Introduction: Reinventing The Newsletter
IF THERE’S ONE FORCE HOLDING YOUR NEWSLETTER BACK, it’s that you refer to it as a “newsletter.”
After all, what’s a newsletter? If you tried to define it, you might use words like bulletin or leaflet – and, if we’re being honest (which we should be), bulletins, leaflets and newsletters do not exactly scream, “Read me!” Nobody stops what they’re doing to peruse a newsletter. Nobody hits ‘pause’ on a Grumpy Cat video to see what bulletin just popped into their inbox. That’s because nobody in the free world is interested in receiving a dump of info that some unknown entity considers so worthy of attention they blast it out to 1000s of unsuspecting folks at once.
Newsletters push content at busy people. Newsletters summarize stories until all the juice is squeezed out of them. Newsletters try – and generally fail – to make their presence felt in inboxes that are filled with an average of 121 business emails each day. As of 2012, newsletters take up 29% of the space in an inbox, more than any other type of email. More than social alerts. More than one-to-one emails. More than receipts and other transactional emails.
Take a sec to think about the newsletters you’ve signed up for. First, can you name five of them? Second, how many of them would you pay to continue receiving?
Those are important questions to try to answer. They’re questions your subscribers may be indirectly asking right this second as they seek the great mystical unicorn that is Inbox Zero.
But even more important than those two Qs is your answer to this question: Would your subscribers pay you to keep receiving your newsletter? Would even 5% of your subscribers pay $5 per month to continue to have your newsletter arrive in their inbox? If not, why not? It could be because:
- You’re not sending them content they want to read and share, so they rarely bother opening your newsletters
- You’re not sure what your newsletter’s value proposition is, which is resulting in a muddied experience for your subscribers
- You think newsletters ought to have a set number of articles – like, say, four – which is making you focus more on quantity than on quality
- You’re creating “content” instead of developing value-packed articles, infographics, videos and webinars your subscribers would miss if they were gone
I’ve been in content creation and copywriting for over a decade, working with B2B and B2C of all sizes in industries from tech to fashion, and I’ve heard the same frustrations over and over. What do readers want? Why don’t they open my newsletters? Why don’t they click to read our articles and posts? Why don’t they comment or, at least, share our stuff ? Is it asking so much to get them to click to tweet our latest newsletter?
Since the explosion of content marketing, marketers are more exhausted than ever with their efforts to create newsletters that convert… but that end up failing to do anything more than generate work. It should come as no surprise to you that inbox competition is at an all-time high. You already know that marketers in every industry – including yours – are creating more content than ever before and that they’re distributing that content via emailed newsletters. But it’s not like the only barrier to your newsletter’s success is competition. That would be manageable for any marketer. Rather, your newsletter is impeded by:
- The tiny screens your subscribers are using to read their email
- Gmail’s Promotions tab, also known as The Place Newsletters Go to Die
- The sense that newsletters are low value inbox-clutterers
40% of B2B content marketers believe NEWSLETTERS ARE LESS EFFECTIVE content marketing tactics than social media and other tactics. (2014)
You’re frustrated. Your subscribers are bored.
So who’s winning with newsletters in their current state? Instead of writing a newsletter, let’s talk about how to write and send emails that connect with people and provide value every time. Let’s write single-focus emails that are irresistible to open and juicy to consume. This is the goal for this ebook: to get you to the point of creating and sending “newsletters” your readers would pay for, newsletters that will turn them from lukewarm leads to white-hot prospects.
Case study: Learn how TechSoup Polska, an organization helping nonprofits get access to new technologies, increased their orders’ value by 1200% year over year thanks to targeted email campaigns.
WHAT’S YOUR NEWSLETTER’S VALUE PROPOSITION?
YOUR NEWSLETTER NEEDS A REASON FOR EXISTING, and that reason should not be, “Well, everyone has a newsletter so we ought to, too.” If that’s how your newsletter started, fine. But from this day forward, we want it to exist for a purpose. We want it to earn attention. And if it’s going to do that, it needs to provide measurable value to two groups:
- Your prospects and customers
- Your business
The value for the business is lead generation, list growth and engagement opportunities leading to sales. If your newsletter is very good and your list is very engaged, your newsletter can also lead to reputation-building, paid sponsors and PR opportunities. The value is clear for your business. But is it clear for your prospects and customers?
Defining a Customer-Centric Value Proposition for Your Newsletter
A value proposition, or a unique sales proposition (USP), is usually expressed as a succinct, memorable and specific statement of what’s uniquely desirable about your solution. The first value proposition in the history of marketing was the tagline for M&Ms: The milk chocolate melts in your mouth, not in your hands. That’s a strong value proposition because it meets all the criteria discussed above:
|Uniquely desirable benefit or outcome for user|
Now, your value prop doesn’t necessarily need to be expressed succinctly unless you plan to use it as a tagline for your newsletter or a headline for the newsletter sign-up page. It does, however, need to communicate what wonderful outcome you offer the subscriber that s/he can’t find elsewhere. This isn’t an easy task. That’s why most newsletters have no raison d’etre and, thus, low engagement. Your customers can tell when you aren’t offering them anything valuable.
Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income (2014) does a great job expressing his newsletter’s USP: “Get exclusive online business strategies that you cannot nd on the blog.”
How does Pat’s newsletter’s value prop score?
|Uniquely desirable benefit or outcome for user|
Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich (2014) also has a value proposition for his newsletter: “Join the free newsletter for getting rich.” He supports that statement with bullets expressing what he offers that’s unique, like insider techniques and scripts that are “never publicly released.”
How does Ramit’s newsletter’s value prop score?
|Uniquely desirable benefit or outcome for user|
You’re totally welcome to disagree on how I’ve scored the above value propositions. It’s not the score that’s the point. It’s the fact that top-performing newsletters exist to provide specific value to their readers.
When you know your newsletter’s value proposition, you can
- Get your subscribers excited about what you’ll offer them
- Filter out topics that won’t serve your value prop
- More easily write focused, meaningful newsletter content
- Waste less time filling your editorial calendar with random topics
- Send out reader-worthy content
It’s not just about documenting and sharing your value proposition with your subscribers. Your newsletter also has to radiate your value on every delivery. An example of a newsletter that does just that is Brad Grossman’s Zeitguide (2014), a cultural almanac for business, tech and political leaders that want to forecast future trends based on what’s happening now. When you sign up, you can see the history of Zeitguide newsletters, which immediately signals the newsletter’s value proposition:
The newsletters themselves synthesize the “zeitgeist” of a particular topic, as shown in this example for the Zeitguide to the Cost of Fear (Oct 17, 2014):
Every Zeitguide lives and breathes the newsletter’s value proposition. As a result, subscribers know why they’ve subscribed to the newsletter, which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is far better than subscribers questioning their interest in a newsletter. So your job right now is to come up with a value proposition for your newsletter. Brainstorm value propositions for your newsletter, and complete the following table to choose the value prop that’s most likely to attract and keep subscribers. Make sure it’s your truest value proposition, not just the value prop that will attract subscribers but be impossible for you to live up to. Print and complete the table on the next page.
Worksheet: Our Newsletter’s Value Proposition
|Potential Value Prop||Is This Something Our Prospects Will Really Want?||Is This Something Our Prospects Can’t Easily Find Elsewhere?|
How to Increase Opens
OPEN RATES ARE IMPACTED BY MUCH MORE THAN the words you write in a subject line and the name in the From Field. Your subscribers are more likely to open your newsletter if the From and subject line do their jobs and if:
- Your email is not buried in Gmail’s Promotions, Social or Updates tab
- They’ve opened your newsletter – or other emails from you – recently (and are in the early stages of forming the habit)
- They’ve found your content valuable in the past
- You’re not considered spam
Let’s explore the copywriting tactics you can use to do all of the above, and then we’ll dive into writing better-performing from and subject lines.
DO OPEN RATES MATTER?
Open rates matter to businesses and non-profits for this reason: a subscriber can’t convert if they don’t open your email. Of course, that doesn’t mean your conversion rate will necessarily go up as your open rate goes up. Rather, think of it as widening your funnel. You need to send more people – qualified leads from your list – into the top of the funnel, and that’s what a higher open rate can do.
Get into Gmail’s Primary Tab
Winning the right to appear in Gmail’s Primary tab isn’t a game of chance. It’s a matter of asking. When a new subscriber signs up, you should give them clear, unmistakable instructions about how to move your emails from Promotions to Primary.
DingTwist (2014) does this very well on their opt-in con rmation page:
Also remind new subscribers of why they’ll want your newsletter in their Primary tab. This goes back to your newsletter’s value proposition. What will your audience get from you every time they receive your newsletter? Put that on your opt-in confirmation page, as in this example:
Great! Just One More Thing
To be sure you’ll get front-of-the-line access to offers and the data you want most, add us to your safe sender list and move us into your Primary tab in Gmail. It’s as easy as dragging and dropping. Head over to Gmail now, and move us from Promotions to Primary, then select “Yes” when Gmail asks you to do this going forward.
Don’t overlook this critical step. It may seem like extra work to include a pic like DingTwist has done, but in reality it should take very little time – and the pay-off will be worth the small amount of effort.
If you’re not sure if it’s worth the effort for your particular list, sign into GetResponse, go into Email Analytics, and select Email Clients to see what percentage of your subscribers are receiving your emails in Gmail. It might surprise you.
Your newsletter needs to earn its place in the Primary tab. If you don’t send newsletters worth reading, you won’t last long in the Primary tab.
Get Subscribers in the Habit of Opening
Once your email is on your subscribers’ radars, you need to help them develop a habit of opening your newsletters. After all, they signed up to hear from you, so you owe it to them to make hearing from you as easy as possible, don’t you? You do. Here are two very simple, relatively quick ways to encourage habit-formation.
1. Get ‘Em Hooked with an Intriguing
When your subscriber first signs up, s/he usually opts in to get something, whether a whitepaper or a free software trial or a coupon code. You should have GetResponse autoresponders set up to immediately send that item (commonly referred to as opt-in bait) to your new subscriber, following which should begin a series of drip emails that cover the most interesting or the least-known elements of a high-value topic.
Writing great autoresponders is an ebook of its own, but here’s the primary goal you should have in mind when creating an autoresponder sequence: find a topic your prospect cares desperately about, and write a short series of emails that teaches them a new perspective on that topic. New, different and unheard of – those are the magic words when creating this drip campaign. If you can get new subscribers to open the first 3 emails you send them, to read those emails and to find value in them, you’re on your way to becoming a habit.
Keep a Schedule
A schedule can create a sense of anticipation in your subscribers. If your content is really fantastic, they’ll look forward to seeing your newsletter in their inbox every, say, Wednesday. If you know you’re going to send a newsletter every Wednesday, tell your subscribers so i) when they opt-in, ii) on the confirmation page and iii) in the welcome email. Then keep that schedule.
The argument against keeping a schedule is that you may become white noise in an inbox. But that’s only true if you send newsletters filled with content your subscribers don’t want. If you know your newsletter’s value proposition and you know what your prospects want, then it’s a matter of connecting them to your content. A schedule can help with that.
But what if someone was opening your emails before… then stopped opening them… and never returned? They’re still on your list, but should they be? They will bring down your open rate, which is only acceptable if they are going to re-engage at some point. If a subscriber is not opening, then she’s not reading, clicking or buying, so why is she still on your list? (Hint: the answer to that question should not be, “Because I want a big list.”) Now, you don’t have to go on a wild and ruthless crusade to remove every subscriber that hasn’t opened an email in the last six months. But you should make re-engagement and cleansing part of your email marketing strategy.
IS TUESDAY STILL THE BEST DAY TO SEND A NEWSLETTER?
“Our delivery schedule is 10:30am Eastern on Wednesdays. This harks back to my solopreneur days, where I would write the newsletter or record my weekly video on Monday and get it ready for publishing on Wednesday. This gave me a little lee-way if I was behind or needed more time to create something awesome. Sending mid-week also gives us the opportunity to send other emails – like live webinar reminders or promos – on Monday and Friday without feeling like we’re emailing daily and annoying people
Sending in the morning works well for engagement and blog comments. People might be catching up on email after they come back from lunch on the East coast or just getting into their emails in the morning on the West coast.”
Nathalie Lussier, Digital Strategist and Co-founder of AmbitionAlly
First, try to win the disengaged back. Segment your list to identify subscribers that have not opened recently; for example, subscribers who have not opened your last five newsletters. Send those disengaged subscribers a targeted newsletter intended to re-engage them. This can be as simple as asking for them to come back, like CNET does:
If it’s very important to you to win them back and you have something to offer, dig into your pockets – reward subscribers for restarting the convo with you. A great example of a solid re-engagement effort comes courtesy of Starbucks:
Crocs also does a great job of incenting subscribers to re-engage:
Interestingly, Crocs includes a note below the primary message to explain that, if the recipient doesn’t click on the email, they’ll be removed from the list. This leads us to our next step…
Clean your list. Scrub those disengaged subscribers away! If, after being nicely invited, they haven’t re-engaged:
- Port them from your primary list to a new list or group, which you can then suppress or segment-out when you send your newsletter going forward, or
- Unsubscribe or delete them from your list
Although least desirable of your options, unsubscribing or deleting your disengaged subscribers may be the best way to go, for two reasons. The first: it clears them from your list so they’re free to re-subscribe in the future, which they won’t be able to do if they’re already subscribed but on a muted group. The second: if you’re keeping those folks on your list in the hopes of mailing them offers down the road, you could be setting yourself up to be labeled as spam because you’ll be popping into their inbox irregularly and only with offers. Not good email marketing.
WHAT ABOUT AUSTRALIA?
GetResponse found that 23.8% of all email opens occur during the first hour after an email is delivered. After 24 hours, an email’s chance of being opened drops to less than 1%. So think about your subscribers around the world when sending your newsletter, and opt to send using local time. You might be surprised to find that innocuous little clock is suppressing opens.
List cleansing is an activity that so few marketers want to do because there’s a sense that your business isn’t legit unless you have a “large list.” But how many subscribers do you have to have in order to have a large list? No one can answer that question because there is no answer to it; there is no ideal number. It’s not about quantity. List size is a vanity metric. List quality pays the bills.
If your open rate is below your industry average, it’s likely time to clean your list.
Now, you may think, “Well, Joanna, isn’t that just artificially increasing my open rate?” To which I’d reply, “Isn’t keeping disengaged subscribers on your list artificially decreasing your open rate?”
Send Valuable Content
When it comes to your newsletter, the better your content, the more likely your subscribers are to open your newsletter, click thru and share. That said, if you’ve written dull, lifeless newsletters in the past, you can still reclaim your spot in the hearts of readers. You just have to send better, more timely and more relevant content to them. Easy, right?
Whether you send offers, news and updates, original content or any combination of those, the only way to be sure you’re sending valuable content is to listen to your subscribers. They will show you and tell you what content they most enjoy – and it’s up to you to notice their signals and craft your newsletter content accordingly.
STILL SENDING BLAST NEWSLETTERS?
The larger your list, the more diverse your subscribers are bound to be. The same content won’t interest everyone equally. So consider segmenting your list every time you send a newsletter, and tailor the newsletter to each segment. This takes a little more work on your part, but it also increases the relevance of your newsletter, which could increase opens, clicks and shares.
Here are some ways to discern what’s valuable to your subscribers:
- Pay attention to the emails that have the highest click-thru rate (CTR), which can indicate interest in the topic.
- Immediately after they first sign up, invite them to update their subscription settings. Send them to a short form that will allow them to indicate, say, their profession, which will in turn help you send them only the content they’re sure to care about.
- On the sign-up con rmation page, invite them to take a very short survey in which you ask them questions that will familiarize you with their favorite types of content and places they go for great content. (GetResponse has a build-in, fully customizable survey feature.)
- Split-test your opt-in bait. The content that compels more people to sign up is likely to be the content that they’d most like to hear about on a regular basis.
In the last chapter, you worked on developing a value proposition for your newsletter. To get a strong sense for how desirable your value prop really is, craft headlines expressing your value prop, and split-test those headlines on your opt-in page.
How to Increase Clicks and Conversions
Avoid Spam Filters
The most obvious ways to avoid spam lters are:
- Not to send spam
- Not to buy or sell a subscriber list
- To use double opt-ins, ensuring subscribers intended to sign up
- To make it really easy to unsubscribe
You should also ask new subscribers to add you to their whitelist or safe sender list. Dov Gordon (2014) does this on his opt-in confirmation page:
When you send new subscribers a welcome email, simply ask them to unsubscribe when they’ve learned all they can from you. Be sure to clearly spell out that they should not label you as spam and why they shouldn’t. We do this at Copyhackers in our welcome email (2014).
We’re also careful to use a recognizable From name, as are many marketers. If you keep a swipe file of the best, most influential newsletters, you’ll see that they rarely switch up their From names:
And a final technique to ensure you avoid that nasty, business-killing spam filter: segment your list. There are countless reasons to segment your list, and ensuring that you send the right content only to people who want to receive it is one of them.
When you segment your newsletter, you can avoid creating the perception of overmailing your list.
“Should I Avoid Using So-Called Spam Words in My Newsletters?”
Phrases like “free”, “get paid”, “increase traffic” and “friend” have been known to set off spam filters. In fact, there are 300+ recognized spam words, many of which you probably use without thinking about it.
If you’re finding your emails snagged by spam filters, avoid those words. On the other hand, if you’re willing to risk being labelled spam, the use of some of these phrases could easily increase your opens and clicks.
- If your strategy is to email frequently, send one email to your entire list 2x per month, and every other day send emails on specific topics only to the subscribers who’ve shown interest in those topics
- Remember that disengaged subscribers are often just too busy to open your emails, so avoid inadvertently triggering their “this is spam” instinct by sending them just one sales email, not the whole campaign
- Make sales emails dependent on newsletter clicks: only send an offer to subscribers who’ve actively engaged with your emails
Would you open email from someone you didn’t know? The risk of opening spam that will set o a trigger of follow-up emails and any number of other hassles – from stolen identities to screen pop-ups – is too great for most people. And that’s why your From line is so important for opens.
Your From line needs to be populated with a name that signals trust first and foremost. You already saw that reputable newsletter marketers – like Ramit Sethi and ModCloth – use the same From line every time they send.
Take a look at your Inbox, and then take a look at your Spam folder, where you’ll see From lines like those shown to the right.
What do those spammy From lines have in common?
- The personalization is awkward
- Special characters and strangely used punctuation
- They’re primarily business or brand names
People open emails from people. For your newsletter to stand a chance of being opened, it needs to give o reliable signals that a real human being wrote it.
And if you don’t think From lines are that important, chew on this. Recent data shows that approximately 49% of all emails are opened on a mobile device, and the most popular email provider is Gmail. So what does a Gmail inbox look like on an iPhone? Check it out:
What’s the first, most prominent part of every email? The From line. It’s in the largest type. And it’s at the top of each email, compelling the reader to look at it first and inadvertently turning it into a filter.
You could easily dedicate an entire, full-length book to the art and science of writing subject lines. Schools of thought vary wildly on the subject of subject lines, so I’m not going to try to synthesize and analyze what the whole world says – but, instead, here’s what I’ve seen work in tests.
Your Subject Line Has 1 Job
Here’s what your subject line should be expected to do: get subscribers to open. That’s it.
That’s all you can ask it to do. Is it capable of doing more? Sure, it can:
- Impact click-thrus
- Impact conversions
- Impact unsubscribes
- Summarize the newsletter’s content
Dig data? At the end of this chapter, you’ll see some very interesting charts highlighting stats for over 375 million subject lines.
But none of the above is its job. Its job – the task it is responsible for in your email campaign – is to compel subscribers to open. (In a non-scuzzy and honest way.)
Brennan Dunn of Planscope.io (2014) does a fantastic job writing subject lines that tease just enough to get people to open, as the following selection of his recent subject lines shows:
Why you need to write assumption-less proposals (+ a freebie)
How to justify “more than market” rates
3 freelancers who have built successful products and how they did it
Brennan’s three most recent newsletter subject lines have an average open rate of 42%. Let me repeat: 42%. They give the subscriber just enough info to desire more, which is a fantastic writing tactic to entice opens. Importantly, these curiosity-piquing subject lines are accurate reflections of the content within the newsletter; there’s no bait-and-switch happening here, and no trickery.
Imagine if, instead of writing, “How to justify more than market rates”, Brennan summarized the newsletter in the subject line, as many marketers do:
Remind new subscribers who you are! To boost opens for new subscribers, segment out those who signed up in the last 4 weeks. Tweak your subject line so it incorporates your brand name. For example, Brennan might send newer subscribers this: How to justify “more than market” rates [Planscope.io]
When you read a subject line like that, you have no reason to open! You just got the tl;dr in the subject line. Only those who want a deeper level of information about “selling results” would open the email – which is not just bad for open rates but also for your subscribers: they signed up to learn from you, so draw them into your rich, meaty lessons.
Your Subject Line Should Be Formatted Like a Friend’s Subject Line
When’s the last time your nearest-and-dearest sent you an email with this kind of subject line:
So Guess Who Got That Fancy New Job and a Signing Bonus, Jessica
Instead, you’re more likely to see this:
Soooo… guess who got that fancy new job AND a signing bonus
As more emails are read on mobile devices, subject lines will be increasingly truncated. So that 55-character gem you just wrote? Try cutting that down to at most 35 characters, which is the maximum recommended for mobile. To be safe? Aim for fewer than 25 characters.
Trusted senders rarely use Title Case, rarely personalize and rarely follow the rules of grammar and punctuation. That’s not to say that you should make spelling mistakes or get super-informal with your subscribers. Rather, be aware of what a formal, business-ready subject line often looks like in your subscriber’s inbox… and what that could signify. Title Case + personalization + perfect grammar = business newsletter. If you don’t want to be seen as JABN (just another business newsletter), don’t look like one.
On mobile devices and online, most email clients / inboxes will show the following:
- The From line
- The subject line
- Preheader text
Preheader text is the least discussed copy in an email, which makes it a huge opportunity because so few businesses are taking advantage of it. In GetResponse and in most email marketing platforms, a small editable section above your newsletter body exists, usually housing a standard “View HTML” link, like so:
That’s the area where you want to write a short snippet of enticing copy.
Here’s what it looks like when you don’t write preheader copy:
Not very meaningful, right? Wasted space, and a wasted opportunity to increase opens. You should use that preheader space to give subscribers a reason to open your email. Build on your subject line with it, as Club Monaco does below. Or give more specifics, as Hotels.com does below.
So what are you gonna do differently to optimize your emails to get more opens? Print off the following checklist and post it near your desk.
The Email Marketer’s Checklist for Increasing Opens
- I am segmenting and using custom subject lines for each segment
- I am sending the newsletter at a time my subscriber is likely to open
- My From line uses the name of a real person from my company
- I know that the email content will match the newsletter’s value proposition
- If I used personalization in the subject line, it doesn’t read awkwardly
- The subject line isn’t summarizing the newsletter’s content
- The subject line teases about the juiciest, funniest or otherwise most interesting part of the newsletter, in a non-tricky way
- The subject line isn’t written in Title Case
- I’ve written compelling preheader text
- There’s a clear link to unsubscribe within
Subject Line FAQs:
Answers Based on 375,000,000+ Emails Analyzed
GetResponse analyzed hundreds of thousands of subject lines for emails sent in dozens of industries to a world of markets using our platform. Here’s what we learned.
To get higher open rates, how be? It may surprise you to learn that the email subject lines with the highest open rates are very lengthy. Those with over 46 characters in length have a 9.48% OR, while those with 61+ characters get the most opens at 12.38%.
To get higher click rates, how long should my subject line be? Although subject lines shouldn’t be responsible for click rates, they do impact them. Click rates are highest for subject lines that are either very short at 0 to 15 characters (2.10%) or very long at 61+ characters (2.08%). Compare that to a less-than 1.80% CR, on average, for subject lines that are between 16 and 60 characters.
What’s the most common subject line length among email marketers? Although very long and very short subject lines get the highest open and click rates, email marketers tend to use subject lines that are between 31 and 45 characters in length. In fact, for every 1 email sent using a very short subject line (0-15 chars), there are 7 emails sent that use the oh-so common mid- length line (31-45 chars).
Should I personalize my subject lines? No, not if you’re doing it to increase open rates. Personalized subject lines have an average open rate of 6.21%, while non-personalized subject lines have a much higher average open rate of 10.05%. However, unsubscribe rates are lower for personalized subject lines (0.08%) than for non- personalized (0.12%), so if your goal is to reduce unsubscribes, test a personalized subject line.
For your upcoming newsletters, A/B test very short, non- personalized subject lines, and see if your subscribers respond like the average subscribers do.
Increase clicks and conversions
IN THE LAST CHAPTER, I RECOMMENDED that you make your subject line responsible for 1 job only: to get subscribers to open. The number 1 is a very important number in email marketing. Here are a few other 1s for you:
- Your newsletter should have 1 goal
- Your newsletter should have 1 success metric, tied to the goal
- Your newsletter should be written in a 1-to-1 fashion
Know Your Conversion Goal
A newsletter can help you reach any number of marketing goals, so every time you sit down to write a newsletter, you should start by considering your goal:
- More clicks (CTR)
- More forwards to more friends
- More comments on the landing page
- More video views on the landing page
- More tweets, likes or other shares on the landing page
- More sales on the landing page
- Fewer unsubscribes
- More unsubscribes (yes, if you’re cleaning your list, this may be a goal!)
SHOULD YOU PASTE YOUR WHOLE BLOG POST INTO AN EMAIL, OR SHOULD YOU WRITE A TEASER AND LINK TO YOUR POST?
“Whatever you do, you should do it for the reader. Some people say you should do teasers so that it ‘trains’ readers to click your links so that you can sell them stuff later on. I guess that makes sense, but I always saw my newsletter as a distribution channel for my content, which I want to reach as many people as possible. So I just send the whole thing. Why? Because I think that’s what’s best for the reader.”
Jeff Goins, goinswriter.com
The reason you need to start with your conversion goal is because everything you write in your newsletter should move your reader toward that goal. If something does not move your reader toward that goal, it shouldn’t exist in your newsletter. You’ll notice that I didn’t include “more opens” as a goal. That’s because your newsletter’s goal should never be to increase opens; that’s the job of everything we covered in the last chapter.
I often recommend that you start with your call to action and write backward from there as this is the surest way to make sure you follow the ol’ copywriting rule of writing as much as you need to convince, and not a word more. Here’s what the end result of that approach looks like, courtesy of a great newsletter by copywriter Aaron Orendor at IconiContent (sent Oct 21, 2014).
When you read Aaron’s newsletter, you’ll notice how everything is building up to the click. Yes, the busy subscriber can simply click the title and head straight to the post, but the engaged subscriber gets pulled in by a ton of clever anticipation building. By the time you reach the call to action/text link, not even a linebacker could block you from clicking it.
What is the conversion goal for Aaron’s newsletter? CTR. No question about it.
Increase Comments on and Shares of Your Posts
Because so many newsletters are lead-ins to blog posts, it often seems that the only goal would be CTR; you want to get people to click through to your post. But what you most want, most often, is for your reader not just to click to consume your content… but to click and share or comment on your content.
3 NOTES ON EMAIL COPYWRITING FOR MOBILE DEVICES
MOBILE EMAIL IS CONTEXT, NOT SCREEN SIZE Mobile emails. Desktop emails. What’s the difference? A common mistake when writing and sending mobile emails is to think about them as a screen size that your message needs to t inside – it’s not. An email for mobile isn’t just a smaller copy of your desktop email.
Mobile covers a wide range of reader use cases – where they are, what they’re doing, and how they can respond. On mobile, you need to consider not only how your reader interacts with an email on their device but also how they can take action on their device after they’ve viewed the email.
RESPONSIVE ISN’T ENOUGH
If you’re looking at an email on a mobile device, you might be on the bus, or waiting in line for food, or sitting on your couch at home. What’s the difference between these situations and looking at your emails in the office, at your desk, in front of your computer? Well – everything, frankly.
For one, your workflow is different. The time and focus you have for an email on mobile isn’t the same as on your desktop. Also, the resources you have access to on mobile are limited – you can’t hop from app to app and navigate the web as easily on mobile device. All these factors contribute to how likely a reader will take action on your email, or, if they can take action at all.
OPTIMIZE FOR THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE
When you’re writing a mobile email, think about the workflow your reader will take after they click the CTA. You need to consider whether the action you want them to take is easy or optimized for their context, whatever that context may be.
Matt Harris, Co-founder of sendwithus
So change your goal accordingly.
Your email body can’t be solely responsible for the job of boosting comments or shares on the landing page; the page itself will have to do a lot of that work. But the email can and should:
- Be written to plant the seed of commenting or sharing (one, not both)
- Make commenting or sharing sound bene cial to the reader in some real way
- Create the impression that others are engaging with comments and sharing
- Normalize the act of commenting and sharing
Ramsay Taplin at BlogTyrant.com (2014) is one of the few email marketers I see regularly requesting comments and giving subscribers reasons to comment. Here, you can see that he not only names the group he wants to leave comments most (i.e., Australians), but he also creates the impression that others are engaging: “get a few comments up the top”, aka, hurry before others leave comments at the top of the post!
If you want to increase comments on the blog post to which you’re linking, write the email not to discuss the blog post so much as to spark conversation in the mind of your reader. Think of this: to leave a comment requires the same effort and level of engagement necessary to get a student in a lecture theatre to raise her hand and ask a question or comment on what you, the lecturer, said. Here’s what engaging university instructors say to do:
“Good teaching keeps everybody on their toes and requires everyone to think. Calling out questions and asking people to raise their hands with the answer is the opposite of requiring everybody to think.”
Terry McGlynn, associate professor at Cal State (2014).
That means you need to get your readers’ minds churning in your newsletter. You can do this by:
- Taking a side on a timely debate your readers are already thinking about, then driving them to the post where you address the subject more fully
- ‘Picking a fight’ with a concept or practice that is likely to divide your audience – such as rallying against A/B testing when you’ve got CROs on your list
- Opening up about your challenging or unusual personal experiences
- Opening up about your challenging or unusual business experiences
- Ask your subscribers a tough or stimulating question
As an example of picking a fight, here’s just such a newsletter from copywriter Drayton Bird (2014):
And as an example of asking a tough or stimulating question, check out this newsletter by copywriter Neville Medhora (2014):
Also, be sure to make it easy for your reader to comment. Captchas and uncommon commenting tools can easily get in the way of conversions your newsletter is working hard to generate for you. Additional quick tips for writing newsletters that can increase comments and shares:
- In the first email you ever send – i.e. the welcome email – position comments as ‘payment’ for your best stuff and state the consequence of not leaving comments: you won’t be able to invest time in writing useful posts anymore
- Use the PS to ask for comments
- Feature clever past comments in the sidebar
- Use the PS to highlight the best tweet you recently received, along with a link for people to follow that Twitter account (which could make others who want to be highlighted more willing to tweet)
- If you have advanced insights into your subscribers, segment out those with Twitter accounts and use a prewritten “click to tweet” or tweetable in the newsletter
As a nal note, remember that, although you’re writing a newsletter – which sounds like it ought to be lengthy – it can help to get to the point quickly. So if you know your conversion goal is to do X, do your best to get the reader to X in little time, as Nir Eyal does in this newsletter:
BONUS ADVANCED TIP 1:
Send your newsletter in 2 groups over 2 days. On day 1, segment out about 20% of your list, and send them a newsletter with a great reward – like a gift card – for leaving the most intriguing comment within the next 8 hours. (That time limit is critical!) The next day, send a second newsletter to the remaining 80% of your list, and spark conversation by showcasing the most intriguing comment in the newsletter, along with a request that they add their voice to the convo, too (no incentive or mention of incentives).
BONUS ADVANCED TIP 2:
Send your newsletter in 2 groups over 2 days. On day 1, segment out about 40% of your list, and encourage them to tweet their reaction your post immediately. On day 2, send a second newsletter to the remaining 60% of your list, and embed some of the tweets that show the more interesting reactions; include copy that highlights the number of people who are talking about your article on Twitter (as long as that number isn’t super-low).
How conversion copywriters write emails
IF YOU WANT TO CONVERT YOUR SUBSCRIBERS, show them value. Fulfill the promise that lured your readers to sign up for your newsletter in the first place. That’s the most important thing to keep in mind.
Once you’ve got your value prop figured out, you’ve landed on 1 clear goal for your next newsletter, you’re prepared to write in a 1-to-1 (not 1-to-many) style, and you’re segmenting and scheduling appropriately for your goals, how do you actually write your newsletter?
Start with AIDA. Then follow the other fundamentals of conversion- focused newsletter copywriting discussed in this chapter.
LEARN FROM THE MASTERS
Copywriters write newsletters worth subscribing to if only to borrow copy ideas from the newsletters themselves. So why not sign up for the newsletter of every copywriter you come across? You can keep their newsletters in a Swipe File for reference when writing.
AIDA: Your Copywriting Starting Point
You may be familiar with AIDA, a popular acronym copywriters often follow to structure their copy for best results. Here’s how it works:
- Attention: Grab your reader with the first line.
- Interest: Engage your reader to keep him reading.
- Desire: Make him hunger for what’s about to come.
- Action: Get him to click.
Instead of giving you a bunch of ideas for how to make AIDA work, check out these 3 examples of AIDA at play in newsletters worth mimicking.
CHRIS BROGAN’S NEWSLETTER (2014)
JON MORROW’S NEWSLETTER (2014)
MARIE FORLEO’S NEWSLETTER (2014)
The more newsletters you write, the less you’ll need to rely on AIDA. But when you first start writing newsletters, or if you’re finding that you’re not getting the results you want, let AIDA guide your copy.
Open Your Newsletter with Short Sentences
You’ll notice that the sentences / paragraphs in the most addictively readable newsletters are quite short. This makes the copy very easy to move through. Your reader’s eyes can keep scrolling down rather than scrolling all the way across the screen, all the way back, down, and all the way across and back again.
At minimum, the opening lines of your newsletter should be very short to draw readers in, like Melissa Cassera (2014) does:
Format for Readability
You may have noticed that the example newsletters in this ebook are rarely if ever heavily designed. Most are simple one-column HTML newsletters. I’m not suggesting that only plain-looking newsletters work; rather, I’ve found that one-column text lends itself well to AIDA-structured newsletters. It focuses the reading experience. If you want people to read, start by focusing their eyes on the text – don’t introduce distractions, like unnecessary iconography or multiple ‘blocks’ of stories.
In your one-column HTML newsletter, format the copy such that most if not all of your paragraphs are composed primarily of one sentence. Use paragraphs very sparingly, as copywriter Ben Settle (2014) does:
Do as Cialdini Would Do: Persuade
In his legendary Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini describes six common persuasion principles: reciprocity, commitment, social proof, liking (or likability), authority and scarcity. These are the principles most of us use to enhance our everyday marketing, and we should equally use them in our newsletters and the sales emails that flow out of those. Here’s a great example. When time is running out on an offer you’ve mailed to your newsletter list, don’t just write, “Ends soon!” Copywriter Jon Benson wrote the following urgency-packed email for a webinar he was cohosting:
Write Directly to 1 Reader
This conversion copywriting tip is one I’ve repeated throughout because it bears repeating. Repeat after me: write 1-to-1. When you write this way, you’re not Faceless Person Behind Big Brand sending random articles to Faceless List. You’re [insert your name here] sharing something really intriguing with 1 person. You’re writing “me to you”. Laura Roeder does a great job of this in her newsletter The Dash (2014):
Test Everything in GetResponse
There is no perfect formula for writing high-converting newsletters. What works for X business writing to Y audience won’t necessarily work for Z business writing for A audience. That’s why we A/B test. Not to sound all sales-pitchy, but, truly, one of the best reasons to use GetResponse is because it allows you to easily A/B test:
- Your subject line
- Your body copy
- Your From line
- The time of day you send
- The day of the week you send
So as you close up this book and begin writing the newsletters of your audience’s dreams, be sure to split-test as much as you can. If you find any interesting learnings or insights, we’d love to share them on the GetResponse.com blog and the Copyhackers.com blog.
About Joanna Wiebe
THE ORIGINAL CONVERSION COPYWRITER, Joanna Wiebe runs a conversion copywriting consultancy in Victoria, BC and is the co-creator of both Copyhackers.com and Disco Surveys, the incentivized pop-up survey for marketers (trydisco.com).
Joanna specializes in writing test-worthy, higher-performing email and web copy that’s loved by customers and bottom lines alike. She’s sold more than 40,000 copies of her copywriting ebooks and has been invited to speak at such events as Inbound, HeroConf, Copyblogger Authority Intensive, Problogger Event, MicroConf, Conversion Jam and Business of Software, among others.
You should sign up for the Copyhackers newsletter now and connect with Joanna online to ensure you always get the best in copywriting education.