A high-quality, targeted newsletter can help you connect with your audience and increase engagement with your library.
At Artefacto, we publish a few different kinds of newsletters including an international CPD newsletter for libraries as well as specialist newsletter products for clients.
In this post, we wanted to bring together some of the best practices and advice for others publishing newsletters that we’ve picked up from our favourites and from conversations we have had with other newsletter publishers over the past few years.
This article is part of our series on newsletter publishing, sharing what we’ve learned as we approach the 200th issue of our Newslet for Libraries publication.
Keep the design simple
Depending on the tool or platform you use, newsletter templates can get pretty advanced. But a lot of that added complexity takes attention away from your content. It can also introduce a whole bunch of other issues with how your emails are rendered in different email clients.
It’s best to keep the design light and simple. Not only does this have the added benefit of reducing the load on people’s inboxes, it can also help you avoid other email client limitations. For example, Gmail clips email newsletters at 100kb, a size we never much manage to reach.
Images can also add a lot of weight to your emails, so use them sparingly and be sure to optimise any that you include. The size of your email message can impact deliverability and some email clients might block image downloads by default.
We’ve always found single column layouts are best for readability. If you must use columns, make sure you’re thinking about the mobile readers as well.
And while we recommend a “Plain HTML” approach rather than plain text, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include a plain text version option. By Plain HTML, we mean a much simplified version of the email that looks like a text email, but includes a few light HTML elements, like links and headings. Plain text versions don’t include any formatting at all.
Email providers such as Mailchimp automatically generate a plain text version to send alongside your HTML newsletter. This is called multi-part Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME).
Remember, email HTML is … different. Email clients render HTML differently to web browsers so it’s not just a case of pasting HTML from one medium to another. There are various gotchas to be aware of, but the main thing is to keep it simple and test, test, test.
Don’t overlook the accessibility of your email content. This means including a clear hierarchical structure to your newsletter because, as well as drawing the reader’s attention to the most important information, screen readers and other accessibility technologies also often rely on the structure of the content.
Colour contrast is important and should be tested, as browsers can display colours quite differently. Web accessibility site WebAIM provides a useful tool to check the contrast of your chosen colour combination.
Make sure images have a descriptive alt text (alternative text). For decorative images, adding empty alt text “” means they will be ignored by assistive technology.
Like all web content, you should test accessibility of your newsletter thoroughly – accessible content is better for everyone. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) website has loads of resources to help ensure your newsletter is as accessible as possible.
Give a sample
Let people see a preview of your newsletter before they subscribe. This can either be your entire archive or, if that’s not possible, a few sample issues.
Your sign up page should convince people to subscribe, so showcasing your past issues can help to persuade them. We are competing for people’s attention in a loud, splashy sea of information. So let them know what they are in for if they decide to add another subscription.
That way you can be sure you’re reaching the right audience and they know what to expect from your newsletter.
Be trustworthy and transparent
We hope this goes without saying, but you should be clear and respectful of the data that your users share with you.
The pathway to unsubscribe or change subscription settings should also be clear. None of this obfuscation and deceptive design patterns.
Have a clear call to action
Include an ask.
The action you want people to take upon reading your newsletter will entirely depend on the objectives of your newsletter. Hopefully this is outlined in your email marketing strategy or your communication plan.
Some examples of calls to actions for newsletters include ..
- Providing a link for readers to forward your newsletter to others
- Inviting them to book for an event
- Asking for donations or other kinds of support.
- Inviting feedback for your newsletter or your collections and services more generally
Which leads us to..
Stats can’t tell us the whole picture. In fact, they’re barely telling us anything at all.
The launch of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection was an important catalyst for newsletter publishing to move away from relying on metrics such as ‘open’ rates that didn’t really tell us much about engagement anyway.
It’s important to think about what you want to measure and why – which metrics will tell you if your content is really resonating with your audience?
If you are promoting your library or museum’s programming, then metrics may be tied to action that your readers take, such as event bookings. If you are promoting your collections to your audiences, then engagement may be a better metric for the impact of your newsletter.
Focus on metrics that tell you something about the effectiveness of your campaign and that you can act on to improve your content in the future.
A recent trend that we’re quite fond of is embedding feedback within each newsletter email. This can be a simple ‘happy or not’-style metric, or something like a Net Promoter Score (NPS) that will ask readers how likely they are to recommend your service to someone else.
Have engaging content
And last, but certainly not least, make your content useful and engaging for your intended audience. Again, this is about having a clear goal for your newsletter, as knowing what you want to achieve can help to keep your content clear and concise.
Getting people’s attention amongst increasingly busy inboxes is no mean feat and so you need to ensure that you are sharing engaging and useful content from the subject line onwards.
There’s lots of different types of content you can include, and we’ll go into that in more detail in our next post.
We hope this post has given you some ideas and inspiration to start a newsletter or make some tweaks to an existing publication.
We love to hear from you, so feel free to contact us to let us know about your newsletter projects.
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