Building a Better E-Newsletter – Like this article. Common sense stuff.

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  • February 23, 2010
Building a Better E-Newsletter

Building a Better E-Newsletter

Feb 19, 2010 8:06 AM,
By Len Roberto, Jr.

As we all know, e-newsletters are a proven vehicle for communicating with your customers. They drive traffic to your website, raise brand awareness, sell products, and provide many other benefits. Getting folks to interact with your newsletter can be difficult, though. Given all the clutter of today%u2019s e-mail inboxes, it%u2019s a challenge to present something that your audience will interact with on a regular basis. 

We faced this problem at Canon Communications with an underperforming newsletter for one of our trade publications. This particular product had all the basics in place. We had great editors, and the content was terrific. We had evidence from reader surveys and blog posts that the audience was interested in the content and were loyal to the publication.  

But the metrics for this product were quite poor. The unique open rate for 2008 was 20%, and more important, the click rate was an anemic 1.0%.  

A major problem was that we had too much content in every issue. Frequency was every other week, which led the editors to pack as much content into each issue as they possibly could. Each issue scrolled down to 15-20 pages of content. With that much content in each issue, there were few clickable items, and so almost no traffic was driven to the publication%u2019s website. We were not using one of the basic benefits from e-mail communication; we were failing to give our readers anything else to do, as everything was there in the e-newsletter.  

The publisher%u2019s goal was obvious: bring more traffic to the website. The more page views we could get, the better chance we had of bringing advertisers into the newsletter. I suggested a few things that needed to be implemented right away.  

First was to increase the frequency to weekly. Of course there were resource issues to overcome, but the editorial team thought they could easily handle this aspect. 

Second was freshen the design a bit. Simple changes like color or column structure were all that was required.  

Most important, we needed to radically shrink each issue and not put all the editorial copy into the newsletter itself. A short teaser of two or three sentences with a link to read more on the publication%u2019s website was the right way to go.  

We also decided to keep each issue to no more than five stories. The fact is, most people do not have the time to read huge amounts of copy. It%u2019s best to pick the five best stories each week and use those to lead reader to the website where they can see the full meal deal. 

Finally, we changed the e-mail subject line from %u201CXYZ newsletter%u201D with a date to a short blurb highlighting the major copy inside. Subject lines and from lines are the only two things you have to entice a user to open the e-mail. If the subject line is not catchy and repeats itself each issue, no one will pay any attention to your offering.

We set the first week in January 2009 as the relaunch date. I was blown away by how successful these changes were. The unique open rate rose from 20% in 2008 to 22% in 2009. But the biggest improvement came in click-throughs. The very first relaunched issue received 10 times more clicks than the previous issue, and the average click-through rate soared from 1.0% in 2008 to 8.0% in 2009. An average issue in 2008 generated only 155 clicks. That number ballooned to 1,480 in 2009.  

Another benefit? In 2008 we sent an average of 15,000 copies of each issue. The changes we made and the additional promotion we did pushed this number to 19,000 an issue in  2009. 

The final benefit was that website traffic climbed from an average of 77,000 page views a month in 2008 to 85,000 a month in 2009.

One of the best things about e-mail is the ease of testing. No one really knows what will work in every case, but it is simple to test a subject line or a color or a design and get quick feedback. The changes we made above were based on years of best practices, and luckily we hit the bullseye.

Len Roberto, Jr. is audience development director of Canon Communications.