SCORE Small Business Blog

Oh No You Didn’t: 3 Major Email Newsletter Mistakes

Oh, the monthly email newsletter. I could probably write an ode to this tried and true marketing device for no other tool provides such consistent marketing value. I use my newsletter to keep clients excited with fresh content, alert users of updates, promote items and to create a community for my customers to engage in. Most companies, both large and small, understand these benefits and publish a daily, weekly or monthly newsletter (a few of my own favorites come from Sprouter, Quora and Skillshare). Unfortunately many execute their newsletter strategies poorly and their attempt to “reach out” comes off as a nuisance. To get people to subscribe, stay interested and attracted to your offering, stay away from these Major Email Newsletter Mistakes:

1. Dressing It Like Spam

Email Spam Actions chart

Infographic provided by Flowtown

Spam is of course, any kind of unsolicited content. Although you may have a genuine intention of providing real, valuable content, very few people open email that appears suspiciously like spam. Make sure to package your newsletter so that it doesn’t look a generic message that has been “pushed out” to a bulk mailing list.

How to do this? Pay attention to what you put in the subject line. Never actually use the word “newsletter” as part of the subject. Instead, create a type of headline with  bite-sized pieces of “bait,” or interesting information that will later be expanded in the body of your newsletter . Make sure that your “sender” is a real person because any email that looks like it was sent by a robot will be perceived as sketchy. In the actual newsletter, make the “unsubscribe” button clear and accessible. If someone doesn’t want to subscribe anymore, thank them, ask them you how can improve and let them go. Forcing someone to stay on your mailing list by not allowing them an easy way to “opt out” is straight up spamming and why send your newsletter to someone who won’t read it?

Effective List Growing Techniques chart

Statistics provided by Constant Contact

2. Buying Email Contacts

Never buy aggregate lists of email addresses so you have more people to send your email newsletter to. Don’t even email people on lists that you get for free. The golden rule is, if someone didn’t actually “opt in,” don’t send them anything. Every so often, I’ll get individuals who email me back asking how we got their information. I always respond honestly by stating that our mailing list is derived from 1) our users 2) contacts who I’ve met at networking events who said that they’d like to get my newsletter 3) those who actually sign up for our emails on our site; I also offer to quickly remove them from our mailing list.

These individuals are always grateful for this information and although they may have forgotten that they signed up months ago, about 90% of the time they agree to stick around. Lesson is, don’t be tempted to mass email strangers because they will ask where you got your contacts from and having to explain that you had to pay for your audience will be embarrassing and damaging to your reputation.

3. Forgetting the Power of Aesthetics & Presentation

So, once your reader has clicked into your newsletter, you’re done right? Not exactly. Put just as much time and energy into your visual look, images and format as you would your text content. Choose HTML layouts that are clean and pleasing to the eye. Your content could be as enthralling as a James Patterson novel but who would want to read it if they have to fight through a sea of distracting blue hyperlinks, distorted pictures or worse – a layout as dry and uninteresting as that of a press release.

Not a HTML maven? Email marketing tools like Mailchimp, Mad Mimi and Constant Contact offer award winning design templates that you can easily pop your content into. Be mindful of rapidly waning attention spans – always space out blocks of text with images. Employ simple yet good-looking “call to action” buttons such as ones that direct readers to “learn more” or “read on.” Also trust me – your newsletter will look different depending on whether it’s opened in Gmail or Outlook. Mailchimp offers a nifty “Inbox Inspection” to view your email in several mail clients or you could also do a test run and send your newsletter to friends at different emails to compare what looks wonky in which inbox.

Bryan JaneczkoFounder, Wicked Start
Bryan has successfully launched multiple startups. His latest venture, Wicked Start, provides tools to plan, fund, and launch a new business. Also author of WickedStart: Guide to Starting a New Venture with Passion and Purpose, Bryan is committed to helping small businesses grow and succeed. | Facebook | @WickedStart | LinkedIn | More from Bryan

// |

Discussion (10) Comment

  1. RudeeVisitor

    We are using . Mailchimp and are very pleased with the results. I think you have to expect a small percentage will respond. The most important thing is what you put in the subject. I am going to think about number one, and what I would if I get an email I think is fraudulent. It might help before I send out the emails to ask myself, would I delete it because what is in the subject line. Thanks for your ideas

  2. Mike SobusVisitor

    Agree with points 1 and 2. Don’t look like SPAM makes sense, but you can easily fall into that trap. Some email programs provide you a SPAM evaluation for your email which lets you know that something is springing the SPAM detectors.

    Point 2, do not by email lists. Pretty obvious but nevertheless worth repeating.

    While presentation and aesthetics are nice I believe that useful interesting content rules. Provide that and they will read your emails and tell others to subscribe. Seth Godin’s emails are more than plain, but I will kill for his open rates!

    • Bryan JaneczkoVisitor

      I strongly agree with you there. Content is extremely important; no matter how good-looking you make a newsletter, you still need to offer your readers information that they value. The thing with Seth Godin is that he already has a huge following through his blog and via his reputation in the marketing/entrepreneurial community. His email open rates are high for the very reason why so many people flock to his blog. People WANT to read his content because it’s coming from a trusted, reputable source who has proven that he has unique insight. Seth Godin is selling himself and his words are gold. But a small business owner may not have the clout that Seth Godin has so beyond providing great content they need to offer it in a clear, aesthetically pleasing way.

      I don’t mean bells and whistles, I mean: be mindful of using too many fonts and distracting colors, check to make sure your images aren’t distorted, study up on other successful newsletters for layout ideas etc.

  3. MarlaVisitor

    Thank you so much for these tips. Will once again be reworking my subject lines!

  4. BrandiVisitor

    @Barry – seriously?! Buying email contacts :( Someone needs a little tap on the nose.. Sounds like a quick way to get your sending IP black balled.

  5. Don CrawleyVisitor

    Points one and two are spot on. Point three, however, misses the mark on how people read email today. The templates available from MailChimp, iContact, and other sources, while beautiful, completely miss the reality of today’s world. Increasingly, people read email on their smart phones. Using pretty templates as you described makes newsletters impossible to read in a small format thus causing people to delete them without ever reading them. If you really want people to read a newsletter, forget formatting it for reading on a computer. Format it for the small screen using a simple text layout with relatively small graphics. Format headers in bold. Keep paragraphs short. Avoid lengthy text. Contrary to what you said, use links. For a great example of how to do a newsletter today, check out Chris Clarke-Epstein’s “Thinking for a Change”:

    • Bryan JaneczkoVisitor

      Hi Don,

      Great points, the thing is tools like Mailchimp and Mad Mimi do take into account that many users read their emails on their smartphones. Their templates are compatible for both mobile and online viewing…I also check my newsletters before they go out on my iPhone and in several of my email inboxes before I let it get sent out. I recommend tools like Mailchimp or Constant Contact specifically because they take all aspects of usability into consideration. They also let me know what percentage of readers open up my newsletter on their iPhones, Androids, Gmail, Outlook etc. so I know how to cater my newsletter. I also get to A/B test with different subject lines, delivery times etc. if I want to which I think is really important because you want your newsletter delivery to be as effective as possible.

      This is just my two cents coming straight out of experience. I have used all the tools I mentioned in my blog post and have spent countless hours trying to perfect different email newsletter campaigns. So hope my advice helps..

  6. Jill TooleyVisitor

    Misleading subject lines irk me more than anything else when it comes to email newsletters. I’ve unsubscribed to many lists because of that, and I’ll continue to do so!

    On a positive note, I agree with the 3 points you’ve made here. Great list. :)

  7. Barry DennisVisitor

    Don’t agree with 2. Years ago I wrote “Why I love Spam,” in which I offered that I really didn’t, but that email was a marketing-for-prospects dream tool.
    It still is, with the caveat of having some knowledge of the prospect “list universe” AND some credible affinity with the prospect on which to base your contact.

  8. Great post, Bryan. I like the tip about making sure that your “sender” is a real person. I for one will unsubscribe to a newsletter if I don’t feel that there’s a “real” person behind it.


Leave a Comment

More Blog Topics