The Definitive Guide to Email Newsletters for Ecommerce Companies
Once your intended recipient has made the decision to open your email based on the promise of the subject line, the actual content of your email newsletter must deliver on said promise.
If your campaign fails to fulfill the promise that compelled the reader to click in the first place, they’ll have every reason to disengage not only with that email, but with your brand. Their attention may turn to something else in their inbox, depriving you of the opportunity to further guide them on their purchasing journey.
We’ve all been subjected to countless examples of worthless email newsletters—which means everyone should have a pretty good idea of what a bad one looks like. Email newsletters are exceedingly common, and almost every company utilizes them in some way…so why are so many of them lacking in quality?
It seems as though even the marketers who are crafting these lackluster campaigns have plenty of exposure to bad examples, yet many of them aren’t able to create a solid strategy for delivering compelling content will keep their audience engaged.
So let’s dive into creating successful ecommerce newsletters that’ll have your recipients actually glad that they decided to continue their journey with your brand.
Emphasize substance and value in every send.
Not all types of marketing messages are created equal. But the overarching idea behind effective marketing communication is the same across platforms: delivering substance and value.
There are many more details that go into creating high-quality email content, such as design, personalization, and customer segmentation, but, if you don’t have substance and value at the heart of your message, it’s going to fall flat, and won’t connect with the audience.
Despite the bevvy of subpar ecommerce newsletters, there are not only brands doing it right, but there are customer responses that reward those who are effective. We’ve found that despite having an 8-second filter and a popularized disinterest in email marketing, both Gen Z and millennials prefer to stay in touch with brands via email.
In terms of sending emails that members of any generation can engage with, it’s more important than ever to optimize for mobile platforms with more than 50% of campaigns being opened on mobile. And value is still key, so certain inbox changes like Gmail’s promotions tab can actually be positive, since subscribers are more likely to view that tab specifically when they want to search for shopping deals.
All this points to a more active audience, since brands no longer have to compete directly with other content—like personal correspondence—in recipients’ inboxes.
The main issue is that email newsletters tend to be thrown together simply because marketers think there’s an operational imperative to have one.
Your strategy for telling a cohesive story that provides value for a specific audience and guides them through various stages of the purchasing process needs to be clearly defined. And it must supplement and coordinate with the larger structure of your marketing and sales strategies.
When practiced correctly, email marketing for ecommerce brands can forge a crucial and lasting connection between the customer and the brand, contributing sustained value to both parties. Look at this example from online travel company Booking.com, which offers city guides alongside CTAs for accommodations.
Your email newsletter must have purpose.
When they’re at their best, email newsletters share a compelling story with the reader. They’re informative, educational, and they provide clear directions on how the reader should continue if they want to gain more value toward their life or goals.
Ecommerce newsletters connect directly with customers.
First, email newsletters can convey a dense amount of information very quickly. Whereas tweets generally need to reference a link to something more substantial, or billboards need to grab the audience’s attention with prominent messaging, email newsletters can transmit a surprising amount of useful information to the reader in their own format.
While ecommerce newsletters also generally contain links (typically in the form of a CTA), they can be standalone informational assets, too.
Your newsletters should be personal.
Emails are intensely personal and get delivered to a very specific reader. When you create a television or radio ad, or even an ad for a website or social media channel, you really don’t have that much control over who views it beyond demographic data analysis.
When you send an email newsletter, you’re delivering that content to a specific audience, which allows for effective personalization and engagement with that subscriber. Campaign Monitor customer Winkelstraat.nl segments their newsletters based on demographics and interests to show promotions to interested customers.
It’s also important to note that email newsletters can provide consistent engagement with your customers, and their effectiveness can be intricately tracked and measured. Innovative marketing automation allows you to achieve incredible things with your email newsletters, and it’s possible to communicate value frequently and effectively to a large audience at relatively low cost.
Set the right priority for newsletter email marketing.
Before we get into the different types and specific components of a great email newsletter, it’s worth evaluating whether or not an ecommerce newsletter is a good fit for your company.
While email newsletters are a viable strategy for many companies, there are certain situations where other opportunities may be more fruitful to pursue, just like when considering any other marketing tool. Ecommerce is generally an industry that stands to benefit from email newsletters, but an examination of your organization’s specific business realities will tell you whether or not the strategy is likely to realize dividends for you.
Align newsletter email marketing to broader business goals.
The first step in any such evaluation is a careful consideration of your company’s goals. You need to specifically define what it is you hope to get out of a newsletter email marketing campaign.
If you’re trying to nurture relationships with your subscribers more effectively, you may find success almost instantly with a well-planned newsletter campaign. Also, if you want to boost conversions for your website, crafting engaging newsletter content could help you expertly steer your prospects through the customer buying journey, resulting in a greater percentage of sales per website visitors.
Alternatively, if your main marketing goals don’t easily align with what email newsletters are designed to accomplish, you may be better off spending your money elsewhere. Trying to maintain a hacked-together email newsletter initiative that isn’t supported by the proper resources, planning, and attention can be far more damaging than not sending newsletters at all.
For instance, if one of your main goals is to drive more sales through partnerships, then you should consider spending more of your resources building out a brand ambassador and reseller program. But, then again, you could also create a newsletter specific to partners that gives them behind-the-scenes insight and news.
Allocate the right resources for your ecommerce newsletter.
Another major consideration in this decision is taking an honest assessment of your brand’s resource availability in pursuit of your email newsletter goals.
It can’t be stressed enough: If the implementation of the newsletter campaign is haphazard, unfocused, and lacking in value, then it isn’t the right time to go down this road. Marketing automation can help you achieve results and scale your email campaign as your company grows, but you still need to have the ability and willingness to devote enough to the initiative to ensure its success.
The most important thing is that your decision about whether or not to implement an email newsletter campaign is based on sound data and tied to realistic goals for your etailer’s future.
Carefully consider what content to push.
Finally, before you can begin crafting your content and preparing your newsletter to be sent, you need to consider what type of email newsletter will best communicate value for your intended audience.
There are dozens of different categories of email newsletters, and several of them will be explored in greater detail in the coming sections.
Some companies tend to conflate their marketing email newsletter strategy with that of an internal company newsletter, such as one that might be sent by senior leadership or the human resources department. These newsletters are packed full of various types of information, from employee birthdays and personal stories to industry news to available open positions. And many marketers try to follow suit with their customer-facing email newsletters, inserting as much information in one email as possible, so as to act as a catch-all for a wide audience.
The problem with this strategy is that you really can’t be everything to everyone, and this lack of clarity can confuse the reader and cloud any potential value they could take away from the email.
Consider specifically what your audience needs to see, how it’ll help in relation to your newsletter campaign goals, and what targeted information you can include to nurture the relationship with your readers.
Six essential facets of an effective email newsletter campaign
For your ecommerce newsletter to resonate with audiences, it has to directly speak to their interests and needs, demonstrate value, and arrive in their inbox at opportune times. All of these strategies must be combined with regular email marketing best practices to get results that move the needle.
You can’t have a substantive discussion about email marketing without touching on personalization.
There’s a myriad of studies available to suggest that personalized content is more effective than non-personalized content, that it’s preferred by consumers, and that more marketers wish to incorporate personalization into their strategies.
Integrating at least some measures of personalization is a necessity if you want to get the most out of your email newsletter initiative. And, thankfully, there are numerous ways you can go about this, ranging from exceedingly simple solutions to intricate and complex processes.
Although it may sound elementary, using names in your email newsletters is one of the easiest and most overlooked ways to inject a personalized element into your message. This starts with addressing your recipient by their first name, which forges an instant connection between company and reader and puts the two parties on equal footing. People appreciate being addressed by their name in email because it enhances the perception that this content was created for and sent to them specially.
The other element that must be considered is the name of the sender. In many situations, having the sender’s field include a real person’s name, rather than just the name of your brand is another route for engaging with the recipient on a more personal level. Once customers have become accustomed to receiving emails from that specific sender, you can use this familiarity to ensure future marketing correspondence from your online store will always be well-received.
Including product recommendations based on your customer’s browsing and purchasing history with your store is another way to use personalization to your advantage.
Just consider how well ecommerce giant Amazon does this for Amazon Prime members. They tailor all of their emails to the individual history of the customer, paying particular attention to items that have been viewed multiple times or put in a shopping cart and later abandoned.
Now, you probably don’t have as sophisticated a data gathering operation as Amazon does, but you can still learn from their techniques and craft your emails based on the information you’ve already collected.
2. Visual components and branding
Email is an intensely visual medium, which means that the design of your newsletter is as important in some ways as the content.
Create a strong header and organized footer.
First and foremost is the header, which is typically the first thing the reader will see, setting the tone for the rest of your newsletter. It’s worth investing appropriate resources to get the header right, as consistency throughout your email newsletter experience is paramount.
Ideally, the header should compliment your brand’s visual style and engage the reader’s senses to encourage them to continue reading. It should always come across as polished and professional.
The design of the footer also plays a crucial role, as it wraps up the newsletter and provides helpful links such as social sharing buttons, contact information, or CTAs.
Many companies like to hide their unsubscribe links as discreetly as possible in the footer, but this is actually counterproductive. If someone actively wants to unsubscribe from your emails, you should usher them out the door, since they’re skewing your engagement data and probably won’t buy something anyways.
Provide alt text in every send.
Not to be overlooked is the importance of alt text in an email newsletter. If you’re not a person with visually impairment, or if you use a more progressive email client, you may forget that a lot of your recipients depend on alt text to form every email they receive.
Whether it’s because the user has images turned off from unknown senders or the email client formatted something differently, many times, images don’t appear as the sender intended. In these cases, alternative text (also known as alt text) appears in a box on the screen.
A best practice here would be to assign alt text to each image so that you supply email recipients with the information they need from your newsletter when your images fail to properly render. Here’s an example of what alt text looks like on blocked images.
3. Email schedule and cadence
Finding the optimal cadence (or frequency) for your email newsletters is often a delicate balance to maintain. You shouldn’t overwhelm your audience with an abundance of messages that have them searching for the unsubscribe link. But you also want to ensure that your brand remains a reliable and consistent presence in their inbox.
In most cases, a set schedule of either once every other week or once per month will deliver the ideal combination of saturation and anticipation. If you’re having trouble coming up with content to fill your newsletter on a regular basis, sending out one every two months or each quarter will still allow you to stay on your audience’s radar.
One way to make sure you hit the right stride is to test your way into the right cadence. Learn more about setting the right send cadence in this post. Just be mindful that these newsletter sends don’t unintentionally overlap with other marketing messages so that you minimize overwhelming your audience with excessive emails.
4. Compelling CTAs
When it comes to calls to action (CTAs) in email newsletters, you can use one simple principle to guide your strategy: Make it obvious what you want your reader to do next.
Don’t expect your recipient to do the legwork figuring out what action they need to take. They might be willing to do so—if they’re exceptionally motivated—but it’s not worth the risk.
The human brain is constantly trying to save energy, meaning it’s constantly and rapidly looking for patterns and concepts that hit immediately on what either provides thriving or prevents striving. As such, email recipients are quickly trying to determine if a message is important to them—and what to do about it if it is.
If it’s not immediately clear to a recipient how they should proceed to find out more, you may lose them in an instant. The good news is that you don’t have to overthink an effective CTA. Stick to a singular, prominent prompt, and place it in a spot where they can’t miss it.
5. Segmentation, list health, and subscriber re-activation
Curating several well-maintained groups or segments of subscribers for your ecommerce newsletters should be high on your list of marketing priorities.
Research indicates that segmented campaigns result in increased open rates, increased click-throughs, lower bounce rates, and fewer unsubscribes.
The results speak for themselves. And the secret to segmentation success is to carefully monitor your lists and use triggers (or automations) to maintain them over time.
This practice eventually leads you to maintaining a healthy list. It’s wise to periodically (and automatically if you have ability to set up the flow) reach out to inactive subscribers, try to get them to re-engage, and then unsubscribe them if they’re not showing interest.
This process of re-engagement and list cleaning is an important tactic for increasing the deliverability of your emails and engaging more readily with your active subscribers. At least once per year (preferably every six months), you should send an email to your inactive subscribers inviting them to respond.
For ecommerce brands, this is a great idea to bring them back with a promotion or discount. Pulling in personalization data, you can even send them a discount for a product similar to their last purchase to maximize enticement. Email marketing pros may also set up these re-engagement campaigns automatically, triggering per subscriber after a certain period of lacking activity.
Here’s an example from publisher and Campaign Monitor customer Digiday as they give two re-engagement opportunities to inactive subscribers.
6. HTML, plain text, and optimizing for both
HTML and plain text in email campaigns both have their benefits and drawbacks.
HTML allows for more creativity and provides unique avenues for engagement through imagery. However, it has to be coded perfectly in order for everything to format correctly.
Broken HTML tags can result in spam and deliverability issues. Meanwhile, plain text is more reliable in terms of deliverability, and it’s more forgiving in its formatting. However, if you rely only on plain text, you’ll be sacrificing a lot in terms of design.
The best advice is to optimize for both types of emails with your newsletters. Any time you send out an HTML email, test it several times in a variety of inbox clients to ensure that it’s properly coded and renders effectively across desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. Meanwhile, use any available tools to optimize a plain-text version along with the HTML content, so your audience will see a compelling and thoughtfully crafted newsletter, regardless of the email client they use.
Fortunately for many marketers, if you’re using a professional email platform, the templates they provide for you should be mobile and inbox optimized, so you can worry less about issues with designs rendering.
Nine common types of newsletter content
Every newsletter should have a distinct purpose. And it’s that purpose that prevents it from becoming just a collection of arbitrary information, potentially irrelevant to its recipients.
Well-constructed newsletters clearly communicate their value to the reader upfront, and they also contain an intelligible CTA that points toward a continued relationship with your brand.
Many times, this path leads to a sales conversion, but every email newsletter doesn’t necessarily need to have a conversion as the immediate desired outcome. Newsletters can inform, encourage participation in a survey, solicit product reviews, provide tips and tricks, and more.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are nine common types of content for email newsletters are.
1. Company updates
If your company has recently hit major growth milestones, signed a deal with an important new brand partner or product supplier, or won an industry award, then your email newsletter is a great place to tell your audience about your company news.
They’ll want to hear about your accomplishments and show their love, so give them things to share.
2. Product innovations
Email newsletters give you significantly more space to write in-depth primers on product innovations, in comparison to many other marketing channels. They’re very useful for generating excitement about upcoming products or new features, as well as giving the audience an insider’s look at the creative process behind the developments.
Don’t just make it about the sale. Give the subscriber insight into the thought behind the product, why it was made that way, and what makes it so unique—like this email from Mint.
3. Content round-ups
Not everything in your newsletter has to be unique. There’s nothing preventing you from including excerpts of recent blog posts or other content assets, as long as they provide value to the recipient.
You can even include curated content round-ups in a newsletter alongside original material specifically crafted for that email.
4. Survey invitations
Show your prospects and customers that you value their feedback by encouraging them to participate in surveys through your newsletters. When most people agree to share their thoughts, they generally anticipate seeing the results in order to compare their answers with the general population.
Use this as an opportunity to engage them further by following up with an analysis of the survey results when they’re available.
Here’s an example from Warby Parker. They dress their ask for customer feedback on wonderfully brand-centric messaging that’s enticing to read.
5. Giveaways and sweepstakes signups
People like to win things—even when it’s something they didn’t anticipate wanting. Promoting giveaways and sweepstakes through email newsletters is a powerful method for introducing interactivity into the relationship between customer and brand, thereby strengthening the connection between the two sides.
Also, when readers become accustomed to periodic giveaways from your company, they’ll be more likely to keep opening your emails on a consistent basis in hopes of seeing another chance to win.
6. Industry news
Depending on the type of products you sell, major developments in your industry could have ramifications on your customers’ lives.
By providing them with helpful summaries and links to relevant sources, you can use your email newsletter to keep them informed about news in your industry that affects them.
One reason for this is that you can specifically target customers who purchased a certain product and send them content about their order. Additionally, if people love the instructions, they may want to save that email in a folder or inbox, referring to it down the road (which means bonus points for your brand).
8. Letter from the CEO
Customers appreciate hearing from someone with an aura of authority, and the leader of your organization is the perfect candidate to keep them up to date on various successes and challenges, business goals, and stories involving interactions with customers and employees.
Correspondence from the CEO helps shoppers feel like they’re personally involved in the future of the company, and it offers another engaging way to stay connected with your audience—even outside of the typical sales journey.
9. Employee profiles
You can also include inspiring or interesting employee profiles in your newsletter, giving the audience a glimpse behind the brand and into the lives of the people that make your ecommerce store run.
Not only does this strategy provide readers with insider’s information that can help connect them emotionally to the brand, but it also gives you a chance to spotlight different members of your organization, some of whom are more behind the scenes and may never have the opportunity to be recognized by customers.
Extra secrets to newsletter success
It pays to go over your email newsletters with a fine-tooth comb. Here are five final tips to remember when you design your next email newsletter.
Secret 1—Sweat the details.
Check your content for proper formatting, proofread for grammatical errors, and make sure you don’t have any broken or incorrect links embedded in your email. There are fewer ways to lose credibility in the mind of your reader than by committing these mistakes that can easily be caught with a little patience.
Pro tip: Find stakeholders in your company that are willing to test every ecommerce newsletter with you. Which leads us to the next point.
Secret 2—Test, test, and test again.
Your customers are going to be opening and reading your emails on all kinds of devices, operating systems, and email clients. Before pulling the trigger on your newsletter campaign, send test emails of the finished product to yourself on as many different platforms as are feasible.
Make sure to hit all of the major options, such as Gmail (on multiple browsers, iOS, and Android mobile apps), Outlook, Apple mail, and Yahoo. You may be surprised how differently an email may render based on the platform a recipient is using, so take the time to fix any kinks before going live.
Secret 3—Request reciprocation.
One of the great advancements made possible by email newsletters is the ease with which the audience can respond. With direct mail newsletters, recipients could clip a coupon and go to the store or fill out a form and mail it in, but that was the most interaction possible.
Email newsletters give customers numerous opportunities to interact directly with your brand, so don’t be afraid to ask them to do something for you every once in a while. You can request product feedback in exchange for a special offer, or encourage them to participate in a contest where they have the chance to win a prize.
Secret 4—Apply autoresponders.
Autoresponders are another tool that’ll allow you to put powerful automation techniques to work in service of your greater goals.
While not part of a regular newsletter send, autoresponders are key when it comes to welcoming new subscribers to your list. The best subscriber experience is to provide some sort of confirmation that they got on your list successfully, including resources and links to get them started with products or tutorials.
Secret 5—Remember the significance of value.
As should be the case, it always comes back to delivering value to the subscriber. If your ecommerce newsletter content isn’t valuable to them in some way, then at best it’s ignorable, and at worst it’s annoying. In either case, this isn’t the kind of standard you want to set for your brand.
If you’re running up against the usual monthly deadline for sending out your newsletter and you just haven’t found the appropriate content to fill it, it’s perfectly fine to skip that month and start doing some research for the following interaction. You can work on other marketing strategies to engage with customers during this time.
In designing your next email newsletter, remember that every marketing send should be driven by value, instead of an arbitrary marketing requirement. Use each and every newsletter send to enhance the customer experience with your ecommerce brand.
Use the suggestions provided in earlier sections to redefine your approach to email newsletters. And to help you make the most out of your email newsletter campaigns — or to simply get started — try out CM Commerce, email marketing tools for ecommerce brands. You can learn more and sign up for free here.
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