Email newsletters seem like a pretty straightforward way to connect with your potential and existing customers. After all, you write them up, format them, and send them out to your opt-in subscribers. How simple is that?
But, like almost everything in life, it’s a bit more complicated than that. There are so many potential pitfalls that it can seem daunting at first. The good news is that virtually every mistake you could make in creating and sending your email newsletter can be easily avoided once you know what to watch out for.
Here are twenty huge mistakes that a lot of marketers make when starting out on the email newsletter path. Granted, not many people make every mistake listed, but it’s almost certain that every marketer out there has made at least one of them in their career (and hopefully learned from the experience without too much damage). Read on to find out what to avoid and what to do instead.
Too much content
People are busy. They don’t have time to read unnecessary information. They want their content short and sweet, to the point. So sending out a newsletter that’s 3,000 words long or includes 50 different links doesn’t tend to work well. In fact, it’s likely to be closed right away, without being read. Even if your subscribers start to read your lengthy newsletter, it’s likely they won’t finish. And at worse, they’ll unsubscribe from your list all together.
Not enough quality content
Obviously you don’t want too much content in your newsletter, but there’s such a thing as too little content, too, and especially too little quality content. Make sure that all of the content in your newsletter provides value, and isn’t just sales copy. That means thinking about what your newsletter subscribers want to read and providing just that, without any extraneous information they’re not interested in.
Big chunks of text
No one wants to read a giant chunk of text, especially on a phone or mobile device screen. So why on earth are you writing 500-word paragraphs for your newsletter? Or worse, not breaking your newsletter content up into paragraphs at all?
Instead, aim for paragraphs that run 3-4 sentences. Don’t be afraid of bulleted or numbered lists, headlines, or even paragraphs that consist of just a single sentence. All of these make your newsletter significantly more readable.
Here’s a great example of a newsletter doing it right:
Poor timing of content
Saving content for your newsletter can work against you. If it’s particularly timely information, you may want to announce it in other ways, such as on your blog or social media accounts. Make sure that your newsletter is sent out frequently enough that it makes sense to include news items, too. Which brings us to our next tip:
Only releasing monthly
A monthly newsletter made a lot of sense back in the days of paper newsletters that were mailed out to subscribers. After all, printing and postage could add up quickly, and people were more accustomed to monthly frequencies.
But email doesn’t have the same costs associated, and people have become used to receiving correspondence from companies on a monthly or even daily basis. Unless there’s a very good reason to restrict your newsletter to once a month, plan on sending it on at least a weekly basis, and even several times each week if you have enough useful content.
There’s nothing worse than an ugly design. (Okay, some things might be worse, but not many when it comes to email.) It’s better to just send a plain text email with good basic formatting (so that it’s very readable) than a poorly designed HTML email that makes your readers’ eyes hurt.
That means you need to avoid overly bright colors, keep your design simple, and take into account what kind of design complements your content.
Ignoring your readers
You need to think about what your readers want, for sure. But you should also include some kind of welcome in your newsletter, or address it to someone in particular at the very least.
Personalization makes your email come across as friendlier, and makes it more likely to be read. It feels like communication, rather than an advertisement.
Not getting permission
I can’t stress this enough: you have to get proper permission from your subscribers prior to sending them your newsletter (or any other email communication). That means an opt-in form on your website or elsewhere online, and it means not buying a list of email addresses.
Exceeding 250 to 500 words per article
If you’re included full articles in your newsletter, make sure they don’t exceed 250 to 500 words. An even better strategy is to only include excerpts in the newsletter (100 words or so is a great length), and link to longer content on your site.This can also help increase your click-through rate.
Including links to other newsletter content within the longer-form pieces makes this a much more reader-friendly method, too, as readers don’t have to go back to their email to check out more of what’s included in your newsletter.
The Moo newsletter keeps their newsletter sections short, with links to more content on their website:
Sending out the exact same email to everyone on your entire list isn’t the most effective way to engage with your subscribers, unless you market to a very, very specific niche (one where basically everyone in that niche is demographically the same).
You want to break up your list into demographically-similar segments. That means not only breaking them down by the type of subscriber they are, but also by how they might have subscribed to your list, such as through a contest or on your website). Then you can target your message to them. For example, the segment of subscribers who signed up via a contest entry might get a special offer for another contest, to pique their interest.
Lack of interactivity
Obviously, your newsletter needs to include links to content or offers on your website. But beyond that, you need to find ways to make your email interactive. That means giving readers the ability to share your email (either by email or on social media), or including things like surveys (that you actually respond to).
It also means having the email sent from an address that is actually checked by a real, live human being. One who responds to inquiries that come from your subscribers. All of these things turn your email newsletter into more of a communication experience, instead of simply a sales tool.
Here’s an example of a really interesting way to add more interactivity to your newsletters:
Disregarding mobile readers
A ton of people are now checking email on their smartphone or other mobile device. That means you need to make sure that your email looks good and is readable on these devices, or you’re going to alienate a huge segment of your readership.
Make sure that your email design is responsive, and make sure that it will appear properly on a variety of devices, from older smartphones and BlackBerries right up through iPhones and iPads with Retina displays.
Keep your bandwidth in mind, too. If you’re loading tons of large images in your emails, you’re wasting your mobile readers’ bandwidth, and not many people have unlimited data plans anymore (which means a lot of them just won’t load your images and will miss out on some of your content).
Not personalizing the “from” field
The “from” field on your email newsletters is very important when it comes to your open rate. You need to make sure that it is honest and trustworthy. One of the most annoying things I’ve seen done all too often (especially when it comes to political and non-profit emails, as well as spam) is just using a person’s name, with no reference to who they’re affiliated with.
While sometimes the subject line is indicative of what they’re emailing about, just as often it is vague enough to make you wonder who the email is really from. Sometimes this results in opening the email to find out (though in many cases when the reader realizes that the email is not, in fact, personal, they will immediately unsubscribe, which is even worse than not having your email opened in the first place), while other times it means they simply delete the email without opening it at all.
You need to prevent both of these scenarios. The most effective “from” field seems to be including both the name of a real person as well as the name of the company or organization that they’re affiliated with. This gives the reader a clear understanding of exactly what it is they’re opening, and establishes a sense of honesty.
No clear call to action
Every email you send should include a clear call to action. That goes for newsletters, too, though it’s often ignored in those cases. Make sure that you make it very apparent to your readers exactly what you want them to do. Sure, you might have links within the email to longer content on your site, but you should still identify the one key thing you’d like your readers to do, if they do nothing else with your newsletter, and make sure that stands out from the rest of the links in your email.
Here’s a great example of a clear call-to-action:
Sounding overly “salesy”
Sales copy has its time and place. That time and place, however, is rarely in your newsletter. People subscribe to newsletters because they want information, not because they want you to sell them something. When you write “salesy” copy, it sounds like you’re trying to hard sell them.
Instead, you want to offer value in clear, concise language that isn’t pushy. Think conversation, not conversion.
Rushing to get it done
Rushing your newsletter is almost certainly going to result in mistakes that can cost you subscribers. Beyond the usual typos and grammar issues that are likely to slip through, you might make major errors that alienate your customers (such as placeholder text or incorrect personalizations). Or worse, that cost you money (such as advertising the wrong price for something or providing otherwise inaccurate information about the terms of a special).
Take your time and get it right the first time, even if that means sending out your newsletter a day late.
Ignoring your mistakes (or making them worse)
If you do make a mistake, own up to it. Think of how you can turn it into a positive for your subscribers, if nothing else.
Here’s an example of how not to fix your mistakes: an event advertised on their website and in other places that they were running special pricing through a certain date. Many of their potential customers put off making their purchase until that date, because of cashflow and other concerns. At the last minute, literally hours before the last day of the special, they changed the pricing and had the “special” price end a day early.
When people complained, they basically responded that it was their mistake, but too bad.
What they should have done was announce their mistake and turn it into an opportunity. They could have sent out an email and announced on social media that they screwed up and it meant their customers could get an extra day of special pricing. This, I’m sure, would have resulted in more purchases. It was a lost opportunity that may have cost them business, and most certainly put a sour taste in the mouths of many of their customers.
While I’ve already mentioned bad design, I felt like bad typography needed it’s own section. Email is a written medium. People open email and expect to read text. If your typography is bad, if your font is too small, or the contrast with the background is poor, then your subscribers won’t be able to read your email, and will likely close and delete it (and maybe even unsubscribe).
Sending too often
While sending your email newsletter too infrequently is an issue, sending it too often is an issue, too. Aim for a happy balance. You can experiment a bit to see where your open rates tend to drop off, depending on how frequently or infrequently you send.
It’s surprising that I still have to say this, but it seems like every day I get emails from marketers that include attachments. I don’t open them, and I don’t know many people who open attachments from people they aren’t expecting attachments from. Some people go so far as to delete them without even opening the email. Instead of attaching something, include a link. Problem solved.
Can you think of any catastrophic mistakes you think we missed? Let us know in the comments!