10 Best Practices for Creating an Email Newsletter
How to create an effective email newsletter that won’t end up in the spam folder.
Email newsletters are a popular marketing tactic for a good reason: subscribers like them, and they’re effective. However, this is only true if marketers follow the right best practices. All email newsletters are not created equal, and it’s far too easy for businesses to cut corners in the hope of reaching a wider audience, only to be disappointed when their spam reports go through the roof.
For online educators, creating an email newsletter can be a valuable tool. But if you want to avoid the pitfalls of unsuccessful newsletters, it’s wise to follow these best practices.
1. Tell your subscribers what they’re signing up for.
First of all, to gain newsletter subscriptions, you’ll need to convince visitors to sign up to your mailing list. Few people will hand over their email address for no reason, and even if they do, they may be unhappy to discover themselves on your mailing list without their permission.
If you want to win over subscribers, make a clear and inviting statement about what your mailing list provides. It can be something as simple as: “To hear about our latest course updates and study tips, sign up for our weekly newsletter.” In one short sentence, this describes the frequency and general content of the newsletter. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.
2. Use reCAPTCHA and double opt-in.
Most of us know CAPTCHA as those squiggly words in a box that are hard to read and frustrating to use. A better option is reCAPTCHA, a user-friendly version developed by Google that uses check boxes or simple math problems (think: 1+1=?). These will limit the number of fake bot subscriptions and keep your lists healthy.
Similarly, double opt-ins are insurance to make sure the people who subscribed to your list actually want to be on it. Some marketers avoid them in the belief that the added step will scare away subscribers, but there aren’t many people who will change their minds or be overly deterred by verifying their subscription. And if they are, it’s probably as sign they weren’t all that interested in the first place.
3. Be transparent about how you will use their data.
Data transparency is a growing concern, particularly when it comes to online marketing. The Greater Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) from the EU stipulate that companies must be open with their users about how the data of EU citizens are being used. This could apply to small companies (which include certification businesses) if they have subscribers who are EU citizens.
To be safe, make sure that anyone who subscribes to your list understands that you will be using their email for marketing purposes, and that you won’t be sharing their data (which includes their email address) in any illicit way.
4. Test subject lines and introductions.
When you write your emails, use different subject lines with each newsletter. If you use the same subject line every time, your subscribers will start to ignore them. While you’re at it, test out different kinds of subject lines. Avoid using words like “free,” “now,” exclamation marks, or anything else that sounds like spam. Similarly, test out the opening line of your email to see what holds attention.
5. Make sure they are mobile friendly.
About two thirds of email in the US is opened and read on smart phones. This means that if your email is formatted in a way that doesn’t read well on mobile, it won’t serve your readers. To keep your emails mobile-friendly, avoid overly-formatted templates. Keep your subjects about 40–50 characters long, your images under 600px wide, and stick to single-column formats.
6. Use segmentation to deliver more targeted messages.
Email segmentation means splitting a list into sub segments to target more niche audiences. For instance, if you have two or three online programs on your site but only one general email list, you could segment that list so that if you wanted to send out a newsletter that was about only one of those programs, you would only be emailing learners of that course.
That said, you have to be careful with segmentation. You can’t take those users off the list they signed up for and move them to one they didn’t sign up for. If someone signed up for your weekly email newsletter about course updates and study tips and suddenly starts receiving daily sales messages, they’ll understandably feel tricked.
7. Balance your content to be 90% informational.
Email newsletters are an excellent way to grow a sales list, but they should primarily be about providing your subscribers with the kind of information that will give them a reason to stay. Very few people subscribe to an email list so that they can receive promotional emails every morning. Instead, they’re looking for something of value. That’s what you have to give them.
8. Let your subscribers adjust content type and frequency.
Give your subscribers an easy way to manage the kinds of emails they receive. If you’re using list segmentation properly, then they shouldn’t be receiving anything they didn’t sign up for. However, they may decide after some time that they want to receive fewer emails, or only emails on certain topics. Let your subscribers see which segmented lists they’re on, and make it easy for them to remove themselves from those lists.
9. Make unsubscribing easy.
There may come a time when someone who was once a subscriber no longer wants to receive your emails. You’ve probably been that person yourself on someone else’s marketing list. It’s not a good use of your time to continue marketing to people who don’t want to hear from you, and it’s likely to lead to resentment if you do. Your goal in creating an email newsletter is to have a list of people who want to hear from you—not one that’s full of disinterested leads who delete your emails unread whenever they land in their inbox.
To build the list you want, make it easy for users to unsubscribe. Put the button in the footer of your email, and don’t try to bury it in the fine print where it’s hard to locate. When they do go to unsubscribe, don’t burden them with questions or ask them to stay—just let them unsubscribe.
10. Deliver on your promises.
Creating an email newsletter is one thing. Sustaining it is another. It’s far too easy to put a subscribe button on your website and never do anything with it. Worse, you may collect a few hundred emails over the course of the year, but by the time you go to send them a newsletter they could have gotten second thoughts, changed email addresses, or forgotten they signed up in the first place.
If you’re going to do your email newsletters well, deliver what you say you will. If you say you’re sending a weekly update, send it once a week. If you say it’s going to be about your courses and study tips, make sure it is. And if you start to change your newsletter to something different, tell your subscribers and ask them to sign up for the new list. Those who still want to hear from you will come along.