published September 2015, updated June 2019
Maybe you already have an email newsletter, or maybe you’re thinking about starting to send one. Either way, email newsletters are the perfect way to communicate with prospects and customers on a consistent basis.
A newsletter is a mix of news, how-tos, and tips, but, no matter what, it needs to help your subscribers in some way.
Even though, as marketers, we have good intentions, email newsletters are often filled with irrelevant news, stale content, and confusing messaging.
Why email newsletters?
Email newsletters can help entice prospective customers, build relationships with existing clients, and help build your brand—all on a consistent basis.
While it’s true that subscribers could follow your company on social media, it’s been proven that 90% choose to receive email newsletters, whereas only 10% want updates on Facebook. Not only that, but you’re six times more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than you are from a tweet. All in all, email is forty times more effective than social media when it comes to acquiring new clients.
Unlike other types of emails, email newsletters are sent to subscribers on a consistent basis. When you do it well, subscribers will expect these newsletters regularly.
How to create email newsletters that people read
If you want to create newsletters that people read, be deliberate. Don’t just open your email marketing tool and drop in some content. You should have a basic strategy for your newsletter.
Here’s how to create email newsletters that’ll delight subscribers:
Think carefully about the email newsletters you open and read. You do so because the newsletters provide you with value, whether they provide discounts, help you plan a new project, or provide information that could help you do your job better. No email newsletter is complete without value. Seventy percent of email readers open emails from a brand or company in search of a deal, discount, or coupon.
When your subscribers sign up to receive your newsletter, do they know what to expect? If you promise that your newsletters are going to be packed with insights or deals, but those never come, your subscribers won’t be happy. Make sure that you’re very clear about what subscribers are going to get, then deliver.
If you have a wide array of subscribers across multiple verticals, don’t send the same newsletter to all of them. For example, if you sell outdoor gear, consider segmenting newsletters by sport or by gender. Go a step further and ask subscribers to sign up for the newsletter that best coincides with their interests. There’s real ROI in segmented emails. According to a report by DMA, a 760% increase in email revenue came from segmented emails in 2013, up from 55% in 2012.
Limit the content.
It’s not that you need your newsletters to be super short, but you should limit the content to what’s really important. People want to be able to skim their newsletters and digest them quickly. If you provide a small amount of content with a clear call to action, your newsletter is more likely to drive people to your website or blog to read more.
Provide clear calls to action.
The most successful marketing emails have clear calls to action that make it clear what a subscriber should do. If a subscriber is confused about where they should click, they’re unlikely to make it to your website. In our Campaign Monitor newsletter, we give our top and bottom content sections call to action buttons, but keep the blog post section more streamlined with text calls to action.
With do-it-yourself email marketing tools, it’s simple for marketers to create email newsletters that are visually pleasing and look great on all devices.
Look to our guide on designing deliberately for tips.
Email newsletter mistakes to avoid
These things may seem small, but they’re often the culprits behind newsletter missteps:
Repetitive subject lines. If every email newsletter you send has the same subject line, it’s going to be hard for subscribers to get excited. Change up the subject line every time you send to compel your subscribers to open and engage with your newsletter. Score extra points for using preheader text too.
Lack of focus. Some newsletters include everything that happened in a given week or month. Make sure your newsletter is laser-focused, giving subscribers what they really need to know.
Unclear calls to action. What do you want subscribers to do when they receive your newsletter? You need clear calls to action that make this very obvious, encouraging users to click through to complete the action.
Bad design. Many email newsletters aren’t mobile-friendly or have designs that are all over the place, neglecting to help move the reader’s eye to the call to action. Get inspired by the elegant designs in our Gallery from the Top 100 Email Campaigns.
Email newsletters that actually get read
It’s helpful to explain the principles of a good email newsletter, but it’s another to provide real-life examples, so read on for four examples to learn from.
This sports apparel company is as stylish with their email marketing as they are with their clothing. When you first open their email newsletter, you’re given something nearly every reader likes: variety.
There’s plenty to check out. They open up with imagery and product listings, giving you a sample of what they have to offer. Read a little further down and you’re given a link to classes that further tie into the subject of an active, healthy lifestyle. Combining image, multiple product listings, and calls to action, REI gives you everything you need in a newsletter subscription email.
Why people read it:
Variety in presentation. The aforementioned variety gives every type of reader something to check out. There are multiple product categories linked and the class link below also ensures the newsletter isn’t solely focused on sales.
Simple but inviting design. The unique design of the email is inviting, but not too extravagant. It’s the unique combination of colors, images, and text that make the email feel balanced while remaining focused on its given field.
Product Hunt provides daily deals on software products, but it actually began as an email list. Today, their email newsletter has over 70,000 subscribers. “Part of the appeal of Product Hunt emails, for me, would be their minimalist approach, both in their platform format and their emails,” says Selim Nehdi, Partnerships Manager for MassChallenge UK. “The newsletter are clean, easy to skim, and straight to the point. I can get the gist of any given product in three seconds or less.”
Why people read it:
Short, concise, easy to scan. Product Hunt’s newsletters don’t have tons of copy, making them easy to scan.
Perfectly set expectations. Many of Product Hunt’s subscribers consider themselves “addicted” to this newsletter. That’s because they’re getting exactly what they signed up for: great daily deals on software products.
BuzzFeed has many newsletters, but its food newsletter is particularly popular. Filled with beautiful images, seasonal content, and healthy tips, the BuzzFeed Food newsletter gets opened over and over again.
Why people read it:
Compelling images. When a subscriber opens a BuzzFeed Food newsletter and sees a gorgeous dish they could make for an upcoming meal, it’s impossible not to click.
A focus on great content. The reason BuzzFeed is so successful is because its staff consistently creates content that people want to read. The writers and marketers know how to speak to their audience, and the newsletter reflects that.
Hyper-targeted. BuzzFeed has tons of content, from food to style, to news, to books, but the food newsletter is hyper-targeted to those who are interested in getting recipes and have opted in to food-related content.
Reddit is known for their curated content, and their newsletter is no exception. Reddit’s newsletter promises subscribers content curated, packaged, and delivered to their inbox once a week.
Why people read it:
The cream of the crop. Reddit is an amazing site full of all types of user-generated content, but it’s so immense that it can be hard to find what you want. This weekly email newsletter provides curated content, so subscribers only receive the cream of the crop.
Short and concise. With so much content, Reddit’s marketing team could fill newsletter after newsletter. Instead, they make their newsletter short and concise so that their audience can easily scan it and click on what they’re most interested in.
It’s often said that the best formula for email newsletter subscription increases is to educate, not promote. For some companies, promotion is something they must do. Others prefer to take an approach on the opposite end of the spectrum. If they do have a good or service to offer, it’s an afterthought. Insight and information are what they’re putting in their subscribers’ inboxes.
This newsletter opens up with a catchy image right below the title text, which is also cleverly designed. The message comes through in a unique manner and the follow-up is a neatly organized numbered list. At the very bottom, there’s a simple call to action presented in the form of a nice graphic with a relevant quote. It’s a perfect balance, and that balance is what keeps you hooked.
Source: Austin Kleon
Why people read it:
It grabs your attention. The clever use of imagery immediately makes readers curious, effectively enticing them to continue on.
The format is perfect. From the use of imagery at the beginning and end to the neatly numbered list in the middle, this newsletter has a format that keeps people reading on. Subscribers feel that they can comfortably digest all the information within.
This is an example of a newsletter from a content creator known for engagement. If you want to increase newsletter signups and maintain existing subscribers, you should get straight to the point with your content. People who are signing up to receive a newsletter subscription email from Yelp know what they’re getting, and that’s a very good thing.
You get a nice format in that it looks almost like a webpage. Yelp users will feel right at home. The location reviews are selected with a theme, so each newsletter brings cohesion yet variety.
Why people read it:
A familiar format. Users who are reading the newsletter will feel like they’re reading reviews straight from Yelp’s site.
Convenience: It’s not only convenient to get reviews sent straight to your inbox, but it’s a great way to find out about the most exciting destinations out there.
Your customers want to hear from you. Seventy percent of people subscribe to emails from their favorite brands. Once they’ve subscribed, it’s your job to deliver, creating email newsletters that excite, delight, and ultimately deliver ROI.
Follow the tips in this post, (and this one) to create email newsletters that your subscribers want to read.