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Ten Tips for Improving Your Email Newsletters

Thursday, 13 December 2012  | 

Email newsletters have come along way from the days of sending out a blanket text-based email and hoping people will find their way to your site. Now we have almost every online business vying for your support and wanting you to sign up for their emails. So making sure your emails don't get lost in amongst all the others is becoming harder and harder.  We've put together a list of 10 handy tips to help you encourage your customers not only to open your emails but respond to them too.

1. Brand consistency

Make sure you use the same email template for all of your email newsletters. This will create consistency and trust which your customers are more likely to respond to. Take a look at the emails you receive from national retailers – each one will have a consistent email template that is instantly recognisable as belonging to their brand.

Your template could be something as simple as using your brand colour as the background with a white content area or you could use a more advanced version with your logo, telephone number and links to your social networking sites. Have a read of our previous blog post How to: Create an Email Template to see how you can set this up for your own emails on Bluepark.

2. Keeping it simple

People want to be able to read your emails so keep your design simple and uncluttered. If you are using text, give it plenty of white space and use a font that is easy to read. Don’t cram your email full of clashing images and animated gifs that all fight for space. Create simple, clear and informative images that, again, have their own space and complement each other. Take a look at these emails from Amazon – which one are you more likely to read and respond to?
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Amazon email Amazon email squashed
With plenty of spacing Without any spacing

3. Engaging subject line

The subject line is the first thing your customer will look at so it needs to be engaging.  The best way to do this is to tell the customer what the benefit is to them if they open the email. Are you offering a promotion? Is it relating to something they have purchased before? Does is have a time limit on it? If so, mention these in your subject line but ideally keep it to 50 characters or less.

Certain words can cause your emails to be sent straight to the spam folder or, worse still, cause your emails to be blocked all together. Words to avoid are free, per cent off, help and reminder. These are all renowned for getting caught in the spam mind field.

4. Unsubscribe option

In the UK, the CAN-SPAM Act 2003 states that all commercial emails must give the customer the option to opt-out of receiving future emails. If you do not comply with this rule you can face considerable penalties.

A ‘Click here to UNSUBSCRIBE’ link is automatically added to the bottom of all emails created within the Email Manager in Bluepark. However, if you wish to create your own styled link you can easily do so by using as the %unsubscribe variable in the link code. When a customer clicks on this link they will automatically be unsubscribed and will no longer receive any commercial emails from you. This does not include any order related emails such as Order Confirmation.

Click here for the full CAN-SPAM Act rules.

5. Timing and frequency

When and how often you send out your email newsletters depends on your customer demographic. If your typical customer is a young professional, Monday morning is probably the worst time to send your emails to them. Likewise, so is Friday evenings for students. Different types of people go online at different times of the day and are more likely to respond to emails when they have time to do so. You want to make sure your emails are fresh in their inbox at that time.

How often you should send your emails depends very much on what you sell and how quickly your product catalogue and promotions change but if you are unsure the best thing to do is to test. Try sending one out once a week and if you find people start unsubscribing reign it back to once every two weeks or once a month. Just remember to send it out on your most responsive day and time.

If you don’t want to test your email frequency, ask your customers when they sign up for your newsletters or send out a quick survey asking for their opinions on your emails. How often do they want to receive it? What would they like you to include? and etc.

6. Don't stick to just one email

When you are offering a promotion or are focusing on a particular segment of your product catalogue you don’t have to send out just one email. Create a dedicated campaign to make sure you capture as many people as you can during the promotion or season focus.

Lakeland began their Christmas email campaign on the 18th October this year and has sent out a Christmas related email every week since, and sometimes twice a week.

Lakeland Christmas Emails

If you are launching a sale you could create at least four different emails to make sure people know about it...

Laura Ashley Email thumbnail 1. Send out an email before it starts to let people know of the date, and even time, as Laura Ashley have done.
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Lakeland Email thumbnail 2. Send one a few days after it has started to remind them about it.  Add in links to take people through to your main sale categories as Lakeland have done.
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Tara Starlet thumbnail 3. Send another if you make any further reductions or add new products to the sale as Tara Starlet have done.
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Dibor thumbnail 4. Finally send one a few days before it finishes to make sure they know the date and time it is ending.  Give the email a sense of urgency as Dibor have done.
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7. Keeping it relevant

A big reason why people unsubscribe from emails is lack of relevancy. Imagine you only purchased men’s clothing from an online store but only ever received emails about their promotions on women’s clothing. Would you continue to subscribe to their emails?

The best way to create relevancy in your emails is to segment your database and target each segment with different email content. This doesn’t necessarily mean sending out several completely different emails each time you want to email your customers. You could send one to the customers interested in women’s wear one week and one to those interested in men’s wear the following week. Or create a generic email but add a more relevant subject line and initial promotion banner for each of the segments.

There are several ways to divide your database into segments. You could create them by purchases, interests, demographics such as age, location or gender or behaviour such as they are a regular purchaser or a seasonal one or is their average basket value always high or do they only ever purchase when a promotion is on?

One way of working out what your segments are is by including a couple of extra fields in the Email Sign-Up form and adding these extra fields to the Account Sign-Up page too. Keep it simple and only make the email address mandatory though because lots of questions can put customers off and you may find that no-one signs up for your emails.

See how Homebase have done this by  adding Areas of Interest and Next Project to their sign up form.

Homebase Email Sign Up Form
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8.Email client compatibility

If you are planning to create image based emails it is best to understand that emails can be rendered in different email clients in different ways. For instance, Hotmail and GoogleMail both tend to add in a white line of padding between horizontal images. Bearing this in mind, it is best not to break up images in an email to form a larger image. Have a look at Laura Ashley's sale email where they have done this as viewed in GoogleMail, Hotmail and Outlook 2010 respectively.

Laura Ashley email compatibility

For more advanced users who want to code their own emails it is highly recommended that you do your research on cross-client compatibility before doing so. Coding an email from scratch is very different to coding a website and all sorts of issues can crop up if it is not done correctly. Here are some basic rules for email HTML coding to get you started...

  • Use tables
  • Use inline CSS
  • Avoid background images
  • Add a single 100% width table for the email wrapper to add a background colour
  • Set your main content area to between 500 and 700 pixels in width
  • Use text links as well as linked images
  • Format text links using inline CSS to avoid the standard blue
  • Use web friendly fonts
  • Keep image file sizes as low possible

9. Relevant landing page

Linking all of your images and text links in your email through to your homepage can cause confusion. If the link contains a promotion or particular product range but these aren't featured on the homepage the customer will not want to start searching for it and may navigate away from your site.

Point each link to a page that contains the relevant information about that promotion or product range. It could be something as simple as a Category page but you could create a static information page and direct the customer to the products from there. If it is a promotion you may want to create a landing page that has the details of the promotion on it such as the promo code, when it ends and terms & conditions. Just remember, however, to keep it simple and give clear instructions to the customer of how to complete their purchase.

The following examples from Oasis and Oliver Bonas show the email and relevant landing page of the main link. The Oasis email has two landing pages, the delivery promotion page and the Party Wear category. The Oliver Bonas one links through to the Alphabet Gifts category and then each product is linked to the corresponding product page to reduce the number of clicks.

Oasis Email Oasis Website
   
Oliver Bonas Email Oliver Bonas Website

10. Test, test and test again

Never assume that customers will respond to your emails. Always test different subject lines, different content, different customer segments and different landing pages. You will never achieve a 100% open rate but learning from how your customers respond to your emails can help you make improvements to future ones.

Did you know you can track your emails through Google Analytics? This can give you lots of statistics such as Visits, Number of Transactions, Revenue and Conversion Rate that you can use to see how successful each email was. Have a read of Best practices for email tracking using Google Analytics on Google+ to find out how to set this up.