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The anatomy of a great email newsletter

By - Posted under Email Marketing |

Email marketing is an art and a science. A great email newsletter is more than just its design and visual appeal. It's about format, coding, sender details, subject lines, deliverability, testing, analytics…the list goes on. Just do a quick search of email marketing online and you will see a long list of companies and resources dedicated to this medium - it's serious business.

Why? Because it gets results.

So what does a great email newsletter look like? From a design perspective, the possibilities are endless. But there are some essential components and best practices that make a great email. Let's take a look.

Sender details

This is the first thing your recipient sees and one of the first triggers that will either get them to open it or send it to the trash bin. Who is the email from? Do I know this person or company? Do I remember giving them permission to send me emails?

Sender details example - MarketingProfs

Sender details example

In this example, the sender has used the name of a high-profile company representative, in addition to the name of the company. I happen to recognize the name, but even if I didn't I have the name of the company to remind me that I signed up with them.

This addition of a personality helps to create a sense of community and a relationship with the company behind the email. What's important to remember is the name of the sender must be recognizable to the recipient. At the very least, use your company or brand name. Avoid generic names like Support, Customer Service, News, etc. And unless EVERY recipient on your list will recognize the name, don't use the name of a person alone.

Subject line

The. Most. Important. Part.

Nothing kills a great email more than a poor subject line. This is the key that unlocks the door. If your key doesn't fit - entice, resonate, appeal to - your email won't get opened.

This is a topic unto itself, but here are a few important things to remember:

  • make it relevant and specific - let the reader know what to expect and why they'll want to read it
  • have a consistent style - reflect the personality of your brand (or the sender) in your subject lines and have some consistency in tone or style from issue to issue so that your readers get to recognize (and look for) your emails
  • keep it short - there is a limit to the number of characters the recipient will see in their inbox and with more readers viewing emails on their mobile devices, the space is even less.

Teaser or preheader text

This is the first bit of text after the subject line the user might see before they open your email. Take advantage of this extra space to elaborate on your subject line or add a strong call to action.

Indigo | Chapters preheader text example

Indigo's preheader further clarifies the details of the sale.

If you put nothing in this space, it will pull in the first bit of text from your email, which in many cases is the typical "Can't see this email?" text.

Cultured Coffee Bean preheader text sample

Cultured Coffee Bean misses an opportunity to mention specific products to draw the reader in.

Images and ALT text

The visual appeal of your email relies on the effective use of colours, fonts and imagery. If you're using images, invest the time to source great royalty-free images that speak to your message and are relevant to your brand and brand personality. Avoid clip-art!

When using images, ensure you balance them with text. Too many images and little text or image-only emails can trigger some spam filters. In addition, many email clients have images off by default, so ensure you have good, formatted ALT text with your images so that your message still gets through.

Bottom line - don't use an image when text will do.

Vistaprint email with images turned off

Images turned off - effective use of ALT text

Vistaprint email with images turned on

Images turned on

In the above example, the company logo is replaced by large, bold text in the company's brand colour and the call-to-action image is replaced with styled text in the colour of the email. In addition, the call-to-action buttons have been created with just text and colour instead of images so that the effect and emphasis is not lost when images are turned off.

Great copy

Next to your subject line, the content of your email is most important. Develop a tone and stick with it. Don't underestimate the power of great copy. If you don't think you can write well, it's worth the money to invest in a good copywriter. Well crafted copy can turn a passive customer into a buyer.

Visible call-to-action

Every email newsletter has a purpose - to get the reader to do something. Whether it's getting them to read an article, take a survey or buy a product, a clear and visible call-to-action (CTA) is necessary to get them to take that step.

Your main or most important CTA should stand out and be repeated. Use buttons and in-copy text links to capture the most clicks.

Learnable email repeating the call-to-action

Learnable uses a text link followed by a button - with different text - to capture the click.

Visible unsubscribe function

Not only is this a requirement under CASL (and most international spam laws), it is simply good practice. If a recipient is no longer engaged with your emails, make it easy for them to stop receiving them. They'll leave with a good impression of you and your engagement stats will improve.

Hide the unsubscribe or make it difficult to do so and you risk getting called out as a spammer. Don't include one at all and you risk a heavy fine.

Be sure to include other options if, for example, you send more than one type of email. The team at Buffer do a great job with this. See below.

Buffer's unsubscribe options

Buffer gives option to unsubscribe from this email series, all emails or to update preferences.

List details

Many of us get a lot of emails...and some of us have short memories. So, it's a good idea to remind your readers how they got on your list. A simple, "You are receiving this because…" statement will do and include the email address they subscribed with.

iStock footer example

iStock's list information in footer of email

Contact information

Another requirement of CASL is including your contact details. A valid mailing address and contact information is required in all marketing communications. (See iStock example above.)

Design for mobile

According the Litmus, the top email client is the Apple iPhone with a 26% market share as of February 2015. Make sure your email is readable on a mobile device by using larger text, scalable images and large buttons and links that are easy to tap with a finger.

Great marketing emails will adjust their layout based on the device they are being viewed on. Many email marketing programs today provide responsive templates to make this easy for you. If someone else is designing your emails, ensure they are building them for optimal presentation on mobile devices.

How do your email marketing communications measure up? Would you add anything to this list? Let us know in the comments below or contact us to find out how we can help you get more out of your email marketing.

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