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How to Design the Perfect Email Newsletter

Your company’s monthly newsletter isn’t worth much if nobody reads it. Unfortunately, most newsletters share this fate—either by relegation to the spam folder or they’re left buried and unopened in the depths of the inbox. 

According to an October 2019 MailChimp study, the average open rate for email marketing campaigns is 21.33 percent. If you want your email marketing campaign to be effective, you’re going to have to shoot for an open rate that at least hits this mark.

The good news is that you can boost your chances of having your newsletter read simply by improving its design and understanding how spam filters work. Below, we’ll guide you through some of the most important principles of email newsletter design, content, and marketing so you can make the most of your mailing list.

How Do Spam Filters Work?

Far too many email blasts end up flagged by spam filters. Approximately 21 percent of permission-based emails sent by email marketing teams end up in junk or spam folders. Even though many of these emails are perfectly legitimate, they get flagged because of internet service providers (ISPs) and spam filters that work overtime to weed out anything resembling junk mail.

Spam is defined as an unsolicited and irrelevant email that is sent to a bulk list of contacts. Therefore, any email that is sent to a contact acquired by purchasing a mailing list constitutes spam. In the US, the CAN-SPAM Act imposes legal penalties for spam violations and in many other jurisdictions, including Canada, sending spam is illegal. 

The best way to not fall victim to spam filters and anti-spam laws is to, well, avoid sending it. To do this, you must follow these general rules of email etiquette at all times:

  • Don’t use misleading headers
  • Don’t use subject lines that are deceptive
  • Disclose your location and address in the email
  • Disclose that your message is an ad
  • Inform recipients about how to opt-out of future messages
  • Honor all opt-out requests

Designing The Perfect Newsletter

Now that you know what not to do, let’s take a look at the basic elements of effective newsletter campaigns. This starts with smart content strategizing, and then we can get into the nitty-gritty design details that will help your campaign stand out.

Goal-Setting and Content Creation

Your first step is to devise a goal for your email newsletter, and to ensure that it fits in with your overarching content strategy. For instance, if your primary business goal is to showcase a new product launch, you should ensure that the email highlights the value that the product can add to your readers’ lives, and provide a clickable CTA to learn more about it.

Next, you’re going to want to take your goal and consult the services of a professional content creator, writer, or agency. In doing this, you will ensure that the content of the newsletter is compelling, articulate, error-free, and relevant to your readers’ interests. Plus, you’ll be able to focus your talents on core business operations.

Find The 90/10 Balance

Ninety percent of your newsletter should consist of valuable or educational content that your readers benefit from reading. The other ten percent should be promotional in nature by mentioning and linking to a product or service that you provide. 

If you’re in the business of selling shoes to men, you may want to build your newsletter around teaching men which types of shoes to wear to various social occasions. For example, you can write about the types of shoes you might wear to the beach, your son’s baseball game, a parent-teacher conference, a board meeting, a formal gala, or a funeral. In some of the examples given, you can subtlely link to products in your lineup.

Master the Art of the Subject Line

Your readers receive dozens of emails daily from companies trying to sell their latest product or advertise their most can’t-miss sale. If you try to emulate their subject lines by stuffing salesy language like “BOGO” or “50% OFF” or “TODAY ONLY,” then you’re setting your newsletter up for failure.

Instead, use the subject line to provide a bite-sized snippet of the value you can provide the reader if they open the email. Here are some excellent examples of email subject lines done well:

  • Need More Space in Your Closet? Try These Easy Space-Saving Strategies
  • The 9 Best-Kept Secrets to Writing Effective Ad Copy
  • Got 5 Minutes? Here’s How You Can Save on Homeowner’s Insurance
  • Stumped for Ideas? Here Are The Best Christmas Gifts Under $20

In each case, the subject line articulates why the reader should open the email and isn’t too suggestive that a product or service will be advertised. The focus is on adding value rather than making a sale.

Nail the Call-to-Action (CTA)

Your newsletter’s CTA is arguably the most important element of its success. Without a prominent CTA, you can kiss your chances of converting goodbye. Although many email newsletters feature only one CTA button at the bottom of the email, we suggest going with two—one mid-way through the article (“Learn More”) and another at the bottom (“Get Started Today”). 

Keep It Focused

Readers don’t have the attention span or patience to scroll through a 1,000-word email. No matter how complex or important your message, it can be condensed to between 200-350 words. Any more words than that and you’re bound to bleed conversions. If you’re desperate to include more information, do so in the form of branded infographics and images

Putting It All Together

A successful email marketing campaign takes a bit of experimentation, A/B testing, and trial-and-error to master. However, by keeping your message simple, clean, and value-oriented (while dodging spam filters at all costs), you can land at the top of your reader’s inbox and start raking in conversions. 


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