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.
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 person ably, 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.