Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

Newfangled works with independent agencies to create lead development web platforms for their clients.

How to Write a Newsletter

In most cases, I am more interested in the whys of things than the hows. As a result, this particular newsletter is more about the practice of writing, as well as the strategic considerations of a newsletter campaign, than it is about technological implementation. While I will spend some time talking about how to implement a newsletter campaign, my primary goal is that you finish reading this newsletter inspired to write your own.

Writing a newsletter can be a central element of two different, but essential, business strategies. As part of a marketing strategy, your newsletter should inform clients-to-be of your expertise by offering them compelling and educational expert content. As part of a web content strategy, meanwhile, your newsletter should regularly add substantial written content to your website, prompting search engines to frequently index and better qualify your authority over those subjects you write about. You've got to keep in mind that these strategies are completely interdependent; one is not preeminent over the other.

This month, I'd like to first examine what good professional writing requires, then look at some best practices for making a newsletter a successful part of your content strategy.


Christopher Butler | June 4, 2009 11:11 AM
@Ent Services, I've considered that approach before, too. It would be nice to be able to write a "batch" of newsletters and be able to have a few months "off" where I could just publish them. But I'm hesitant at this point to do that because I've found that each one I write is shaped slightly differently based upon current events. With our technology, that shaping can be significant over a matter of months, so I could conceivably write something and it end up being obsolete by the time it's published. In any case, having an editorial calendar allows me to brainstorm quite a bit in advance.

@Seo Singapore, That's a good idea, too, though our approach is to start primarily with our point of view and choose a topic based upon that. If we wrote about only what other people are interested in, we'd probably have much more about Twitter on the site. For now, I want to make sure that we continually develop a unique "Newfangled" point of view.
Ent Services | June 2, 2009 11:52 AM
Nice hindsight Chris. I'm the kind of person that prewrites my newsletters in series so that it covers a specific topic that I need to address. I kind of plan ahead to prevent myself from writing duplicates or clash of ideas.
Christopher Butler | April 9, 2009 9:49 AM
@Chris Holleman, Wow, thanks for the encouragement! I've been glad to see the interest in these topics grow, as well as the participation of our readers in these comment strings.

@Andrew, Thanks for being a dedicated reader! I'm always interested in what prompts longtime readers to start commenting- anything in particular for you?
Andrew | April 8, 2009 11:08 PM
I've been reading the Newfangled newsletter for a couple of years now and I must agree with @Chris Holleman- it has really come in to its own lately. Great job- keep keeping us current!
Chris Holleman | April 8, 2009 1:30 PM
It's hard to say this is the best yet. They're all so good, but the string created by the nerve you touched has been awesome. The 'gentle prodding' observation is spot on. I forwarded this link to a number of people I've been encouraging to get in the habit of creating content, content and more content.
Christopher Butler | April 8, 2009 10:48 AM

Thanks for reading, and for your compliment. I do hope that the 'gentle prodding' is effective.

David | April 7, 2009 10:20 PM
Chris, this is a great piece on the importance of writing, not to mention a gentle prodding to those principals that know they need to do it and don't.
Mark O'Brien | April 6, 2009 4:12 PM

What I meant by that very misleading comment was that I think most intelligent people are no longer coerced by spam, and that its effectiveness as a marketing medium is dead. Boy, I should have explained that better at the outset!

Thanks, by the way, for the link to the Ad Age article. We love the Small Agency Diary blog.

Richard | April 6, 2009 4:09 PM
Chris, one of your best yet.
Christopher Butler | April 3, 2009 4:06 PM

Right on. I think what Mark mean by "spam is dead" was, as you suspected, "I don't like it."

Tom | April 3, 2009 4:02 PM
/"Email newsletters ARE spam. Period. People who send them are spammers."/

By definition, a /newsletter/ is a subscription-based, opt-in medium -- /spam/ is not. We can't "subscribe to spam." If we ever have a positive reaction to a piece of spam (rare, but it happens) and as a result, opt-in to receiving more information about it (by subscribing to it) -- then it ceases to be spam at that moment. It's like the state of matter (can't be a liquid AND a gas at the same time.)

And unfortunately, the "spam is dead" statement is incorrect as well. I, along with the vast majority of the world wish that were true, but with more than 100 billion (yes, billion) spam emails being sent out daily (yes, daily), spam is very much alive. (Unless you meant "dead" as in "I don't like it.")
Christopher Butler | April 2, 2009 4:26 PM

I detest SPAM just as much as the next guy, but I think you may misunderstand what we mean by email newsletters.

SPAM is unsolicited email. Email newsletters, on the other hand, are emails sent to recipients who request to receive them. I think that is a significant difference.

Ted Wolfson | April 2, 2009 4:21 PM
@Mark My point exactly. Spam is "definitely, without a doubt, dead." Email newsletters ARE spam. Period. People who send them are spammers.
Christopher Butler | April 2, 2009 4:16 PM

In regard to the performance of our newsletter, you may want to check out a couple of recent blog posts.

The first is a review of one year's worth of newsletter tracking data, which shows which newsletters had the highest and lowest clickthrough rates.

The second is a review of how all of our calls to action performed over a couple of weeks in March. You'll see that each call to action receives significantly more responses on and around the day we publish a new newsletter. Because our newsletter email contains these calls to action, we infer that it is instrumental in bringing us good leads.

Mark O'Brien | April 2, 2009 2:10 PM
Dear Everyone other than Ted,

Ted, Chris and I appreciate your collective passion.

In response to Ted, I'd like to take Chris's lead and point out that spam is definitely, without a doubt, dead. I consider spam to be anything other than that which you specifically sign up for.

That being said, our newsletter sign up form is our most popular call to action by a factor of 10 or so. This tells me that people still like getting some info through email. I actually view the way we use our newsletters as a pull technique. That would cease to be true the moment we purchased a list, though.

Thank you all for this great string.
Everyone other than Ted | April 2, 2009 1:58 PM
Ted's comment was so irrational, we just assumed it was an April Fool's joke.
Christopher Butler | April 2, 2009 10:54 AM

I'm not sure that I agree with you that email newsletters are dead. I do get most of my information via RSS at this point, but most of our clientele do not. Sometimes it's easy to forget the real pace at which technology spreads when you're an early-adopter type (it sounds like you are). So, for the time being, email marketing is still current. Whether it's annoying, on the other hand, is a totally separate issue. It makes sense for someone who is up to speed with RSS to find email marketing annoying, but again, this is how many people still feel comfortable receiving information. It may not last too much longer, but for now, it's something we and our clients have to do.

Thanks for reading and commenting,

Ted Wolfson | April 1, 2009 8:55 PM
@Tom, email newsletters are dead. RSS is what it's all about. Interrupting someone's day with a promotional email is not going to make you any friends, no matter how nice it looks.
Christopher Butler | April 1, 2009 8:07 PM

Thanks for your comment, and for letting me know about the link typo, too. Good catch!

You're right that there are all kinds of issues surrounding the delivery of emails; it is a very difficult thing to do. While we have a newsletter application, we're aware that we're not going to be able to match the delivery performance of companies that focus only on email marketing tools (MyEmma, Constant Contact, etc.). Our goal is to ensure that our clients use newsletters not only for delivering information via email, but also as a means of generating regular, robust content to their websites. Some of our clients use our tool, others use third-party software. In either case, delivery is on the up and up, but it's certainly not easy, especially when there are so many email clients being used (i.e. various webmail applications, Gmail, Outlook, MacMail, Entourage, Thunderbird, etc. etc.).

Tom Charde | April 1, 2009 5:25 PM
Nice column, Chris. Timely too.

We're experiencing a noticeable increase in the demand for email marketing (newsletters, blasts, etc.). Since email is one of the more budget-friendly tactics, this trend makes complete sense in a down economy.

As a result of this surge, we're also experiencing some of the same "educational" challenges that came during the rise of the web, such as getting people to think outside of the "print mindset." (There's a bit of deja vu going on, and it's not the good kind.) But email is presenting an additional hurdle: think outside the print mindset AND web mindset, because email has a whole new set of rules. Sure, there are parallels between HTML email and HTML web, in terms of how they're coded. But the similarities pretty much end there. One you test in browsers, one you test in browsers and clients/applications. One is push, one is pull. One is treated as a "favorite" that gets bookmarked and stored in a special place so it can be easily found, one is treated as a nuisance that gets blocked, junked and reported so that it can never return.

Hopefully the email learning curve will be shorter than the print-to-web one. Having done a bit of research on best practices for approaching and managing the email development process, I can tell you that there isn't as much out there as there could be. If you're looking for future newsletter ideas, this would be a good topic to cover.

Again, nice job on the newsletter writing story. It, too, is an important topic that we all need to address, discuss, etc.

(PS: Your link to "Tags to the World" is broken. Looks like there's an extra ".com" in it.)
Christopher Butler | April 1, 2009 9:49 AM

I can appreciate your frustration, believe me. Like I said in the newsletter, you don't have to do any of this during the times that I have mentioned, you just have to find a time. It's certainly not going to be easy, but no transition in business that matters is.

To your second point, I also said that you may not be the person who ends up doing the writing. It sounds like you might be the principal of your firm; if so, it's going to be a significant challenge for you to absorb another responsibility, especially if you're already finding yourself maxed out. This decision, of course, is going to rely on two factors: are you the best person to do the writing, in terms of how you position your firm, and are you the most capable person to do the writing? If the answer to the positioning question is yes, but you don't feel capable as a writer, then you're going to have to find someone to do the writing under your direction. If the answer to both questions is no, then you're going to have to select someone who you trust and know is capable. Finally, if the answer to both questions is yes, then the issue again becomes time.

Lastly, it's true that not every firm needed to publish a newsletter in the days before the internet. It would have been costly and wasteful in a number of ways. Today, on the other hand, things are very different. As I mentioned, the strategies behind the newsletter are twofold: (1) A newsletter is a significant marketing tool, as people are spending more time online and are pretty much completely transitioned to receiving information through it as a primary source (beyond print, radio, etc.). This is your opportunity to communicate your expertise to willing readers. (2) As a website content strategy, a newsletter increases the amount of information on your site on a regular basis. The more information you add, the more refined an "understanding" a search engine like Google will have of your authority on certain topics. This enables Google to better match your site with search queries it receives. Those search queries are the primary means you have of receiving new prospects to your website.

Is there another way? Unfortunately, I think not. It's not that a newsletter is the best marketing tool for every company, but for creative services firms (like ours, and perhaps yours), it is certainly one of them.

I hope that clarifies things for you. Thanks for reading and commenting,

Alex | April 1, 2009 8:56 AM
First of all, I'm already doing work early in the morning and all the way until 9:30 at night. How am I supposed to sit down and write? I'm not a writer, I run a business. Before the internet, we didn't need to send out printed newsletters to survive, so why do we have to now? There has to be another way, but you're not acknowledging it.

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