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Writing Email Newsletters: Best Practices

You might think that creating content for an email newsletter is just like writing for your print newsletter. The reality is that these two forms of media are vastly different. Read this article for advice on how to write effective email newsletters.

For more ideas on writing email newsletters, visit the Vertical Response Blog

Writing an effective email newsletter is an exercise in brevity and restraint. It's very tempting to dress up your monthly newsletter with attractive graphics and lots of articles - much like how you might write a printed newsletter. However, an email newsletter and print newsletter are very different forms of communication. The average internet user receives dozens of emails every day. With your newsletter you are competing for a person's attention. Long, elaborate looking emails tend to be ignored.

Below are 8 things to consider when crafting your next email newsletter:

  1. Keep it short! And link to your website whenever possible. Your newsletter should not contain the full text of each article (unless it's very short). Write a headline and lead-in paragraph, then link to your website for the full text. The idea is to grab people's attention quickly with easily digestible bits of information.
  2. Use a minimum of graphical elements. Focus on useful and informative content, not whether or not you have rounded corners on your table cells. E-mail is just not the place for creative graphic design, largely because the HTML and CSS support for it is so spotty. A few compelling pictures next to text is just fine, so long as your design doesn't depend on them being there to look good. Also, E-mail messages based mainly on graphic images often are caught or blocked by SPAM filters. Finally, most email clients turn images off by default unless the recipient explicitly turns them on (i.e. Outlook, Gmail and others).
  3. Be consistent. Decide on a standard number of articles and a standard format for writing articles and stick to it! Always use the same colors and placement of elements within your newsletter. This will help in a number of ways: you'll build "brand identity" with your subscribers, they will find it easier to scan and read your newsletters if things are always in the same place, and you can do more effective analysis of your statistics.
  4. Optimize for the preview pane. A large percentage of people only read email in their preview pane. This means that the top 200-300 pixels of your message is what people are going to see first. If all you have there is a large banner image, you won't get as many reads as you might if you include the titles of your articles in that space. Also keep an eye on the width of your newsletter. Under 700 pixels is best to account for low screen resolutions that some of your subscribers will have.
  5. Use a table of contents. Put the titles of each article toward the top of your newsletter and use anchors to link to the text of each one. This allows people to quickly scan the articles in your newsletter.
  6. Make your content scannable. Ideally you should have between 3 and 5 articles in each newsletter. More than 5 articles is just too long. Prioritize which articles you want to use and maybe keep some for the next newsletter. Use bulleted lists and boldface help make your articles scannable.
  7. Use links properly. Avoid "click here" links. Instead use actionable language such as "read more . . .", "donate", or "unsubscribe". If you find that an article is more than about 200-300 words, cut it off and link to your website for the complete article.
  8. Test, test, test! Send tests to a variety of email clients such as Outlook, Yahoo, Gmail, and Hotmail. You can avoid embarrassing mistakes by viewing your newsletter in different environments.

At Groundwire we do our best to create HTML templates that are optimized for delivery via email. However, the template is only part of the story - how you write your content can have a profound effect on deliverability and readability.


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