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A Great Content-First Marketing Tool: Email Newsletters

A Great Content-First Marketing Tool: Email Newsletters

Email newsletters are a content-first marketing tool

Email newsletters are an effective content-first marketing tool. But if you’re doing them like everyone did in 2013, it’s time for a reboot.

In the past, marketers created email newsletters with long stories. Content was self-serving and provided no value. In addition, there was no way to track the most popular articles. As a result, prospects and customers had little reason to read them. People deleted them – or worse, reported them as spam.

When you invest time and money in creating content-first marketing tools, you want some return for your hard work. Meanwhile, you want your e-newsletters to be engaging and effective. Read on and learn how to:

  • Segment your email list so you can deliver personalized content
  • Create a distribution schedule and stick to it
  • Provide well-written, educational content
  • Be concise with copy
  • Streamline the design (think mobile)
  • Test, test, test
  • Write catchy subject lines that entice opens
  • Track analytics and tweak content

Let’s dive into these, so you can get your email newsletter off life support.

Segment your email list

It’s easy to send everyone the same newsletter. But customization is a more effective content marketing tool. Your readers aren’t interested in the same things. So why send them generic, one-size-fits-all e-newsletters?

Segmenting your email list means breaking one big list into several targeted lists. This lets you create and send custom content. With custom content, you can appeal to readers’ interests and business challenges. When your content is relevant rather than generic, your click-through rates will improve. (See more about click-through rates in the analytics section below.)

The options for list segmentation are endless. In short, here are some ways to do it:


Personas address your customers’ and prospects’ motivations. What do they need? What are their pain points, challenges and goals? How and why does your business provide value for them? For example, if you contact CEOs about buying your software, their needs are different from those of IT staff members. Segment your list accordingly.

Business type

Are your clients Fortune 500 companies or enterprise businesses? Do small businesses use your services? What about professional associations? These organizations have different needs, budgets and resources. Thus, targeting your emails by business type helps drive engagement and results.


If you partner with distributors or sell to other businesses, you’ll have relationships across many industries. Group your list by industry. That way, you’ll be able to develop strong ties with your contacts.

Demo requests, webinars and events

Who’s signing up for your product demos, webinars and events? These can include workshops, training classes and trade shows. Look at the attendee lists and the topics for each activity to gauge prospects’ and customers’ interests.

Survey responses

Many businesses survey customers regularly. If you can tie answers to specific customers, you can create segments based on their responses. For example, your wealth management firm receives survey answers that retirement planning is top of mind. In that case, you’ve got a ready-made segment.

Website activity

Review analytics for logged-in users if you have gated content on your website. For example, if your association members read legislative updates, you can send them related content. Just be sure to customize the content by segment. This is a best practice for your content-first marketing toolkit.

Content-first marketing tools for email newsletter novices

Email newsletter platforms like Mailchimp and Constant Contact make it easy to segment and send email newsletters. You might not have enough data to break up your main list. In that case, collect information that will help you customize later. In short, it’s never too late to start.

Content-first marketing tools for email newsletter veterans

If you’re an e-newsletter pro, you might want to kick your content-first marketing tools up a notch. One way is to use automation software from companies like Marketo and HubSpot. Their tools are more robust than MailChimp and Constant Contact. For example, they include lead management, scoring and nurturing, and social marketing.

Pro tip: HubSpot offers free customer relationship management (CRM) technology. The software has everything you need to organize, track and nurture your leads and customers. The CRM is the database that all of HubSpot’s free and paid marketing and sales tools are built on.

Create a distribution schedule and stick to it

You’re off to a great start if people subscribe to your email newsletter. Reward them by sending your newsletters on a consistent schedule. You’ll look like a true pro, and help readers know what they can expect from you.

As a bonus, a schedule will help you get used to deadlines. Let’s face it – we all need them to do our best work.

Pro tip: When you rely on others to help with newsletter tasks, request assets a couple of days to a week before your actual deadlines. Consequently, this will help keep you and your newsletter on track. 

How often to distribute

How often you should send your newsletter depends on you and your audience. Do you have the resources to help you produce each issue? Do you have valuable content to share? Are your readers engaged? If you answered yes to these questions, try a monthly schedule. On the other hand, if you’re strapped for time and don’t have help, distribute quarterly.

Don’t send your newsletter more than once a month, or you’ll risk annoying your readers. Create a production calendar that builds in time for all steps in the process. In addition, plan your content, so you’re not scrambling for ideas and articles at the last minute. A calendar is a critical part of your content-first marketing toolbox.

Provide well-written, educational content

Above all, avoid self-promotion and create original, well-written content. The goal is to share information that helps your audience. Show the value you provide customers. Help them solve problems and overcome business challenges. You want your newsletters to be a strong content-first marketing tool.

By segmenting your email list, you’ll focus on topics that your prospects and customers care about. Put yourself in your segmented readers’ shoes and ask, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) as you brainstorm ideas.

Say your manufacturing company customers are downloading a report on your website about how tariffs are affecting the packaging industry. In that case, you could write a follow-up for your email newsletter. You could explain how you’re proactively addressing the issue on their behalf. That’s WIIFM content.

Bonus example: If your business is merging with another business, or you’re releasing a new product, share it with your readers. But skip the self-promotion. Instead, focus on how these changes will affect and benefit your customers. Will they enjoy improved service? Does the new product solve a problem for them? In conclusion, make your content relevant for them.Bonus

Where to get ideas for your content-first e-newsletter

Coming up with WIIFM content ideas can be a challenge. Day-to-day business needs often get in the way.

Here are some suggestions for your content-first marketing toolkit:

Answer “burning” questions

What questions do your customers ask? What questions are common in your industry? Poll your sales or customer service team to learn what’s top of mind. Address key pain points and provide workable solutions. You can make it a multiple-part series with one or two questions and in-depth answers.

Highlight industry trends

Explain the trends and what they mean for your industry, your business and your customers. How can your customers prepare for the changes? Put your own spin on it rather than rehashing what may be available elsewhere.

Feature expert interviews

Prospects and customers want to know that you offer value. If you have excellent contacts outside your company or have internal subject experts, interview them. You can cover timely, relevant topics and share their advice and insights.

Write customer case studies

They’re one of the most effective tools to showcase your expertise and content-first marketing. Most importantly, they demonstrate the value of working with your company. Each case study should include customer pain points, your solutions the customer implemented and the results.

Share “insider” how-tos

Help your customers get the most from your products with insider tips from your team or other customers.

Survey your readers

Ask readers what content they want to see. If the topics are evergreen, create a content bank that you can pull articles from, as you need them.

Mine ideas from your newsletter and website analytics: Look at what articles were the most popular in the past. Next, you can write follow-up articles or cover topics from different angles. If you have more than a basic website, your analytics can provide clues about people’s interests. Look at the pages they visit most often. See what pages they spend the most time viewing. You can also look at your most popular blog posts for inspiration.

Tap social media

What are people talking about on your social media channels? Review past comments and current discussions to identify hot topics. You can even look at the conversations on your competitors’ accounts to get ideas. Shhh …

The Beginners Guide to Content Marketing Infographic

Be concise with content-first marketing

Shrinking attention spans mean you need to get to the point. Give readers a taste of your content with catchy “teasers.” These are short copy snippets that entice readers to click through to your website for the full articles. You can use “read more” or “continue reading” buttons below each teaser. Driving them to your website allows you to:

  • Learn which articles get the most traffic. Use the information to develop topics and content for your content-first marketing initiatives.
  • Increase engagement. Once prospects and customers read the articles on your site, they’ll seek  other valuable content. The longer they stick around, the better for your content-first marketing efforts.
  • Lead them to action. Do you want customers to register for company webinars, trade shows and other events? In sending readers to your website, you can encourage them to engage with you even more. Strong calls to action will help.

Above all, emphasize quality over quantity when you’re mapping out newsletter content. It’s better to have three concise articles that are relevant for your customers than several filler stories.

Tricks to help you write catchy, concise copy

Don’t worry if you’re not a professional writer. Just follow these steps to improve your newsletter copy. Communicate with clarity so that you connect with and inspire your readers:

  • Ditch the passive voice. Passive voice is wordy and makes your subject ambiguous. Here’s an example of passive voice: “Action on the proposed project is being considered by the committee.” Active voice makes it clear the subject is doing the action. “The committee is considering acting on the proposed project.”
  • Delete meaningless words. Why use 10 words when four will do? For example, “I want to curl up with a good book in order to relax and unwind completely.” Change that to, “I want to curl up with a good book to relax.”
  • Avoid jargon. Complicated industry terms can alienate readers. You want your audience to read and act on your message. That won’t happen if they don’t understand it.
  • Write short sentences and small paragraphs. Look for sentences you can cut in two. Large blocks of copy are intimidating. You can use a content-first marketing tool like Readable to simplify your writing.

Use visual cues

Lists, tables, pull quotes, screenshots and images enable skim reading. These content-first marketing tools make it more likely people will read your e-newsletters.

Streamline the design (think mobile)

The design for your email newsletter should be simple, easy to read and on-brand. As a result, readers should be able to scan it quickly. In addition, optimize for mobile. To do that, make the font size and “read more” buttons large enough to see and tap on small screens.

Take it easy on images. Mobile devices have slower download speeds than desktop computers, so use small images. For other devices, some email filters and firewalls may block large images. Don’t assume they’ll display.

MailChimp and Constant Contact have responsive templates that are easy to use. These are great content-first marketing tools for email newsletter beginners. Responsive design means that your newsletter will adapt to different devices and screen sizes. With responsive design, your readers will have a good experience.

Newsletter veterans who want marketing support beyond email automation may want to check out Marketo and Hubspot. They offer responsive templates and software that help you build out marketing strategies across many channels.

Test, test, test

Test your emails across a variety of browsers, email clients (Outlook, Gmail, Apple Mail, etc.) and devices to ensure they display properly. Email providers don’t read email code the same way. Since there’s no universal standard, you’ll need to do everything you can to avoid embarrassing mistakes before distribution.

Potential problems to look out for include:

  • Copy that isn’t the correct font and size
  • Uneven spacing between sentences and paragraphs
  • Weird-looking symbols that replace your punctuation
  • Links that don’t work
  • Background images that “disappear”

These are common glitches that happen even with established email templates. Don’t let them intimidate you, however. It can take trial and error to correct them, but they’re all fixable.

Email testing and rendering services, such as Email on Acid and Litmus, allow you to preview emails in various environments and inboxes. But they’re not foolproof. So it’s a good idea to test your emails manually. You can do that by sending tests from your e-news distribution account to numerous people (not clients!) across email accounts and note any problems. Then, correct the issues and resend to those contacts until you’ve fixed the problems.

Write catchy subject lines that entice opens

Everyone’s bombarded with email. Clever subject lines can help your email newsletter stand out from the crowd. While it may seem like a no-brainer to use “newsletter” as part of your subject line, it could backfire. Why? It implies a series. Consequently, readers will assume they’ll be able to read the next one. As a result, they might not open any of your emails.

Improve your subject lines with these top tips:

  • Keep them short. A good rule of thumb is six to 10 words. Instill curiosity. Creating mystery can encourage opens. One example is “6 Things Your Email Newsletter Should Do.” Another one is “The One Thing Your Email Newsletter is Missing.” Be sure they’re relevant for your audience.
  • Ask a compelling question. Make sure the question resonates with readers. For example, “Do You Make These Common Email Newsletter Mistakes?”
  • Appeal to readers’ “how-to” instinct. Your engagement will soar if you can show readers how to problem-solve, work better/faster, save money, etc. For example, “Discover How to Rock Email Subject Lines,” and “How to Create Email Newsletters in 4 Hours or Less.”
  • Highlight industry trends and developments. Focus on topics that your readers care about.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with subject lines. You can also do A/B “split testing” to see which ones grab your readers’ attention. With split testing, you divide readers into two groups (50/50). Send your email newsletter using two subject lines to see which one is the most effective. To A/B test a sample of your list, you need at least 1,000 contacts so that your results are statistically significant.
  • Track analytics and tweak, as needed. Next, monitor your email newsletter’s performance to understand its value. Most email service providers include robust analytics features and integrate with Google Analytics.

The metrics you should watch include:

  • Open rate. The percentage of email recipients who open an email. Don’t get excited about this number, however. Increasing opens is a good thing, but the click-through rate is more important.
  • Click-through rate. The percentage of email recipients who clicked on one or more links. This shows how many people are engaging with your content.
  • Bounce rate. The number of emails that aren’t deliverable. They’re categorized in two ways. One is by “soft bounces.” These involve temporary snags, such as full inboxes or problems with recipients’ servers. The second is “hard bounces.” With these, recipients’ email addresses no longer exist. Be sure to remove hard bounce addresses from your list. It’s important because internet service providers use bounce rates to determine an email sender’s reputation. Consequently, having many hard bounces can make you look like a spammer. Some email service providers remove hard bounce addresses automatically.
  • Unsubscribe rate. The number of people who leave your list. Readers will unsubscribe from your email newsletter. If this rate is high from newsletter to newsletter, you’ll need to consider why. Fixes to consider include improving your subject lines and content and reducing newsletter frequency.
How to write catchy email newsletter subject lines.

When you measure newsletter performance, look at your website’s Google Analytics. Take a look at the content that people are viewing. You can see page views, bounce rates, time spent on each page and many other metrics. By linking to the full newsletter articles on your website, you’ll see the content that readers like. In addition, you’ll give your site an SEO boost. Improving your SEO, or search engine optimization, will help your site rank higher in search engines. Moreover, you’ll drive readers to your call to action. Whether you’d like them to register for an event, a demo or a webinar, you’ll increase engagement.

That's a wrap!

Now that you know how to make a high-performing email newsletter, nothing should hold you back. If you feel overwhelmed, take it one step at a time. In short, you’ve got this!