How to Create a Newsletter (and a Powerful Email Marketing Campaign)
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In this post, I’m going to show you how to create a newsletter in 10 simple steps — and create a really effective email marketing campaign.
Introduction: why emails still matter
1. Organize your data
2. Create your content plan and newsletter schedule
3. Pick the right tool for sending your e-newsletters
4. Choose an e-newsletter template
5. Embed sign-up forms on your website
6. Use landing pages to maximize signups
7. Test your newsletters
8. Measure success (by checking email analytics)
9. Make the most of autoresponders
10. Make your newsletters shareable
You’re probably here because you’re taking your first steps into the world of e-newsletters and email marketing. Congratulations! With a bit of planning and the right tools, you can create really effective newsletters and email campaigns that have a very positive impact on your business.
It can be hard to know where to start with it all though, so in this post I’ll walk you through the steps you need to take to:
create an e-newsletter
grow your mailing list significantly
automate your email marketing
But first…why do you need to send e-newsletters in the first place?
Why newsletters still matter
Given the popularity of social media and online advertising as ways of generating business, it’s tempting to think of the humble e-newsletter as something rather outdated.
This is a big mistake.
Because, even with the huge range of other marketing and advertising options now available, email marketing can be a fantastically effective way to generate revenue.
According to Hubspot, email has an ROI of around 3800%; and Statista’s research indicates that by the number of email users worldwide is set to reach 4.6 billion by 2025.
Given these sorts of numbers, it’s clear that every email address you capture has a monetary value, and that email is still a highly popular communication channel.
In short, email and e-newsletters remain absolutely essential to the successful development of a business.
So, follow our checklist below to create the best e-newsletters and email marketing campaigns you possibly can.
1. Start with the most important thing: your data
Before you think about ‘how’ you are going to send an e-newsletter, you need to think about the ‘who’ — the database of individuals you want to communicate with via email.
In order to send the most relevant e-newsletters that generate the most revenue, you need as good a database as possible.
Now, a lot of businesses have their contacts’ email addresses tucked away in an Excel spreadsheet somewhere – or more likely, spread across several very messy spreadsheets.
Or, it might even be the case that a lot of email marketing data has been captured in physical format — application forms, customer files etc.
Regardless of where your email addresses live, it’s a good idea to digitize and consolidate all of them into one clean, well-organized database before you try to send newsletters to any of the contacts on them.
(Tools like Excel or Google Sheets make it easy to do this — just create a new spreadsheet using either tool and enter your email addresses into it)
You should ensure that your email database is segmented as well as possible – this means putting a field (column) in your spreadsheet, which you use to flag and identify people as leads, current customers, past customers and so on.
How far you take this is up to you — you could, for example, segment your mailing list to the nth degree, storing information about specific product purchases, demographics etc. in it.
Or you can keep things fairly simple — it will depend on the nature of your business.
Either way, the basic aim of the exercise is to get your data into shape, so that you are able to send an appropriate message to an appropriate person at the appropriate time.
When you’ve finished your data preparation, you should have a spreadsheet that contains all your cleaned, segmented data in one place.
This is your mailing list, which can now be uploaded to an email marketing app (I’ll come to these shortly).
Remember: you need permission to email people!
Remember that you need permission from your contacts to send them emails.
When compiling your mailing list, be aware of local data protection laws, and only include people who have opted in to receive your communications.
This is particularly important in the era of GDPR and CCPA.
2. Create your content plan and newsletter schedule
The next step is to plan your communications very carefully.
It’s a good idea to create an ‘e-communications schedule’ which maps out exactly:
what content you are going to put in your email newsletters
who you are going to send them to
when you are going to send them.
You can then refer to this schedule throughout the year, and ensure you have all the necessary content ready to go well in advance of each e-newsletter broadcast.
And, because you’ll have segmented your data nicely in advance (see step 1, above) you will be sending your beautiful and interesting e-newsletter to precisely the right group of contacts.
Tip: use an online spreadsheet to aid collaboration
Email marketing often involves quite a few stakeholders — you may need text from one individual in your business, images from somebody else and so on.
If you’re a Microsoft 365 or Google Workspace user, consider using these tools to create a shared online document that you can use to manage your e-communications schedule.
Doing so lets all your stakeholders easily see when your next newsletter is going out and provide you with all the necessary content in good time. You can also update your online document with useful stats or observations about previous e-newsletter broadcasts.
3. Pick the right app for sending your newsletter
Many small business owners still think that sending e-newsletters means compiling a list of email addresses, and then copying and pasting them into the BCC field of a clunky-looking Outlook message.
This is a very time-consuming way to go about things; it’s also really ineffective, because:
it doesn’t allow you to send very professional-looking e-newsletters
it prevents you from accurately measuring important stats like open rates and clickthroughs
it increases the likelihood of your email triggering spam filters (email programs usually hate messages that are bcc’d to loads of people or contain large embedded images)
it means that you’re not availing of sophisticated email marketing features like autoresponders or split testing.
Accordingly, it is a much better idea to use a dedicated e-marketing tool for sending your e-newsletter — one that lets you send ‘HTML newsletters.’
HTML newsletters, as their name suggests, use HTML code to display text and graphics in an attractive way. They also are more likely to display correctly in email programs.
There are many web-based solutions you can use to send HTML newsletters: big-hitters include GetResponse, AWeber, Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor.
All the apps mentioned above allow you to
import the database that you created at the outset of this process
make use of a range of attractive newsletter templates
send out proper HTML e-newsletters that stand the greatest chance of being delivered (and crucially, read!).
It’s important to note that these tools don’t require you to know anything about HTML code to use them — you typically use a drag-and-drop editor to design your newsletter, and the app creates all the HTML for you in the background.
There are pros and cons to all of these apps — if you’d like to research them further then do check out some of our comparisons:
You may also find that your website builder tool may facilitate some email marketing. For example, both Shopify and Squarespace now include tools for sending e-newsletters, as does Wix.
These tend to be much more basic than the solutions mentioned above, but if your needs are simple, they might do the job.
Let’s move on now to templates.
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4. Choose or design an e-newsletter template
Once you’ve decided on which email marketing app you’re going to use, you need to sort out how your newsletters are actually going to look.
The good news is that all the solutions mentioned above provide a wide range of newsletter templates that you can use as a starting point for your e-newsletter design.
Once you’ve picked one, you can then tweak it using a drag and drop editor so that your e-newsletter matches your brand. You can then save and reuse this as your own template for your future newsletters.
If your design skills are not particularly strong, you could consider hiring a designer to set up your e-newsletter template.
But in most cases, you should be fine with tweaking an existing option from your email marketing app’s template library.
Do you need graphics — or will text do?
Something thing worth remembering is that you might not always need a graphics-filled e-newsletter template.
Sometimes simple text templates — ones that look like regular emails — work better, because when these are used, your newsletter is seen as being more personal (and less of an advert).
Interestingly a lot of leading digital marketing gurus — including Brian Dean, Jeff Walker and Neil Patel — now only use text-based templates to send e-newsletters, as they find them more effective. I generally use them myself for Style Factory mailouts too.
5. Embed your sign-up forms on your website
All email marketing tools make it easy to embed sign-up forms for your mailing list on your website. Usually this just involves grabbing a snippet of code and adding it as a HTML block on your website.
Make sure you do this, as it is one of the best things you can do to grow your list.
Ideally, you should have a sign-up form for your e-newsletter on every page of your website, and you could also consider using pop-up boxes on certain pages of your site too to maximize the number of sign ups to your mailing list.
(Yes, pop-ups can be a bit annoying — but they are very effective).
Be careful with pop-ups on mobile devices however — Google can penalize sites that use pop up boxes in a way which negatively affects usability.
When adding forms to your site, don’t make them boring! Make sure they spell out the benefits of joining your mailing list — i.e., rather than using a bland ‘join my mailing list’ call-to-action, explain what sort of great content your site visitors can expect to receive upon subscription.
Depending on the social media services you use, it’s often possible to add sign-up forms or buttons to your social profiles too. Do this where possible, and where it’s not, provide a prominent link to a URL where people can join your list.
Tip: try adding a ‘call to action’ button on Facebook that links to the sign up page on your website.
6. Use landing pages to maximize signups
If you use online ads to grow your mailing list, make sure that the landing (or ‘squeeze’) pages you use for your campaigns are as strong as possible.
When somebody clicks on your ad, they should be taken to a page which encourages them to take one specific action: signing up to your mailing list.
This generally means building landing pages which don’t contain a navigation bar or links to any other parts of your site. Everything should be about focusing a visitor’s attention onto a sign-up form.
Some email marketing tools, like GetResponse and Mailchimp, provide you with built-in landing page creators — but if your email marketing tool doesn’t come with this functionality, you can use third-party tools like Instapage or Unbounce to create them (these can be quite expensive, however).
7. Test your e-newsletters carefully
By now you should have:
a clean database
an e-communications schedule
an email marketing app
sign-forms and landing pages…
…and it’s finally time to start sending some e-newsletters!
But it’s really important to send them in the best way possible, and this involves some testing.
There are generally three steps that need to be taken here.
Step 1: Check that your e-newsletter is arriving safely
The first test you’ll need to do on any newsletter you create is a simple one — you need to make sure that your e-newsletter is arriving safely in inboxes (i.e., that it’s not ending up in a spam folder).
All the major email marketing apps let you send test versions of your newsletters — use this functionality to send a test message to a few different types of email account types (Gmail, Outlook, Yahoo etc.) to ensure that it looks okay in each, and is not being flagged by any them as junk.
Some email marketing apps also provide you with a ‘spam score’ for any newsletters you create. As the name suggests, this indicates how big the chances are of your newsletter ending up in a spam folder — so you want this score to be as low as possible.
Typically, apps that provide a spam score also give you some suggestions on how to improve your newsletter so that the chances of a safe delivery are maximised — follow them!
Step 2: Check that your e-newsletter is displaying correctly
How your e-newsletters display in different contexts can vary. Sometimes an email that looks great in Outlook can look terrible in Gmail, or the desktop version of a message can look great, while the mobile version is all messed up.
As email marketing apps have become more sophisticated over the years, this is less of a problem than it used to be, but consistency issues can still crop up.
So double check that your message is displaying nicely across a wide range of devices and email programs — and tweak your template accordingly — before doing your final broadcast.
Step 3: Split test your messages
Split testing (also known as ‘A/B testing’) means trying out different versions of your message on a relatively small sample of your data before sending it to the remainder of your mailing list.
You could, for example, create three versions of the same newsletter, each with a different subject line, and send it to 1,000 people on your database; after a few hours, you’ll be able to identify which subject line led to the best open rate, and then send a message with the ‘winning’ subject line to the remainder of your list.
(A lot of email marketing tools do this automatically for you).
Note that split testing is only worth doing if you have a relatively large mailing list – if your list only contains a few hundred email addresses, you might find split testing doesn’t really lead to particularly useful results.
Tip: make the most of split testing
You needn’t restrict split testing to your e-newsletters: you can also split test sign-up forms or landing pages to see which versions generate the most subscribers.
8. Measure success!
Most e-newsletter tools come with comprehensive reporting functionality – after sending an e-newsletter, you will be able to access statistics that let you measure the performance of your e-newsletters.
The key things you usually need to look at are:
clickthrough rates (CTRs)
You can use these statistics to help you create better e-newsletters that generate more conversions in future.
You might notice that a particular type of subject header encourages more open rates, and craft similar ones in future.
You might discover that buttons drive more clickthroughs to your site than text-based links (or vice versa).
You might find that emails about certain topics lead to a lot of unsubscribes — and avoid sending out that sort of content again.
- You might notice that a plain text email generates more sales than one filled with images.
Use these sorts of findings to improve your email marketing campaigns.
9. Make the most of autoresponders and marketing automation
A fantastic way to send e-newsletters involves autoresponders or ‘drip’ campaigns – automated emails that you can ‘pre-program’ in advance so that when somebody signs up to your mailing list, they automatically receive messages of your choosing, at intervals of your choosing.
For example, a subscriber could get
- a welcome message immediately upon signing up
- a special offer one week later
- an encouragement to follow your company on Facebook two weeks later
…and so on.
Used creatively and carefully, autoresponders allow you to craft a strategy that keeps your email subscribers engaged, and can generate more sales of your products and services.
Recently, some of the major email marketing app providers have taken autoresponder functionality to a new and far more sophisticated level, providing ‘marketing automation’ functionality that allows you to use user actions to trigger emails.
For example, you can instruct your email marketing software to automatically send a follow-up email if a subscriber
purchases a product
opens a particular email
clicks a particular link
visits a particular web page…
…and so on.
Some email marketing tools even allow you to move a subscriber along a CRM sales pipeline automatically if they take a particular action.
It’s amazing, if slightly scary, stuff!
Recommended tools for marketing automation and CRM
Of the email marketing tools we’ve tested, we’ve found GetResponse to be the best choice for advanced email marketing automation.
For a tool that handles CRM and automation neatly in one place, we’d suggest that you check out Hubspot.
10. Make it easy to share your newsletters
Most email marketing tools will allow you to add ‘forward to a friend’ or social media sharing buttons to your e-newsletters.
Add them! It means that your content and offers get a good chance of being seen by an audience outside of your mailing list, and may also result in new people joining your list as a result of word-of-mouth activity.
And finally: follow best practice
Every time you create or send an e-newsletter, you should ensure that you are
obeying the law and
not over-communicating with your subscribers.
If you don’t, at best you risk a higher unsubscribe rate; at worst you face your email marketing app account being suspended, fines and legal action.
There are seven important things you need to do to follow best practice and the law:
When you capture email addresses, make it clear on any sign up forms and landing pages that people are subscribing to your mailing list.
Don’t spam: always ensure that anyone on your list has actually signed up to it.
Don’t over-commmunicate: leave decent gaps between messages.
Always send relevant, interesting content to people on your mailing list: this will minimize unsubscribes.
Always make it easy for people to unsubscribe.
Add an email signature to your messages — this can reinforce your brand identity and build trust.
Be very aware of data protection legislation (particularly GDPR!)
I hope you found these tips on how to create a newsletter and improve your email marketing useful — and that you’re now in a better place to create your own fantastic campaigns!
Now – over to you!
Did this post answer all your questions about e-newsletters? Got any questions? Just put them in the comments below — I’ll do my best to answer!
And of course, make sure you subscribe to our mailing list 🙂
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