We know how important communities are to businesses today. With traditional, direct advertising methods rendered ineffective, communities provide the alternative. They act as marketing and sales channels, personalized and direct, without devious intent.
Communities are the best way to reach out and engage your target audience.
Creating a community is one thing. Running it is another. You need to consistently keep your community engaged. The best way to keep your community continually engaged and active, is a newsletter.
A newsletter is a report detailing the activities of a business or organization. They are sent regularly to members of the community. Newsletters can be both in print or digital. Most newsletters these days are digital, delivered via email.
Newsletters are used to engage an existing community. They involve frequently updating members on current and future events, topics and content. it is a popular and effective means to strengthen communities.
If you intend on making a community newsletter, make sure you do it right.
Here are 6 tips for the perfect community newsletter.
1. Make Your Community Newsletter Scannable
Simply having a community newsletter is not enough. You need to make it highly effective if you want to maximize its ability to engage your community.
The first step you can take is to make it more scannable.
Scannable content is content that is optimized for internet readers. This can be on any type of device, make or model.
“Short, sweet and to the point. Sentences and paragraphs are brief. Bold text and bullet points highlight key points. Links to other content are used to provide your readers with supplemental information.”
Scannable content is necessary because people consume content differently online. Rarely is something read in its entirety. Rarely is something read chronologically.
Online we scan. We scroll down. We skip the long blocks of text and look for structure. Reference points. Things that stick out. We look for the most important details.
This is something that has been true since the inception of the internet. Nielsen Norman Group reported that 79% of internet readers scanned back in 1999. That’s much higher now.
Why must we make our digital content scannable? Because it makes it more effective. Research has shown it can improve readability by 47%.
Boosting readability will make your community newsletter more engaging.
So how do we make scannable content?
There are 5 main elements of scannable content.
- Paragraph length
- Sentence length
- Bullet points/lists
Paragraphs that are too long are visually unattractive to the eye. Instantly off-putting. Just look at this example.
Which one is easier to read? Which one gives you a headache?
Make sure your paragraphs are no more than 4 lines. Less is more.
Sentence length is much the same as paragraph length. Too long is ineffective. A waste of effort.
Try to keep your sentences under 20 words.
Subheadings act as a way to break up content into the equivalent of a restaurant menu. You are giving scanning readers reference points. You are telling them what information is contained where.
This is very important because 65.7% of time spent reading is below the fold.
This relates to all types of content, newsletters included.
When so much time is spent in the body of content, it’s important to give them directions. A map.
This is what subheadings do.
Tip: Combine subheadings with a table of contents for even better results.
Subheadings break down the entire topic, bullet points and lists break down specific points of information. This can be used instead of a paragraph. Here’s an example.
See how it makes information easier to read?
Try not to overuse bullet points and lists. Use when appropriate.
Images also serve as an effective strategy to make content more scannable. They both break up the monotony of giant text walls and deliver information in a more effective medium.
Images are processed 60,000 times faster than text. Visual content has long been a more effective medium to detail information.
Content featuring images tend to get more hits.
Images make for more engaging content.
Try to throw in some images within your newsletter.
Fizzle’s text-heavy entrepreneurial newsletter is highly scannable.
Notice the use of a numbered list. It seems like an obvious way to write something, but you’d be surprised how many people would write that out in a paragraph.
Going further into the newsletter we can see shorter paragraphs and sentences.
It is very much a copywriting style. To read the entire newsletter click here.
This is effective writing for the internet. Make your newsletter scannable.
2. Make Sure Your Newsletter Content Is Important
Now we know how to write newsletter content, we need to also know what to write.
What exactly are you supposed to put in a newsletter? It seems like it should be obvious but it really isn’t. A newsletter can be used for so many different things. It largely depends on the nature of the business.
Ask yourself this: “What do I want to accomplish with my newsletter?”
Newsletters are about community engagement. Strengthening existing relationships with your audience. When you boil it all down, there are really only 2 types of the newsletter content.
2 main types of newsletter content
- Promotional/Advertising content
- Educational/Informative/Entertaining content
Newsletters are either promoting/advertising something or educating/informing/entertaining. It’s not a black and white situation either. Most newsletters are a mix of these 2 types of content.
Again, it depends on the nature of the business.
For example, ecommerce newsletters are largely promotional. Just look at Shoe company Tom’s newsletter.
Compare that to digital media company Vox’s newsletter
It’s not surprising a media companies newsletter is different from that of an eCommerce.
Promotional content can be products/services, events, new pieces of content. Whatever is happening in your community, you can use a newsletter to advertise it.
Educational/Informative/Entertaining content is important because people are largely turned off by non-stop self-promotion. It’s the same reason why the shift has gone from direct, traditional advertising to content marketing.
Treat your newsletter as an extension of your content marketing. Make unique content for your newsletter subscribers. This is what Jorden Roper does.
She runs Creative Revolt, a freelance writing community. She sells her courses large in part through her emails.
See how she provides value as opposed to straight-up trying to sell you? Content marketing 101.
Finding out the best balance of promotional and educational is going to take some trial and error. HubSpot recommends 90% educational/10% promotional. There really is no one size fits all.
I would stray more on the side of educational/informative/entertaining content, however.
Keys to remember:
- Newsletters are tools of community engagement (strengthening existing relationships)
- “What do I want to achieve with my newsletter?”
- Promotional content vs. Educational/Informative/Entertaining content
3. Create An Effective Call To Action
A call to action is a button placed on a piece of content (usually at the bottom) with specific intent. Popular call to action intents include adding you to the email list and selling a product or service.
Here’s what a typical call to action looks like.
They are featured in newsletters too.
There are many things you can do to make your call to action more effective. It really depends on the nature of your call to action. Are you trying to build your email list? Are you selling something? Promoting new content?
There are however universal factors that you can change that affect all types of CTAs.
The color of a call to action can greatly affect its effectiveness. Color as a whole can alter emotions and change consumer activity.
So what are the best colors to use for a call to action button?
Digital Agency WiderFunnel increased lead generation by 32.5% using orange for its call to action.
Sitepoint compared the effectiveness of red and green buttons.
The result? Red buttons had a 34% higher conversion rate.
Orange and red are colors that grab your attention. These are good color choices for your call to actions on your community newsletter.
It’s also important to note that the entire color scheme of a website, content or newsletter is important. Red or orange does not grab attention if everything else is the same color.
Add free value incentive
The best way to improve a call to action is to add something of value to it. Something that is free. You don’t want your CTAs looking like this.
You want them to look like this.
Which would you feel more incentivized to click? Exactly.
Betting company BettingExpert increased signups by 31.54% by incentivizing its CTA.
Some of the free value you can attach to a CTA might include:
- Free Reports
- White Papers
- Discounts/Promo Codes
Or you can simply make the CTA copy more incentive/benefit-focused. Like in the BettingExpert example above.
This strategy is typically used for content aiming to build an email list. There however, is no reason why it cannot work for a community newsletter. Be creative. The basic premise here is to incentivize with free value.
Keep it short and simple
When it comes to call to actions, less is more. The more you ask of someone, the less likely they will be to click through.
It has been proven time and time again that short forms outperform long forms.
In fact, asking for too much can have disastrous implications. Expedia lost $12 million a year by having too many form fields.
Make your CTAs simple. You really don’t need that many form fields.
Lots of e-commerce newsletters heavily incorporate CTAs. Here’s an example from American fitness equipment company Peloton.
Luxury women’s clothing company Joie incentivized its newsletter CTA by promoting a Black Friday sale.
There are plenty of non-eCommerce examples as well.
Grammar checker tool Grammarly uses its email newsletter to educate and inform its community. There are often pieces of content promoted to the reader, with a CTA button. Below is a good example.
You can read the entire newsletter here.
4. Keep Your Community Newsletter Short
The length of your community newsletter matters, just as the length of a sentence or paragraph matters. Too long and you’ll lose the reader’s interest. Too short and you won’t be able to say anything. There is an optimal length somewhere in between.
So what is the optimal length for a newsletter?
Johan Claeys recommends 500 words. A page length he says.
Not all newsletters are the same. Some are for ecommerce businesses, some are for services or online communities.
We also have to consider the objective of the newsletter. Is it promotional or educational? A different intent has a different best practice.
Compare this long newsletter from NextDraft.
To this incredibly short one from Tailor Brands.
Both are good email newsletters that have different intentions.
Newsletters are almost exclusively sent through emails these days. So, email marketing best practices apply to newsletters. It’s almost certain you will use email for your community newsletter.
Constant Contact analyzed over 2.1 million customer emails to find out what email length performed best.
Here were the results.
“Emails with approximately 20 lines of text result in the highest click-through rates.”
That’s roughly about 200 words.
According to AWeber, the average email is 434.48 words.
We are getting a good picture here of what length is best for a community newsletter.
Henneke Duistermaat of Enchanting Marketing routinely sends short emails no more than 300 words. This is her reasoning:
“Have you ever heard someone complaining they’re not getting enough email?” Duistermaat said. “Everyone’s inbox is overflowing. We’re all time-starved. So, we love succinct messages that help us make a quick decision: whether to reply or not, whether to click through or not.”
Comparatively, Ann Hadley, Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs sends out newsletters with an average of 1,838.5 words. This is what she said about about the matter
“It’s not that long-form emails are effective. Rather, what’s effective is emails that have value for the people on your list. I don’t set out every other Sunday with a goal of writing the longest email I possibly can. But I do have a goal of writing an authentic, valuable, fun letter to each and every subscriber on my list. I put my heart and soul into it, and that’s why people respond.”
The best length for your community newsletter can be anything. However long it takes you to say what you need to. Whether that’s 100 words or 1000, so be it. Just don’t write long for the sake of long.
Be short, succinct and to the point.
The most important thing you can do is to find what works for you. This is why A/B testing is so important.
5. Run A/B Tests To Find Out What Works
Everything sounds good in theory. You can follow “best practice” to a tee, but you won’t really know until you test for yourself.
When creating the perfect community newsletter, you need to run A/B tests to see what actually works.
An A/B test is a process of comparing two versions of something to find out which one performs better. It can be a webpage, email or whatever. A/B testing is based on a hypothesis, or prediction. For example:
“I believe changing the color of my email newsletter design from red to blue will increase click-through rates”
Then that hypothesis is tested in controlled manner.
That is really as complex as it needs to be.
A/B testing can result in dramatic success. According to CrazyEgg using correct targeting and testing can increase conversion rate by 300%.
Online ecommerce community Fab ran A/B tests to optimize its call to action buttons.
Hypothesis: Fab believed that adding text to it’s “Add To Cart” button would increase click-through rate.
This is what the original CTA looked like.
Fab created 2 new variations to be tested. Here’s what they looked like.
Result: Variation 1 increased click-through rate by 49%.
By simply changing a CTA from an icon to three words, Fab was able to drastically improve results. This is the power of A/B testing.
P2P crowdsourcing platform Designhill ran an A/B test to see how it could improve email open rates.
Hypothesis: Designhill believed that changing the subject line of its emails about blog posts would increase open rate.
The email subject lines were changed to just the title of the blog post.
Result: 5.84% increase in click-through rate + 2.57% increase in open rate.
A subtle changes is all it takes to reap greater results.
So how do we run an A/B test?
There are 3 steps to running an A/B test.
- Create a hypothesis
- Run the test
- Analyze the results
The first step is creating a hypothesis. You need to find some kind of variable you can change that you think will affect results.
Here are 7 things on your community newsletter you can A/B test.
- Subject line
- Preheader text
- Copy length
- Sending time
The second step is actually testing. You’ll need an A/B testing software.
Unbounce is a popular choice.
The third step is gathering and analyzing the results.
Here is an example of results from an A/B test from Brian Dean.
Now you’ll know whether or not your hypothesis was true. From this you can better optimize your email community newsletter.
6. Use An Email Template To Make Things Easy
Because almost all newsletters are sent via email, you can take advantage of templates. Much of the principles talked about in this post, are preset in templates.
The best email newsletter template for you, depends on many factors unique to your community. However there are universal qualities and functions we must look for in a template. These can include:
- Responsive Design
- Image Alt Text
- Minimalist design
Emails can be sent in 2 ways.
Text emails are plain, without any special formatting or design. Hyperlinks are the most advanced thing you can do. This is what a text email looks like.
HTML emails combine the coding element of webpages to email. It allows you to use more fonts, styles and images. It also allows you to design emails like you would a website. Any color, design or backdrop. Here’s how they look.
Although both types of emails have shown to be effective, you don’t need a template for a text email. HTML emails are the standard today. You can simply do more.
Responsive design is a design element that allows your email to render itself to fit any screen size. People view emails on many different types of devices. In fact, in 2017 61% of email opens in the US were on smartphones.
People are accessing email through so many different platforms, devices, makes, models and brands. Each different device has an individual screen size, and inherently unique demands.
You need a template for your community newsletter that has responsive design. Without it, you run the risk of technical difficulties. Luckily most email templates have responsive design.
Image Alt Text
An image alt text is a special HTML code that gives an image description for those who cannot load images.
This is what it looks like.
You can also put your mouse over loaded images and see the alt text appear.
It’s important your newsletter template has image alt texts because not everyone loads images in their email. You would be surprised at how many people don’t.
Alt text also makes your email newsletter accessible to the visually impaired and those using a screen reader.
Look for templates that have this feature.
Simplistic designs are ones that forgo the fancy, excessive and intrusive. They embrace the design principle of ‘white space’, allowing the content to take the focus.
In fact, Google did a study on web design and found simple is better. It applies to website and it applies to emails. Luckily almost all templates are minimalist in design.
Make sure you look for templates that have all these features.
There are both free templates and paid templates out there. Here are some popular examples.
Email marketing design tool Litmus offers a few free email newsletter templates.
The “Pook” template is a great choice for promoting new content to your newsletter subscribers.
Another template from Litmus is the Accessible Newsletter Email template.
It is simple in design, is screen reader friendly, has responsive design and features image alt text. It pretty much ticks all the boxes you need for a community newsletter.
To access the Litmus templates, you need to register an account.
If you want more template options, you might want to check out some of the paid templates available.
Themeforest offers a massive library of high quality paid templates to choose from. Most if not all the options have all the features you need, and are compatible with automation software like MailChimp.
Freshmail is one template example from the Themeforest library.
Webwall is another.
When choosing an email template for your community letter, make sure it has the features listed above. Whether that’s a free or paid template.
In a time where community is more important for businesses than ever, engagement is essential. There are many ways to engage your community, a newsletter is one option.
Creating the perfect community newsletter is not complicated. Implement these 6 tips and you will be well on your way to creating the ultimate tool of engagement.
Lars Erik Larson is a digital marketer based out of Perth, Western Australia. He specializes in writing long-form B2B Marketing Blog posts that build brand and rank highly on Google. Lars runs Wordsmith Method, a content marketing business targeting small businesses and startups.