How To Create a Great Digital Newsletter

Why an Email Newsletter?

Producing original content for your site without offering a digital newsletter is a lot like putting a toy’s motor into your Ferrari - you’ve got great material, but it’s going nowhere fast. 

For millions of us around the world, email is already a primary mode of communication, whether on a laptop, a smartphone, or a tablet; indeed, according to one study, people send more than 200 billion emails a day, which translates to more than 2 million emails every second. 

With that being said, putting together a digital newsletter through online services (we tend to like MailChimp here at Geek) is a highly effective way to secure a consistent audience while:

  • building brand awareness
  • communicating company information
  • making announcements about new products or services.

Distributing a regular digital newsletters gives your dedicated followers something to expect and allows you to stay in contact with them, on top of providing an outlet to freshen up old content and get it in front of new audiences. You could call that a win-win.

Like most content marketing techniques, however, there is some finesse and strategy involved in email marketing. Visualize your own inbox, for instance: Chances are that most of the promotional materials that you receive go unopened and gather digital dust as they slowly move into the void of unread emails, never to return.

Now, can you pick out one of these emails that you did open and read? As far as digital newsletters go, that’s a successful send.

When creating your newsletter, it’s helpful to consider what works and fails in your own personal experience. Here are some tips to help you get the juices flowing:

The Bad Newsletter

Let’s get the negative stuff out of the way first. You’ve seen email blasts like these before, and you’ll more than likely see them again. You know the type. Here’s what constitutes a poorly written and sent digital newsletter:

Irrelevant Content

For example, a tech company could randomly send out a review of Britney Spears’ latest album. While this review could offer some sharp insight into bass drops and lyrical structure, is it actually teaching the audience anything that they’re looking for from this company? Nope. If it's not offering any value to the consumer or to the organization sending it, it's not effective content marketing.

Sloppily Segmented Lists

If you’re planning on sending out multiple emails to people within different, self-identified regions or groups (a process that we call "personalized marketing"), make sure that you’re organizing and coding them correctly. You don’t want your audience in Chicago receiving that killer top-10 list of Portland mixologists, or for your important clients to see the dreaded "Hello, [Name]" greeting.

Tarnished Company Image

Think back to the bad email in your inbox. Can you name the company? When was the last time you used their services or visited their site? Unless it’s a business that offers a necessary product, like insurance or electricity, you probably only still receive that email because you haven’t visited their site to unsubscribe. Bottom line? A poorly constructed or pestering email will actually do your brand more harm than good. 

Ruins the Chance for Future Email Possibilities (i.e., Your Emails Become Hot Chunks of Spam)

Reported emails (or even too many unread sends) can result in your vital newsletters being marked as spam, meaning that they won't be received by those who actually might click through; in fact, a poorly maintained list or abysmal open rates may even cause your newsletter service to prevent your emails from being sent out. That’s right, the Internet can block you, especially if you don't follow CAN-SPAM laws! (Word to the wise - please don't do that.)

The Good Newsletter

Now on to the good stuff! If you want to create a truly great digital newsletter, one that consistently generates inbound traffic and leads, make sure that your email offering...

Offers Multiple Forms of Content

Bring on your visual, promotional, and blog content! Highlight the best content of the week and give audiences small, regular pieces to look forward to. The Geek Chicago Newsletter, Geek Speak, offers an “App of the Week” and “Gadget of the Week” alongside our weekly blog content to show what we’re interested in and what we’re thinking about in terms of tech. While it is important to keep the focus on content relevant to your brand your ideal audience, don't be afraid to diversify. 

Follows the 90/10 Rule

Your email newsletter should be 90% informative and 10% promotional. Don’t bombard your readers with “Buy! Buy! Buy!” content. Instead, offer them some useful ways to use your product or service. For example, a wine supplier could write up a list of pairings for a few different bottles on special, instead of throwing a bunch of sticker prices at their audience. Get your audience involved in what you’re selling and focus on telling a story, rather than twisting arms and getting that hard sell.  

Features a Subject Line With Personality

You might not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can totally judge an email by its subject line. Provide an incentive to your audience to click and consume your email content. Make a claim. Ask a question. Don’t bring up the purchase in the subject line (except on the very rare occasion you're running a special and want to convey urgency, though this shouldn't be done more frequently than every 5 newsletters or so, as a rule of thumb).

Chooses One Call-To-Action

Your newsletter is supposed to provide momentum and encourage your audience to do something. Don’t give them multiple options. Choose one action and focus their attention there.

Boasts Clear Copy and Design Choices

Copy and design easily become cluttered, so consider the power of the white space. Clean, visually specific designs are easier to read and give off a sense of sophistication. Remember, you want your reader to do something with the newsletter, not parse through all of your groovy design choices. Break up content, and yes, use lists and visual content whenever you can! Here are a few of our favorite digital newsletters, for your perusal and pleasure. 

Makes Unsubscribing Simple

Breaking up shouldn’t be hard to do when it comes to your email newsletter. Keep your email list healthy by making it easy for those who want out to get out. This is consistent with that CAN-SPAM compliance we referred to earlier. 

Contains Focused Information

Keep content relevant and centered. Take a look at the following examples, and choose which one should be kicked out:

  • “Cast Iron Wonders: 3 Recipes for Your Grandmother’s Frying Pan”
  • “The History of Chocolate Pudding”
  • “Understanding the Iranian Hostage Situation Now”
  • “Whiskey and Whitman: 7 Book and Drink Pairings for Your Sunday Night”

Okay, obviously the Iranian Hostage article sticks out like a very sore thumb, but keep consistency in mind when putting together content. It will come across as more cohesive and encourage more clicks.

The Bottom Line: Ask Yourself, “So What?”

  • Why would you want to read your content? What new information or voice are you bringing to the table? Be your best critic and don’t just slap together filler.

Sound a Little Complicated?

This is where the Geek Chicago team would love to step in! Subscribe to our newsletter or drop us a line when you’re ready to begin a digital marketing strategy that takes into account social media, written content, and web design! 

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Jason Finn

Founder & Chief Geek

Jason has nearly 20 years of consulting experience, predominantly in the technology space. Most recently he was the COO and Director of Technology for Rich Casto & Company, a national training and consulting organization in the real estate industry.
As a consultant for IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and Envision Consulting Group (now IMS Health), Jason has served clients of all sizes, including Big Pharma, Fortune 500, and Global 1000 companies:

  • Allstate Insurance Company
  • AOL (America Online)
  • Astellas Pharmaceuticals
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • Ford Motor Credit
  • Wockhardt USA (formerly Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals)
  • Norwich Union
  • PNC Bank
  • Reynolds and Reynolds

Sarunas Budrikas

Creative Director

Sarunas is a web design and development expert with hundreds of successful projects in his portfolio. He is passionate about delivering extraordinary user experiences for every client and consistently goes above and beyond everyone’s expectations. As an SEO expert and strategist, he can optimize your website, or app, to get the most out of it, day in and day out. Sarunas holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from Kaunas Technology University, in Lithuania. Sarunas now lives in Chicago, and calls it home.

Alexandra Olsavsky

Client Experience Specialist

Alex specializes in content generation and social media promotion for Geek | Chicago clients, helping to solidify their presence in the online community. This includes blog writing, graphic design, co-ordination and design of weekly newsletters, and active engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Outside of Geek, Alex is a classically-trained soprano who professionally performs around the city of Chicago (most recently with the Chicago Baroque Band, and with the Rolling Stones for their "50 and Counting" tour).