Secrets of successful email newsletters

By Michael J. Miller, Editor-In-ChiefPC MagazineIf you subscribe to Jesse Berst's daily AnchorDesk newsletter (and if you're reading this, then you probably do), you know what a good email newsletter looks like.

By Michael J. Miller, Editor-In-Chief
PC Magazine

If you subscribe to Jesse Berst's daily AnchorDesk newsletter (and if you're reading this, then you probably do), you know what a good email newsletter looks like. In fact, when PC Magazine recently set out to evaluate services and solutions that help you publish email newsletters, we invited Jesse to write the introduction to our story.

The eight methods for sending newsletters that we tested vary widely in price and functionality. The best news: Some of them are free. But no matter which way you do it, the most important thing is to figure out how sending a newsletter can help your overall marketing plan and then to write a newsletter that serves your purposes and that will get read consistently. Here's a list of tips that we developed as we did our testing:

  1. Keep it brief.
    Busy customers put long newsletters aside to read later, but when old issues stack up, they unsubscribe. Short newsletters -- of four screens or fewer -- get opened and read more often.
  2. Don't be a tease.
    Saving details for the Web site is fine, but the email has to provide value as well. If it doesn't, customers will stop opening it.
  3. Write for scannability.
    This is the Internet Age. Everyone's busy. Give it to them straight and quick. (This list is a good example!)
  4. Format for scannability.
    Set margins at 70 characters or fewer to avoid awkward line wrapping. Use every trick in the book -- caps, asterisks, dashes, white space -- to set items apart.
  5. Hurl the URL.
    For each item and ad, include the relevant URL. Make jumping to your site for details easy.
  6. Embed the commerce.
    Surround ads and offers with relevant content. Never put an ad at the top. If readers see an ad in their preview panels, they're likely to hit Delete.
  7. Refine the content formula.
    Give time-sensitive information (news, stock prices, gossip, limited-time specials) so readers will want to open your newsletter today. Include reference information (tips, how-tos) so they'll save your email for tomorrow. Add incentives (contests, giveaways, exclusives) to appeal to their self-interest.
  8. Remember: Headlines matter.
    Always write a new headline for each issue and make it stand out.

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