Writing for the Web – Part 5: Newsletters


Newsletters have become an integral part of digital media. They are a personalisable method of promoting your company and an important means for customer retention. Nevertheless, the flood of newsletters irritates many email recipients and so they frequently acknowledge their digital post by clicking “Delete”. Part Five in the series “Writing for the Web” will provide you with suggestions as to how you can persuade recipients to read your mail.

Newsletters are usually released at regular intervals, they have a subject line and a date, and it is best if they are also given a consecutive number. In addition to the greeting, they often contain an editorial, a list of contents (in long newsletters) and then naturally the actual text, the essence of the newsletter, together with pictures and links.

As you can see, authors of newsletters are able to use a selection of text elements to awaken positive expectations and distinctly increase the number of clicks by recipients. We consider the following to be most important: subject line, editorial and texts.

Subject line

The subject line is arguably the most important part of the newsletter. It acts as both a door opener and an appetiser. It says it all, but still makes you want to learn more. It reveals the content, yet arouses curiosity at the same time. Sounds wonderful. So it’s plain sailing, then? Well, there’s something that we have forgotten to mention: this only works with subject lines that are really well-chosen. To help you be successful, here are five tips to be kept in mind for writing appropriate and functioning subject lines:

  • Keep it brief
  • Deliver benefits and arouse curiosity
  • One message is enough
  • Avoid spam indicators
  • Use words for encouragement

Curious? Eager to learn more? Here are some details:

Keep it brief
Nobody reads long subject lines! There are two reasons for this: firstly, when they check their e-mails, most people want to see quickly what it is all about, and they are not terribly interested in newsletters anyway. They want to deal with their email correspondence quickly – a lengthy subject line will fall at the first hurdle. And secondly, some mail programs and email providers shorten subject lines. So you should never exceed 50 characters.

Deliver benefits and arouse curiosity
Less stimulating subject lines include: “Our July newsletter” or “HFB Newsletter 23 – June 2011”; they have no concrete benefit and simply land in a different folder to be forgotten.

Curiosity works in a similar way. Test it yourself: What makes you more curious?

  • “Summer newsletter 2011” OR “Sunburned – 20 sun lotions tested for you”
  • “New study results” OR “New study: laziness pays off again”

You can see what we mean: include an advantage, a benefit in the subject line of your newsletter and the probability that it will be opened and read by the recipient drastically increases.

One message is enough

Avoid spam indicators
 Spam filters are sensitive to empty advertising expressions! You should therefore avoid meaningless phrases and certain sequences of characters:

  • Repeated symbols (!!!)
  • All block capitals (OUR MOST IMPORTANT NEWSLETTER)
  • Emotive words (free, competition, etc.)

Use words for encouragement
 When you write the subject line, think about the auto-preview window and the content of the newsletter. Insert the key terms from the subject line into the newsletter text so that they are visible in the preview window and also occur in a prominent position in the newsletter. Readers are encouraged by such repetition and can be directed from the inbox to the newsletter.

Now you have an attention-grabbing subject line that persuades your readers to go straight to the newsletter and then….. well, what happens then? Editorial or list of contents? This is an area of contention among many newsletter publishers. We believe that it depends on the content: if you really have something important to say in the editorial – i.e. the newsletter introduction, if it is really worth reading or definitely entertaining, then it can give the newsletter a personal touch and establish ties with your readers. But if the introduction is merely full of waffle (and this unfortunately happens frequently in editorials), then it would be better if you left it out.

What is included in an editorial and how should it be written?

In the introduction, the sender of the newsletter has an opportunity to address readers personally and to explain why the newsletter is focussing on precisely these topics and nothing else. Unnecessary blabbering and connections that are difficult to understand should be avoided – remember that the content should be useful and you should get to the point as quickly as possible! In the editorial you can motivate readers to continue reading.

Teaser or full text?

Now we get down to business, the heart of the newsletter: the texts. Or maybe just teasers? Again, we believe that it depends. It depends on what you are looking to achieve with your newsletter. If the newsletter is supposed to bring more visitors to your website, then teasers should be your preferred choice for texts.

In teasers you arouse the curiosity of your readers, but you do not reveal all the information. Readers need to click on the link to find the details, and this takes them to the full text on your website or landing page. The advantage of teaser newsletters is that they can be kept very brief overall and it doesn’t take long for the recipients to read them.

If the newsletter itself is intended as a “Point of Information”, then full texts are the right choice. These deliver comprehensive and coherent information and it is not necessary to pay another visit to the website. However, such newsletters can easily become long and confusing if they cover several topics. Readers therefore frequently only accept full-text newsletters if the quality of the information is very high.

Checklist for newsletter

And because we want to set a good example, here is a clear overview of the subject under discussion to round off this article. When writing newsletters, consider the following:

The subject line

  • Keep it brief
  • Deliver benefits and arouse curiosity
  • One message is enough
  • Avoid spam indicators
  • Use words for encouragement

The editorial

  • Explain choice of topics
  • Include personal touch
  • Establish ties with readers
  • No blabbering and waffle

The texts

  • Teasers if you want to arouse the curiosity of your readers in order to take them to your website (traffic)
  • Full texts if the newsletter itself is supposed to remain the “Point of Information”

And now it’s your turn: Which newsletters do you read regularly, and which get deleted straight away? We look forward to receiving your ideas!