How to Create a Newsletter (2019) - 10 Simple Steps

How to create a newsletter (image of an @ symbol on a washing line)

In this post we show you how to create an email newsletter that you can send to your business leads or clients; we also advise on how to build a larger list, and run an effective e-marketing campaign in general.

But first: why do you need to send an e-newsletter in the first place?

Why the humble e-newsletter still matters

Given the popularity of social media and online advertising as a way of generating business, it's easy to think of the humble e-newsletter as being something rather outdated or quaint.

This is a mistake: even with the huge range of other marketing and advertising avenues now available, email marketing can be a hugely effective way to generate revenue.

According to the Direct Marketing Association, email has an ROI of around 4300%, and 25% of Black Friday revenue is generated via email campaigns. Given these sort of stats, it's clear that every email address you capture has a monetary value, and that email marketing is something that can be key to the growth of a business.

Below we'll look at 10 key things you need to do to create and send the best e-newsletters you possibly can. 

The first thing we're going to look at is data.

1. Start with the most important thing: your data

Before you think about ‘how’ you are going to send an e-newsletter, you need to think about the ‘who’ — a database of individuals you want to communicate with via email. In order to send the most relevant e-newsletters that generate the most revenue, you need as good a database as possible.

You probably have an existing database of leads and clients tucked away in an Excel spreadsheet somewhere – or more likely, your database is spread across several very messy spreadsheets.

If this sounds like you, it's a good idea to consolidate all your files into one clean, well-organised spreadsheet before you try to send newsletters to any of the contacts on them.

You should also ensure that your cleaned database is ‘segmented’ as well as possible – i.e., ideally you should have a field in it containing information which lets you flag and identify data as leads, current customers, past customer of service X and so on.

The basic aim of the exercise is to get your data into shape, so that you are able to send an appropriate message to an appropriate prospect at the right time.

2. Create a content plan and e-newsletter schedule

The next step is to plan your communications carefully.

It’s a good idea to create an ‘e-communications schedule’ which maps out exactly

  • what content you are going to send out in your email newsletters

  • whom you are going to send them to

  • and when you are going to send them.

You can then refer to this schedule throughout the year, and ensure you have all the necessary content ready to go well in advance of each e-newsletter broadcast.

And because you’ll have segmented your data nicely in advance (see above) you will be sending your beautiful and interesting e-newsletter to precisely the right group of contacts.

3. Pick the right tool for sending your e-newsletter

For many small businesses, sending e-newsletters means compiling a mailing list in Excel, then copying and pasting the addresses into the BCC field of a clunky-looking Outlook message.

This is a very time-consuming way to go about things; it’s also ineffective, because

  • it doesn’t allow you to send very professional-looking e-newsletters

  • it prevents you from accurately measure important stats like open rate and clickthroughs

  • it increases the likelihood of your email triggering spam filters (email programs usually hate emails that are bcc'd to loads of people)

  • it means you’re not availing of sophisticated email marketing features like autoresponders or split testing

Accordingly, it is a much better idea to use a dedicated e-marketing tool for sending your e-newsletter. There are many web-based solutions available now: big-hitters include GetresponseAweber, Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor.

These all allow you to import your database, create attractive templates, and send out proper ‘HTML e-newsletters’ that stand the greatest chance of being delivered (and crucially, read!). 

They also provide free trials / plans (of various degrees of quality) — it's worth trying a few out and seeing which suits your requirements best.

There are pros and cons to all of these. Out of the above list, our preferred options are probably Getresponse and Mailchimp: Getresponse because in our view it is competitively priced and provides the best all round feature set (which includes landing pages, webinars and CRM), and Mailchimp because it integrates nicely with a lot of third-party apps (with the notable exception of Shopify).

We’re less keen on Mailchimp than we used to be, however, due to some pretty sneaky changes in its pricing structure (where the company charges you to host unsubscribed email addresses) and the fact that its entry level plans are far less generous than its competitors.

(You can read our Getresponse vs Mailchimp comparison here).

If you’re on a budget, and can live with more basic functionality, then Moon Mail is an interesting new option. Mad Mimi is also very competitively priced. It’s important to note, however, that with these two products, autoresponder functionality (which I discuss below) is nowhere near as advanced as some of its competitors.

4. Create an attractive e-newsletter template

Once you’ve decided upon which bit of software you’re going to use for your e-newsletters, you need to design a nice HTML template for it.

The solutions referred to above provide a wide range of e-newsletter templates which you can tweak extensively — using a drag and drop editor - so that your e-newsletter matches your brand.

If your design skills are not all that strong of course, you might consider hiring a designer to set up your email templates. Either way, you should try to get to a point where your e-newsletter template looks professional and uncluttered and adheres to your organisation's branding guidelines.

5. Split test your e-newsletters

Once you’ve got your database, your e-communications schedule, your choice of software and your template sorted, it’s finally time to start sending some e-newsletters. But it’s really important to send them in the best way possible! This generally means 'split testing' your subject headers and/or your e-newsletter content.

Split testing involves trying out different versions of your message on a relatively small sample of your data before sending it to the remainder of your database.

You might, for example, create three versions of the same newsletter, each with different subject headers, and send it to 1000 people on your database – after a few hours, you can identify which subject header led to the best open rate, and then use that header for the remainder of your data.

Note that this is only worth doing if you have a relatively large database – if your business database is only a few hundred records in size, you might find split testing doesn’t really lead to particularly informative results.

You needn't restrict split testing to your e-newsletters - you can also split test forms (to see, for example if shorter sign-up forms work better than longer ones) or your landing pages (the pages where people can sign up to your list).

And speaking of landing pages...

6. Use strong landing pages

It’s not just essential to have attractive, well-constructed e-newsletters: it’s important that the links in those e-newsletters take you to pages that actually ‘convert’ readers into taking further action too.

Generally speaking you don’t want to send people to a page that contains a huge number of competing calls to action or links – it’s better to present a page that encourages users to take one specific action, be that buying a product or completing a form. Your landing pages should be attractive, easy-to-use and focused firmly on conversion.

As mentioned above, you can split test your landing pages to see which pages 'convert' visitors to leads most effectively. This involves creating two or more landing pages, testing them against each other and ultimately rolling the one with the highest conversion rate out as your preferred landing page. 

Some email marketing products, such as Getresponse, provide this functionality out of the box (see image below) or alternatively, you can use a dedicated tool like Instapage or Unbounce to create and split test landing pages.

Getresponse's landing page creator

Getresponse's landing page creator

7. Measure success

Most e-newsletter tools come with detailed reporting functionality – after sending an e-newsletter, you will be able to access statistics that let you measure the performance of your e-newsletters.

Study these stats carefully, as they will help you create better e-newsletters that generate more conversions in future. The key things you need to look out for are:

  • open rates - which type of subject header / content encourages the most opens of your emails

  • clickthrough rates (CTRs) - what sort of links in your emails are popular?

  • unsubscribe rates - what content really turns people off?

E-newsletter statistics

E-newsletter statistics

8. Allow people to sign up to your mailing list via your website and social media profiles

All email marketing tools allow you to easily embed sign-up forms for your mailing list directly on your website or social media profiles.

Make sure you do this, as it will save you having to repeatedly upload spreadsheets of data to your e-newsletter service.

Ideally, you should have a sign-up form for your e-newsletter on every page of your website, and you could also consider using pop up boxes on certain pages of your site too to maximise the number of sign ups to your mailing list.

Be careful with pop-ups on mobile devices however - Google can penalise sites that use pop up boxes in a way which negatively affects usability. Tools like Sumo or Privvy can help you create pop-up forms that can be switched on and off on specific devices.

9. Use autoresponders and email marketing automation

By connecting your website’s mailing list form directly to your e-newsletter software, you can make use of autoresponders or ‘drips’ – automated emails that you can ‘pre-program’ in advance so that when somebody signs up to your mailing list via your website, they will automatically receive messages of your choosing at intervals of your choosing.

For example, a subscriber could get a welcome message immediately upon signup; a special offer one week later; an encouragement to follow your company on Facebook two weeks later and so on. Used judiciously, autoresponders allow you to craft a strategy to keep your email subscribers engaged and more likely to convert to customers.

Recently however, some of the major email marketing solution providers have developed autoresponder functionality to a new and far more sophisticated level, providing 'marketing automation' functionality that allows you to use user actions to trigger emails.

For example, you can ask your email marketing software to automatically send a follow-up email if a subscriber

  • purchases a product

  • opens a particular email

  • clicks a particular link

  • visits a particular web page

And so on.

Some products even allow you to move a subscriber along a CRM sales pipeline automatically if they take a particular action. It's amazing, if slightly scary, stuff.

10. Allow people to share your e-newsletter easily

Most email marketing tools will allow you to add ‘forward to a friend’ or social media sharing buttons to your e-newsletters.

Add them! It means that your content and offers get a good chance of being seen by an audience outside of your mailing list.

And finally...ALWAYS follow best practice

And finally, every time you create or send an e-newsletter, you should ensure that you are (1) obeying the law and (2) not over-communicating with your subscribers.

If you don't, at best you risk a higher unsubscribe rate; at worst you face your email marketing tool account being suspended and/or legal action.

There are six important things you need to do to follow best practice and the law:

  • When you capture email addresses, make it very clear on any sign up forms and landing pages that people are subscribing to your mailing list (ideally you should provide people with a link to a privacy policy)

  • Don’t spam: always ensure that anyone on your list has actually signed up to it

  • Don’t over-commmunicate: leave decent gaps between messages

  • Always send relevant, interesting content to people on your mailing list: this will minimise unsubscribes

  • Always make it easy for people to unsubscribe

  • Be very aware of data protection legislation (particularly GDPR!)

Hope you find these e-marketing tips useful. If you enjoyed this article, please do share it with others - and of course, make sure you subscribe to our mailing list :)

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