Making Email Newsletters Work Better

Like a stick of butter in a Paula Deen recipe, the email newsletter has become the mainstay of every BtoB marketer’s arsenal, the “of course” ingredient in the marketing mix. But as the novelty of getting a newsletter in one’s inbox has worn off, and their numbers have multiplied, so too have open rates and clickthroughs declined.

Much of this can, of course, be remedied by making the newsletter more relevant, targeted and just plain interesting. Savvy marketers are focused on doing just that. But in parallel to content and segmentation efforts, can newsletter design be tweaked to yield better results?

Inspired by a recent article from online usability guru Jakob Nielsen, the article confirmed established best practices and included additional insights. Here are a few things to keep in mind when designing your next e-newsletter:

More clutter to break through. Research respondents reported an average of 300% more unread email in their inboxes than they had 4 years ago. Thus breaking through is more important than ever, which means:

writing subject lines that speak directly and compellingly to user pain or benefit,
making sure the preview pane view shows enough “leg” to entice the recipient to view the full email, and
placing high-value content at the top of the email.

Think more about mobile. Many people report using their mobile device to kill time when waiting for a meeting, or a plane etc. So your newsletter which they didn’t have time to look at in the office is increasingly likely to be read on a mobile device which means:

appearance on the small screen should be a key design driver (people rated the ease of reading newsletters on their mobile devices a miserable 3.3 on a 1–7 scale), and
again, the most important content – from the user’s, not the marketer’s point of view – should be at the top.

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Video is not vital. Users don’t expect video as a main component of a newsletter. Aside from the fact that video can’t reliably be embedded in an email, most newsletter readers are too hurried to want to watch a video. This means:

keep video a secondary medium and don’t use it as your key content,
describe the video in words,
pick a preview image that communicates the video’s nature instead of simply showing the first frame, and
state the video’s duration.

Newsletters have long lives. Bear in mind that people may read your newsletter weeks, months or even years after it was written. A specific offer or time-related announcement may be long past, but the newsletter can still help grow and sustain your brand.

The good news is 50 percent of users said that email newsletters influenced their BtoB purchases, but the influence was only occasional, when the timing happened to be right. Often, the newsletter served to grow or retain a vendor’s reputation or to maintain a relationship during dry spells when users lacked the budgets needed to actively conduct business.

If you are looking for assistance with email marketing—from lead nurturing and lead generation to full-scale marketing campaigns—we’re always happy to help. Just contact Arketi at

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