Article first published in August 2014, updated June 2019
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.
How we create and send a monthly email newsletter to over 175,000 subscribers
It’s a completely understandable problem, so I wanted to share with you how we plan, create, and send our monthly newsletter in the hopes you’ll take away some ideas you can implement into your own newsletter-building process. However, before we dive into the process we take here at Campaign Monitor, let’s cover the basics first.
How do I create a monthly email newsletter?
Creating a monthly email newsletter isn’t as complicated as some may think. Since I’ll be going into more detail here shortly, I won’t bog you down with too much information on the “how to” create a monthly newsletter. Instead, we’ll want to start with this basic outline:
- What are my goals/objective for the newsletter?
- Define the ideal reader/subscriber—this way, we’ll know what it is they’re expecting of us
- Build our email list if we haven’t already
- Ideas: what will be included in our monthly newsletter?
- Create our newsletter, but do it in variations.
- Test/send/retest/refine/send final
- Monitor our results and begin planning any changes we may need to make for our next month’s newsletter
How do you create a successful email newsletter?
What makes an email newsletter successful? It all comes down to monitoring your key performance indicators (KPIs) and defining what success means to you. This is why the steps above are so necessary. However, you’ll want to keep an eye on these KPIs at the very least:
- Open rate
- Click-to-open rate
- Spam rate
- Unsubscribe rate
- Bounce rate
- Email deliverability rate
For more detail on these KPIs, please read out Ultimate Email Marketing Benchmarks for 2019 guide. Below are some industry averages for you to keep in mind.
Source: Campaign Monitor
Now, I know we listed 7 steps for email marketers to keep in mind during the process of creating their email newsletter, but, for the sake of simplicity, we’ve combined some of those steps in order to cover our process for you effectively.
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 three to four times 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 favorite things about Trello is that each board has its 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’ll 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 me 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’s 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. This 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 have been a few times when we’ve written copy that’s 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.
Use yesterday’s campaign to inform tomorrow’s.
The process doesn’t simply end once we’ve tested our monthly email newsletter campaign and send them off to our subscribers.
Remember step 7 from earlier? Now it’s time to really monitor the success of our monthly email newsletter and see what’s working and what isn’t.
- Are people clicking our links?
- Are conversions being made?
- Are people even opening the email?
- Is the content sitting well with readers?
If we took the time the time to test our campaign, reevaluate, and test again before sending, then we should see some positive results. However, not every email newsletter is going to perform how we’d like it to, and that’s where using the past to help inform our future campaigns comes in.
We can’t move forward unless we’ve taken the time to study and learn from our past campaigns. That means we’ll have to take note of what did and didn’t work in previous campaigns and continue tweaking our process as we move along.
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 strategies for getting ideas and simplifying your newsletter creation process.
Ready to really dive into the creative process but don’t know where to start? Check out our 50 must-have content ideas for your next email newsletter.