The digital inbox is a sacred place, reserved primarily for friends, family, coworkers, and clients. It’s an intimate place to stay connected to our world, and one that we’re constantly monitoring. All this means that finding an in is a golden ticket for marketers.
But the journey to the primary inbox is one obstructed by imposters (spam!), rejection (unsubscribe!), and an abundance of competition. Here are a few best practices for finding a space in that precious real estate.
Keep Out: Five Ways to Avoid the Spam Folder
- Ask for permission.
Emails are like dating. I’m probably not going to go out with a random guy that shows up on my porch, despite how handsome and charming he may be.
The same goes for your newsletter: No one wants an email they never subscribed to in the first place, even if it is chock-full of outstanding content and visuals. Out-of-the-blue emails are a fast pass to the spam folder, or worse: the unsubscribe list. Instead, ask nicely, and not too much — no one likes a stalker.
- Know your audience.
Don’t try to be your audience’s all-knowing news source. Instead, the best way to sell your business is to know your audience and craft content that will resonate with them.
Curated, targeted content that you’re confident your audience will click can lead to the newsletter jackpot: shares. People are more likely to engage with a newsletter that a friend recommends, so word-of-mouth is a coveted tool for marketers.
- Find your niche.
As is evident in the list of our team’s favorite emails below, the most successful e-newsletters contain focused, curated content. Use what you know about your audience to find your common thread — whether it’s world news, travel stories, or pet advice — and weave it through all the content you offer.
Obviously, you still have to promote your own business to some degree. To keep your business prevalent without being too salesy, use the 90/10 rule: Aim to strike a healthy balance of content that’s 90 percent educational and 10 percent promotional.
- Keep your design and copy in check.
With such a confined space to work with, an email newsletter can easily feel cluttered and overwhelming. Keep your content clean, short, and simple. Make sure there’s plenty of white space, and use as few words as it takes to pique your reader’s interest and get them to click.
Another win for simple design and succinct copy: It’s a big help for your email’s mobile-friendliness.
- Grab them with your subject line.
Your subject line is your first impression, so make it count. Grab your audience’s attention with something that strikes their funny bone, or forges a connection between your brand and current events.
Don’t bog down your content with a basic call-to-action subject line — being salesy is a miss. To avoid this, be sure to watch out for spam words.
With that in mind, here are a few e-newsletters that have won us over.
Michaela Brandt, digital media strategist:
What it is: Rover, a brokered network of dog-sitters and walkers offering tips for pet owners
Why I read it: There’s always an opportunity to engage with a poll (“Have you thrown your dog a birthday party?”), plus fun and informative blog posts and a helpful how-to section. As a first-time dog-mom, being a part of the newsletter establishes a connection within a community of like-minded individuals.
Standout feature: They personalize every email to my dog, Moose, and me, down to the headline. (My most recent one read, “Is Moose a Mama’s Boy?”)
Kate Crouse, director of digital media strategy:
What it is: The New York Times’ Smarter Living, “stories to help you understand the world — and make the most of it”
Why I read it: These life tips are presented in a clean and aesthetically pleasing way, with just enough content to pique my interest and add value but not so much that I feel overwhelmed with information. I enjoy how varied their content is: Some weeks the tips are focused on décor, fashion, or relationships; others are about financial health, politics, or literature.
Standout feature: Great content. It’s varied without being completely random. One week I’ll get a deep dive of information about the Equifax hack and what to do if I’ve been affected, then the next I’ll be reading about road-trip tips or perfectly crafted out of office replies. They cover a wide spectrum of topics, but the information doesn’t suffer — it’s well written, well thought out, and legitimately useful.
Grace La Montagne, editorial intern:
What it is: Goop, a mix of fashion, health trends, the arts, literature, and travel
Why I read it: Goop is owned by Gwyneth Paltrow, who is more of a hippie than I initially expected, so some of the content is a little out there — but surprising and delightful nonetheless.
Standout feature: The emails take a refreshing approach to traditional modern living topics. For example, the wellness section isn’t packed with tired headlines like “How to Lose 10 Pounds Fast” but instead focuses on holistic wellbeing, with coverage of mental health, stress management, and relationship health.
Brian Kendall, managing editor:
What it is: Outside Magazine’s Dispatch, a roundup of the magazine’s best long-form travel and adventure stories
Frequency: Twice a week
Why I read it: It’s chock-full of features that range from profiles on people who scale the tallest peaks to travelogues that retrace the dangerous route the Pony Express riders once endeavored.
Standout feature: It tells beautiful stories about real, imperfect people doing awe-inspiring things. To say it’s inspired my own writing and approach to content would be an understatement.
Annie Wiles, managing editor:
What it is: Alumni news (University of St Andrews and Trinity College Dublin)
Why I read it: I get to see what’s going on at my universities and see professors and old classmates highlighted for their achievements, which is always fun. Also, pretty pictures.
Standout feature: They’re focused on academia, research, and arts, rather than bland PR updates and donation asks.
Carly Shuttlesworth, account coordinator:
What it is: TheSkimm, a condensed, approachable look at daily news
Why I read it: Their tagline “making it easier for you to live smarter” is so true. It can be easy to overlook a daily email, but in today’s political climate, I rely on this newsletter as a reputable source to help keep me informed and involved.
Standout feature: The company is run by two millennial women with backgrounds in D.C. politics and news, so I like that they know their stuff but deliver it in a way that is quick, digestible, and witty.
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