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Newsletter Best Practices

The consulting firm Nielsen Nelson Group recently confirmed: Email newsletters are still the best way to maintain customer relationships on the Internet.

People get a lot of email. Help your readers by streamlining the experience.

  • Firstly, make it simple for your readers to subscribe and unsubscribeit shouldn't take more than 30 seconds for either action.

    At the top of your message provide link to the Web version of your message (in case there are problems viewing within the inbox); explain why they are receiving the message (sometimes people forget they signed up); provide your email address so users can white list your mail (preventing software from automatically sending it to the spam folder); finally provide a one-click unsubscribe link (nothing frustrates a recipient more than either not being able to find the unsubscribe link).

    It's particularly irksome for users to click on unsubscribe, then forced them to dig out and enter their own address on your site, then get yet another follow-up message to confirm their unsubscribe. Make it an easy, one-click operation. If you don't do this, they'll hit the Spam button which will drive down your open rate to other recipients, and you may get into trouble with your service provider.

  • Your newsletter must be designed for easy scanning, with the expectation that it will not be read from beginning to end. Readers like concise material that will help them in some them in a specific way. The dislike long, tedious material, especially if it is frivolous. Make it worth their time: simple, useful, and easy to deal with.

  • The average time allocated to a newsletter is less than a minute (some readers will stay much longer, some will bail out immediately). Provide useful bits that can be scanned.

  • Write a short, concise email subject line to capture your reader's attention and distinguish your message from spam. Squeeze a bit of the newsletter content in the subject line if you can, perhaps the headline or the summary.

  • Publish on a regular schedule, but not too often as to become bothersome. Ideally, let the recipient decide by providing that option on the sign-up form . . .

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Timing Your Newsletter Broadcast

We mention newsletters here, but these tips (gathered from a leading autoresponder service) also apply to any other material sent by an email service . . .

  • Typical delivery time is 5 minutes or less.

  • Sunday is the best day to mail, followed by Saturday. Monday is the worst.

  • 8 A.M. EST is the best time to mail, 3 A.M. is the worst.

  • Two-thirds of messages are sent as plain text, although it's always best if you let your reader choose the format (and frequency) when they subscribe. If you use HTML, always include a plain text version as well to maximize readership.

  • Subject lines personalized with a date have significantly higher open rates than those personalized with a first name. Do not use both first and last names in the subject line—those have the lowest open rate.

Start with these guidelines and then do A/B tests to see which format and schedule is most successful with your audience. Good software makes quick work of testing.

Don't be too disheartened if only 30% of your mailings are opened at first, that's average, but you should shoot for 50%+.

Even if your message doesn't get opened as often as you might like, you still gain some name-recognition benefit and the recipient may come back to look at your message at a later time.

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