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Effective Email Newsletters


An email newsletter is a great way to stay in touch with existing customers, as well as being a vehicle for generating revenue. At its most simple, it is a block of text, with some pointers to updated information. At its most complex, it is a web site in an envelope, pushed out over the internet to recipients expected to treat it as an extension of the parent site.

Finding the right balance between editorial content, advertising, hard sell, and customer communication has been made even more difficult by the addition of email filters by most large providers. In the end, though, if it offers something of value, it is more likely to be read, than if it contains one long advertising letter.

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What's a Newsletter For?

Determining the purpose of the newsletter is the first step. All newsletters are good communication methods. Sometimes, however, the message might not get through because it is:

  • The wrong message
  • The wrong packaging of the right message
  • Imprecise and ambiguous

If the newsletter is designed to drive sales, then the tone needs to match that purpose. If the newsletter is designed to get visitors back to the site, then they need only to have references to the information, and a reason to come back to the site.

A newsletter that tries to sell, attract, and inform is too imprecise, and the user is left with too many options. Each newsletter needs to have one call to action, and one only. Not a multiple choice of possible actions; left in this situation, the reader is likely to do none of them, and go and get a cup of coffee instead.

Types of Sales

Just because a newsletter is not aimed at generating direct sales, it does not mean that it can not generate revenue. Put another way, there are enough sources of revenue that a newsletter can make money without the reader needing to actually buy anything.

This is not a new concept. Most magazines in the real world generate income for the publisher by virtue of the advertising contained within them. In fact, the end reader has also paid to be advertised to, in purchasing the magazine, so the publisher earns twice! Email newsletters subscribe to the same mechanism.

There are three ways to make money from the newsletter:

  • Affiliate sales (third party product referrals)
  • Direct sales (products sold through the newsletter)
  • Advertising revenue

So, if the main purpose of the newsletter is to inform, then the possibility to make money through advertising sales should not be ignored. Similarly, if the newsletter is a revenue generating concern, the user needs to be presented with a single call to action – to buy directly, or through an affiliate – but they can still be advertised to, as well.

Types of Content

The fact that there are many kinds of newsletter, coupled with different ways to generate revenue, means that we can identify several kinds of content:

  • Editorial
  • Product / site update
  • Back-end sales referral
  • Direct selling

At first glance, one might assume that back-end sales referral and direct selling are the same thing. However, there is a slight difference in the content approach. In the back-end referral, we are using our position of trust to recommend a third party product, whilst in the direct sale, we are leveraging our experience to sell a product to the customer directly.

The first just has to get them interested, the second has to get them to buy.

Editorial content is purely informational. It may be designed to trigger a response, in which the call to action is supplied by a product referral, or direct sales message, but the content is there for interest only.

Finally, product or site updates exist to drive the customer back to the web site. This may be a result of a request to be kept informed (like the update service), or it may be an assumption on the part of the site owner. Either way, the call to action is to visit the site, and only this single possibility should remain in their mind.


To pull off an affective email newsletter, the goals need to be clear. Is it designed to inform and sell products through the realisation that a product exists to solve a problem that the customer was not previously aware of, or is it a vehicle to highlight product updates to draw the customer back to the site?

The answer will largely depend on the type of customer and product. If the client base is not used to hard selling, then creating a one-shot email advertisement will probably feel more like a violation of their privacy than an attempt to connect with them.

Similarly, sending a soft informational newsletter to clients in the direct selling industry will probably not result in many sales. They're just not used to being informed, they need to be sold to, because that is what they spend most of their entrepreneurial time doing.

Other factors, such as circulation figures, will also need to be included in the newsletter design process. Large circulation newsletters, with high information content, and good editorial will be a prime target for high quality (high paying) advertisers. Lower editorial, small circulation newsletters would be better to concentrate on affiliate sales and back-end sales to generate revenue.

Further reading on email marketing

Effective Email Marketing Tips