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How To Build a Successful Email Newsletter

Build-A Successful-NewsletterOver the last week I’ve been talking about Newsletters a little. We’ve covered reasons start a newsletter and how I’ve increased my newsletter subscriber numbers 10 fold.

Today I want to finish this informal mini-series on newsletters off with some tips for actually writing a newsletter.

How to Write an Email Newsletter

Let me say up front that much of what I write below could equally be applied to ‘how to write a successful blog’ (or in fact could be applied to many mediums of communication).

1. Define Your Goals for the Newsletter

This is perhaps the most important thing that I’ll say in this post because virtually everything else flows from this.

What do you want to achieve with this email newsletter? Is it about:

  • driving traffic to your blog?
  • developing community among your readers?
  • building a list to ‘sell’ to?
  • reinforcing your brand?
  • making money from advertising sold in the newsletter?
  • Something else?

When you subscribe to a few different bloggers newsletters it becomes quite evident that different bloggers are taking quite different approaches. For example Chris Brogan’s newsletter is much more about providing his subscribers with lots of new original content (it is well worth subscribing to if you’re into social media and building online communities). He explores a theme each week. On the other hand my photography newsletter is more about highlighting key articles and discussions on my blog and forums from the last week.

The reason our newsletters are so different is that we have different goals.

My main goal is simply to drive traffic back to my blog. I find that many of my readers are not using RSS (quite a few do but there is a sizable proportion of them that have never heard of it) and so my newsletter is a way of hooking these readers into ‘subscribing’ and reminding them to check out fresh content each week.

Chris on the other hand seems to be using his newsletter to give his most committed readers something extra. This builds and reinforces his brand, builds community and gives those of us who subscribe a feeling of being on the inside of what he’s thinking (scary as that might sound).

So work hard on defining what you want to achieve with your newsletter. It can have numerous goals (for example I use mine to drive affiliate sales from time to time and to build a sense of community) but keep your primary goal as the main focus.

2. Communicate What Your Newsletter is About to Potential Subscribers

I subscribed to a newsletter a couple of weeks ago because on the subscription page it said that it gave weekly unique, insider tips from the blogger. However in two weeks I’ve had 6 emails and they’ve all been affiliate promotions (with no insider ‘tips’).

There’s nothing wrong with promoting affiliate products in a newsletter but if you promote it as having original content – provide it. If your newsletter is going to be largely updates form your blog and a way for readers to stay in touch with that don’t hide that fact. It is better to get fewer subscribers who are expecting what you’ll deliver than having people subscribe to find out that you’ve tricked them into joining your list.

3. Establish a Voice and Have Consistency

There are no real ‘rules’ when it comes to how to write a newsletter. In the same way that you can write in almost any ‘voice’ on a blog you can write in almost any style in a newsletter. I personally try to keep my newsletter ‘voice’ pretty similar to my blog (personal, as though I’m speaking to someone) and I find this effective (it means that those who enjoy your blog will enjoy your newsletter).

My main advice with developing your voice in a newsletter is not to chop and change it too much. As with a blog – readers come to expect a certain type of communication from you and so when you change things up a lot it can take away from what you might have already built up in terms of connection with readers.

This doesn’t mean you can experiment and/or evolve your voice over time but it does mean that you should try to have some sort of consistency in what you present to readers. This extends to the design and flow of your newsletter also. I try to stick to the one format over time and find that readers enjoy this consistent approach.

A Comment about ‘Hype’ – One important tip to note when it comes to thinking about your ‘voice’ is to avoid the ‘hyped up’ style that has been used for years by a lot of internet marketers. I’m sure a small number of people still get away with this but I find that most users of the web these days are quite suspicious of this style. Use your newsletter to build relationships and speak to people in a personal way and you’ll build a list that will stick with you (and trust you) over the long haul.

4. Build Value

In the same way that people will not stay subscribed to your blogs RSS feed if it doesn’t provide value to them in some way – people won’t stay subscribed to your newsletter if it isn’t meeting a need that they have.

This ‘value’ and meeting of ‘needs’ can take on many forms. It could be writing original content, giving insider information that you don’t publish on the blog, could be pointing out tools or resources and can even be simply pointing out ‘what’s hot’ on your blog. The key is to watch how users interact with the different parts of your newsletter (see what I write about ‘tracking results’ below) and listening to their feedback. When you do this you’ll soon see what they find useful and what they don’t.

An Important Note about Uniqueness of Content From Your Blog – I see some bloggers say that rehashing what is on your blog in your newsletter is not a good strategy. They argue that if it’s not new and unique content in your newsletter that readers won’t subscribe. While I think this applies in some circumstances it has not always been my experience. My biggest newsletter (my photography one) has 45,000+ subscribers and 90% of it is simply pointing readers to new posts on the blog and forum. Again – this comes down to knowing your blog’s goals. Even rehashing your blog’s content can be ‘useful’ for some readers who don’t have any other way to subscribe to that blog!

5. Scannable Content

It is important to have scannable content in almost every online medium including blogging – but when it comes to email I find it even more important.

If you’re using HTML emails you can do this with color, images, bolding, italics, lists, headings etc – but if you’re using Plain text emails you need to get a little more creative. Consider using symbols and characters, CAPS for headings, line breaks etc to draw the eye down the page.

Again – track different techniques and layouts to see what works best.

6. Track Results

Depending upon the newsletter tool that you use to publish your emails you should have access to be able to track how people are engaging with your newsletter. Aweber (the tool I use) gives a large variety of stats but so do many other quality newsletter tools. Some tools give more advanced reports than others but most will at least allow you to track how many people open your newsletters (this can help you to experiment with subject lines) and what links are being clicked on by how many people in your posts.

Note: Aweber is the tool I use – also check out Get Response – a tool that many bloggers are using with real success.

Paying attention to what links get clicked is a fascinating and productive thing to do. It not only helps you to work out how to write an effective newsletter (and how to improve it) but it gives you incredible insight into what topics your readers are interested in reading more about and what types of language they respond to.

I look forward to analyzing these stats each week and have many times written followup posts on topics that I see a lot of people clicking on in my newsletter.

7. Subject Lines and Opening Lines Matter

When it comes to blogging the most important words that you’ll write are your blog’s title (they can mean the differences between your post being read or not).

When it comes to your email newsletter your subject line really acts as your ‘title’.

I’m still working on what subject lines work best. I find that some readers seem to respond best when the subject line is the same each week (they look for the email each week and like consistency) while others become blind to the same thing each week.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on which is best.

Another thing to note is that what you put at the top of your newsletter will almost always get higher ‘conversion’ than what you put at the bottom. The links you have in your opening paragraph will get clicked more, the affiliate campaigns that you have at the top will convert better, the content that you have first will get read more. It’s the same concept as placing content ‘above the fold’ on a web page – what’s up top gets the most eyeballs!

8. Use a Reliable Newsletter Service

This is a lesson I learned the hard way. In my early days of newsletters I used a free newsletter service called Zookoda. I’m not sure how it performs these days while it worked well at the start it slowly deteriorated in terms of how reliable it was. Emails wouldn’t go out on time and the newsletters that were getting through to those who had subscribed was fewer and fewer every week.

Switching to Aweber saw drastic improvements in how many of my emails were being delivered (and I mean drastic). The ‘cost’ of using a free service may not have been monetary (well not directly) – but it was significant because it meant that I was missing out of connecting with thousands of readers each week.

9. Use Double Opt in Newsletter Services

It is very important to only ever start a newsletter that uses Double Opt in techniques to gather subscribers (ie the person needs to subscribe and then confirm that subscription from an email to them). You can do your brand terrible damage by adding people to your newsletter list without permission or by buying lists of email addresses. Having double opt in systems does decrease your actual subscriber numbers and causes some headaches – but it is important.

Similarly – give people a way to opt out of your newsletter and use a service that includes your postal address in the newsletter. These things are the law in many parts of the world and if you don’t adhere to them you run the risk of not only hurting your reputation with potential readers but suffering the consequences of breaking the law.

3 Bonus Newsletter Tips from Chris Brogan

I used Chris Brogan’s newsletter as an example above so thought I’d drop him a note to see what tips he’d give for budding newsletter developers. Here’s what he replied with:

  • Give useful information more than news. People *say* they like news, but what they really want are actionable items.
  • Chunk the text in the newsletter so that it’s VERY easy to read. Make it very lightweight.
  • Write it personably, because this encourages two way interactions, and if your newsletter has a side intent of helping you do business, every two-way touch is a chance for someone to grant you permission to talk business.

If you have a newsletter/s – what tips would you add?

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. Wow these are some awesome tips!

    I just started my own newsletter and have had a few questions already on what I should do with it. I think the main point about deciding what you want to do with it is the most important. If readers are sure what it is, they will most likely not sign up for it.

    Interesting to see how my newsletter performs since I am using the free service, Zookoda. Hopefully they have gotten better since you used it or eles I will be moving over to Aweber real soon.

  2. Waw darren, it is good tips. I will try to use this on my blog soon.

    And have you knew about the update of WordPress 2.7??

  3. Killer Guide.
    This is a helpful guide to write Newsletter.Really Really Nice.
    Thanks Mr. Dareen for your valuable Research on this type of help content.
    I had some query about this type of questions.But i thanks you again because you have written a killer guide.

  4. Well done. Thanks for putting this together. I identify with #2 most. I’ve found that as a subscriber, when a publisher sets my expectations and then delivers on it…I actually look forward to their emails. As you say, it is ok to promote, but let your subscribers know in advance that will occur, and how often.

    Failing to set expectations, will have a negative impact on the other items you highlighted in your post. Not to mention, unsubscribes, spam complaints, and conditioning subscribers to ignore your stuff.

  5. Thanks for the great tips again, Darren =)

    I totally agree with the fact of enforcing the double opt-in to increase the quality of the newsletter subscribers.

    I find GetResponse’s services pretty good as well.

    Look forward to more tips on subscribers’ retention.

  6. I was wondering how I could make a good newsletter.. I’m probably going to start using them soon.

    These tips definitely will help me make an original one :)

    Great job.

  7. While I don’t really have any advice other then you should really consider doing a newsletter as part of your overall marketing. I just started mine for Blog For Profit and the next issue goes out this week.

    What I will say is thanks for reassuring me that I just may be doing it correctly. And I would echo subscribing to Chris’ newsletter. It is a good one.

  8. I’m an indie artist & use Constant Contact. I give my subscribers choices of what info they want to receive…

    **General Updates-sales & trunk shows
    **Jewelry related
    **Glass Decor related

    I have found that this has helped increase my list b/c folks are ONLY getting the info they want /are interested in.

    Great article!


  9. I would have to say just be you. Most likely they’ve already read your content so they know who you are and how you write. I think would be absolutely ridiculous to do anything else but be yourself. However, if being yourself is writing one paragraph for your content then you may want to change your ways.

    In my system I always teach to at least write five paragraphs per newsletter post. It is basically like a essay. I think we’ve all been taught the five paragraph essay so it is not hard to use that as your basic format for your newsletter.

    Also I think every newsletter posting should have a main point. Don’t go talking about a whole bunch of different things where there is no real point. It is kind of like writing a blog post.

  10. Using the click-throughs to gauge reader interest is a very compelling reason to offer a newsletter. One of my biggest challenges is offering a lot of value to my readership, so any way I can connect with what’s important to them is a real benefit.

  11. Useful tips, as always.
    I also think that the use of some multimedia tools, images, videos increase the value of the newsletter.
    It is more pleasure for reading.

  12. Great tips Darren. Good call on using Aweber, that software has done wonders for me and my company.

  13. Thanks for the great tips! I find being consistent in your content is the number one way to get people to keep subscribed. They had a reason to subscribe and if you change that reason then they won’t continue to subscribe.

  14. Darren:

    Because I am in the business of creating tools to help clients attract more clients, I add a section to my newsletter that asks my readers to submit their suggestions (to my blog) to a business that needs marketing help. Not only does this drive blog traffic but it is my good deed for the day.


  15. Have been thinking about starting this, will use your post as a reference guide – saves lots of other research… cheers

  16. Regarding subject lines, mine always begins with Working with Wisdom: and then I insert a line and then the month and year.

    I often use provocative questions like Got Stress? Are You Breaking the Law? (universal laws, that is) or WWMHSD? (which is explained inside as What Would My Higher Self Do?).

    The more you focus on what’s in it for the reader, the more clicks you’ll get.

    Also, when it comes to valuable information (tips, resources, ets.) and promotional information (about my book or programs), I strive for a 70/30 split.

  17. In my humble opinion, I don’t recommend bloggers to use email newsletter for driving traffic to their own blogs. Bloggers should shame if they are doing this.

  18. This is wonderful! I was considering an email newsletter as my “new thing to try” for next month. Thanks!!

  19. A really helpful tips for those who want to build a good relationship with subscribers because building relationship is more important than just sending an email promotion. Thanks Darren, and it would be great if you help bloggers to increase optin conversion rate to get more subscribers.

  20. Cool tips. I am still working on this process myself…trying to build a list and such. My question has always been, now that I’ve got a list…what do I do with it? Thanks for some answers.

  21. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Is all I can say. This is what I have been looking for. I am just now gathering an email list and I know soon I’ll have to provide a newsletter. I want to go about it in the right way. So thank you so much for this helpful blog. I have printed it out, and will keep it handy when I write my newsletter.

    Again, thank you!


  22. I don’t know what to tell you about subject lines. I send my newsletter out daily with links to business news stories, promos for new blog entries on the site and business calendar events. I try to put calls to action into the subject lines like “Learn how to build successful email newsletters” but my open rate is declining. Lately I have been going with the lead biz story headline.

    Maybe I’m not the best copy writer or maybe spam filters are snagging them. I don’t know. Maybe I will go back to the title and date.

    Also, I use Lyris’ hosted service which tracks clickthroughs on all URLs. The topped clicked URLs aren’t always at the top. Maybe it’s the nature of the beast. Readers scan the whole list of headlines for what interests them.

    BTW, you have a lot of good stuff in this entry. It’s worth passing to colleagues and discussing.

  23. Darren–
    Great tips! You’ll soon be ProEmailer! Here’s a couple of other tips from me.

    *Only send emails Tuesdays through Thursdays. If you have a business audience, send them between 10 and 2pm. Consumers: after 6. I get better open rates at these times.

    *Don’t send attachments. I still get PDFs attached and just don’t want to open them.

    *I love Constant Contact (http://www.constantcontact.com/index.jsp?pn=eggmarketing ). It’s cheap and easy for anyone to use.

    I’ve written an ebook that teaches you how to do your own email newsletters if anyone is interested. Find it at http://www.marketingebooks.biz

  24. Wonderful tips! I’ve never written an email newsletter before and if I decide to do it for my blog in the future, this advice is so helpful! Thanks.

  25. My biggest question about starting a newsletter for my blog is: why would I create special content and not it share with ALL of my subscribers, especially since it won’t be indexed by any search engine that way. If I’m going to write something of value, I’d rather share it with all my readers, not just whoever is on the email list.

  26. I think Feedburner is more than enough for the beginners and small bloggers..
    Thanks for the informative post Darren.

  27. I literally just wrote about this not too long ago and, Darren, you and I are on the same wave length. Never heard of Aweber until reading your post … I, like countless other small businesses, use Constant Contact. I know there are many ESPs; I think so long as the features and benefits match your goals and budget, and can provide metrics of some kind, that works well … at least as a starting point. You start talking about thousands and thousands of folks … well then an ESP upgrade may be warranted. But to start and/or for a much more manageable list, an ESP like Constant Contact can work well.

    My piece is called “7 personalization tips for making an e-newsletter all your own” and can be found here if anyone interested:

  28. I subscribe to a couple of e-mail newsletters (including ProBlogger) and they are worth it because even if I don’t check the site everyday, I do check my e-mail everyday.

    I think I need a few more visitors before going down this road.

  29. I have learned some news stuff here. Great post.

    Personal Development Blogger

  30. Very timely post Darren! I was just contemplating starting a newsletter and debating in my head whether to provide new content or just rehash what I posted on my blog or do some combo of the two.

    Do you have any advice on frequency? Is weekly best? Is it okay to send it out twice a month, or is that generally too infrequent to achieve any of the goals people typically start newsletters?

    Also, do you have any advice on how old a blog should be before starting a newsletter? Can newsletters be a good too for growing a young blog, or are they better for expanding an established blog?

  31. These tips will come in so handy. They will save time for a lot of us.

    Thanks for sharing

    Lisa K

    Traffic Coordinator
    We Drive Traffic! Traffic Drives Results!

  32. wow darren, it was really good. Thanks a bunch.

  33. thnks darren for this wonderful info.

  34. I still study the how email newsletter can give huge impact on my blog.

  35. Great tips Darren. One thing that is important is to build rapport with your readers, make your newsletter a bit fun so your subscribers look forward to getting it, perhaps include a bit about your personal life, children or pets. Some of the newsletters I’ve been subscribing to for years add in a bit about their personal life so you get to know more about the person writing it – one of those newsletters is Jill Whalen’s High Rankings Advisor – for years she’s been telling us all about her family!

  36. Very interesting article.

    Though I find the biggest problems with email newsletters is the amount of people joining that do not fit into your demographic.

    Eg; I have 150 + newsletter subscribers, which is great don’t get me wrong as I can use it to further get traffic to my site, but for most advertising solutions that are delivered through email, such as Commission Monster or DGM – they require further information about the email receivers, such as demographics and background.

    This means I have 2 options, either emailing them all and requesting that information for a prize of some sorts, or instead just changing my sign up form to include some questions.

    Thanks for the post.

    Check out my Saving Money blog at http://www.savingsguide.com.au and tell me what you think of the newsletter sign up on the right hand side. Simple yet effective!

  37. One thing I hate is when you purchase something online, like an eBook, and you’re automatically signed up for their newsletter.

  38. Great post. I use Constant Contact but I can see the advantages of Aweber. I have added a link on my site. My readers will find what you have to say about starting an online newsletter very helpful and hopefully will push a few past the tipping point to get started!

  39. Really helpful advice.

  40. Email list is an asset for you if you want to make money online. It’s so important and that’s why you should gain value from your subscribers by giving quality content. Most of the time I focus on sending quality content and not overdoing the promotion of product.

  41. I don’t know how long ago you used Zookoda to send your e-mails, but I have had very recent experience with them, and very little of it was good. DON’T USE ZOOKODA.

    Besides the fact that you’re stuck with an awful Zookoda logo on the bottom of each e-mail, the e-mail service is terribly unreliable and the reply time on customer service is shoddy. I guess you shouldn’t expect much for a free service, but when they either don’t send your e-mails correctly or they send it on the wrong day (isn’t this stuff automated??) you have to wonder if the “free” part is actually worth it.

    In the end I’ve decided that the newsletter service is not a good idea for me and my blog…yet. Why not just let people subscribe to my feed via e-mail for now? It costs me nothing and most people now-a-days are using RSS readers anyway.

  42. Another advantage of having a newsletter is that, once it is popular it can be used as a selling point. For instance ‘I’m the publisher of The most widely read newsletter on some subject’

  43. I totally agree with Mano above. If i had placed a newsletter subscription service on my blog in the beginning, I would of have thousands of more people to announce the launch of my Ebook to.

    Big mistake on my part.

  44. Hi Darren,

    Thanks for the tips. Love them.
    I’m looking into newsletters recently especially so when I recently received your copy.
    I sent out blog broadcast weekly and I’m a little confused of the differences between newsletter and blog broadcast.
    Would appreciate if you can highlight the differences.
    I use aweber too :)

  45. bloggywog says: 11/04/2008 at 10:46 am

    I think these tips are great, and I’m amazed at how much this type of work is increasing right now. I found some trends for writing jobs, which I would imagine would include email newsletters, (http://www.odesk.com/trends/Tech%20Writer). I’m not sure how accurate the chart is, but it shows a steady increase, particularly over the past month. Pretty impressive given the state of the economy lately.

  46. great Info…but there is other tips for beginner???

  47. Darren what is the exact time to start a newsletter subscription? As it involves cost!

    One of my websites gets around 50 unique visitors a day. Should I start the newsletter subscription now, or should I wait?

    Dilip Shaw

  48. Excellent pointers here Darren. Many Thanks.
    I’m currently working on building a new e-mail opt in list for my site and picked up on a lot of things here I had failed to consider.
    I am trying to get in early and build my list as best i can and your site is definitely helping me along.
    I’ll be sure to keep referring back to these as I build my list
    Matt Galley

  49. Thank you Darren for sharing some great ideas on newsletters. I’m not up to the state of sending them but appreciate these tips for when the time comes. Will include on my site for others to benefit as well. Have a great day.

  50. I started using a newsletter for one of my blogs a while ago, and it has been great! I got some feedback that indicated many readers didn’t want an extra email in their box everyday, but wanted a weekly update so they could choose which content they were interested in. This is why I subscribe to Problogger newsletter.

    My open and click rates have been declining slightly, so I may try the “insider tip angle” to get people to open.

    One way I got lots of subscribers was when I had a booth at an event. I had a sign-up sheet, where they could add their address and I put them in the letter later. But of course this only works if you have personal contact, like a convention.

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