Why email still matters

Bridget Phillipson MP email newsletter showing photo of MP being interviewed outside the Houses of Parliament

When I talk to potential clients about how they can use digital technology more effectively, often the conversation quickly moves to social media and what platforms a client should use. While it’s great that clients are excited about new opportunities to engage, it’s important they also get the basics right. I was therefore pleased to have the chance to help develop a professional looking email newsletter for Bridget Phillipson MP.

Why email still matters

Most people have a love-hate or even a hate-hate relationship with email, facing as they do a daily deluge of messages to their inbox. In light of this, it’s easy to write-off email and focus on other platforms. A quick look at Ofcom research, however, shows why we can’t afford to overlook email:

  • 92% of all UK users have an email account, compared to 73% who have a social media account.
  • 79 % of all UK internet users  report checking their emails on a weekly basis, compared to 68% for social media.

Besides having sheer numbers on its side, email offers other benefits:

  • Guaranteed delivery. With an email newsletter, you can guarantee that every user on your contact list will receive your email (whether they open your newsletter is another matter). By contrast, a user only ever sees on their social media timeline a fraction of the updates posted by organisations they have liked or are following.
  • Permission granted. We receive email newsletters because we’ve signed up to receive updates from an organisation. By contrast, on social media, opt-in communications have to compete for attention with re-shares, promoted posts and adverts.

Getting email right – top tips

Now that we’ve agreed that email is important, how do we make sure we’re using it effectively? Here are my top tips:

1.Decide what purpose your newsletter serves

FreeCodeCamp email newsletter featuring its regular 3 articles worth reading
FreeCodeCamp email newsletter

To be successful, your newsletter has to offer something of value to your target audience. It’s not enough to say, “look at how great we are!”.

Think about an email newsletter you regularly make the effort to read and why it appeals to you. For example, I look forward to receiving the simple newsletter from  FreeCodeCamp, which promises “3 articles worth reading” on computer development, design and data science.

What can you offer your subscribers that they can’t get elsewhere? The content of your newsletter should relate to your organisation’s purpose. For example, the Comms2Point0 newsletter offers useful links to free online tools, opinion pieces and case studies from the world of communications and PR.

While your newsletter should focus on giving value to your subscribers, it’s important to sell yourself too. A good rule of thumb is to aim for 90:10 informative content to self promotion. For example, you could include a story about a forthcoming event you’re running or tell people about a new service you’re launching.

2. Use a dedicated email marketing tool

A MailChimp engagement report showing what percentage of emails were opened by subscribers
A MailChimp engagement report

For small organisations, it can be tempting to use your regular email program to send out your email newsletter as a document attachment. Using a dedicated email marketing tools like MailChimp or TinyLetter, however, offers the following benefits:

  • Spam protection. An email marketing tool uses special techniques to ensure your message goes into your contact’s inbox and not the spam filter.
  • Professional look and feel. Even the most basic MailChimp template is likely to look more appealing than an email designed inside a regular email program.
  • Analytics. With a dedicated tool you can get reliable figures on who’s opening your emails and whether people are clicking through to your website and social media content.
  • subscriber management. With an email marketing tool, recipients can easily opt out of your emails (important for Data Protection compliance). You can also easily add new people to your list and even start to segment who you send certain updates to.

2. Think carefully about your subject line

A Gmail inbox showing the subject line for the Documentally email newsletter
A Gmail inbox showing the subject line for the Documentally email newsletter

What makes you click on an email from an organisation? Chances are, it’s the subject line. A good subject line should tell you just enough to pique your interest in the contents of the email.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been a lot of research into what makes a good subject line. Check out the article below for some inspiration but bear in mind you need to choose a subject line that’s right for your audience. What works for an online retailer may not be appropriate for your community group.

MailChimp: Tips for subject lines

3. Optimise your content for different devices

Bridget Phillipson email newsletter viewed on Android smartphone Gmail app
Bridget Phillipson email newsletter viewed on Android smartphone Gmail app

When developing your email newsletter it’s important to keep in mind how people will access it. Chances are, they’ll do so on a smart phone rather than a laptop. Every phone model and email program will display your email slightly differently but there are simple things you can do to give yourself the best chance of succeeding:

  • Keep your design simple. In most cases, it will be better to opt for a single column newsletter rather than a more traditional newspaper style multi-column option.
  • Resize images. A good quality image can really help you grab people’s attention but if you’re not careful images can become distorted, particularly on mobile screens. A simple rule of thumb is to resize images to 560 pixels wide and stick to landscape over portrait shaped photo. Resizing your images also helps reduce their file size, meaning your newsletter will load more quickly and use less of a user’s data plan.
  • Test your newsletter before you send it. MailChimp offers both a preview and test modes to see how your email looks on different devices. Test mode is more accurate than preview and allows you to visualise how your newsletter will look on the most popular devices. If possible, you should also perform a manual check my sending the email to yourself and opening it on a variety of common devices.

4. Regularly review how your newsletter is performing

MailChimp campaign dashboard showing the performance of successive email newsletters
MailChimp campaign dashboard

Once your newsletter has been going for a little while you should take some time how it is performing. Some questions could include:

  • What proportion of subscribers are opening your newsletters?
  • What stories or links are most popular? Are certain topics more popular than others?
  • Is your subscriber list growing, stable or declining?

With these insights, you can start to refine your approach. For example, you may decide to adjust the topics you cover in your newsletter to focus on your most popular content.

Get more support

Are you struggling with your email communications? If so, OpenUp Digital can help. We can provide a range of support, from reviewing and optimising your existing email newsletter to designing an email campaign from scratch. Please get in touch to find out more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *