How to write effective email newsletters

Contributor - Lucy Whittington

Email marketing team huddled around a laptop for an email campaign

Do your customers read your email newsletters? Are they bringing in business or turning people off? Lucy Whittington of Inspired Business Marketing reveals how to improve the content of your email marketing to get results

Why do so many small firms bash out an email newsletter without any thought, and simply send it to everyone in their mailing list? Email may be "free", but if you send the wrong messages, you risk losing customers.

Get the content right, however, and you will reap the rewards in enquiries and sales. Here are some golden rules.

Make your email messages relevant

Relevance is the key to successful content. Your email should be easy to scan so recipients can see what it's about at a glance. If they can't understand why you are sending them a message, they will delete your email in a flash. And they may then delete further emails without even opening them. Once bitten, twice shy.

You should also ensure you always include an 'unsubscribe' option to avoid falling foul of the Data Protection Act.

Time your email messages

How often do your customers want to hear from you? It's worth asking them, and also testing different frequencies. It may be better to send a short, snappy email that is relevant and targeted once a week rather than a long-winded one every month. Whatever the frequency, it's vital to keep in regular contact.

Use compelling subject lines

Subject lines are like headlines - they are the hook that makes people open your email. They must be compelling and clear. You should also make sure recipients can see who the message is from at a glance - so don't have a cryptic "from" email address.

It's worth testing subject lines to see what gets the best response. Divide your newsletter recipients into two groups randomly. Give each half a different heading and then compare response levels - this is called A/B split testing and many email systems can handle this for you.

A call to action

Have a clear call to action in the email, to make sure recipients know what to do next and how to do it. Ensure any links or instructions are clear and highly visible. Links should ideally connect to a dedicated and relevant landing page on your website, not just the home page. And remember to provide a 'forward to a friend' option. Existing customers can often be your best sales people.

Targeting your emails

Content should be tightly focused and your email should be targeted at specific groups of recipients. Find out what people want to receive. If you are a garden centre, for instance, some of your customers may only want to hear about special offers. Others may also want to receive regular advice and guidance on planting and garden design.

The personal touch

As with any marketing, the more specific you can make offers to your audience, the more likely they are to respond. Use their names and acknowledge previous purchases - anything to make the email more personal.

Successful email layouts

You don't have to create your email newsletter in html, but it may look more professional if you do. The best approach to designing your newsletter is to think of it as a magazine contents page, with strong images and headings to entice the reader, but not too much text.

If your email is quite long, it's a good idea to list the contents at the top so recipients can see what's there without having to scroll down. Consider providing a link to an online version of your newsletter for those whose email browsers don't support images.

Automatic responses (autoresponders)

If you use specialist email software you can create "set and leave" email campaigns. You can automate a series of regular follow-up emails to keep the contact live. When you send out an offer, for example, you can set up a reminder to be sent automatically. Don't overdo it, but do give people a couple of chances to take you up on your offer.

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Lucy Whittington

Lucy's background is very business-focused, and because of this she doesn't 'just' think about marketing, but about a business as a whole.

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