When we work with clients to develop and manage online newletters, one of the first issues is educating a client why they would consider having an in-house newsletter.

The fact is that online newsletters have become ubiquitous. General news sites, industry-focused publications, consultants, brokers, trade associations and companies of all sizes now produce newsletters. It’s at the point where subscribers are far more selective about the newsletters that they choose to receive, especially if it is being received into their email Inbox.

Online newsletters can still be a powerful marketing tool, because they enable companies to develop and maintain a relationship with customers, as well as to “nurture” prospects. Online newsletters are far most cost effective that printed mail, and can be created more quickly and focused on specific audiences. They position your company as an industry expert, allowing your team to concentrate on creating great content.

But they have to be well-crafted to stand out from the crowd. So how do you write a successful email newsletter? Here are a few tips …

  • Provide news that is interesting to your reader. Unless you’ve got a really hot new product to announce, your latest “company news” will not likely give you more than the time it takes to read the first sentence.
  • On the other hand, news about industry trends or statistics – buying patterns, inventory levels, employment, products, regulation – is generally of interest. The more industry-focused, the better. Bookmark or monitor RSS feeds from key sites, or use a newsfeed services to collect this data.
  • Offer tips and advice. Business readers are naturally drawn to any article with “How to” in the title (assuming it’s actually something useful). Tap the knowledge within your company – engineers, developers, field techs, consultants – to develop these articles.
  • Develop case studies. reading about how real companies solved real problems are always interesting. Let your customer’s words promote your company rather than being too self-promotional. Describe theproblems first, and then how your product or service helped. Make sure the case study also makes your customer look good and get their agreement. you can always promote the case study in publications that reach their prospects.
  • Make it interactive. Include a quick poll relating to an industry topic (e.g. “Can you see a use for Twitter to generate leads at your company?”). People love to have their voice heard, especially if it can be done quickly.
  • Express yourself! Make your opinion known about a industry topic of interest, similar to a blogger. This is where you can create a personal brand, so be consistent.
  • Make it fun. Business is serious, so including humor is different and desirable. Including a video, cartoon, trivia question about a completely unrelated topic, or something else amusing.

Technical Tips

  • Keep it short. Keep the body of the newsletter short by providing headlines and excerpts linking to longer articles on your Web site or blog. This enables readers to scan the content quickly, then click to articles of interest.
  • Provide both HTML and plain text versions. Most hosted email services allow you to set this up automatically. Some readers prefer the nicer HTML look, while others won’t be able to view an HTML version due to firewalls and SPAM filters.
  • Optimize for the search engines. Click here for more information on on-page optimization.
  • Provide an RSS feed of your newsletter content for readers who prefer that option.
  • Use a professional and relevant subject line– the more reader interest-specific, the better. “Here’s Your XYZ Company Newsletter” is accurate but b-o-r-i-n-g. More effective subject lines include phrases such as “How to…,” “10 Signs It’s Time To…,” “Secrets of…,” “10 Successful…,” “_____ Challenges,” “Advice for…,” “Tips for…,” “Trends in…,” “Mistakes To Avoid When…,” and “What To Watch Out For When…,” grab your readers’ attention. If you can include your recipient’s first name in the email subject line, so much the better.
  • Give your newsletter one owner. To maintain consistency in format, tone, and delivery frequency, one person shoud be in charge of creating the newsletter together, even if there are multiple authors. There are technical tools to make this process easier, so that the authors can send material when they can, and the editor can use a quick editin environment to quickly pull it all together.
  • Use a service. Let a professional service handle the nuts and bolts of subscribes, unsubscribes, bounces, white-listing, SPAM compliance, and list management. There are a number of reasonably-priced hosted services that provide all of the basic list management functions, plus features such as allowing subscribers to select plain text or HTML email options, pre-built HTML templates, and detailed subscriber tracking reports.

The bottom line is that email newsletters can still be an effective marketing tool, as long as you focus on your readers’ needs.