Emailed Newsletters


Emailed Newsletters

You probably receive several email newsletters each day. Some you read, others you delete without a second thought, a few you’ll keep for later. What makes the difference?

Despite the proliferation of spam, and possibly even because of it, a good permission based newsletter is a great way to market your business and products. Why? Simply because the recipient knows (a) it’s not spam and (b) it contains something of interest to them. Otherwise they wouldn’t have signed up for it.

That’s the theory, anyhow. In practice many people sign up for newsletters on a whim, or because there was once something of interest in the newsletter, or because it’s required in order to enter some competition, or (God forbid) because they had to untick a box in order not to receive it.

So permission isn’t perfect. But it’s the best qualifying mechanism we have; and the better the qualification, the better the newsletter’s performance.

How do you improve the chances of your newsletter being welcomed and used? Some key points:

•  The proper method of adding names to your distribution list is by voluntary signup. You might send a sample copy inviting people to subscribe, guaranteeing that no more copies will arrive if they don’t sign up.

•  A double opt-in approach is reassuring – an automated but personalised email should be sent to the new subscriber inviting them to confirm their subscription. That prevents charges of spam.

•  You should have a clearly stated privacy policy. Ideally, this would guarantee that the names and addresses will never be sold, rented, or given away. If you do intend to make some money from the names, at least promise that no inappropriate mailings will follow.

•  You should have a clearly stated and easy to use procedure for unsubscribing – preferably a one-click option. Yes, many people will use it if it’s so easy to use. But you probably don’t want those people on your distribution list anyway.

•  Good email newsletters require interesting and informative content. This should go without saying, but in practice many email newsletters are little more than sales flyers. You need your subscriber to feel they’re getting something useful – and to feel that they’re more than a sitting target for your sales pitch. As a rule of thumb, aim for 80% information and 20% outright sales material, with ‘information’ being defined quite loosely – check out some of the ideas in last month’s Toolkit.

List management
To actually send out your newsletter, you have four main options:

•  Use a third party service: the easiest way to run a newsletter is to let a third party mailing list service do the work. You don’t have to bother about new subscriptions, renewals, unsubscribes and bounced mails. All the best list hosting services use double opt-ins. You don’t need to run any special software on your own computers – you just upload a file for distribution.
The downside of course is the lack of control – if something goes wrong with a single subscription or a whole distribution, someone else will be responsible but you’ll get the flak. You are dependent on the reliability and the probity of your mailing list host.

•  Use a mailing list script on your website. Many ISPs provide this facility, and numerous free and paid-for mailing list CGI or PHP scripts are also available. Basically these tie into a subscription page on your website, and the web interface may be the only way to subscribe or unsubscribe.
Some scripts can’t handle bounces, so the user may have to manually delete the email address from the list.

•  Use your own email client. With a small list – say less than a couple of hundred names – you may be able to run the system quite happily from Outlook or another email program. Outlook rules can cope with automatic additions and removals, though it’s trickier to cope with bounces.
It’s also difficult to automate the sending such that the recipient’s name appears in the To: field all by itself; the more usual approach is a workaround, where the message is addressed to a dummy email address called something like “Subscribers” and all the actual recipients are a distribution list in the BCC field.

•  Use a purpose-built package. These start at around £100, which buys you software which can automate just about every aspect of despatch and list management including scheduled sends, automated acknowledgments and double opt-in confirmations. Some can integrate with existing email packages to import names and messages; with other, cheaper options you may have to add names manually or (more usually) import a CSV list.
This is a clean, simple and economical option for subscription lists in the hundreds, and the software is usually scalable to handle thousands of names. There are many candidates, but here are three personal favourites:

MailList King
Group Mail Pro

For most mailing list managers, a free try-before-you-buy download is available. Group Mail’s is fully usable, though inevitably some of the more advanced functions (bulk imports, tracking responses and delivery) are restricted


The widespread problem of spam has led many email providers, ISPs and end users to implement spam filters on their system. Some of these are very sophisticated now, watching for content and for sender routings that have in the past turned out to be dodgy. The downside is that your mail may inadvertently by tagged as spam If you want to see just how thorough the email filters can be, take a look at the list of tests used by the popular Spam Assassin:

It’s worth spending some time with a list like this to minimise the number of words and phrases in your newsletter that might trigger the filter – it might not be possible to avoid every one, but these tools work on aggregate scores and you should be ok if you can keep the total down.

The anti-spam laws

Anti-spam legislation can into effect in the UK from December 2003. This is Britain’s implementation of the EU Privacy and Electronics Communication Directive, and it aims to give Internet and mobile phone users greater protection from spam, which is defined as unsolicited commercial email.

The legislation makes it an offence for a UK company to send email (or SMS text messages, in fact) unless:

•  there is an existing customer relationship with the recipient

•  the recipient has previously given their permission to receive material
•  the recipient has a simple means of refusing such communications both when the details are initially collected and with each subsequent communication sent.
Offenders face a maximum £5,000 fine for each breach. More to the point, it makes sense to use these three principles as the basis for any email newsletter.
If you use email for any marketing, including newsletters, it makes sense to avoid falling foul of the regulations.
•  The “existing customer relationship” mentioned above means that unsolicited emailing is acceptable where addresses have been obtained in the course of “a sale or negotiations for a sale of a product or service”. But only mail marketing “similar products and services” is acceptable.
•  If you are collecting e-mail addresses to be used for marketing purposes, make sure this fact is stated explicitly at the time.
•  Email addresses should not be harvested and used for marketing purposes without the recipients’ knowledge
•  Recipients should be able to refuse permission for further
marketing messages to be sent to them at any time. Guidance published by the Information Commissioner suggests that although there must be some form of communication whereby the individual knowingly indicates consent, this does not necessarily mean that a box has been ticked – consent could be inferred from an individual subscribing to a service, so long as they are aware that in doing so they will be agreeing to receive direct marketing by electronic means and they have been given the opportunity to refuse such communication.


•  Fight the urge to be visually creative. Avoid using multiple fonts, size and colours. Think carefully before you use HTML or rich media – some email servers will reject anything but plain text because of the possibility of virus infection. Best to produce two versions of the newsletter, one in HTML: and one in plain text, and then give the subscriber the option.

•  Keep it regular. If you’re going to do a newsletter, make sure it has a defined publication schedule – and stick to it. If it’s a good newsletter, people will look forward to receiving it; and one of the principal reasons for rejections is that subscribers have forgotten that they subscribed. Quarterly is about as infrequent as you want to go, monthly or bimonthly would be better.

•  Watch your tone. Don’t speak in terms of how great you think your company is. Speak from the point of view of the other business to say, “Look what we can do for you.”
l Size matters. Don’t tie up people’s email by sending the newsletter as a large attachment to a short email. It’s much less likely to get read, and it looks like you couldn’t be bothered to create the HTML version of your Word or PDF file.

•  Use discretion in the content. Something that might seem funny to you might be patently offensive to someone else. Even if the person on the other end has no problem with what you’re sending, other people in their office could glance at the offending message. If you’re that inclined to show or tell the person what you have, ask for a non-business email address you can send it to where they can review it with more privacy.

•  Use a separate address. Differentiate your newsletter from other email by using a characteristic address in the From: field – not your personal details, not your company name, but a specific newsletter name. This is also a branding opportunity – -some email clients don’t display the full email address, showing only the part of the name before the @ symbol.

•  Cope with auto preview. If the recipient has auto preview switched on, their Inbox will display the first three sentences of your message; make sure that this highlights the fact that the mail is a useful and requested newsletter. If you have a masthead image, make it explicit – and perhaps ensure that it’s small enough to leave some room for confirmatory text.

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