Are You Using Newsletters Properly?

When your content strategy includes things like magazines, buyers’ guides and membership directories as well as an online platform, newsletters are sometimes a gray area that many associations find confusing. We can all agree that newsletters are a great way to stay in front of your audience and continuously feed content, but many content providers (not just associations) have questions about how best to utilize this medium.

When planning your newsletter campaigns there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

  1. Frequency
  2. Content
  3. Advertising revenue
  4. Styling

While this seems like a fairly straightforward factor, it’s actually highly dependent on how often content is produced on your platforms and how engaged your membership is. We’ve worked with associations that send out newsletters four times per week and associations that send out newsletters four times per year. This ties in very closely with the next point, which is newsletter content. The general rule of thumb should be to release newsletters as often as you can based on the content you produce.

If you manage a blog or you’re constantly posting on sites like Medium, you should be releasing your content as often as possible. If your association is writing one or two articles per week as well as curating content from other sources on the internet that are relevant to your industry, you should send out a weekly newsletter that updates your members on the most important information in your industry.

If you’re worried about open rates, don’t be. If you’ve got your content down and you know what your audience likes to read, then you should have no problems delivering content this often. There are associations sending out daily newsletters that see open rates of upwards of 30 percent and strong click-through rates. If you’re delivering the content that’s important to the audience, they’ll open the newsletters as often as they can.

This all ties into the next point, which is content.



Remember, newsletters are a distribution method similar to Facebook or Twitter. They key point is that you don’t want to write feature articles in the newsletter itself.

You wouldn’t write an article on Twitter over 100 tweets.

You wouldn’t write an article in a Facebook note and post that to your wall.

You shouldn’t write entire articles or even very long snippets from your article in the newsletter and expect good things to happen.

Think about what you do when you receive an email or newsletter and how you interact with that newsletter. Chances are, if you’re even interested in the subject line then you’ll very briefly skim over the newsletter and see if there’s any content that jumps out at you. If there isn’t, then you’ll move on and you’ll be even less likely to open up the next one. If you see a headline or image that you like, you may click into the article and have a read.

If you’ve ever made an account on Quora and received their Quora Digest emails, you’ll see that they do this extremely well.

When those newsletters come in, all they feature is the title of a question that their algorithm says would be interesting to you. There are a few words as an excerpt from the answer itself, which is often one of the most engaging answers on the question even if it isn’t the top voted. If you read the headline and start reading the answer, you’re compelled to click on the link just so you can get the closure in your mind.

If you watch The Big Bang Theory, the episode with Sheldon Cooper needing closure is very much the same principle at work here.

Once you start reading something interesting and the content brings you up to the climax, you have to continue reading unless you truly don’t care about the words on the page. In that case, it’s likely you’d never have started reading in the first place.

Your newsletter content should have a striking and highly visual image with three or four lines of text. Nothing more. Your goal is to bring the traffic from the newsletter onto the website and that’s it. The newsletter should only have four or five stories at the maximum. If the newsletter is too long, no one is going to take 10 minutes out of their day to read it and if your excerpts are too long, then they’ll never click on the link because they feel they’ve already read the article.


Advertising Revenue

I cringe every time I receive an email from a professional association with 15 ads. This goes along with the next point, style, but there are two problems with this.

The first is that you’re cannibalizing your advertisers because none of them will have the SOV (share of view) needed in order to convert traffic. In previous articles, I’ve spoken about click-through rates and you can bet that your advertisers are tracking these things. If they don’t see the click rates that they need, then they won’t advertise with you anymore.

The second is that it’s downright ugly. What value is there in having a 100×200 box at the side of your newsletter? Almost none. On top of that, when the user is viewing the newsletter on their mobile device they can’t even see those little box banners because the newsletter is so small on their screen.

You can get around this by writing proper media queries in CSS, but most publishers (and I put the blame on publishers because every one of them would rather sell 15 ads than three) won’t do that.

When your publisher suggests a design like this, explain to them that advertising revenue should be made on the page the newsletter links to, not the newsletter itself. It’s far better to have rotating newsletters on a website that sees lots of traffic than several small banners on a newsletter with a 5 percent open rate.

When I build newsletters, I try to keep it to three advertisements all in line with the content. Usually, I’ll place one ad at the top as a leaderboard, then I’ll have two MRUs (300x250px) ads spaced out between the copy. For an example of this done highly effectively, I’d recommend having a look at GQ’s newsletters.



I’ve already gone into length of content, advertisements and touched very briefly on images, but I’ll paint the picture a little better for you.

You NEED to have a mobile-responsive newsletter. That’s step one and it’s absolutely essential.

Aside from that, once you have a handle on your editorial planner for the newsletter, choose one article to be your “most interesting” and place that article right at the top. You can even make mention of it in the subject line. Make sure this article is one that your members will care about most.

As I said in the content section of this article, you should only have four or five articles in this newsletter. Each of those articles can go inline below the “most interesting” article. The layout isn’t very important, but there shouldn’t be enough text to justify wrapping the content around the newsletter. Remember, there should only be three or four lines of text and then a large read more button that links to the full article online.

Try to use bright, modern designs that don’t distract you from the content. Don’t use background graphics because they take away from the attention that you want the text to have.

Black text on white or light gray backgrounds work best.

Space your ads out appropriately and make sure that they’re not too intrusive or too close together. Best practice is top, middle and bottom.

Ultimately, the benefit of evaluating your newsletters against these four subjects is that your website traffic will increase, your engagement on the newsletters will increase, open rates will improve and your publisher will be able to monetize your digital platforms better, providing they can deliver on these steps properly.

At the end of the day, this translates into better royalties for your association and better member engagement, reinforcing you as the dominant voice of your industry.

Have a question? Leave a comment below!