What Makes a Really Good Newsletter: Webinar Recording + Q&A

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Newsletters—recurring roundups of news, tips, or product updates—are one of the most popular content formats in email marketing. But they’re tough to do right. How do you design a newsletter that’s so dang good it engages your audience week to week or month to month?

In this webinar, email geeks from Litmus and Really Good Emails look at the brands that have mastered the art and mad science of sending awesome newsletters. We review our favorite digest emails, break down what makes them stand out, and provide actionable advice on how you can apply similar strategies to your own emails—and give a behind-the-scenes look at how we curate and build our own newsletters.

Watch the webinar now →

Didn’t have a chance to watch the webinar live? Don’t worry. You can access the full recording and the emails we reviewed and read the Q&A below.


Q&A

We didn’t have time to get to all of the questions during the live webinar, but we’ve answered them here on our blog. Have any additional questions? Please leave them in the comments.

How do you determine a send cadence for newsletters?

Matthew Smith: For us, we use industry best practices for an audience like ours and then we simply ask them how often and when they want to see our newsletter. That doesn’t work for every team, but it works for us. Also, you can learn a lot about how others are doing it on the #emailgeeks slack channel.

Jason Rodriguez: I think it’s also important to consider your own team resources, too. It can be tempting to try to send emails every day or multiple times a week, but considering the average email takes about 2 weeks to get out the door, that could be too much for your team to take on. It’s also helpful to ask your subscribers directly and give them options for managing their preferred cadence. Using in-email surveys and email preference centers is a great way to tailor cadence to each subscriber’s preferences.

Newsletters that look like personal emails vs. designed newsletters. Does one perform better than the other?

Matthew: All depends on the email design and the audience. Try one and see how it performs for you. If you do something personal, make it really personal, not just “fake personal.” 🙂

Jason: Totally agree with Matthew here. It depends on the audience. Designed newsletters are great for branding and giving a newsletter a bespoke feel, but for certain topics or brands that have a more personal touch, the plain text-like, undesigned newsletters might be the way to go.

How long is too long for an email newsletter?

Matthew: If it takes an hour to read, that’s too long. Otherwise, as usual, it depends on the audience. Ask yourself what job the customer is hiring the email to do for them, and design the length of the email to fit that. I’m currently looking for a plumber, but I don’t want one who’s going to talk a lot to me. I want someone reliable who can see my challenge, come up with a creative solution, and fix it quickly. Boom! If you don’t know the length of email that will serve your customers best, you don’t know your customers well enough.

Is it better to personalize newsletters? Some examples seemed more general, while others seemed hyper-personalized.

Matthew: Yes. Always lean toward personalization. Personalization can be a personal-feeling brand, or simply content that is more appropriate to that customer based on their shopping actions, product actions, etc.

Jason: I think a good rule of thumb is: If you can personalize something, you should. I’d caution to practice sound judgment here, but if you have subscriber data on behavior and preferences, use that data to tailor the content to them. It sounds like a lot of work, but you can usually achieve a lot of personalization using your email service provider’s merge tags and dynamic content all within a single master email template. Once that’s set up—with proper fallbacks for missing data—automating that level of personalization is much easier.

What do you recommend for the balance between creating unique content and sharing curated content?

Matthew: Depends on your audience… (see a theme here). What kind of content solves the problem for your customer? If you’re curating content, show off your curation abilities. Let them know that your article curation saved them time. If you produce original content, make sure it’s actually valuable. Don’t waste customers’ time. It’s not a renewable resource!

Jason: It doesn’t have to be one or the other, either. A lot of companies see success by curating the bulk of their newsletters but adding in original content, too, or vice versa. When in doubt, test both formats—or a mix—on your subscribers to see which works best.

Some newsletters don’t contain any CTAs. Any ideas on how to measure success with that type of newsletter?

Whitney Rudeseal Peet: Sometimes, depending on the content of your newsletter—a product update or event reminder, for example—you simply don’t need to include any CTAs. So of course, measuring your clickthrough rate becomes less important. You’ll need to look at other metrics to determine success, like read time, forward-to-open rate, and more. Something like Litmus Email Analytics is useful in this case—if you can get that kind of engagement data for your emails, you can look at the broader picture, especially if you have an email without any CTAs.

It’s harder to quantify, but you can also look at things like social response and engagement. If people are talking about or referencing your emails and content online, you can gauge interest that way. Or, you can send out an email survey to your subscribers every few months or so and ask them directly for feedback on the value add of your newsletters. The best people to ask for that kind of interest are your subscribers, after all!

Do you have any advice for teams that don’t have HTML/CSS skills and need to resort to click-and-drag email tools?

Jason: Most ESPs have solid WYSIWYG email editors that come with a variety of templates you can use. There’s no shame in using those pre-built templates, but you should try to customize them as much as you can to better reflect your brand. That’s where smart image, color, and typography choices come into play. You can make amazing newsletters using what tools you have available. Just look at the wonderful newsletter community that’s grown out of TinyLetter.

How does centering copy instead of left-aligning copy in newsletters affect accessibility?

Whitney: When it comes down to it, left-aligned text—especially for sections longer than two lines—is simply easier to read than centered text. Paragraphs are easier to read when you know where each line starts every time. When you center your text, the starting edge changes for every line, which forces your subscribers to work harder to find the beginning of each line—and that’s a challenge for people with dyslexia and other reading impairments. This is especially important for mobile, since the narrow width often produces more lines of text than you may realize.

We’ve got a great resource from our very own Alice Li on this and more accessibility checks on our blog.

Do you have any tips on naming your newsletter something unique?

Matthew: Unique is good when the brand calls for it or when the industry needs you to stand out. But unique for unique’s sake can get in the way. Calling an about page “Colophon” is a great example of adding confusion via uniqueness, but it works with certain audiences.

Can we talk about how great the new Really Good Emails beta is??

Matthew: Yes, yes we can. LOL. It’s at least loading, while our sad old site is having so many problems and dying a geriatic death. Poor guy. We really hope you all are getting a lot out of the new site that’s launching. We’re calling it a beta for a reason, there are still little buggos to smash, but adding in liking, collections, following collections and brands, and a wildly sweet code view to the emails is all part of our love for you as an audience.

We are looking at pro features in the future, and trying to figure out the things you all want most out of the site. Please keep in touch and let us know how we can serve the email and marketing community. 🙂