5 lessons we learned experimenting with newsletters

Create, test, repeat

Newsletters are comparatively ancient when stacked next to most other Internet marketing tools. Pundits predicted the death of email newsletters for years, which makes sense as newsletters are about as old as America Online CDs and dial-up modems. But they persevere and thrive during a time in which instantaneous conversation and social connections dominate online marketing.

MyCorporation is also a product of the dot-com and dial-up boom, and we’ve used email marketing for more than a decade. However, we admittedly have not always done it well. But, as the ROI for email marketing averages at about $38 for every $1 spent, we knew it was worth persevering and, over the years, learned a few crucial lessons.

Build newsletters around a theme

There is nothing worse than an unfocused newsletter. Not only are they a pain to design and organize, but people just do not like them. The subject is vague, the articles are scattered, and the newsletter is an all-around mess.

There is nothing worse than an unfocused newsletter.

 

Readers respond better when there is a repeated, reachable message throughout, and when they can click through to more articles. Each link and article builds on the next and, by the time they’re through, they actually feel like reading the newsletter was worthwhile. Plus, a theme is great for figuring out what content you should write the month leading up to the newsletter!

Don’t be too ad-heavy

When businesses began using email newsletters, they stuffed them full of ads, offers and coupons — and commonly believed those were why people subscribed. Thankfully, most marketing channels have evolved past traditional ads, but over-promotion continues to bog down newsletters.

People seem to read our newsletters because they are informative — we aren’t just trying to sell something.

But, at times, we still want to promote key partners or promotions, so they make their way in. We’ve played with dedicating anywhere from zero to 50 percent of our newsletter to ads and sales, and we’ve found that having two or three typically works well. The people who want to check them out do, and those that aren’t interested just skip them and continue reading.

Stick to a template

There’s a certain comfort in consistency and, while you it is important to keep your newsletters from looking dated, you should change gradually.

Readers like seeing the same basic template, color scheme and construction month after month.

 

Sudden changes actually hurt our click-through rate, so we decided to introduce changes slowly — shifting the shade of blue, playing with the orientation of the photos, changing the version of the logo. Recently the biggest shift was to alternate the image positions for each article, which added a bit of visual variety to our newsletter. But, otherwise, we have followed a very standard, single-column template for years and it has worked quite well.

Learn to love images

Use Images for Newsletters

Image-heavy newsletters used to be a huge problem. They took forever to download, most email services hated them, and people would rather delete the message than sit and wait for it to load. That is not the case anymore, but old habits die hard and even we struggled to add enough images to our emails.

However, 65 percent of people prefer picture-heavy newsletters to text-heavy ones.

Good, eye-catching visuals are important, and it is worth taking the time and effort to choose them carefully. They create that all-important first impression and, if your newsletter looks dry and boring, your subscribers may not want to read it.

Involve other people

Readers love an outside perspective, and while everyone wants to boost the traffic to their own articles, readers really respond to pieces highlighting other viewpoints. Occasionally we try interviewing groups of business owners on a particular issue or topic, and build a piece around that. Without fail, the click-through rates for those pieces are always the highest. People get used to a particular tone or point-of-view, and our readers appreciate that variety.

Don’t be afraid to reach out, feature a few guest-posters, and highlight a new voice!

Our newsletters are far from perfect, but we are always proud of our monthly messages. And, at the end of the day, that pride should be your end goal. It is important to find that theme, look, and voice, but you also need to remain flexible. Feature new writers, try out new colors, and work towards providing an enjoyable, informative newsletter to as many as your readers as possible.

What lessons have you learned about putting together your business’s newsletters? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

Image by: Aalto University Library and Archive Commons via Visualhunt.com / No known copyright restrictions

Deborah Sweeney

Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation.com. MyCorporation is a leader in online legal filing services for entrepreneurs and businesses, providing start-up bundles that include corporation and LLC formation, registered agent, DBA, and trademark & copyright filing services. MyCorporation does all the work, making the business formation and maintenance quick and painless, so business owners can focus on what they do best. Follow her on Google+ and on Twitter @mycorporation.