9 eNewsletter Improvements You Cannot Forget

May 2, 2008 at 6:01 am | Posted in Communication, Email, eNewsletters, General, Marketing, Online marketing | 1 Comment
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In early April, I promised to give away free enewsletter advice. I am happy today to report back on the communication of a non-partisan, civic participation non-profit. They asked me not to mention them by name, so the organization will hereafter be known as “the client.” And, this client’s enewsletter was far better than at least 90% of what I have seen, so first, congrats to them!

With this post, it is my goal to suggest new tactics and options for this particular client, but I hope that the advice will be useful to your company or organization as well.

The simplest way to tackle the client’s enewsletters will be to break it down into its separate parts. I think the content over all is fabulous – personal, informative, and (mostly) on message. I am really impressed by the client’s enewsletter and only have some humble suggestions.

Would these suggestions work for your non-profit or company enewsletter too?

The “From” Address

The two things that matter most in terms of improving your open rate are the “from” address and the subject line. The client uses the President’s name and a general, but branded, email address, i.e. From: John Doe <administrator@YourOrg.com>. Using the organization’s most recognizable name is good, but you cannot rely on all recipients remembering that name, plus using a title (administrator) in the email address is less inviting. I would recommend something like From John Doe, YourOrg CEO <John@YourOrg.com>.

The Subject Line

Many recent studies have shown that mentioning your organization in the subject line gets a better response. Couple this with the conventional wisdom that a subject line should be less than 50 characters and you are left with little space to work with. The client (understandably) tried to include the most information it could into the subject line.

While I risk sounding crass, the subject line is not intended to inform, but to entice. Which is a more exciting subject line: “Conference 1, conference 2, and conference 3” or “The 3 conferences you can’t afford to miss”? I recommend Copyblogger for some great advice on headlines. (If your searches for subject line advice are not producing, try using “headlines” – the same logic applies.)

The Body

The body of the client’s enewsletter was great. It was a two-column enewsletter with the main section on the left side. The President’s letter came first, followed by news items decreasing in size and importance. The smaller right column was used for a table of contents, interview/feature, event notices, and other various opportunities. In terms of priorities, this is spot-on.

(Forgive an aside: I once worked with [not for] a great organization that had an enewsletter problem. The problem was that the mission was broad, the workers valued, the issues timely, and the cause just. Hence, everyone thought everything – especially their thing – was the single most important thing for the enewsletter. And the enewsletter became a mangled amalgamation – a Frankenstein formed by committee. I don’t think that’s what happened in this client’s case, but it could be. If so, my prayers are with you.)

I mention this because the client has great – albeit a lot of – information. I would encourage the client to cut as much from the body as possible, despite its worth. While the information is good, it feels like a Thanksgiving dinner – a lot of juicy, heavy stuff. I don’t know what I should eat first and I get lost in the gravy. If most people spend less than a minute with your email, think about how much they would be ignoring. It’s time to break up the emails, sending more per month with less information. The benefit is two-fold: your audience is reminded of your work more often and they consume more of your information over time.

Dynamic Content

The client has a vibrant mission at both the national and state level. But when someone from Florida gets information about your Alaska chapter, it risks being a deterrent to reading. Your audience wants messages tailored directly to them.

While this client is restricted by their email vendor from sending dynamic content based on the recipient’s interests, for instance, they can lay the ground work. Create a profile page and encourage the audience to add at least their state and maybe a couple of interests. Then pull those results into an excel or CSV file and subsequently upload it to your email or CRM system (the system should match and de-dupe, but read up on it first). While you may not be able to cut the state-specific information from the general enewsletter quite yet, this will allow you to send other state-specific emails that are bound to have great results.


The client used images frequently, but not overwhelmingly. Plus, I tested the enewsletter with images disabled and there was no problem – they were not big enough to inhibit readability. Well done!

Tangential Information

Always try to organize your information in some simple way. I have worked with many groups who wanted to toss in a bunch of different information at the bottom of the email (Frankenstein by committee, again), but this encourages readers to ignore it. Use bolded call-outs to delineate topics and break up the text. You can often group emails issue catagories, local action, or action type (“Please help today!”). This will draw the reader’s eye and make clear any requests.

Tangential Information (Right Column)

A right-hand column is a seemingly perfect place to list second tier or tangential information. However, you risk banner blindness. The client is stymied in this case due to their email vendor, but I would encourage others to experiment with using a pull-quote style – adding a box inside the main text rather than a totally separate column.

Anchor Text

This client was better than most when it came to anchor text. But even the small percentage of links that shows text of “here” or “more” or “click me” are wasted opportunities (this client did not do this often, but you get my point). First, search engines use anchor text to determine what your article is about, so get in the habit. But even if this is solely enewsletter content, people are going to notice underlined words in blue. This will result in more clicks, plus your metrics results will be easier to read on the back-end.

The Gist

More and more emarketers are realizing that email is still one of the best ways to reach potential supporters and it continues to provide the best ROI possible. Non-profits are especially poised to take advantage of this considering the emotional responses they can provoke and (usually) the lack of funds. This particular client’s content is great and yours probably is too – but don’t stop there.


Here are a few final thoughts:

  • Continue to test. Even with most rudimentary systems and email vendors, you can almost always figure out a way to test. (Once, when my system did not allow A/B testing, I rigged it to send the “A” email to everyone whose last name began with a letter A-M and sent the “B” email to people with surnames from N-Z.) It can be crude and take a little time, but wouldn’t it be nice to explain to your boss the insights you were able to garner from your list?
  • I’m serious about the subject line – practice, test, repeat. Some of the most successful emailers spend as much time on the 10 words in their subject line as it takes to write the entire email. How much do you spend? (Think about it like this: not everyone will read your email, but everyone on your list is likely to see the subject line. What would you impart about your mission even if they didn’t click? Or how could you make your message irresistible so they would have to open it?)
  • Send less more often. Sometimes this isn’t possible. If your organization has a tradition of monthly enewsletters, every staff member will want to be featured in it. Instead, sell them on the opportunity to toute their content in a separate email. Pare down the giant monthly enewsletter and start sending tidbits more often. Emails are snacks, not Thanksgiving dinners.

I’d like to extend a hearty thank you to the client! They do great work and I know their success will continue. I hope I was able to help them and possibly some others of you out there. I hope these suggestions help!


1 Comment »

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  1. Nice killing two birds with one rock. Great ideas for them and for us!

    So true about subject lines. I often struggle with “sales”-sounding subjects and dry, focused ones. Sometimes I worry that a heavy benefit subject will turn off people who are accustomed to using email as a business communication method only. The problem is that people like us – involved in marketing – see a very stark difference between a blatant pitch and a to-the-point, on-the-nose email subject. I think people are being trained to spot hype and delete quickly. So there’s definitely some subtlety that needs attending to. There’s a spam filter issue with certain words, too. That would be a good post.

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