Writing For The Audience Of One: Email Newsletters

There are plenty of ways to gather people’s email addresses. Make sure your website offers a way to opt-in to learn more. The odds are low that people will buy from you the first time they visit your website. After all, they don’t even know you. Rather than lose them, ask something less intimidating than their credit card information: their email (and only their email). You can also get people’s email address in exchange of an interesting report, guide, ebook and so on. Invite people to participate in a poll or a one-question survey. This way your readers pay attention to your subject. Just make sure the theme is interesting to your readers. Promise to tell them the results, too! However, don’t demand people to give their email to see the content on your site — give them the info they came for and then ask if they’re interested in getting more information by email. With every subsequent email, highlight a different benefit of your product/service. Offer different reasons/angles why they need to buy. The amount of these emails may differ, depending on your product/service.

When you give people information, their brain works in multiple ways to interpret the information you give to them. You have probably heard of schemas before. A schema is a mental structure of preconceived ideas, a system of organising and perceiving new information. This influences attention: we are more likely to notice things that fit into our schema. In other words, we seem to learn and remember information that we feel is relevant to us and fits our existing opinions and attitudes. There are plenty of cognitive biases that affect our decisions and observations. 20 of them are shown in this infographic by Business Insider.


If you are delivering a course by email or use other means to teach people something, there are a few things to keep in mind. For example, emotions affect learning. Encourage people to explore the subject, ask questions and try out their new talents. Take into account the previous information students might have on the subject. If they already know something about the subject, it’s easier for them to learn more and remember the new information, because they already have a schema of that subject.

Create a Newsletter People Actually Read

Email newsletters are popular. However, they should never be just a nice-to-have product. Be honest: do you really have something to say? Do you even need a newsletter? Then do your research: are there successful email newsletters in your industry? What’s in them? With the resources that you have, could you be successful? Think about your goals. Are you trying to increase the number of leads? Close more deals? Retain more customers?

What kind of newsletter do you want to send? The email needs to have one common thread to hold it together. If you have more than one topic you want to explore, you could set up different newsletters for different topics (Buffer does this, for instance). This way people always know what to expect from you and engage better with your emails. When you ask people to subscribe, give them an idea of what to expect and how often they will hear from you. Offer them a preview or an archive of your previous newsletters so they can check them out before subscribing. Use double opt-in to make sure people actually wanted to subscribe to your letter.

A good rule of thumb, when it comes to content, is to keep it 90% educational and 10% promotional. Focus on exciting, educational, relevant and timely information. Use promotions only when you actually have a big piece of news about your product/service/company or during the holidays and other special situations. A newsletter without valuable content is an advertisement. People like your product/service/company and want to hear from you, but the constant “buy, buy, buy” mantra will quickly drive them away. Valuable content is something your subscribers can use: tips, guidelines, checklists, recipes, product recommendations, book reviews, case studies… And whenever possible, make your content evergreen. This way people might save your letter, come back to it, forward it, discuss it and think of you more often.

Sometimes a picture can tell the story better than any words. Unleash the power of visuals. You could, for example, illustrate the product/service that you are sharing. Or, instead of telling them about the new feature of your site, show them how it’s used and what it does. Austin Kleon, Mathias Jacobsen and Jono Hey all use pictures, drawings and illustrations in their newsletters. If you want to try it out, Canva is an easy-to-use and powerful graphics tool well worth checking out (the basic version is free).

In order to offer good content to your readers, ask them who they are. For example, when they sign up, you can send them a welcome letter and ask them to reply and tell who they are, why they subscribed and how you could best serve them. Once or twice a year you can create a survey to ask all of your readers what they think about your content and their feedback. It’s nice to encourage replies. Email is a two-way medium so seeing a do-not-reply address might be a bummer for someone who might want to ask or comment further on something you sent them. Think each email as part of a conversation in an ongoing relationship. People who want to hear from you are good prospects. People who want to get touch with you are great prospects. Including your name and company in the “from” line may also encourage people to reply. It also helps them to remember who you are and where they signed up for the email. Right now, for example, I have in my inbox emails from “Kevan from Buffer” and “Clark from Invision”. I also have an email from “ConGratulations” (why yes, it is in the spam folder).

People sort through their mail with their cursor hovering over the trash button.

Get creative with subject lines. Some companies, such as LinkedIn, use the same, bland subject line no matter what’s inside the letter. People will more likely open the letter when the subject line is different, creative and engaging. Use the magic words to pique the reader’s interest: “how to”, “a little secret that…”, “the truth about…”, “the key to…” Be straightforward, aim for simplicity and authenticity. Shorter headlines not only work better with responsive layouts but it’s also known that readers pay most attention to the first few words (in other words, they scan). Opening with a question increases the chances of your readers to read on. You can also try and see what adding an emoji does for the opening rates. Product Hunt and 8tracks use emojis in the subject lines of their newsletters. Being creative doesn’t mean teasing or tricking your readers. If your subject line offers something, make sure it’s found in the first screen. Your reader’s favour is very fleeting if you trick them or betray their trust. If you want to test your headline before unleashing it, CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer and Advanced Marketing Institute’s Headline Analyzer will help you do that. Last but not least, check out Garrett Moon’s great, actionable article of writing headlines that win.

Many email clients offer a preview of the message. It’s usually about 100 characters long, shown right under or next to the subject line. These can supplement the subject line and give more reason to open the email.

Examples of message previews

Use enough white space. If you want the reader to click to your website, offer just a taste. Enough to get them to click to learn more. If you have all your content in the newsletter, consider offering a table of contents in the beginning of the email, keep the paragraphs short and mark the different sections clearly. Make sure that the header, body and Call-To-Action are easily distinguished. White space makes the letter digestible which is especially important on mobile. If you want to use pictures, make sure all the images have alt text to help people who use a text-only view. This is especially important if your Call-to-Action is a button or an image. You can also encourage people to enable images (tell them how) on the top of your letter.

Make it easy for people to unsubscribe. Don’t hide this option and don’t ask people to “sign in to update their profile”. Unsubscribing should be possible with one click. If you hide this option, your emails just might be marked as spam. You don’t want that, do you? On the other hand, sometimes people forward your newsletter to their friends or colleagues so remember to include a subscription link as well. In order to avoid the spam folder, make sure you understand how the spam filters work. They look a long list of criteria to decide whether or not the email is junk — they even sync up with each other to share what they have learned. The common mistakes that often are marked as spam are things like overuse of punctuation or special characters in the subject line or content, formatting with ALL CAPS or crazy colors, code (sloppy, extra tags) or too many images without text to balance them

Always, always, always: TEST. Test the responsive layout (many email services offer previews and here is a bunch of resources you can use), check the images, test the links, test the personalisation (nothing feels less personal than the opening line of “Dear %FIRST_NAME%”). Checklists are your friend. Follow them religiously, even when you’re “sure” you have checked everything. In the beginning, you can include things like testing the links, spell-check (not just typos but grammar mistakes in context, like you’re/your), the right group of subscribers, the alt text of images, and so on. Grammarly highlights grammar errors and uses contextual spell check, ProWritingAid marks passive voice, overused words, cliches, repetitive sentence structure, etc. and Hemingway Editor highlights long, complex sentences, passive voice and adverbs to make your writing clear. As time goes, you will revise the checklist to match your needs. Explore different ways of doing things: different layout, different subject lines, no images, different Call-To-Actions, and so on. Make sure that a simple glance at your email reveals the few important pieces of information. Ask a friend or colleague to look at your newsletter for 5 seconds, then ask what they remember of it.

After testing, look at the reports. Check your open rates and follow the developments of your list size. For example, open rates on Tuesday might be a lot better than on Monday. Test other options to increase the open rates, click rates, conversions, and so on. Segment your list, then make your readers feel like members of a group. If you can separate them from other groups, remind them of that difference, even in a very subtle way. If there are people who never open your emails, you might as well get rid of them. Send VIP content, free products, additional features, shipping upgrades or a chance to become a beta tester to active readers to reward their loyalty. Don’t use one-for-all approach. Instead, get up close and personal with your readers. Thank them, give them unexpected gifts, personalise your messages, do a little research, bond with them. It doesn’t take much to make someone happy. The key is to genuinely care. Show your customers that you trust them. You can demonstrate trust in your customers by offering trial periods, share confidential (or “confidential”) information, etc.

Keep yourself up to date with the new email design tools. Subscribe to your email provider’s blog for updates on their newest features. That way you’ll be first to know when new tools become available and you can test them out right away.


There are tons of email marketing tools in the world. The following services are some I have seen used and heard good things about. They are in no particular order. Check out the options, play with them and see what fits for your needs and your budget.

  • Mailchimp is one of the most popular tools with over 9 million users. Free to start up to 2000 subscribers. For marketing emails, automated messages and targeted campaigns.
  • TinyLetter is from the MailChimp team. Targeted for individuals who don’t need all the business features MailChimp offers. Completely free.
  • Campaigner is a feature rich platform for professional email marketers, agencies and internet retailers. Pricing starts at $19,95 / month.
  • Campaign Monitor helps you create email marketing campaigns. Pricing starts at $9 / month.
  • Aweber offers email marketing and automation services. They also have mobile apps. Pricing starts at $19 / month.
  • Get Response helps you create emails, marketing campaigns and landing pages. Pricing starts at $15 / month.
  • Benchmark is very visual email marketing tool that integrates with over 300 apps. The service is free up to 2000 subscribers and 14 000 emails a month.


How to Create an Email Newsletter People Actually Read by Ginny Soskey

5 Email Marketing Tips I’ve Found Useful by Will Critchlow

Headings Are Pick-Up Lines: 5 Tips for Writing Headlines That Convert by Hoa Loranger

Common Rookie Mistakes by MailChimp team

Newsletter Design: 10 Awesome Hacks For Emails That Convert by Laura Busche

Email Marketing Mistakes to Avoid by Danny Schreiber

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