May 11, 2015

Eight Rules for Email Newsletters

Email marketing is a cheap and effective way of talking to your customers. When you’ve built up your subscriber database, you’ve effectively got a group of people who have said at some point that they’re interested in hearing from you and your company. You can (and should)

  • personalise the content
  • segment your lists
  • refine your strategy, and
  • get solid data from your reach and return on investment,


but these measures only work if subscribers are actually opening your emails. So, here’s a list of eight rules to get those emails opened (and read!).

1. Sender name:

Use your real name: Depending on the sort of email that you’re sending, using your real name, as well as or instead of the company name, can increase trust, and make your subscribers more likely to actually open your email. It also adds a level of responsibility – you’ve attached your name to it, so you’d better make it an email that you’re proud of! Legally, the sender also has to make it clear who the email is from (Spam Act 2003 Section 17(1)(a)) – big fines are attached if you try and hide who authorised and sent the email.

Make it clear who the email is from

2. Subject line:

Keep it plain, and to the point: According to MailChimp, one of the world’s largest email service providers, you should just describe the content of your email. If your subscribers have signed up for special offers and promotions, then it’s fine to use your subject line to spruik those, because that’s what they’re expecting from you. On the other hand, if people have signed up for a monthly newsletter, then using a subject line like ‘The Wire: bwired’s May 2015 Newsletter’ makes sense. They signed up for a monthly newsletter, and you’ve sent them a monthly newsletter.

And beware of spammy phrases – some email service providers will filter emails that include the words ‘click here’ in the subject line.

3. Design:

Clear and uncluttered: Remember why you’re sending the email, and keep this front of mind in your design. Put the most important information or items first, and make less urgent or less important information smaller, or further down the email.

Keep your design clear and uncluttered, and design for mobile

Using a responsive template should be mandatory – tiny images and incomprehensible text make it even less likely that your subscriber will read your email.

And be careful when copying and pasting content from a Word document directly into an email builder – sometimes, Word can include extra bits of code that can affect the presentation of your text. Usually, you’ll find that there’s a ‘Paste from Word’ menu item that will clean it all up for you.

4. Content:

Plan ahead: If your email is a monthly newsletter, curate the items throughout the month. For our bwired newsletter, Jason and I add interesting articles, ideas and blog posts to a database that we then organise and curate to make that month’s newsletter. If you cobble together ideas at the last minute, it will be obvious.

Curate your ideas and plan your email ahead of time

If it’s a promotional email, write something interesting about what you’re promoting. Why are you sending this particular email out now? If it’s a mid-Autumn sale, write about why your product or service is ideal at this time. If it’s an email for an event, make sure that all the relevant details are included in the email – and triple-check it before sending. Think about what the subscriber will get out of the event – how will they benefit? This should be clear within the first paragraph (or sentence) of your email.

And if you’re sending people to a page on your website, it’s vital that the heading makes it clear that it’s related to your content. If you want people to book for an event, send them to the booking page, (not your homepage) and include the event name and a clear call-to-action button (‘Book your spot now’). Link it in people’s minds (email=website), so they know they’ve come to the right place.

5. Images:

Optimise your images: You need to resize your images to match your email template. Some email applications will let you drag and drop an image in at any size, and then you can select the dimensions you want. However, when this is actually sent through to clients like Outlook, Gmail, and Mail, it may be presented at full size – which can break the layout that you’ve carefully designed.

You should also include an alt tag for your images. This way, even if an email client is blocking images, the subscriber can still understand what the image is meant to represent. It’s important, too, for accessibility reasons, like if someone is using a screen reader. If you’re using an application, there should be a field where you can enter the alt tag.

Add an alt tag for accessibility

If you’re writing the HTML, you just need to add the attribute alt=”Image Text” to your image tag.

6. Unsubscribe link:

Include an unsubscribe link: You have to give an unsubscribe link in your email (Spam Act 2003). Not doing so can result in 10000 penalty units a day. In the Spam Act, penalty units are worth $170 each – that’s a maximum $1.7 million per day. So don’t forget that people need to be able to unsubscribe…

Analytics can help you with content for the future

If you’re linking back to your site (which you generally will be), include campaign parameters in the links. By doing this, you can identify how users got to your site. In this case, when you see the ‘may-2015-email’ campaign name in Google Analytics, you know that the extra traffic came via your email.

7. Proofread:

Get someone else to proof it: It’s vital that your email is sent out with the highest level of spelling and grammar that you can manage. Your subscribers have essentially forgone their privacy in order to receive communications from you, and you owe it to them to send useful, well-articulated, and correctly-spelled emails. Take the time to proofread your content, and then send it on to at least one other person to check. It’s also a good idea to use a machine-based spellcheck. If your email application doesn’t have one installed, just copy and paste your content into a Word doc, and run the spellcheck from there.

8. Analytics:

Track your emails: One of the best things about email campaigns is that you can test, measure, and refine. Your email service provider might have analytics built into it – in which case, make sure you turn it on or select it while you’re setting up your campaign

If you don’t have automatic analytics, I’d recommend investing in some software that will record the data you’re after (we use Litmus) – this should include things like open rate, bounce rate, link clicks, and devices, as well as (ideally) age and gender, location, and technology. This means that you can better target your emails, so that the right people are getting the right information (and that means less unsubscribes!).

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