Sometimes the world of email marketing can seem a little complicated. How do you make sure your subscription process won’t get you into legal trouble? How do you maintain your list of subscribers? And how do you even get subscribers in the first place?
We’re going to answer these questions (and a few more) in this article, alongside a step-by-step video on how to create and send newsletters.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What is an email newsletter?
- VIDEO – How do I create a newsletter?
- What features should I look for in professional email software?
- Email newsletter best practices (Plus some great newsletter examples!)
- A/B testing my newsletter
- How much does it cost to send a newsletter?
- Can I outsource my email marketing? (Yes, but it’ll cost you)
- Do I need my own email server? (Short answer – no!)
- Legal considerations
- How do I get subscribers?
First – What is an Email Newsletter?
An email newsletter is an email that is sent out on a regular basis (e.g. weekly or monthly). It can be in HTML (displayed within a design) or in plain text format.
As you’ll probably know by looking at your inboxes, email newsletters are a popular medium for businesses. 85% of B2B marketers, for example, send email newsletters as part of their content marketing strategy.
Typically, newsletters focus on providing informative content to subscribers (they’re not called newsletters for nothing!). It might feature just one topic, or include content relating to different topics.
Newsletters are different to other types of marketing emails, such as autoresponders (e.g. welcome emails), transactional or triggered/automated emails. However, they can sometimes overlap. Each has an important part to play in any successful email marketing strategy, so newsletters should be used to complement these emails, rather than being an alternative to them.
Creating your email can be done simply through an email builder. The below example uses MailerLite’s – it’s really easy to use!
What are the advantages of email newsletters?
- Regularly keeping in touch with subscribers keeps you front-of-mind. This increases your chances of converting them into customers
- It’s much less expensive than traditional media (such as print products)
- The medium is quicker to deliver and easier to create
- You can actively measure your results. This enables you to tailor your content to the demand, while also keeping an eye on your ROI
- Purchases and registration can be combined without switching from one medium to another
- Thanks to their smartphones, your subscribers will receive email newsletters wherever they are
What are the disadvantages of email newsletters?
- The tactile experience of a print product is lost
- Emails are deleted relatively fast and are often read on the fly
- The number of email newsletters in people’s inboxes is already quite high
Despite the disadvantages, it’s hard to ignore the strong arguments in favor of sending email newsletters. Cost-effectiveness is probably the most compelling of these, as they’re relatively cheap to send. And email marketing, on the whole, provides an average ROI of $38 for every $1 spent (according to Hostpapa). That’s good enough reason for us!
How to Create an Email Newsletter
Once you have the content locked down, you’d be surprised how simple the process of creating a newsletter is! The following video shows you how an email newsletter is created, using two different tools as examples – MailerLite and ActiveCampaign.
As is the case with most providers, both offer a graphical editing interface. Using the drag & drop editor, you can add the building blocks you want to your newsletter. It’s incredibly easy, and you don’t need any programming skills.
“Click here for some in-depth reviews on a variety of newsletter tools.
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How to create an email newsletter in 5 easy steps:
- Sign up for an email service provider
- Import your newsletter mailing list
- Set-up your newsletter sign-up form
- Set-up your first email newsletter campaign
- Monitor the performance
What Features Should I be Looking for in Professional Email Software?
To run a newsletter mailing list, an absolute must is list management. This will enable you to maintain a list of subscribers in a database and filter and sort them into groups. Depending on the software, integration into CRM systems may be possible, but it’s not always a simple task.
And then you’ll need an editor to create the newsletter. One of the features you’ll need is the ability to test the design in popular email and webmail clients (such as Outlook, Gmail, and Apple Mail).
Responsive templates are absolutely essential as more than half of all newsletters are read on mobile devices these days. For this reason, you need to make sure your emails display well on smartphones using optimized newsletter templates. If you’re not keen on the templates provided by the ESP you choose, you can use a dedicated email template builder (most of which you can use for free!).
But don’t forget that you’ll also need some well-defined processes, such as subscribing (ideally via double opt-in) and unsubscribing, as well as a way to deal with invalid email addresses.
All of the tools we review on EmailToolTester provide the above features – you can check them out here.
Deliverability rates are also extremely important. We’ve been running tests for a number of years and can confirm that different newsletter services do have different deliverability rates. Of course, as a good marketer you should always follow best practices like list cleaning and keeping subscribers engaged with high-quality content, but you also want a provider that takes deliverability just as seriously as you do! ActiveCampaign and MailerLite are our top providers in this area.
Email Newsletter Best Practices
Traditional newsletters (such as the print variety) tended to be more company-focused. They often contained company announcements, new product releases, awards, and other generally snooze-worthy information. Times have changed.
Put yourself in the shoes of the reader. If you had subscribed to your company’s newsletter, what sort of information would you want to see? And what would quickly make you hit ‘unsubscribe’?
The very best email newsletters we’ve seen (and the ones that usually perform better) feature content that’s relevant to the reader. Often, it’s information that’s:
- Useful – for example, tips, or links to ‘how to’ articles, tutorials or guides
- Visual – make it readable and visually appealing. Text-heavy emails just feel like work nowadays
- Timely – think of all the marketing you see around Superbowl, Coachella or at Christmas. There’s a simple reason for this: people are interested!
- Newsworthy – a recent development in your industry, for example, could make compelling content for your readers.
- Special offers, promotions and freebies – these can include sales, discounts, or even digital freebies such as ebooks and webinars.
- Events – if you’ve got an on or offline event coming up, let your subscribers know about it and how they can sign up!
- Personalized, tailored content – if your email tool allows this, you can send content based on the reader’s interests and preferences (think of Amazon’s ‘Products we recommend’ newsletters, based on readers’ purchases). It’s a strategy that actually works – research has found that personalization improves click-through rates by 14% and conversions by 10%.
Here are some newsletter examples and tips to help you with your email content.
A good subject line can mean the difference between your subscribers opening your newsletter or sending it directly to the trash. Here are some tips:
- Make it short and concise – about 41 characters is the ideal length so you’ll need to be economical with your words. You can test yours with our subject line previewer
- Let the reader know they can expect to find inside – Don’t try to trick or mislead the reader as though this may get an open, it will most likely lead to them unsubscribing
- !!!!!! – Don’t get over-excited with punctuation and capitals. You don’t want the reader to feel like you’re screaming at them
Don’t bombard your subscribers with emails, this will only result in them unsubscribing from your correspondence!
- Lay out a scheduling plan – you should avoid emailing your subscribers more than once a week. Once a month or bi-weekly is optimal – You can even ask your readers how often they’d like to receive emails from you
- Plan what you’re going to send in advance and schedule your newsletters to go out an optimal time – you might need to A/B test to see when this is
- Keep your subscriber’s time zones in mind to avoid sending newsletters in the middle of the night
Drive readers to your site:
What’s the purpose of sending your contacts email newsletters? What action do you want them to take?
- Most likely you want to drive traffic to your website. Make sure the CTA (call to action) is clear. Add a button with a simple call to action, for example, you might tell readers you have a new blog post and add a button that links to this post that reads ‘Read Article’. I’d recommend having one clear goal as you don’t want to overwhelm readers
- Include social links – your footer should include links to your social media profiles. Most newsletter tools will have a specific content block where you can easily add this information
Keep an eye on metrics and test:
See what works and what doesn’t through A/B testing.
- What subject lines lead to a higher open rate?
- What CTAs drive more traffic to your site?
- What types of emails get the highest unsubscribe rate?
All of these tips should help you to get the most out of your email newsletters!
Email newsletter examples
Their newsletters are simple, but brilliant. Check out this one promoting the last season of House of Cards, styled as an email from the president. It certainly grabs your attention! We also love that they regularly include animated GIFs from their TV shows within their newsletters – what better way to bring their product to life?
At EmailToolTester, we are suckers for good design, and that’s why we love online art retailer Society6’s newsletter. Each one feels handcrafted, with eye-catching illustrations and designs. There’s also plenty of interesting content for their artistically-inclined audience. We don’t even mind receiving their regular promotional emails, as they’re always so beautifully presented!
B2B newsletters can often be pretty dull. MOO shows us that they can actually be pretty fun and dynamic by using a GIF. GIFs are a great way to engage your audience, especially if they’re adding value to what you’re trying to sell (i.e. not simply a cute dog).
What makes each of these newsletters work? It’s simple – each has been created with their specific audience in mind. Are your readers likely to be on-the-go? Make your email short and succinct. Are they more creative, visual people? Focus on design and images. And if you have multiple audiences, tailored newsletters is the way to go.
A/B Testing Your Email Newsletter
In order to boost your success rates, it’s a good idea to A/B test (or split test) your newsletters. This is a great way to test subject lines or calls-to-action and works by splitting a small, randomly selected subset of your mailing list subscribers into two groups.
Each of these groups will then receive one of the two emails, meaning that you can measure which is more popular and therefore use that one. Keep in mind that, for an A/B test to make sense, you should at least have 2000 subscribers on your list.
Most newsletter services offer this feature but it might be reserved for higher-tier plans, so make sure to look out for this.
How Much Does it Cost to Send out a Newsletter?
In theory, sending out HTML emails is free. You just open up your usual email program (e.g. Outlook) and you’re good to go. However, you’ll probably run into several problems pretty quickly. First of all, creating HTML emails in Outlook is rather complicated. And secondly, you have no means of analysis, or automating subscriptions or unsubscribes.
However, a good newsletter tool doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, there are several providers who offer plans that are completely free. Even if you need expert features, and have an ever-growing subscriber list, your marketing budget may be able to cover this quite easily. For instance, if you want your email newsletters to reach 5,000 people in a month, you’re looking at somewhere between $25 and $45. And if your emails go out at irregular intervals you can use a prepaid plan, meaning you only pay when you actually send out a newsletter.
Go ahead and check out our newsletter calculator if you want to get a better idea of how much email marketing might cost you! Just enter the number of emails you think you might want to send in a month, and the calculator will tell you what the most popular providers have to offer.
Can I outsource my Email Marketing?
Yes, of course. There are different options. You can hire an email marketing agency, for example. Two of our team members have worked for such agencies in the past. It’s the most professional way to do email marketing but it comes at a high cost. Depending on how much you want to outsource (copywriting, campaign and artwork creation, project management etc.), it will cost several hundred Dollars per newsletter campaign, if not more.
A cheaper way, would be to hire a freelancer. To do that you should check out platforms such as Upwork, FreeeUp or Freelancer.com. There you can find professionals from all around the world with the skills you require. A big advantage of such hiring platforms is that you can see their previous ratings. However, you usually have to pay a fee to the marketplace if you manage to find someone.
Do I Need an Email Server of my Own in Order to Send Out Email Newsletters?
A lot of components come together when sending out an email newsletter: a software or web application that creates the newsletter, and an email server that sends it out. Generally speaking, you’re free to manage each of these components separately. You can install the newsletter software on your server or client computer, and then use the email server provided by your web hosting provider (e.g. Namecheap or GoDaddy).
Unfortunately, most of these email servers aren’t suitable for sending out a massive number of emails. Most servers shut you down when you try to send out several hundred emails in an hour. One way to deal with this issue is moving to an external email server such as Mailjet or Sendinblue.
Another option, which is really more theoretical than anything else, is running your own email server. A quick cost/benefit analysis often makes this an unrealistic option for most small businesses. Sending out emails isn’t that much of a problem. However, if your email server doesn’t have a good sender reputation, your emails won’t be accepted by major email services such as Gmail, Yahoo, AOL etc.
If you want to take the easy way out, you can opt for a hosted email system. Here, the provider doesn’t only give you access to the newsletter software – it also takes care of maintenance as well as deliverability for you. You’ll often get some templates to start with, too. These kinds of newsletter tools are our focus here at EmailToolTester:
> Here’s a list of newsletter providers that don’t require an additional email server.
Legally Speaking, What do I Have to be Aware of When Using Email Marketing?
There are two legal concepts you should know about:
The CAN SPAM Act states that you can send (almost) as many emails as you want as long as the recipient does not unsubscribe (opt-out principle). However, there are a number of email services (such as Mailchimp) that will demand proof of an existing opt-in for your subscribers.
This is due to the fact that it’s not good for a newsletter provider when large numbers of people complain about emails sent through their servers. Many people will simply mark your newsletter as spam and, all of a sudden, the email service provider’s server is moved to a blacklist. Obviously, the provider will want to avoid that.
EU and Canada
In Canada, there’s a different principle. In this case, you need to be able to prove that the recipient explicitly subscribed to your newsletter. The best way of doing this is through a double opt-in procedure. Here, the subscriber receives a confirmation email with a link they have to click, in order to actually join the mailing list.
Countries within the EU take this even further. The introduction of the GDPR means that, aside from having double opt-ins in place, companies must be crystal clear in the language used on sign-up forms, and have defined procedures in place for processing and storing data (among other stringent requirements).
There are some exceptions – existing business relationships, for instance. If you have a current customer, you can usually send them emails without their explicit consent. If you want to find more information on legal questions regarding email newsletters, follow this link to read up on the legal situation in the USA, Canada, and the EU.
What about purchased email lists?
There are providers who try to sell you such lists and, in some cases, they even have opt-in proof that would hold up in a court of law. However, most email services we know of won’t let you use those kinds of lists. They don’t want to risk their good sender reputation, so they prohibit the use of purchased mailing lists. Statistics clearly show that the number of complaints is higher than the number of successful clicks for such lists.
So How do I Get People to Subscribe to my Email Newsletter?
In the long run, your best strategy is good content. If your content adds value to people’s lives in some way, they will talk about, and recommend it. So try and stay away from sales-driven advertising emails as much as possible. Instead, we recommend you use email marketing to invest in good customer relations.