How to Create Email “Newsletters” That Convert

Guest Author

Is there any less sexy word in the English language than “newsletter”? Maybe “fermented”. Or “phlegm”.
I digress.

Apart from their silly name, the reason newsletters get a bad rap is because they automatically assume that readers WANT a bunch of news about a brand. Usually, newsletters are a jumble of random content links, company press releases, and products for sale. They’re disorganized. And they don’t even begin to consider what might actually be relevant and/or useful to their readers.

This should not be how you describe your email strategy.

Phew. Now that that’s off my chest, let’s look at a few ways to create BETTER letters — emails that are less about sharing news, and more about driving conversions$$$.

No “blasting” allowed

I’m not the first to say this, but clearly it still needs to be said: the very idea that you would “blast” your customers (you know, the people who keep you in business) needs to be taken out behind the barn.

If you’re blasting, you’re not segmenting your list and promptly targeting each segment with relevant content. And though you should always segment, you CAN write an email to your entire list without blasting. You just need to keep your ideal customer in mind, and write for that person.

Case in point: Buzzfeed has a newsletter called “This Week In Cats”.

Image via Really Good Emails
Everyone who signs up for this email receives it. There’s no segmentation.

And yet it’s still incredibly relevant, because it’s not trying to be everything to everyone — it’s being exactly what it is, and attracting the people who LOVE that.

Popeye had it right.

See what I’m getting at?

How this approach helps you make more sales

When you stop aiming for everyone and start aiming for one ideal reader, you’ll build more numerous and more genuine connections with readers who fit that ideal. And that connection goes both ways. Readers who feel like your store is the perfect fit for them are much more likely to buy from you.

Break free of the blurb


There’s no way to tackle the newsletter discussion without touching on design. We’ve been indoctrinated into the idea that newsletters must include multiple sections, blurbs, and columns.

It’s true that designed well, a combination of headlines and short blurbs can absolutely help readers parse your email more easily. Design elements like color and white space make it easy to distinguish between different sections.

Penguin’s “Flipper” newsletter does this beautifully:


Image via Really Good Emails

But unfortunately, not everyone has Flipper’s sensibilities — and the prevailing idea that “everything we’ve done this week/month/year needs to be in this email” means that most newsletters are crowded, unfocused, and hard to visually navigate.

There are two ways to get around this problem. First, you can send a newsletter with a single focus instead of multiple sections. The bonus here is that if lacking a gorgeous, design-y template with multiple sections has been preventing you from regularly emailing your list, now you can let that limitation go.

You don’t need fancy design to convert. You just need an email that’s easy to read.

Eve, an online mattress company, sends a simple, lovely email with bare-bones design. While the overall effect comes across as upscale and unified, look a little closer and you’ll see the design is just text, buttons, and a couple of images — brought together by a warm, cheerful yellow.


Image via Really Good Emails

The second option is to continue sending newsletters with multiple sections, but allow simple preset formatting options to define your sections. Headers, bolding, links, and line breaks are all you need.

Here’s how Product Design Weekly does it:


Image via Really Good Emails
Sure, this email has a header image and background color, but its different sections are

plainly and clearly outlined with formatting changes.

How this approach helps you make more sales

When you focus on your email content more than its presentation, you put more effort into sending your readers real value. Plus, you get out of your own way — which lets your (now highly improved) content shine. And where there’s shine, there are sales.

Focus on sending to active customers

In the perfect world I inhabit, you’ve all done the segmentation I mentioned earlier. You’ve defined your active customers (often, this means customers who have bought from you within the last 30 days), and you’re addressing them with different messages than you’re sending to inactive or lapsed customers.

Music to my marketing ears!

In a nutshell, you should be sending “newsletters” to active customers, and sending winback emails to your inactive buyers.

How this approach helps you make more sales

Winning back lapsed customers might be an uphill battle, but keeping in touch with recent customers is a cakewalk (#mixedmetaphors). Sending regular emails keeps you top of mind with folks who have bought from you recently, so your store is right there when they need you.

I generally recommend leaving inactive or lapsed customers off your newsletter sends. Why? Because if these inactive/at-risk customers are already enrolled in your winback emails, you run the risk of sending them too many (or simply irrelevant) emails. Better to let your winback sequence work its magic, and reward returning customers with newsletters once they’ve demonstrated they still want to hear from you.

This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, though. Sometimes it still makes sense to send your very best newsletters to inactive customers (say, once every couple of months) — because a great newsletter might just re-engage those readers.

Don’t just showcase products…

Yep, emails are a great opportunity to sell, and you’re probably already spotlighting your products in your regular emails.

Instead of simply including product thumbnails and links, though, put your products in context. Explain how they’re made, what makes them special, and why they’re different from competing products.

Red Rooster Coffee includes detailed descriptions of each coffee it highlights, helping readers decide which might suit them best:


Image via Really Good Emails

Meanwhile, Girlfriend invites the reader to learn more about how its products are made, because the brand knows its readers care about sustainability and fair trade practices.


How this approach helps you make more sales

Adding context and background to your products helps move your marketing message from “Buy buy buy” to “Buy, and here’s why”. Your goal is to create understanding, familiarity, and appreciation in your readers — and those good feelings go a long way toward driving conversions.

Be human

Here’s an idea: Since your products aren’t made and sold in a vacuum, introduce the people who work with you to put a face on your business. You can also highlight how customers are wearing or using your products.

Shipt highlights two customers in this email:


Image via Really Good Emails


How this approach helps you make more sales

Brace yourself… a cliche is coming!

Everything’s coming!

“People don’t buy from brands. They buy from people.” Ever heard that old chestnut? As tired as it is, it’s rooted in truth. When your customers see behind the scenes to your store’s very human owners and employees, and see themselves reflected in your values, they can more easily identify and align themselves with you.

Another way to be more human in your emails? If you happen to make a mistake, admit it and turn it to your advantage — like Fab did with this timely, adorable “Oops” email:


Image via Pinterest

Dive right in… or don’t

Instead of trying to summarize everything your email contains before getting to the meat of your content, just launch right in!

99U starts in medias res with the newsletter below, giving one of its features top billing:

Image via Really Good Emails

How this approach helps you make more sales

Every line in your email is an opportunity to convince your reader to keep reading. But the opposite is also true: any unnecessary copy increases the risk that you’ll lose your reader.

By ditching cumbersome introductions that attempt to slap a theme on a collection of disparate features, you’ll make it easier for readers to get to the content that matters.

If you DO want to include copy introducing each newsletter, go the “personal note” route. Include a casual, personal note at the top of your email that makes it feel like you’re talking directly to your subscribers.

The Lazy NBA does it well:


Image via Really Good Emails

Share useful information

You can’t get more value-based than style tips, life hacks, and aspirational ideas. If readers find just ONE thing in your email useful, they’ll stay on your list.

Dot & Bo sends emails to educate subscribers about design and architecture principles:


Image via Really Good Emails
And Quip offers a handy tip for minimizing dental damage from sugar:

Image via Really Good Emails

How this approach helps you make more sales

When readers get just one single helpful nugget of information from your email, their brains check off a little box that says “This is useful. Keep it around.”

Over time, the more useful information you provide, the more trust you’ll build with each reader — so when you go for the sale, you’ll have to do less persuading.

Are your newsletters converting?

If they’re not (yet), grab a few of the tips from this list and go to town. Don’t forget the most important tip in any copywriting project: you’re writing to your ideal reader.

Want to learn more about the ins and outs of writing and designing successful newsletters? Grab the free ebook below: