Article first published in August 2016, updated July 2019
Newsletters are a staple in the email marketing world because they can be very effective.
Why have newsletters stood the test of time? A newsletter keeps subscribers informed about your business or product without being overly “salesy.” It gives subscribers a chance to engage with your business on their terms and provides a level of brand awareness that’s valuable to your business.
And here’s the best part: Subscribers want your newsletter. When consumers were asked how they’d like to receive updates from a brand, 90% chose newsletters, while 10% chose Facebook, according to Nielsen research.
How do I start an email campaign?
So, how does a brand go about starting an email campaign? It all begins with a plan, and all marketing plans begin in the same place—knowing your target audience. There’s no point in sending out your newsletter to those who may not want it, so start with defining your audience, their needs and the best way to give them the answers they’re looking for.
Once you know your audience, you can move on to building your email list. This can be done by adding signup forms to your website and directing your social media followers to the signup as well. After you’ve gotten your list built, you can start designing your first campaign. Here are some helpful tips all marketers should keep in mind:
- Structure your newsletter for easy reading
- Use visuals, such as image, to help boost reader engagement
- Personalize your newsletter to your readers and their preferences
How can I improve my email marketing campaign?
If you’re not seeing the results you’re looking for, you need to find out what isn’t settling well with your readers first. This is why testing your email newsletter before you send it is so vital. Running your newsletter through an A/B test can mean the difference between reader engagement or being trashed.
When you run an A/B test, you’re testing different elements of your newsletter in two variations, sending variation 1 to test group A and variation 2 to test group B. Once you do, you’ll start to monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) to see which one performs better. Some KPIs to watch include:
- Open rate
- Click-through rate
- Bounce rate
- Unsubscribe rate
Whichever version hits the best benchmarks is the one that sat well with your readers and is what you should send out to the rest of your email list.
At Campaign Monitor, we have some amazing customers that send out-of-this-world newsletters. Whether you’ve sent dozens of newsletters in the past or are just starting out, here’s a rundown of some excellent email newsletters, along with a lesson you can learn from each.
Excellent newsletter #1: Rolling Stone
: Organize your newsletter into sections
Your subscribers are busy, so it’s important to organize your content to accommodate their go-go-go lifestyle. The best solution is to organize your content into sections, similar to a newspaper. With content “chunked out” your subscribers can scan the titles and images for content that’s of interest to them.
Campaign Monitor customer, Rolling Stone, reaches out to its subscribers with a regular, well-organized newsletter. In the example below, there are five articles featured, but each one has its own space, title, and image. It’s easy on the eye and follows a simple top-down flow.
Excellent newsletter #2: Red Bull
: Prioritize content
Research shows humans now have an average attention span of eight seconds, which is shorter than a goldfish. Given this information, it’s a good idea to prioritize your newsletter content.
In other words, put your best content on top. If subscribers don’t scroll down, at least you know they had a chance to check out your best stuff.
The best article shouldn’t just sit at the top of the newsletter: It should also stand out in some way. Red Bull, for example, gives its headline piece a larger image and centers it on the top.
Excellent newsletter #3: BuzzFeed
: Write a killer “teaser” for each article
You’ve probably noticed that none of the newsletter examples provide the full text of an article: Instead, there’s a small description of the article with a call to action that drives traffic back to a website or blog where the entire article lives.
The small description is important. Your job is to write something that “teases” the reader, giving them a unique piece of information that encourages him or her to click on the story.
Excellent newsletter #4: Academy of American Poets
: Offer a good mix of content
Variety isn’t just the spice of life; it’s the spice of a newsletter, too. Your newsletter should have a good variety of content for subscribers to choose from.
Campaign Monitor customer, Academy of American Poets, knows how to keep their content fresh and diverse. Take a look at the example below. Their newsletter features a list of summer-themed poetry, a feature piece on a judge that will participate in an upcoming competition, and more.
Excellent newsletter #5: Penguin Random House
: Add personalized content
Are you creating one newsletter and sending it to all of your subscribers? Take a page out of the Penguin Random House playbook and send more personalized newsletters.
Based on the information that you collect from your subscribers, you can segment your list and provide personalized content.
For example, the newsletter below features books based on the subscriber’s interests. How does the publisher know which books the subscriber likes? In this case, Penguin Random House sent the subscriber a link to a preference center to select the most appealing book genres. Using that information, all of the newsletters that this subscriber gets are now customized.
As you probably know, personalized emails get 6x the transaction rates, so it pays to tailor content to your audience.
Excellent newsletter #6: Apartment Therapy
: Use compelling images
The tips above have focused on content, which is certainly important for a newsletter. However, images shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, images can be just as important as the copy in your email newsletter.
Research shows that content with relevant images gets 94% more views than just blocks of text. Images draw your subscribers in and encourage them to take a closer look at your articles. They also allow readers to make an emotional connection with the content. For instance, a picture of a concert might make a subscriber think of a great time they had at a local show.
Of course, the main takeaway here is “relevant images.” In other words, the images you select should complement the content. (If you’re having trouble finding relevant images, check out this list of eight free sites to get images for your newsletter.)
Apartment Therapy does a great job of selecting images for its newsletter. Each image is crisp, clear, and directly related to an article in the newsletter.
Excellent newsletter #7: Fashion Magazine
: Create a clear call to action for each article
Each article in your newsletter should have a clear call to action so you can drive traffic to your website or blog where the content lives.
As you might expect, one of the most common calls to action in newsletters is “Read More,” which directs the subscriber to the full-page article on your site. Fashion Magazine uses “Read More” throughout its email newsletter. The call to action is also in a bright color that stands out: Another great idea businesses should mimic. Check out these 75 calls to action to use in your email newsletters and campaigns.
Excellent newsletter #8: Virgin Experience Days
: Select a dynamic color scheme
Don’t underestimate the overall look of your newsletter. Take some time to pick a color scheme that’s appealing and coordinates well with your brand. Many businesses use the colors of their logo.
Take a look at a newsletter from Campaign Monitor customer, Virgin Experience Days. The company uses red, which is their main brand color, throughout the newsletter, to make each offer pop.
Creating an excellent email newsletter
We’ve seen some excellent examples of email newsletters and each one has taught us valuable points that email marketing teams can use not only to create stellar newsletters, but that can be used throughout their marketing content. Let’s take a moment to sum up what we’ve learned:
- Organization is key: Properly organizing your newsletter into sections makes it easier for the reader to scan.
- Prioritize your content: Let’s face it, we as humans don’t have much of an attention span, so make sure you are prioritizing your content with the most important information first, so it doesn’t get missed.
- Don’t be afraid to “tease” the readers: Remember that short attention span? Writing cleaver teasers for each article in your newsletter is a great way not only to catch the reader’s attention but entice them to click-through and read more.
- Mix it up: Make sure to use a variety of content in your newsletters so that they don’t get stale.
- Personalization goes a long way: Readers want relevant content, which means personalizing the content to them, not to you.
- Use compelling imagery: Images play a significant role in helping with the flow of your content by breaking up large blocks of text. They also help pique the reader’s interests to help keep them reading longer.
- Have a clear CTA: Have a clear call to action for each of your articles. This is the best way to get readers from your newsletter to your website, bettering your chances of conversion.
- Design matters: Making good use of a dynamic color scheme, eye-catching imagery and CTA’s that pop play a massive role in keeping your readers on the page and encouraging them to click through to your website for more information.
These eight excellent email newsletters were all selected for a reason. Each one has something unique to teach us about creating an effective email newsletter. After all, newsletters are still one of the most relevant and engaging emails you can send.
Want more tips on creating an effective email newsletter? Make sure to check out our guide on how to update your email newsletter design to increase clicks.