Eight Things I Learned the Hard Way about E-mail Newsletters    by Kari Freudenberger

I usually learn through trial and error, but I find it much more pleasant to learn from someone else's mistakes. So I offer you these lessons learned through personal experience.

1. Craft a good subject line.

I can't emphasize this enough. Think about how you filter through your e-mail. You decide whether to read a message based on one line.

The subject line for my first newsletter was, "Brook Group's January Newsletter." I was so na´ve. Hardly anyone read it.

Next I tried the clever approach. "Are you making the right impression?" and "Feel like you're herding cats?" These got a slightly higher open rate, but still under-performed compared to the straight-forward and explanatory approach.

The highest open rates result from subject lines that are straight-forward and informative. For example, "Marketing Resources." Tell people what's inside.

2. Make it worth their while.

Give your readers something valuable. You know your audience. Develop the newsletter for them. Don't approach it with what you want them to know.

People love free resources. They want fresh, new information. They like to hear from experts. Boring your readers will get you nothing but the delete button.

Every expert proposes a different theory on the length and type of newsletter content. Personally, I've found that people appreciate brevity and substance.

Don't forget your newsletter can be more than just text and graphics. I included a link to a podcast in my last newsletter. I'm working on a video to include in a future issue. Use the technology out there. It will improve your click-through rates.

3. Make it a gateway.

How do I judge the success of my newsletter? By my click-though rate. How many people did it bring to my Web site?

Just as your Web site should be an acquisition engine for new customers, a newsletter should drive people to your site. My newsletters contain the first paragraph of an article with a link to my site to read the rest.

4. Make two versions.

People generally receive e-mail as text or HTML. Use both for your newsletter, and let people choose which one they want to receive. Assuming that your recipients want one format or the other is bound to alienate some of them.

5. Use "opt-in" lists

A cardinal newsletter rule is, only send your newsletter to people who ask for it. And now for "Confessions of a Wayward Marketer." I don't practice what I preach on this one. My newsletter isn't just about being a resource. It's a gentle reminder that we're still in business.

It's also a "soft sell" of our services. I send it to everyone in my address book, from old clients to new prospects. This substantially lowers my open rate, but it gets our brand out into the world.

6. Plan ahead.

My job responsibilities include more than just sending out a newsletter. I admit I've thrown one together at the last minute. It took me twice as long, though.

Like most things, by planning ahead, you significantly reduce the stress of the situation. I start thinking about my newsletter three months out.

By compiling ideas and writing a little at a time, you ease the dreaded writer's block that hits the week before release.

7. Be consistent.

Newsletters take some experimenting, but once you find a format that works, stick with it. Then, your readers know what to expect and they can anticipate the next issue. If you've found the right style, your readers will look forward to it.

8. Be Yourself

When I started writing newsletters, I was afraid of my own voice. It's much safer to speak in that dull corporate tone, but who really wants to listen?

After subscribing to lots of newsletters, I found that enjoyed the ones with a personal flair. I don't mean write about your kid starring in the school play, but write like you're actually speaking to someone.

Leave the "marketese" and "corp-speak" to the sales brochures. Make your newsletter genuine. In this new age of "conversational marketing," we are engaging in a dialogue with our customers. They'll appreciate you being real.

About the Author

Kari Freudenberger is the Marketing Manager for Brook Group, a full-service Web development firm near Washington, DC. For more articles like this one, visit Brook Group's resources page.

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