How to Write a Good Newsletter

Writing a good newsletter is more challenging than it seems. The proof? All the unread ones that are going straight to the darkest depths of your inbox, never to be opened. Over the last years, the newsletter has gotten a bad reputation as boring, spammy, or simply irrelevant. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Good newsletters serve a purpose. They entertain, inform, and add value to the reader’s day. It’s a great way to make people like you, and understand what you’re about, as well as get more attention on content that you’re trying to promote.

When writing and sending a great newsletter, you want to occupy that special little place in someone’s heart and/or inbox: something they actually open. Ideally, something they actually look forward to receiving and reading.

You don’t do that by sharing all the good news about what’s been going on with you (who cares?), and the fantastic new business developments (yawn) in your marketing pipeline (automatic close, set to spam). You definitely don’t do it by starting with “In these difficult times, we are here for you“.

Honestly, think about any newsletter you get that you actually read in your inbox. Which ones do you open, and why? There’s no silver bullet, but there are some easy guidelines on how to write a good newsletter. Keep the six tips below in mind, and watch your newsletter flourish into something people look forward to opening.

A good newsletter should be:

1) Good.

Don’t make it trash. Use people who can write well. Get everything proofread (twice) before sending it out. The next few steps will go into more detail about how to make sure it’s good, but always remember this as a guiding principle. All too often the idea of actually making something good gets forgotten, or barely thought of at all. In 2020, this shouldn’t have to be said. Based on the newsletters and updates being sent out by too many organisations, unfortunately it does.

A good newsletter should be:

2) Purposeful.

Why are you sending the newsletter? What do you want people to know, or think? What mental response are you trying to get? Before you do anything, think about what the point of this newsletter is, and how you would feel about getting it in your inbox.

You have to start backwards, with the response or action that you want to elicit from the reader. Do you want them to laugh? Be funny and interesting. Do you want them to believe you? Be persuasive and professional. Do you want them to care about what’s going on with your business? Be clear about what changes in your business mean for them, and how your success benefits the reader.

In other words, put yourself in the reader’s shoes before, during, and after writing your newsletter. Think about who your audience is, what you want them to take away from your newsletter, and find the best way to make that happen. Make sure your tone of voice, and the information you’re presenting, is geared specifically towards a certain set of goals.

A good newsletter should be:

3) Visually appealing.

Now’s the time to ask your designer for a newsletter template. If you’re part of a small team and don’t have a dedicated designer (or anyone with half-decent design skills), it’s worth checking out some free templates. Alternatively, get someone to do it for you on Fiverr. It doesn’t need award-winning design, but make sure it’s visually consistent.

I will spend my last breaths defending the need for good copy against the adults in the room who would like to replace it with ‘scalable’ content farms, but humans are visual creatures, and things are just easier to read when you have nice graphics framing them. It’s not a battle between design and copy; they should work in tandem to produce outstanding results.

The idea of being visually appealing also relates to the type of content you write.

Which of the below emails would you open?

Top 10 Art Memes: Weird Renaissance Cat Edition


Our Finest Selection of Ten Different Images, Used as Art Memes, Including Pictures of Cats Painted During the Renaissance Era

Keep your titles short and snappy, lively and engaging, and grab your audience’s attention without resorting to desperate clickbait (“HOT ART MEMES: YOU WON’T BELIEVE #3”). If something looks good, people are much more likely to believe it is good.

A good newsletter should be:

4) Skimmable.

On that note, it’s important to keep everything – not just your titles – concise. People skim. It happens. Attention spans are short, and skimming is a fact of life that every writer and editor has to deal with. Unless it’s a 2,000-word exposé on the events leading up to Tiger King, people probably aren’t going to be glued to every word you’re saying. They’re going to quickly read something, get the gist, and go on with the rest of their day.

This concept is especially important when writing a newsletter. People are opening up your message because they’re clearing their inbox and have decided that yours is one of the few that they’ll actually check before hitting the ‘mark as read’ or ‘delete’ button. That in itself is a win – when the average open rate is something like 2-3% (for the average, terrible newsletter), the fact that someone is opening your content in the first place is an achievement.

Keep in mind, though, that they’re most likely looking for a quick distraction before lunch, not a 30-minute commitment. A well-written newsletter is a fun and quick read, displaying the most important information concisely, and linking out to any long-form content that you want to direct people to. If you have a 4,000-word blog post, write a quick and attractive summary of it, then persuade people to click with a strong call to action. In the email itself, less is more. If it gets to the point where someone has to click ‘expand this message’ because it’s clipped, you’ve failed.

This is also where tip #3 comes in handy. Being able to separate topics with headers/banners makes it much easier to quickly understand the point of each section. Try to think of a template that works, and covers what you’ll be talking about each month. You can reuse these banners in MailChimp (or whatever service you use) to make life easier on yourself.

A good newsletter should be:

5) Entertaining and informative.

Optimally, your newsletter will be an entertaining read. This will always depend on your organisation, tone of voice, and purpose. The key here is balance. What’s entertaining for a modern art magazine might be wildly inappropriate for a funeral home. However, ‘entertaining’ doesn’t always mean funny – as long as it’s compelling and relevant, it will captivate the reader. Maybe it’ll be a little nod of appreciation or a smile rather than a belly laugh, or maybe it’ll be an expression of surprise at a fact the reader didn’t know, but either way, you’ve got to bring something to the table in order to keep someone’s attention.

Some things are easy to write about. If your newsletter is about the latest development at the local petting zoo you own (congratulations on the best career choice ever), you can talk about the mischievous new goats, a hungry little hedgehog, and the time Dave got chased and bitten by a piglet. Easy entertainment.

Things get a little bit harder when you have to tackle serious topics. The coronavirus isn’t funny. That doesn’t mean you write an epitaph for our society every time you mention it in a newsletter. If anything, people quite like being reminded that the world hasn’t actually ended, and the sun is still coming up despite the best efforts of deranged billionaires around the world.

If you’re struggling to manage crisis communication, and need some inspiration on how to tackle tough topics, there’s only one place to turn to: Gatorland, Florida. They understood the need to communicate some recent changes, and did it in a pretty interesting, innovative, and funny way:

I’m not saying you should dress up as the Social Distancing Skunk Ape and link the video in your newsletter (highly recommended though), but the message here is to be original. Create something worthwhile that communicates an otherwise boring message. Then share it with as many people as possible.

This does come with a caveat: Gatorland benefits from not being the world’s most serious place, so they can lean pretty heavily towards the wackier side of the spectrum. Remember that it’s important to get a balance between being entertaining and getting your point across. If you want people to respect you, your humour has to be backed up with solid professionalism and results – otherwise you’re just being frivolous. Keep in mind point #2 – remember what you’re trying to accomplish, and what information you’re trying to convey, and make sure you get it across. Don’t focus on being entertaining at the expense of communicating your message.

A good newsletter should be:

6) Well-timed.

If you’re spending time and effort writing a good newsletter, you want to make sure that people actually see it. When you send your newsletter is going to depend on your audience. The true answer is that there’s no ‘best’ time to send an email, though some studies indicate that newsletters sent on Tuesdays between 10:00-14:00 receive especially good results.

However, if everyone sends their newsletters around this time, there’s a good chance yours will be one of the many that gets automatically skipped. Try a few different days and times, and see which ones get the most engagement from your own audience.

For an internal company newsletter, Friday afternoon is a nice time – people are winding down and might enjoy reading a quick update from another department, since it kind of counts as work. Alternatively, Monday morning, when people are actively sorting their inbox, could make sure you get as many eyes as possible on your email. Just make sure you don’t send it out after work at 17:45 on Friday.

Most importantly, don’t spam. There are real benefits to only sending out a newsletter once a month, instead of bi-weekly or even weekly. Unless you are actively generating content/news all the time, you might quickly find yourself running out of things to say – and people will meet your well-intentioned (but super boring) updates with a groan.

Do you publish several times a day, or have plenty of exciting developments on an hourly basis? A weekly update could be a good idea, as long as you can point to good and useful content. Do you write 10 blog posts a month, or are things generally pretty quiet? Save it for a monthly review instead and avoid oversaturating your audience with too much pointless information. The second you start padding your newsletter because you’re running out of things to say, you need to rethink why you’re doing this in the first place.

Finally, a good newsletter should be:

7) Relevant.

Remember your audience at all times. Distill the most important messages clearly and concisely, and make them directly relevant to the needs and interests of your readers. This is a similar point to staying concise, but gets to the heart of how to write a good newsletter: writing it for an audience, and not just for yourself.

Are you announcing a great new tool that your company designed to benefit your clients?

Don’t write: “Our great and talented developers, who have an extensive background at performing technical tasks of the highest order, and graduated top of their class, have been working hard on battling through their difficult roadmap and cleared up their pipeline to implement some new backdoor functionality for our partners.”

Do write: “Our talented developers have created a useful new function to help you do what you need to do faster and easier than before. This will save you time and give you more control over your results!”

At the end of the day, people are reading your newsletter because they think it might contribute something to their day – whether that’s easy entertainment, useful information, or the chance to slack off for around five minutes by checking their inbox. Respect their time, and make it worth their while.

If you want to write a good newsletter, there has to be a point to everything you’re saying. Every section of it has to be directly relevant to some part of your audience, or it runs the risk of becoming indulgent and long-winded. Every section has to be a winner. If it’s not, why are you putting it in?

In short, here’s how to write a good newsletter:

1) Make it good (really).
2) Be purposeful and deliberate.
3) Present it in a visually appealing way.
4) Stay concise and skimmable.
5) Keep it entertaining and informative.
6) Exercise good timing.
7) Stay relevant at all times.

Follow the above guidelines on how to write a good newsletter, and help usher in a new world of people actually reading the messages that get sent to them. If you have any questions, comments, or want to send me your own video where you dress up as the Social Distancing Skunk Ape, don’t hesitate to contact me.

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