How to send the perfect email newsletter

McKenzie Gregory

I’ll admit it: As someone who regularly writes about email marketing, I have a love-hate relationship with the so-called “newsletter.” 
It’s not that there’s anything fundamentally wrong with email newsletters – it’s just that they're often what give our industry a bad name. Many marketers will throw a few text links into a template that isn't optimized for mobile, then proceed to blast their entire audience with an irrelevant message. Worst of all, there's no real goal behind it: They're just adhering to some send cadence that was decided 10 years ago and hasn’t been questioned since.
However, email newsletters are still a practical (and necessary) choice for a lot of brands. And done right, they can actually be some of the best, most effective campaigns to hit your subscribers' inboxes. So here are a few different newsletter formats your brand can experiment with, plus some inspiration from brands who are doing them exceptionally well. 


The new-and-improved “wall of copy” newsletter

Historically, this has been something we’ve actively preached against. And if you’ve worked in email marketing for a while, you’ve likely heard some iteration of this advice a thousand times: “People don’t like words, they like pictures. Use imagery over copy.”

To some extent, that’s true. Most people are only scanning – especially on mobile, which accounts for over half of all opens – and would prefer to get the story of your mailing through images rather than text.

But here’s the thing: Best practices change over time, and email marketing isn’t a static medium. These days, several big-name brands have revitalized the traditional newsletter with emails designed purely to be read in the inbox. With mobile-optimized designs, streamlined templates and an emphasis on sharing news stories IN THE INBOX rather than sending people a million hyperlinks, these campaigns provide an at-a-glance update on politics, tech, culture – you name it. 

Here are a few examples of  what I’m talking about: 

Remember: This format only works given a few conditions: 
  1. Your primary goal isn’t for people to click through. Putting it all out there gives people little incentive to leave their inbox. The majority of these email newsletters aren’t sent with the aim of generating traffic – they feature ads or sponsored content that act as a revenue driver. 
  2. You’ve set the right expectations in terms of cadence and content. All three of the brands I mentioned make it very clear through the signup process and in their welcome emails how often they’ll send and what their campaigns will contain. 
  3. You’re genuinely solving a problem for people. With so much noise on the internet, email newsletters like these make it easy for subscribers to get a quick glimpse of what’s going on in a clean, curated fashion.

The traffic-generating newsletter 

Let's say you DO want to generate traffic site traffic from your email newsletter. If you've been having trouble getting subscribers to click through, one of these two things is likely the culprit: 
A. There's no incentive to engage because all of the pertinent info is already there (see the "wall of copy" newsletter). 
B. You don't provide a clear path of action for subscribers to follow. 
Here's an example. Before they came to us, our client Visit Philadelphia used to send an email newsletter that looked like this. 
It wasn't horrible (let’s be real, we’ve all seen worse), but it had the potential to be so much better. The biggest problem? This email was NOT mobile-friendly.
So, they came to us. We looked at what they were doing and thought, "Hey, you have great imagery. You have a great brand. You have a wonderful website." Their newsletter displayed all the classic problems we tend to see, but we had some great material to work with. So with just a few small tweaks, we landed here…
Instead of describing all the cool things going on in Philadelphia, they now show them off in an image-heavy, scrollable tile format.
Each colorful, engaging image is supplemented by a short headline, occasionally a quick description, and a bright, tappable CTA button. It looks amazing on mobile, and since they don't immediately give everything away, subscribers are incentivized to click through to their website to learn more. 
The best part? The redesign immediately increased their clicks by a whopping 20%!

The “here’s what you missed” newsletter

This is something you’ll see a lot in the B2B world: Many brands send out a regular newsletter to keep their audience up to date on all their latest and greatest content, company news, product releases, etc. 
The key to nailing this type of send? 
  1. Make it visually engaging. Since this is something you're sending regularly, it's worth spending some time really thinking about and fine-tuning your newsletter template. And as always, THINK MOBILE. 
  2. Try to keep your layout consistent so subscribers know where to find what they're interested in each time you send. 
  3. Use a better subject line than “[Date] Newsletter” or "[Brand Name] Newsletter." Outline the value contained in each campaign – "Get our new guide," "Hear an exclusive announcement," etc. 
This isn't exactly a fair standard since they're known for email design, but our friends at Litmus recently sent a gorgeous example of this sort of newsletter. 
Sure, it's super long and contains a ton of content.
But it looks great on a desktop, stacks beautifully on mobile, and divides everything into clear sections that allow you to quickly find and engage with the bits you’re most interested in. Want to hear the latest Email Design Podcast? Found it. Catch up on their latest blog posts? There it is! 
As long as you make the subscriber experience as frictionless as possible, your email newsletter can be a fantastic tool to promote audience engagement rather than a burden to simply check off your to-do list. 

Need some advice on your brand’s email newsletter?

Good news! I just so happen to work with some pretty amazing email content, design, and deliverability experts. Fire away in the comments, and we’ll see what we can do to help get your newsletter on the right track. 

About the Author

McKenzie Gregory

McKenzie Gregory is a senior content manager on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.

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