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Getting the best out of email newsletters

22 September 2010

At CharityComms we send newsletters to thousands of people every month. So it was interesting to rethink how we do things after a recent seminar we ran on improving email newsletters.

Here are our ten top tips which include advice from seminar speaker Matt Haworth, digital media producer at Reason Digital.

1. Look at what others are doing

Did you read the last email newsletter you received? What kept you reading? Subscribing to others’ newsletters can give you inspiration and help you to work out what keeps people interested. I’ve signed up to around 30 newsletters – but only the best ones are read!

2. Add value

At CharityComms we find adding value to our newsletters is effective and keeps people reading and opening our communications. For example we offer top tips, articles, blog posts, presentations, case studies, sound clips and reports with the aim of supporting our readers and sharing best practice.

3. Know what you want to achieve

Sounds obvious – but newsletters take time to produce, so make sure you have clear objectives, Haworth said. For example: do you want to drive more traffic to your website? Recruit more volunteers? Or raise awareness?

4. Call to action

Tell people the ways they can engage with your organisation. Tell them how they can find out more, follow you on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, donate, visit your site, attend an event, sign a petition etc.

5. Be personable

The most effective newsletters show you as a real person. For example you can do this by using personal language, using the recipient’s name and using your email address in the ‘from’ field.

6. Target and segment

Resist the urge to send blanket campaigns to everyone in your address book. Instead segment your list and alter topics, content order and subject lines to suit the interests of each segment. At CharityComms we segment by membership status, interests, relationship, job title, event attendance etc and we hope to make this even more sophisticated soon.

7. Killer subject lines

Make sure the subject line is enticing and gives your key message in the first 70 characters or so. It’s worth testing subject lines to see how they change open rates. If you’re segmenting try amending to ensure it really captures the interests of your readers. We find that it’s easier to write the subject line after the newsletter has been written.

8. Time it right

Apparently there’s no magic time to send your email campaigns. I can confirm at CharityComms we’ve never found a consistently “best” time to send. But it is important to get the frequency right. Haworth suggested: no more than once a week and no less than once every 6 weeks.

9. Monitor and optimise

Check your stats: open rates, click rates and how many people are complaining about you. Haworth commented that the really important percentage is the click rate – and if you have an average of over 3.5% this is good work apparently! Haworth warned that you shouldn’t have any more than 0.1% of people complain about you.

10. Spam test

A degree of common sense about the content of your newsletter will help here. Haworth suggested that if you can’t afford a system that gives the spam score then try sending it to as many different email providers as you can and check that it gets through. Also not being able to easily unsubscribe from a newsletter is annoying so make sure you provide an easy way. If you don’t, your readers could end up reporting you as spam.    

Emma Wickenden

senior events producer, CharityComms

Emma joined CharityComms in 2008 to help develop and grow the organisation. She has done everything from managing the website to running CharityComms' events portfolio. Today Emma is the senior events producer, developing concepts, formats and content for our flagship conferences and seminars.