Thursday, January 28, 2010

I want an email newsletter. Can you send me samples?

People ask me this all the time. My response is always to redirect the conversation to help guide them to a healthy starting point for designing their email newsletter.

Here are the tried and true steps to designing a great email newsletter …in chronological order.

  1. Define the goals of your newsletter. Remember, these shouldn’t be your goals but your subscribers’ goals. What is it that they want out of these emails? Defining your goals helps clarify the content (writing and imagery) that you need to be creating to populate your newsletter going forward.
  2. Categorize and prioritize your content.  Should your newsletter be focused on one topic or article? Is one article or image more important than the rest? Do you have event calendars to share? Do you have lots of articles that should be grouped into logical categories? When you have a clear idea of the kind, quantity and relative importance of your content, the design decisions for laying out your newsletter become obvious.
  3. Define your identity. Who is sending the newsletter? Is it a person, an organization or a person from an organization? Should the newsletter have a name that will help subscribers identify it?
  4. Create graphical mockups of your newsletter. It is at this point that samples of other e-newsletters become helpful. You can start looking for examples of how others with similar goals and content have laid out their newsletter and you won’t fall in love with design elements that don’t fit your identity. Creating mockups of an email can be tricky. In the process, you need to optimize for small screens and preview panes and you should cater to the subscribers who will skim your newsletter as opposed to the minority who will read every word. The mockups will likely be proofed in large windows or on paper. Either scenario is not a good representation of the inboxes the final product will appear in. I good trick if you are proofing an email on paper is to fold the paper in half.
  5. Code your templates. For web designers, this is where they get to party like it’s 1999. That’s probably the last time they built anything in a Table Layout (as opposed to a CSS Layout). Notice, I said templates. Don’t forget your text only versions. Every good e-newsletter is a multipart email meaning there is an HTML and Text Only version contained in the same email. The Text Only version is a bit of a vestigial limb but it is necessary for many spam filters. Also, it gives you the capability of offering your subscribers a Text Only option when they subscribe. There is a tiny (but vociferous) minority of people who do prefer this.

Good luck!

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