What Is a Newsletter and Will It Work for My Business?

Posted in: Email | Marketing

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The answer to this question might seem immediately clear. You might think, “to connect with my customers… obviously.” Or, you might say something like, “to connect with prospective customers.” But, the real question is, why do you want to connect with your customers? What are you hoping to accomplish? Are you trying to sell them something? Are you trying to sell that something now, or in the future? Are you hoping to build a community? If so, what value will that community add to your business, and how will you measure it? Why you’re hoping to connect or stay in touch with your audience is key to making sure that your newsletters are targeted, informed, and purposeful.

So, What Is an Email Newsletter?

An email newsletter can take many forms. However, for most businesses, an email newsletter is an informative email sent on a routine basis. Some businesses choose to send email newsletters more frequently than others. The typical cadence for an email newsletter can be weekly, monthly, bi-annually, or anywhere in between.

The purpose of email newsletters can also vary. Some are strictly meant to inform readers about company or industry updates. Others are intended to provide readers with curated information around a particular theme or topic. Some email newsletters even balance providing information while nurturing leads or upselling services. Regardless of your goal, knowing exactly what you intend to achieve and how it adds measurable value to your business is key to determining what exactly an email newsletter is for you and your business.

Are Newsletters Effective?

Email newsletters can be incredibly effective when they’re born from a particular need and crafted to achieve a particular goal with a particular audience. Unfortunately, many businesses fall into the trap of starting with the conclusion first, “I want to start a company newsletter,” and answering the question of “why I want to start a company newsletter” after. This line of thinking often makes newsletters less effective.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Create a Company Newsletter

To avoid this common pitfall, start with what you’re trying to accomplish. Before you even commit to the idea of starting a newsletter or start thinking about its look or tone, start by crafting concrete, measurable answers to the questions below.

What Do You Want to Accomplish With Your Email Newsletter?

As mentioned above, there are many reasons why a business may want to invest time in connecting with contacts through regular, frequent email newsletter campaigns. Before you start to think about how to design your email newsletter, you first want to have a clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Are You Trying to Upsell & Retain Existing Customers?Screenshot of email from Canva.com

Newsletters can be a great way to communicate company updates, new products, or services existing customers may be interested in. They can also be a great way to retain existing customers by fostering a sense of community and a brand with which customers are proud to associate. You can see how Canva uses this strategy in their email newsletter.

By inviting existing customers to participate in a fun, lighthearted contest, Canva is creating an active and engaged creative community—making it more likely that Canva users will continue to look to Canva as their go-to platform for their current and future creative endeavors.

Or, Are You Trying to Nurture Top-of-Funnel Traffic?

Screenshot of email from hubspot.comAnother reason newsletters can be beneficial is that they provide a channel by which businesses can nurture leads over a long period of time. This can be done by providing credible, helpful information that establishes the brand as a reliable, informative source. Although this strategy can be very long-term, it’s especially helpful in targeting customers who may be newly aware that they have a problem they’re interested in solving and who are just starting to consider potential options.

Using newsletters to provide prospects with credible, industry-related information can be a way to stay top-of-mind and establish your brand as an excellent option they should consider.

Hubspot uses this email marketing strategy often in its newsletters. They will even go so far as to promote or provide information on other platforms that could be considered competitors. While they don’t often directly encourage subscribers to sign up for Hubspot services, they will promote webinars or other informative resources that may be of interest or provide meaningful value to subscribers. By providing this content, HubSpot is continuing to establish itself as one of the most prominent thought leaders in the digital marketing space, making it more likely that prospects will consider them first when looking to sign up for digital marketing platforms or support.

You May Also Be Trying to Expand Your Audience or Prospects.

Screenshot of email from gofishdigital.comAnother reason a company may want to start a newsletter is to expand its prospecting pool with other, qualified prospects. Companies often approach this model by incentivizing current subscribers to recruit additional subscribers. This can be done by offering current subscribers discounts, exclusive content, or other incentives for recruiting a certain number of new subscribers. This strategy is often combined with one of the content strategies above.

By leveraging this strategy, a company is able to expand and nurture a larger pool of potential customers who have already heard of the company through a positive recommendation from a personal source. In fact, this is the current email marketing model Go Fish Digital uses to expand our prospect list.

Regardless of what your goals are in starting an email newsletter, you want to make sure that you and your team have clarity on those goals. While you may start with a more general goal like, “I want to connect with customers” or “I want to build a brand community,” you eventually want to make sure that you narrow in on exactly what that means for your business and how it will add measurable value. Why do you want to connect with customers? What are you hoping they do in response to that connection? Why is building a brand community important from a business perspective? Answering these questions in clear and measurable ways will help you land on an actionable goal and purposeful format for your email newsletters.

How Long Should Your Newsletter Be?

For better or worse, there is no set, recommended length for email newsletters. Your email newsletter should be succinct, but long enough to effectively communicate the information you promised your users in your subject line. So, for some email newsletters, that may only be a few lines of text and a call to action. For other newsletters, that could be longer paragraphs of information. It all depends!

When you’re first starting out, don’t get hung up on sticking to a specific word count. Simply focus on being concise, clear, and actionable. Hubspot offers a great guide on how to write compelling email newsletters if you’d like to learn more. All in all, when it comes to email newsletter length, prioritize quality content and clarity over word limits.

How Will You Track the Success of Your Email Newsletter?

Once you have a clear and actionable goal in mind, the next step is to define the KPIs by which you’ll measure your success in achieving that goal.

Common KPIs for email newsletter goals can vary. However, below are some common KPIs for the goals we’ve outlined above:

  • If your goal is to upsell & retain existing customers – You may want to consider the following KPIs: upsell revenue, customer retention, open & engagement rates, click-through-rates to content 
  • If your goal is to nurture top-of-funnel traffic – You may want to consider the following KPIs: open & engagement rates, click-through-rates to content (conversions can be considered over a LONG period of time, but should not be the main KPI)
  • If your goal is to expand your audience or prospects – You may want to consider the following KPIs: subscriber growth, open & engagement rates, click-through-rate to content

These are certainly not the only KPIs, but they can help to provide insight on the performance of your newsletters in relation to your goals. Defining the most important KPIs for your business is an important part of planning your email newsletter before you start the design process.

Who Should Receive Your Email Newsletter?

Once you’ve defined the purpose of your newsletter, it’s important to define who will receive it and how you plan to segment your existing audience so that the newsletter lands in the right inbox.

If you’re unsure about where to start with customer segmentation, start with the biggest buckets first: Is your email newsletter targeted to existing or prospective customers? Can it be of interest to both parties? Sometimes even getting a newsletter off the ground with the broadest audience first can help you get to a place where you can collect data on what type of content your audience engages with most. From there, you may be able to use that data to define more targeted audiences.

Once you have your big buckets defined, you can start to get even more granular by using tracking mechanisms to target newsletters to specific types of customers or prospects that are at different levels of the prospecting funnel. While targeting newsletters to this level often takes some support from a development team, many email service providers like Hubspot, ActiveCampaign, or Mailchimp make it easy to add these tracking pixels to your site.

How Should You Design Your Email Newsletter?

Lastly, once you’ve defined the purpose of your newsletter and the audience, the final step is to design your newsletter so it accomplishes your goals and speaks to the interests of the target audience. This is often one of the most exciting pieces of the newsletter ideation process. However, as mentioned above, it’s important to wait until the questions above are answered thoroughly and KPIs have been defined before you start the design process. Otherwise, you run the risk of designing a beautiful newsletter that doesn’t accomplish much of anything at all.

Below are just a few examples of the format newsletters can take:

Color-Block FormattingScreenshot of image from ellevest.com
Color-blocking can be a great way to communicate an idea quickly and narrow in on a single call to action. It’s a great option for companies that place heavy emphasis on their brand colors and/or aesthetics. It can also be a great option for companies that want to provide information, but also encourage their readers to do something that adds business value. The trick with color-blocking is to keep content simple. With this format, you really want to narrow in on a singular idea and/or call to action.

Trying to communicate too much information in too many colors can quickly become overwhelming.

If you’re looking for a simple approach to content, want your readers to take action from your email, and are more concerned with the branded look of your email newsletters, color-blocking is a great place to start.

Screenshot of email from The HustleText-Based Formatting
Text-based newsletters are great for providing a lot of information in an easily digestible way. With text-based formatting, the emphasis is definitely on content over design. This email format is great for newsletters that intend to inform their audience about a particular topic or list of topics. It can be a great option for those hoping to establish themselves as thought leaders. Text-based email newsletters tend to include content that is interesting enough to capture a reader’s attention without relying on a more eye-catching visual design.

Again, with text-based emails, you’re looking to inform a reader more than you’re asking them to perform an action. So, while this format can be great for establishing yourself as an industry expert, it’s less effective in encouraging a reader to take action.

Minimalist FormattingScreenshot of an email from SmartPress
As you may have guessed, minimalist formatting is, well, minimal in both visual design and content. If you’re trying to target an audience with little time on their hands or super quick attention spans, this format might be a good option for you. These emails tend to work well if they fit a brand’s aesthetic and communicate information or a call to action quickly. With these emails (as with all emails), it’s important to know your audience. Do they need to be convinced to take action, or are they pretty ready to do so with a simple nudge? Are they looking for detailed information? Or, can they be incentivized to learn more with a simple hook statement?

In many cases, there’s a place and time in your email newsletter sequence for minimal formatting. Since this style can require less investment in both content creation and copywriting, it’s a style worth testing at some point in your newsletter cadence when you have a clear and simple call to action or a really interesting piece of content you could likely incentivize readers to click through to read.

When It Comes to Email Newsletter Best Practices, Start With a Goal

Starting an email newsletter can be an exciting and valuable next step for your brand or business. When crafted with a goal in mind, email newsletters can add significant, additional value to your other marketing efforts and go a long way in building a loyal customer base. Regardless of the form your email newsletter takes, starting with a goal in mind and testing how the formats you pursue achieve that goal will undoubtedly lead to success.

Good luck and happy emailing!

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