We'll be frank with you: for the last three years, we've been allowing an automated process in HubSpot to send out our email newsletter. The magic of RSS would ensure that our latest blog posts magically whipped up a newsletter for our subscribers and we had to do nothing manually. Being honest, newsletters weren't really our priority.

But engagement was slipping and traffic to our website was declining accordingly – we knew something had to change.

So, now we're manually creating a weekly newsletter that shares the best of our content in a more personalised format. And engagement is creeping back up.

Email newsletter convert more customers

I've been writing this newsletter each week so, in an effort to continue improving, I've been researching some fabulous examples of the best newsletters out there. Here's what I've found.

Hack 1: Frame your newsletter and play with the layout

One of the easiest things to add to your newsletter is frames or boxes. Our eye is naturally drawn to order; if you try to cram too much into your newsletter in a disorganised fashion, the human brain just says ‘I can’t cope with this’ and swiftly rejects what is in front of it. In this case, that means a quick deletion of your email.

As Ryan McCready from Venngage explains:

‘If you are featuring a selection of different products in your newsletter, I would recommend adding a background shape or frame to each. Borders or frames can help unrelated parts of your newsletter look uniformed.’

Blocks create an obvious pathway for the eyes to follow – but if you’ve been using the same format for a while, maybe it’s time to move those frames around a bit. You could try alternating stories and products from left to right as you move down the page. Or try some small and large blocks mixed up, like a comic-book layout. You can also use differently coloured blocks to signal to the reader where one story begins and another ends.

Frames and boxes for order in an email

Top tip: Don’t try to cram too much into each box: boxes provide organisation and a manageable, bitesize amount of information. Don’t spoil this by overcrowding frames.

Hack 2: Maintain unmistakable branding and a splash of colour

It’s been said that it only takes a person 0.05 seconds to decide if a product is for them or not – so as email marketers, we really need to make use of this tiny timeframe! We tend to experiment with the subject line (see Hack 7) to boost open rates, but it’s the design which really decides what the reader does next.

The colours your reader sees are vital to making sense of who you are and what you’re promoting. Kevin George from Email Monks explains:

‘Every brand has its fixed set of branding guidelines, in which colors are also specified. There are 2 reasons behind brands using signature colors: to create a consistent brand guideline; and to evoke different moods, hot/cold response, and ‘visual stimulation’. Our brain is hard-coded to respond in certain ways to viewing certain colors.’

You’ll have thought long and hard about your brand colours when you chose them and what emotions you wanted them to convey, but you may want to consider which of these is appropriate to use in each email newsletter. For example, ESM Inbound has four core colours, but we only use two of them in our email template so as not to overload.

Use of brand colours in an email

Top tip: Having said the above, don’t forget the importance of whitespace. Usual good-practice rules apply to emails and if you throw too much colour and pattern at a newsletter, your audience might find it overwhelming.

Hack 3: Use clear CTAs and icons for each section

Each frame of your email needs a different CTA, and these CTAs really need to ‘pop’. Use a different colour for the CTA button (still in your brand colours) so it contrasts with other parts of the story. Use imperative language – such as ‘download’, ‘read’ and ‘learn’ so the subscriber knows exactly what they’re getting. Econsultancy’s David Moth recommends that:

‘A good CTA needs to stand out from the rest of the email and grab the user’s attention. This can be a tricky task when marketers have to take into account existing brand colour schemes and templates, but there’s more than one way to catch a person’s eye. For example, if you’re opting for a button rather than a text link, make sure there’s plenty of space around the CTA and don’t position it in the middle of a load of text.’

In one newsletter, try to vary the types of CTA you’re offering users: one that leads to a blog post, one link to a free download, one link to a product or service, and one testimonial or user-generated content (see Hack 6), so there’s something on offer for everyone, no matter what stage of the buyer’s journey they’re at.

Example of different CTAs in an emailTop tip: Make the image or icon in each section clickable to the same destination as the CTA, too – people are used to images clicking as they’re usually bigger and easier to navigate through than a button CTA. By giving them the choice of two clickable elements, you’re making a conversion even more likely.

Hack 4: Limit information and create The FOMO Effect

Keep it short. If you just give a taster of whatever you’re linking to, you’ll create intrigue (or Fear Of Missing Out – FOMO) and encourage a click through to the content. If you try to over-explain the offer or product you’re promoting in your newsletter, you’ll end up crowding the space and giving your reader nothing to wonder about; you’ve already given everything away, so why would they click? Again, Ryan McCready from Venngage advises:

‘Using FOMO is a powerful way to drive people to take a very specific action that they already know will benefit them in an email campaign. For example, signing up for a giveaway, accepting a gift card or getting a discount… the CTA needs to be so obvious that they will benefit from clicking, that it would be foolish not to click.’

mystery FOMO email newsletter

Top tip: Put a word like 'free', 'offer' or 'deal' into the copy. You're not telling them exactly what they're getting, but you're definitely letting them know the most important part: that there's something of value to them beyond the newsletter that they don't want to miss out on. 

Hack 5: Keep copy attractive, light and playful

Your copy needs to be attractive — not just the wording, but the actual fonts you use. As explored in Hack 4, keep copy short, but also consider how the fonts you choose have an effect on the overall tone of your email.

Playful language and font for email

Does your newsletter font choice incite emotions such as excitement, intrigue and playfulness? Or is your font a heavy, dull and bland style, conveying negative emotions instead?

Jared Evers from Campaign Monitor recommends that:

‘Since your objective is to get people to engage with your content, you definitely don’t want them to bounce when they reach the next page. Some studies actually show that improving your email and website fonts or styles can reduce bounce rates by 92%. More eyes on the page mean more engagement, which ultimately creates more customers.’

Top tip: We recommend using the same images and fonts in your email, as your reader will find when they click through to the next page. Keep as many things as consistent between email and landing page as possible, so the user doesn’t feel lost once they arrive at the important part: engaging and converting with your content.

Hack 6: Feature user-generated content and reviews

Do you ever come to writing your newsletter (especially if it’s weekly, or even more regular) and wonder what you’re going to write about? Perhaps not a lot has happened at your business this week, you don’t have any new product launches, or any events that happened? There’s only so much repurposing of old content you can do before it gets boring for your subscribers.

In these cases, using a testimonial or user-generated photo from social media could be just the trick. It’ll not only fill a spare asset in your newsletter, but also expose your audience to some of the fabulous things customers are saying about you. Daniel Cassady at Benchmark recommends putting yourself in your subscribers’s position:

‘One question that internet shoppers often ask themselves before committing to buy a product is, “Is this business credible?” What can you do to show a prospective client that you and your business are trustworthy? Simple. Add a testimonial to your marketing emails… to gain the trust of your audience and increase your sales.’

Using customer reviews in email newsletter

Top tip: Double check with the original reviewer or testimonial writer ahead of using their content in your newsletter – if it’s already posted somewhere public, then it’ll probably be fine by them. But to avoid any relationship damage, you’ll need to get their consent first.

Hack 7: Try split testing your email title

There's no way of knowing which title is going to inspire more clicks, no matter how well you know and understand your buyer personas. You might be surprised – sometimes a title you think is bold, catchy and engaging might fly under the radar, leading to a poor open rate. When this happens, all that remarkable content you've spent hours crafting is wasted. So what's the solution? Sujan Patel at Mailshake explains the importance of your email title:

'Your subject line is your digital calling card, and it needs to get that door opened. Nearly half – 47% – of recipients decide whether to open or discard based exclusively on the subject line, and 69% report an email as spam – the dreaded s-word – depending on their impression of it.'

In an A/B test, two variations of the email subject line are set up for the same newsletter; the content inside is exactly the same, you just change the title. Then the two variants are sent to a small percentage of your total recipients. Half of the test group receive version A, and the other half receive version B. Your software, such as HubSpot, then measures which one gets the most opens or clicks, and after a period of time chosen by you e.g. 24 hours, the winning version is sent to the remaining subscribers.

subject line split testing

Top tip: Things to try testing include:

  • Using the word 'free' or 'complimentary' in one subject line and not the other
  • Using a percentage or statistic in one subject line and not the other
  • Including the word 'you' for personalisation in one and not the other
  • Putting the offer inside brackets in one, e.g. [Infographic], vs just the title of the resource in the other
  • Including a sender's real name in one, versus an email from a company name in the other.

But of course, there isn't a magic answer; you don't discover something that makes your recipients open your email, only to consistently use that same format again and again on every future newsletter. Your buyer's tastes will change, so you'll need to try mixing it up with new ideas. As business giant, David Ogilvy advised: 

“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”

Summary:

These quick hacks are designed to help you see an increase in open and click rates for your next email newsletter. Here they are again:

  • Frame your newsletter in boxes and experiment with the layout to keep the look and feel fresh.
  • Keep your branding and colours consistent; experimenting with layout is fine, but keep other factors consistent.
  • Use a different CTA and icon for each story in your newsletter, again signalling the separate sections to the reader.
  • Hold back key information, just giving enough detail away to intrigue readers and encourage a click.
  • Write in the kind of way you'd like to read yourself: keep it light, funny and attractive – that includes the fonts.
  • Look to your users for content; people love reading testimonials or reviews as part of a newsletter for social proof.
  • Experiment with email titles: the most important part of an email. The aim is to get readers beyond the title. 
  • Remember to analyse the results of these changes; if you don't measure, you won't know your progress.
  • Only change one thing at a time, so if there’s a surge or dip in engagement data, you can pinpoint the reason why.