This guide will help you turn blunt, mass mailing into sharp personal communication that people look forward to getting in their inboxes.
Want to share your stories and knowledge with the world and make a living doing it? Launching a personal email newsletter might just be the quickest way to start.
Is a newsletter the solution for me?
Newsletters are on the rise again thanks to our mobile-first world and the struggle to get attention in social media. We all use email a lot and check our inboxes many times every day.
It’s a conversational, personal, informal and intimate daily habit for most of us. It’s addressed to the person on the other end and designed to be read inside the inbox. It’s slow, it doesn’t stream by and disappear without being seen the way social media content does.
The Skimm newsletter has more than a million and a half subscribers and a 45% email open rate. You’ll be lucky if you get 10% of your Facebook page likes to see the content that you post (and fewer than 1% to actually engage with the content) without spending money on advertising.
A newsletter can also be a crucial source of web traffic. BuzzFeed’s Katie Notopoulos writes: “The amount of traffic BuzzFeeds gets from our newsletters is almost as much as we get from all of Twitter.”
Email newsletter is a very low-tech, limited medium that’s easy to run even without tech and programming background. It’s a great medium to gain traction for your idea with minimal investment and risk, and can be your first step in attracting an audience before expanding into blogs, podcasts and mobile apps.
Could your next project be an email newsletter? Definitely.
Top newsletters for your inspiration
Here’s the list of some newsletters that I like and that I believe can serve as your inspiration.
- Quartz: Morning brief for smart, busy people.
- Next Draft: Most fascinating news of the day.
- Data Science: Weekly newsletter featuring news, articles and jobs.
- Hacker Newsletter: Best articles on startups, technology and programming.
- Lefsetz Letter: First in music analysis.
- Inside: The network of newsletters.
- Goop: Gwyneth Paltrow’s food, shopping and mindfulness.
- Further: Health, wealth and wisdom.
- Brain Pickings: Weekly interestingness digest.
- Brain Food: Separate the signal from the noise of the internet.
- Ben Evans: Everything interesting in tech and mobile.
Steps to a newsletter that’s done well
Steps you should take towards a great newsletter.
Figure out your concept
Here are some pointers on how you can refine your newsletter concept in order to make it more unique and attractive for people to subscribe to. You should have a common thread to keep it all together and focus on a very specific topic.
- What topic do you cover?
- What’s your angle?
- What is your brand and what does it stand for?
This is very similar to finding a topic for your blog; see my complete guide here.
What is your tone of voice?
Informal tone with friendly and inviting language works well in emails as an inbox is a very personal space. Informal tone of voice makes the reader feel as though they are hearing from a friend. Think about how you can add more of your personality into your newsletter.
What is the format of your newsletter?
Try not to be too unfocused and cluttered. Many of the most popular newsletters are published in a very clear, minimalistic and digestible format.
Stories are presented in a roundup format and are bucketed into categories for easy reference and skimming. Some are more long-form focused with only one full article per email. Which one will you be?
What is the frequency you will be sending emails on?
Are you a daily or a weekly or another frequency newsletter? Try not to overwhelm people with too frequent emails as some might not want to subscribe to something being sent too frequently.
How can you differentiate yourself?
- Very Short List invites new editors daily in order to curate the newsletter and bring new points of view.
- Think Clearly is sent in a refreshing format as its actually hand written.
- Amazing Airfare sends great travel and flight deals.
Most newsletters are text-based, could you embrace multiple multimedia formats such as pictures and videos? How can you keep it new and fresh?
Remember always to focus on quality as your product is everything
Your primary focus should be to deliver true value to your subscribers in each and every email that you send. Most successful newsletters deliver value and do not sell by sending advertising and product pitches disguised as content. By getting the quality right, your engagement will be high and your subscribers will grow organically through word of mouth.
Sign up for a mailing service
MailChimp is the largest email service online and used by most of the popular newsletters to send their emails. More than 8 million people use it to send more than 600 million emails daily. MailChimp features many different templates and themes for you to create beautiful newsletters without any tech know-how.
You can use it for free while you have less than 2,000 subscribers and can send up to 12,000 emails per month. If you grow and become a larger newsletter, you can upgrade starting from $10/month.
If you don’t need all the business features and want a more simplified version of MailChimp, take a look at Tiny Letter. It’s run by MailChimp too but it’s more simple and straightforward plus it’s completely free too.
Register a domain name
Come up with an attractive name. Make it brief, catchy and memorable. If possible, it should be appropriate to the topic of your newsletter, but don’t necessary make it so descriptive that is sounds generic.
Take a look at my quick guide to coming up with a memorable name.
Build a landing page for your newsletter
This is where people can learn more about it, see a preview and subscribe. Use WordPress and one of the beautifully focused landing page themes to automate this process and make it as quick and simple as possible.
WordPress is a free open-source tool that powers more than 60 million websites, which is more than 20% of the web. It even features a MailChimp plugin that makes it easy to integrate your mailing list within your landing page. There are many capable and affordable providers for hosting your newsletter’s landing page.
I recommend Bluehost.
They offer a free domain name, 24/7 live support and WordPress recommends them.
And you can get your newsletter hosted at $2.95 per month.
It will take you 5 minutes to get your landing page online with the 1-click installation feature.
Disclosure: I do earn a commission if you sign-up using my link at no additional cost to you. Please know that I only recommend products that I find helpful and useful. If you do choose to buy through my link, thank you for your support!
Essential elements of a newsletter landing page
For your landing page, it’s important to be succinct and to-the-point as people are impatient and need a good reason to stick and subscribe to something. These are the elements you should make sure your landing page contains in order to attract visitors to subscribe:
- Sum up your newsletter concept in a brief, one-line tagline. Be specific and tell potential subscribers what they can expect from you.
- Tell them about yourself and why they should give you access to their inbox and why you’re worth their time. Not everyone wants to give away their email address easily so you need to win their trust.
- Inform them about your frequency. Tell people how often they should expect to hear from you and at what time of the day.
- Provide an actual preview of the latest newsletter edition for the visitor to see what it all looks like.
- Allow people to subscribe to your newsletter with a clear and simple call-to-action and a hassle-free sign-up process.
An example of a very simple and minimalistic landing page that works from Mister Spoils:
Best practices and mistakes to avoid when running a newsletter
These are some of the things to keep in mind in order to run a more successful newsletter project:
1. Work on your subject lines
Subject lines are like article headlines. They are the main point of contact and will help the viewer decide to click to view or click to delete.
There’s no guarantee that your subscribers will ever open your emails which means that you need to work on creating interesting, inviting and clickable subject lines.
Some newsletters keep it familiar by having the same subject line while others mix it up to keep it fresh. Experiment and see what feels best and works best for yourself.
One simple trick you can consider is forwarding. Forwarding an email with your own personal notes attached can make an approach several times more effective. Next time someone forwards you an email, notice how quickly it gets your attention, and think back to this tip. Can you think of anything you can ‘forward’ to your audience?
2. Think about your sender name and email
The other thing next to your subject line that people see in their inbox when receiving your newsletter is the sender name and email address. Should the sender name be your full name? This is the preferred choice in the majority of cases.
Or should it be the name of the newsletter? Should you mix things up? Have a think about this and experiment to see what works best.
You don’t want your emails to be sent from a generic email@example.com email address either. Your audience recognizes your name and email address, they trust you, and it compels them to open the email.
3. Send a second mailer to those that didn’t open the first one
This is a “quick win” tip from Noah Kagan. Wait few days after the original email, consider optimizing the subject line but keep the body of the email same, and send it only to those subscribers who didn’t open the first version of the email.
This will lead to higher open rates without much extra effort on your side. Test it and see how it works for you. It works for me.
4. Ask your subscribers to forward your newsletter to their friends
Allow social sharing in order to grow your newsletter. Emails are easy to share and people love clicking on that forward button. These organic shares from happy subscribers who are promoting your service to their friends will play a major role in the spread and growth of your newsletter. Add clear and prominent call-to-actions for them to incentivize sharing.
5. Even the quality content doesn’t get far without promotion
Hopefully the above will help get your newsletter forwarded to more people, but you do need to promote your product early on in order to build the initial audience. I aim to spend at least half of my time promoting my work. Take a look at the list of places where I share and promote my content after publishing it.
6. Remember that most newsletters flop
Many don’t get enough subscribers or they don’t keep the regular content schedule and become forgotten. Some become uninteresting and boring, so people ignore them, delete them, unsubscribe from them or even spam them.
You need to constantly work and tweak things in order to keep the open rates and clickthrough rates up and keep growing the subscribers. It’s important to always be open to new ways of doing things, to keep moving, keep exploring different ideas and keep measuring the impact they have.
How to make money from your newsletter
The purpose of your project might be to provide amazing value to your audience but when you have an audience it also becomes easier to monetize your product. These are the main monetization options for newsletters
1. Generate revenue via brand sponsorships
Many of the popular newsletters have brand mentions in their emails such as “presented by” or “sponsored by” tagline. For example, The Skimm that I mentioned earlier has large brands such as Netflix pay to run native ads.
Think which brands fit your topic and your subscriber audience and reach out to them with your pitch. Fit them naturally in your newsletter without making the advertisement too spammy or salesy.
2. Allow your true fans to fund your newsletter
Do you believe that your newsletter provides such great value that people would pay for it? It might be worth looking into either offering a premium plan of the free newsletter or focusing solely on a premium newsletter.
This way your subscribers are your customers and you do not need to worry about finding and pitching sponsors. Newsletters such as Caesura Letters, Stratechery, The Slurve and Death To The Stock Photo run premium editions successfully.
For more ideas on ways you can monetize your product, do take a look at all the alternatives here.
How to measure the success of your email newsletter
Here are the main metrics you should keep an eye on in order to measure the success of your newsletter activities:
- List growth: How many subscribers do you have? What is the subscriber growth?
- Open rates: How many of your subscribers actually open your emails? Can you see a trend from email to email and what can you learn from it? Here’s a very handy email marketing benchmark that shows open rates and click rates. How does your list compare to these?
- Click rates: This is for those that feature links within newsletters. How many people actually click on links within your email? Link clicking is a sign that your content is relevant and engages people.
- Reply rates: How many of your subscribers reply back to your emails? How many give you feedback? How many answer your questions?
- Unsubscribes: Is there a sudden spike in unsubscribes to your mailing list? Can you identify what has caused people to want to remove themselves from your list.
That’s it! You now have all the information and all the instructions you need in order to get started with your newsletter. Get started!