Five Ways to Make Your Email Newsletters Not Suck 

Email newsletters have made an interesting comeback, because a select few are doing simple things really well.

Oh, email. The task of dealing with our email at one point became so daunting that the collective internet coined a term for when it is “conquered.” Inbox Zero. Inbox Zero is the Mount Everest of life for people who will likely never consider climbing the actual Mount Everest. For a second, take a step back and notice how you feel when you think of the word “email.” Annoyed? Agitated? What about excited?

This is what I look like when unsubscribing from email newsletters.

About a year ago if you’d asked me that question I would have answered overwhelmed. That was around when I discovered Unroll.me, which is a free service that lets you bulk-unsubscribe from email newsletters. It also lets you roll up email newsletters you sort-of like into one email. Here’s what happened when I did Unroll.me: I unsubscribed from hundreds of brand’s newsletters I didn’t recognize or even realize I was on, and then I rolled up a handful of newsletters I thought “meh, maybe I like them.” Every day I get the “meh” roll-up and I pretty much trash it because, meh, of course.

Just like that, my (personal) inbox was relatively calm. It felt weird. So almost reflexively, I found myself subscribing to new newsletters. Friends told me about newsletters they loved and I’d get in on it too, or I’d visit a website for a new company and subscribe so I could know what they were up to. So in other words I was all of a sudden seeking out more email instead of looking for ways to cut it out. And email became fun.

In a sea of crappy emails, your brand has this amazing opportunity to not get rolled-up or unsubscribed from or deleted simply by being fun to read. But for being so simple, it’s amazing how often email marketing is done poorly. So by way of my most favorite email newsletters, I am going to share with you my top pieces of advice for making your newsletter not suck.

Even if your newsletter isn’t coming from a person, try to make it more like it is.

Ya know that feeling when your best friend who lives on the other side of the country emails you? Wouldn’t it be great if people felt that way about your newsletter? If someone responds to your email newsletter, someone should be able to respond back to them. Maybe this sounds crazy challenging, but if so it’s possible your casting too wide a net. I get The Daily Rumpus email and I like it because it feels like I’m getting an email from a friend. I read these, and I click stuff. The Rumpus editor, Stephen Elliott, sends them out and I’ve responded to him before and he replied minutes later. It’s hard to not feel the love when that happens.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Be one thing really well.

I am recently hooked on TheSkimm for getting news in the morning. It’s like getting an email from my really smart and worldly but not at all pretentious friend. I love that. I also get this email TUT, Notes from the Universe. It’s like getting an email from my overly optimistic friend. It’s a morning pep-talk. Without fail, there it is each morning, telling me I’m great. If one morning I wake up and TUT tells me I’m great and then asks me if I’d like to buy a T-shirt, I will probably unsubscribe. But TUT doesn’t. TUT may have thousands or millions of subscribers but TUT and I are biffles. Our relationship is that TUT pep-talks me.

Be intentional with your newsletter timing. Generally, less is more.

This is crucial regardless of what you’re selling/promoting. Take Ann Friedman for example. I look forward to her Friday email like I look forward to every Friday just in general, and I know I’m not alone. What if you sent your email out on Mondays and then made people look at Monday in a whole new light? Probably they won’t, but you never know. On the retail side, I love Everlane’s emails. Not just because I love their products, but because I don’t get badgered by them with “SALE!” emails every day. When they have a new product (never more often than weekly), they let you know. The email they send is simple, elegant and beautiful. Which brings me to…

Use selective, consistent and original content. Again, less is more.

The Creativist emails are lovely. They are tiny “handpicked” batches of some of the most recent awesome work built on the Creativist platform. The whole email is probably 75 words long. It’s so short you can’t help but click for more. Short emails are a like a breath of fresh air. Be that for people. Also, try to make the content in your emails as original as possible so it really feels like it’s an exclusive experience for people, not just a regurgitated version of what’s already available online. Like if they weren’t getting this email, they’d be missing out.

Use all the data you have to make the experience better for people.

The other day a colleague told me that he’d gotten an email from Upworthy that basically said “We noticed you haven’t been digging all of our emails lately. We will now just be sending you one each week with all the best stuff — we hope this works out better for you.” Not only did he stay subscribed and will probably now open them more, but also his story made me subscribe to their emails. That’s data put to good use. Let people know you’re paying attention to them and what they’re doing and you’ll get on their radar.

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