How to Write an Email Newsletter that Subscribers Always Read

If you want to write a great email newsletter, you should start by reading them. The list of my favorite newsletters is short but mighty:

  1. I love Andy Crestodina’s updates from the helm of Orbit Media Studios.
  2. I read everything the content marketing wonks at Animalz send my way. 
  3. And, like everyone else in the Chicago tech ecosystem, I live by Chicago Inno’s daily, The Beat.
  4. My boss asked that I add in The Polsky Weekly 10. He says it's smart, witty, well-designed, and full of the next big things.

Why these four? Because they never fail to deliver interesting content that’s fresh, thought-provoking, and genuinely helpful to me as a content marketing professional who primarily works with startups.

But for each of these stellar missives, I’m subscribed to 25 more that filter into an intentionally neglected folder labeled “Newsletters.” This is where I store the unread chaff that falls away from the wheat, in case I need insights on farmland investments or credit union marketing trends in the future.

If you want to know how to write an email newsletter that doesn’t get automatically kicked into the “Maybe Someday” folder, read on.

Identify the 5 W’s of Your Email Newsletter Project>

As with any project – from blogging to running an ultramarathon – your newsletter should have a clear purpose and strategy. To suss this out, run through “The 5 W’s”:

  1. Who is your audience or who is on this mailing list?
  2. What topics, themes, or content do you want to share?
  3. Where will this information reside? (Okay, this one is easy: in an email template.)
  4. When will you send this out and how often?
  5. Why are you sending this newsletter? Do you want to nurture leads, engage your contacts, build audience awareness, start a conversation?

Once you’ve answered these questions on the project level, you can apply them again to each newsletter you send. Without this alignment, you’ll never get the dedicated readership and engagement great newsletters drive.

Who: Identify Your Audience and Their Interests

If you already have an active company blog, you probably have a blog sign-up form to capture the contact information of interested parties. (If you don’t, reach out and we can help you get started!)

This list of active leads and contacts is already interested in what you’re writing and sharing, and these folks are a great target for your newsletter.

To use Propllr as an example, we have an email list that’s primarily made up of people in the startup ecosystem, especially those interested in marketing. They come to us to hear what’s going on in our field, so we speak to them directly in a familiar tone.

What: Plan for a Balance of Timely Educational and Promotional Content

A newsletter is an excellent way to get your content in front of the right audience and demonstrate that you’re active experts in your field. While we can’t tell you what to include in your newsletter, here are four strategies to help you get started:

  1. Use timely content to drive interest. Whether you choose to highlight industry news, an upcoming conference, or the changing seasons, a good newsletter should deliver an interesting variety of content. A timely hook can help you do just that. 
  2. Give away your secrets. Propllr is a big proponent of giving away your secrets, and newsletters are a great mechanism for sharing the lessons you’ve recently learned (or relearned). If you want to promote your team’s thought leadership, a newsletter can be a powerful tool to get the word out.
  3. Include recent media wins that are relevant to your audience. Sharing these wins can help boost your PR efforts by demonstrating that what you’re doing is gaining traction with the media. Again, it’s also a powerful way to promote your thought leaders’ prominence.
  4. Promote recent blog posts. We often talk about how content can fuel your PR strategy, but well-promoted content can demonstrate your expertise and engage leads all on its own. Share your blog posts in a newsletter to drive traffic to your site, demonstrate that your brand is active, and even move prospects down the funnel, should they convert from that blog post. (We see it happen!)

On the subjects of conversion, HubSpot advises that newsletter content should be 90 percent educational and 10 percent promotional, and we heartily agree. To this end, each newsletter should have one primary CTA. After all, each newsletter has one purpose.

Where: Select a Minimal Newsletter Template that Aligns with Your Brand

I’m not a graphic designer, but in my experience, there are two things you should keep in mind when it comes to newsletter design:

  1. Pick a template that’s minimal and flexible. Unless you’ve already established yourself as the go-to expert in your field, few people will read your 1,000-word newsletter. While this approach can work, given the sheer volume of newsletters people receive each day, we recommend picking a template that highlights brief, fascinating tidbits rather than large blocks of text.
  2. Don’t use images unless they're relevant. No one wants to wait for a newsletter to load image files onto their phone, tablet, or computer.

If you’re familiar with Propllr, you may also be subscribed to our extremely minimalist weekly newsletter.

We deliver this once a week: a brief email written by a real person (and not an anonymous company), in which we introduce our latest blog post. Why?

  • We want to ensure our contacts think of our blog (and our team) as a resource for tactical advice on a variety of PR and content marketing topics.
  • We want to generate informal email conversations with the marketers and startup folks we already know.
  • We want to stay in touch on a weekly basis, but we don’t want to bombard our friends with a bunch of links every week.

So, for now, a very minimal weekly newsletter aligns nicely with our goals.

Propllr’s newsletter from Jan. 29, 2021

Before we move on from design, we’d be remiss not to say don’t neglect the inbox design elements.

A good email newsletter headline will help ensure that your newsletter has a healthy open rate. There are a few simple things you can do to ensure your readers will click:

  • Spend time on your subject lines. They should align with your brand voice, but they shouldn’t be boring. We will never send out “Propllr’s February Newsletter.”
  • Craft compelling preview text. This is the snippet that appears after your subject line that people can see before they open. Besides your subject, this is all the text you’ve got to convince readers to click.
  • Use the sender field to your advantage. When I see Andy Crestodina’s name in the “Sender” field, I click.

I’ve always found subject lines to be the most challenging part of newsletter design because I know it has a huge impact on whether subscribers will click to read my beautifully crafted content. The good news is that like most things, the more you practice drafting strong subject lines, the easier this will get.

Which would you read? How a few top newsletters appear in my Gmail inbox.

When: Consistently Deliver Interesting Content

If you decide to start a newsletter, you must commit to a regular cadence, whether that’s weekly, biweekly, or monthly.

The only daily newsletters I subscribe to and open every day deliver news. Unless you’re a journalistic organization, this probably isn’t the right cadence for you.

Of course, there are also companies that only send out a newsletter when they have news or when they post the occasional blog update. For these folks, an irregular email cadence may be the best option.

So what’s the benefit of establishing a regular cadence?

It helps you build a loyal reader base. Propllr’s newsletter goes out every Friday morning. The Beat comes out at the end of every workday. I know when to expect to hear from my favorite sources, and I trust that they’ll be there to fill me in on a regular basis.

TL;DR Write a Newsletter You’d Want to Read

I’ve worked on literary newsletters, educational newsletters, coworking newsletters, and our own company newsletter. The main throughline is that I’ve tried my damnedest to write something that I’d want to read myself.

While this post is primarily about the qualitative side of how to write an email newsletter, of course, I also recommend looking at and learning from quantitative metrics on newsletter content performance. But that’s a subject for a different post.

Until then, I highly recommend reading HubSpot’s primers on email marketing metrics and which to use to grow your email newsletter.

If you’ve been struggling to get your email newsletter off the ground or you’re interested in hearing more about how newsletter content can get the word out about your brand, contact us