12 Guidelines on Engaging Customers through E-newsletters


1. Test before you send

Before you send out the bulk of your newsletter always test to see what it will look like in the most popular email readers: Outlook, Hotmail, Google Mail, Yahoo Mail and Apple Mail. For example, the latest version of Microsoft Outlook defaults to a vertical viewing pane, which usually means that anything over 500 pixel width requires sideways scrolling. Make sure that your email html is valid, this really helps with both rendering and deliverability.

2. Monitor, measure and adjust

Make sure that you are keeping an eye on delivery, open and click-through rates. You want to make sure each time you send a newsletter you can increase the number of people who read and act on your email.

A few questions to ask yourself:

  • Which ISPs are you having the least success with?
  • What is the best time and the day to send it?
  • How about varying the frequency of your newletters?

The subject line is the most important element of an email for encouraging people to open it. What tone of voice works for your audience and what fails? 

Content Creation

3. Constantly capture content ideas

Developing a regular newsletter can place quite a strain on your resources, particularly if it is not the sole focus of your job. So draw in others to help you. There is nothing worse than feeling the pressure of a content deadline for your newsletter, so create a shared ‘brain dump’ folder, or mindmap, where you and colleagues can capture ideas for stories during your everyday activities.

4. Give readers choice

Offer your readers the choice of both HTML and text versions of your email. If you do use HTML make sure the email is still readable and clickable without graphics. Over 50% of email applications or ISPs block images and 45% of email recipients rarely or never download images within their email preview pane.
Whenever possible create a version of the newsletter that can sit on your website for those people that have problems accessing it as email. Taken from Email Labs survey, 2005

5. Vary the content

To keep your newsletter fresh and attractive, vary the types of content you include, and try to make it interactive. Here are just a few ideas:

  • top tips
  • opinion and analysis
  • surveys and mini-polls
  • case studies
  • horror stories
  • how to’s
  • reviews
  • interviews
  • Q & As
  • feedback from previous issues

Remember, it shouldn’t all be about you and your company. Engaging content in a B2B context usually means focusing on ‘Help me do my job’; in a B2C context the focus should be 'Make my life easier, more enjoyable, fun'. 

Persuasive Design

6. Incentivise sign up

Too many people ask website visitors to sign up to an email newsletter without explaining why. What’s in it for the subscriber? Give a few good reasons why someone should sign up. Make sure it contains WIFM explanation – ‘What’s In It For Me’.

Provide an example of what the subscriber will receive. How about offering some extra free content, like an exclusive report or money off vouchers, if they sign up?
If you have multiple newsletters on different subjects make sure that offer the ability to unsubscribe selectively. You never know the unsubscriber might still be interested in some of your newsletters.

7. Optimise landing pages

Good landing pages are vital for achieving any email newletter’s objectives. For a comprehensive checklist on how to undertake this optimisation read ‘The Perfect Landing Page’ from my colleague in the Customer Engagement Unit, Dave Chaffey’s website. The Perfect Landing Page

8. Catch CRABS

  • Chunking: Help scannability by making paragraphs shorter than you would in paper copy
  • Relevance: Get to the point – if it’s an offer, offer it, if it’s a call-to-action, make that call – stick to what matters
  • Accuracy: Don’t set expectations so high that you can’t deliver
  • Brevity: Write your copy, reduce the word count and then reduce it again
  • Scannability: Most people won’t read your copy, so make sure it contains the correct ‘trigger’ words that will connect with your audience.

from: Total Email Marketing by Smith and Chaffey, 2005

9. Segment and personalise (beyond just name)

Smaller, more focused, email lists tend to have higher click-through rates and provide greater conversions. But who has the time to create hundreds of different bespoke email newsletters? Instead just create a single newsletter with a series of content pods to vary the content for different audiences.

Automate these content pods based what you know about the reader. Start simple – if they have just subscribed give them a welcome message with an explanation of what they can achieve with the newsletter. If they have been subscribed for a while why not reward them with a loyalty bonus?

10. Encourage pass on

If your newsletter is useful and interesting encourage your readers to send it to their friends and colleagues. If you’re using HTML make sure your newsletter design remains coherent. Many HTML newsletters just break up when you forward them which is no use to anyone.

11. Set list quality targets

Have the guts to purge your list after a dormant subscriber activation campaign. Remember people don't usually unsubscribe, they just ignore or junk you.

12. Integrate the newsletter with other communications

Remember that email newsletters should be just part of your communications touch strategy. We have found that newsletters arriving a couple of days before direct mail can have a dramatic impact on uptake and conversions. But don’t just think about email, what about events, news and press stories, personal and cold phone-calls? Experiment to get your optimal mix.

Bonus Tip

13. Give multiple reasons to click

Bear in mind that some people respond to images and some to hyperlinks. Don’t be afraid to use both to lead to the same item.