How to start an email newsletter

Want to get started with sending your first email newsletter campaign? Here’s what you need to know.

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Email newsletters provide a great way to stay connected with your audience. But getting started can be a bit daunting. From choosing the right platform, to growing a mailing list, to the design and layout of your newsletter, there are a number of things that need to be considered before sending your first newsletter campaign.

Planning an email newsletter

It’s important to understand what the goals of your newsletter are.

  • Generate more leads/sales
  • Position yourself as a thought leader in your industry
  • Provide updates on your products and services
  • Offer premium content to subscribers as a revenue stream

Bear in mind that email marketing should fit into part of a wider content strategy. While unique content can be reserved for just your subscribers, messaging should be consistent across all channels.

Once you have decided on what you want to achieve from your newsletters, and have planned content and scheduling, you can proceed with two very important stages – selecting a platform, and growing your audience.

Choosing the right platform to send an email newsletter

There are a huge number of email marketing platforms and tools available. Many of the best-known providers will offer a free version for up to a certain amount of subscribers, and will scale in cost as your audience grows.

Some platforms, such as Mailchimp, make a great choice for those just starting out, as it offers additional built-in features that can help to grow and nurture an audience, such as ready-made templates, sign up forms, landing pages, and social posting all from one place. However, if your goal is to generate revenue by providing exclusive content to subscribers, Substack and Revue are both popular choices.

It’s worth doing your research into email marketing platforms and tools to ensure that it has all the features you need now, and also in the future. This may include integration with other apps and platforms, automation, multivariate testing, and advanced segmentation.

Growing an email marketing audience

Getting people to sign up to receive your newsletter can be challenging. Don’t expect to add a ‘subscribe now’ form to your website and expect the sign-ups to come flooding in.

This is where treating email newsletters as part of a wider content strategy comes into play. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience – what would make them want to give their data to you?

  • Gated content, tools, and offers – guides, reports, whitepapers, ebooks and articles that require contact information to be submitted before they can be read, tools that grant access to additional features when logged in, or discount codes that will only be provided after joining the list
  • Exclusivity – be in the know first, access to new products and services before anyone else, discounts only available to subscribers
  • Staying in the loop – invitation to subscribe at the end of blog posts and articles to receive similar content straight to their inbox
  • To attend an event – both in-person and online
  • To win something or to get results – providing details to be eligible for entry in a prize draw, giveaway, or contest, or be sent results after completing a quiz

If you’re still not sure what format will help to entice users into signing up, some great ideas for content that can help to increase subscribers can be found here.

Make sure you include a clear call to action throughout your website to encourage users to subscribe, keep sign up forms short and sweet, and promote content and offers via social media. You may also want to consider using pop-ups (though a lot of users find these intrusive and annoying).

If you have some great content to promote, but your audience is small, consider working with a partner who has a large database that can drive traffic to your website. The other option is to buy email address lists from data houses, but as the quality is generally poor (and these contacts have never indicated they want to hear from you) growing an opted in audience organically will always be a better option long term.

Creating and designing an email newsletter

Many platforms will provide a number of pre-built templates and a drag and drop email builder. Both can be customised, which saves both time and money, as long as you don’t mind using default fonts and layouts.

If you do appoint a designer to create HTML email templates for you, it’s worth bearing in mind that some of these templates may not look the same in different email clients, or on different devices. It’s crucial that templates, whether pre-built or custom, are tested extensively before being sent to your audience. Elements and fonts that display incorrectly can damage credibility, and if particularly badly designed, may not even make it past spam filters.

If you’re using Google Analytics to see how users interact with your content once they reach your site via a newsletter, it’s also a good idea to track each link in the email so you can easily filter out that traffic for reporting. Some platforms will integrate with Google Analytics and therefore do this automatically, but others will need links to be tagged manually using a tool like Campaign URL Builder.

Once you have the template design completed and are happy with how it’s looking, the next challenge is getting people to actually open your newsletter. Much of this rests on writing a great subject line to capture their attention. You can also opt to A/B test subject lines to see what works best, and for those who don’t open the email, all may not be lost, as you can resend to non-openers with a different subject line.

After you launch an email newsletter

If you’ve invested the time and effort into creating an email newsletter, don’t let it go to waste by leaving too long between sends. Email lists can quickly become stagnated, and with so many emails hitting a user’s inbox every day, if they don’t hear from you for a while they may forget who you are and why they signed up in the first place!

Look back over past campaign performance regularly to assess what worked best. Which links were clicked? Which subject lines got the highest open rates?

Having a standard naming convention in place that allows you to group each type of email campaign (promotion, newsletter, webinar, blog post roundup etc.) can help to make the analysis of this data easier, as different campaigns will have different goals.

As an audience grows, experiment with segmentation to deliver more tailored content to subscribers based on what they have engaged with previously.

And finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. Whether it’s adding an emoji to a subject line, or completely overhauling the design of a template, taking risks every once in a while can be a good thing. And if you’re nervous about trying something new, A/B testing provides a great way to try it out on a small part of an audience first.

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