So far we’ve established why you need a newsletter, how to go about creating one and the fact that you don’t want it to suck. Today we’re talking about what you should put in a newsletter (that doesn’t suck), as well as the things you shouldn’t include.

Now, your newsletter is an opportunity for you to connect with your community, make a great impression and hopefully connect with them on a deeper level. And the best part about it? You’ve already been invited because people have opted-in to receive your mailings. That’s the most difficult part. You’ve got access. Now you need to make the most of it by giving people something of value, so they invite you back. Here are 5 key things to put in your newsletter to ensure just that.

What to Put in a Newsletter - And What Not To! - ohksocialmedia

5 Things to put in a newsletter:

1. You. Your brand. And your bad ass content.

Be the very best that you can be here. This means personal, friendly, human and above all else, valuable. From the subject line to the header to the content to the footer, this should be seamlessly branded with fonts, colours and logos. It should also be jam-packed with content that not only highlights your website, social accounts and blog posts but also gives your subscribers a reason to keep reading.

The evaluation your audience makes as to whether or not to read your entire newsletter and get everything out of it that you intend (including encouraging click-throughs, engagement and sales) happens in literally seconds. Mere seconds. So make sure every section you put in a newsletter is relevant to your audience and in ways that speak to them.

Super awesome secret branding consult tip: To encourage people to read the campaign in its entirety, break up your newsletter into sections. We talked about establishing a layout last week – this not only makes it easier for you to create and curate content, but it also establishes expectations, trust and “scanability” for your audience.

Your Bad Ass Content Side Note:

Speaking of type of content, I’ve been asked by multiple clients if they should include more pictures or words in their newsletters. Simply put, it depends.

Both formats of content can provide your readership with added value. Sometimes a picture says more – and reflect themes, feelings and messages – better than any words ever could. Hence the proliferation of social platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and the integration of picture based content on Facebook and Twitter. EVERYONE likes a good photo or clever graphic.

That being said, what one person prefers will vary from another. I like simple, straightforward newsletters for sure. I receive Pat Flynn’s as well as Chris Brogan’s and Rob Hatch’s and they’re always simple text emails and toats awesome. But I incorporate a lot of pictures in my She Eats newsletter because I dig that too.

It’s really up to you as to whether you want to include pictures or no pictures. The key is in the added value you provide your audience with and the engagement you receive as a result. How you choose to do that is entirely up to you.

2. Other people. And their bad ass content.

Again, this is all about giving your audience added value that they won’t find anywhere else.

Think about industry leaders, up and comers and friends, peers or other people who might inspire or be relevant to your audience. Create a “Featured” section in your newsletter to share one specific person or article or whatever feels right to you and that your audience might be interested in. Added value? I think so.

Super awesome secret branding consult tip: When you share other people’s content – in the newsletter or anywhere else – let them know you’ve done so. Not with a “Hey! Check out my XYZ” (because that’s rude) but with a simple, thoughtful and personalized thank you email. Not only will this let them know that you exist, but it also fosters sharing and loyalty from them to you. And sharing and loyalty are the first 2 principles of generating new followers, getting more comments and making more sales.

3. Some kind of “call to action” invitation.

I know a lot of marketers say you should litter each and every area of your newsletter with calls to action. I say bullshit. Include one or two specific invites to do something (aka a call to action) and leave it at that. With newsletters, what you really want to do – what really sells and makes for an engaging and successful email campaign – is to give give give give give. Stop taking. Start giving. And then, when you’ve given all you can possibly give, ask for something small in return. A reply. A social share. A question. Something that doesn’t take a lot of work on the part of the subscriber but does prompt them to do something.

You only get what you ask for in this life, and if you ask too much, people start to feel resentful. Be specific and make it count.

4. Social sharing buttons and forward & your custom branded social icons.

Obviously. Do we really need to go over this at this point in the game?

Key take away: People won’t go out of their way to share your content or find you. But if you make it easy for them to do so, they’ll do it.

5. (Un)Subscribe information.

People sign up for a lot of shit. I do it. I’m sure you do too. Which is why it’s so super important to include in the footer:

  1. Specifically where they signed up (ie your website) and why;
  2. An unsubscribe button.

Nobody wants to get unsubscribers… But it happens. Give them a reminder about how they came to receive your newsletter in the first place and an easy way to stop it, and you’re less likely to get spam filtered or run into complaints.

5 Things not to put in a newsletter:

1. Sales pitches. Unless they’re really bloody amazing.

And even then, sparingly. I’m kind of beating this to death, but a newsletter is not a sales tool like a print ad or TV commercial is. It’s softer than that – more genuine, more authentic, more about news – not ads.

Can you imagine how you’d feel if you invited someone over for a box of wine and all they ever talked about was the next latest and greatest tool, service or program they ponzied up in? You’d likely stop inviting them for boxed wine. The same is true online. If you ask and take and ask and take without giving them a reason to trust you first, you’ll very quickly become the old slimy used-car salesman guy.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing your promotions or offering subscribers a special discount or incentive for being so, but don’t do it regularly, make sure it’s really worth their while and of course, ensure – and explain why – it’s really something of value for them.

In essence, make it about them, not about you.

Tweet: “Invest in your community & they’ll invest in you”Tweet:
Click to tweet!

2. Pop ups. They’re fucking annoying.

I don’t think you can actually put pop ups in your newsletters themselves, but you CAN put them on your website. Get rid of them. There’s nothing more annoying than when I click onto an article I think will be of interest to me and then the person who wrote it interrupts their content – and my online vibe – with a fucking pop up. 9 times out of 10, I click away.

There are plenty of online conversion tools to guide people to sign up for your website that don’t demand something from me before I’ve had an opportunity to fall in love with your content and great brilliance.

Even the original creator of the pop admits it’s a mistake. And has apologized.

Super incredible & valuable social, blog and life tip: Never – ever – ask for something without giving back first. This is true for sharing your blog posts, your newest seminar and/or your amazing new product line. Nobody cares. Invest in your community and they will invest in you.

POPUPS REVISED: A year ago I equated pop ups with the internet anti-christ. I may have been a teensy bit overzealous. In fact, you may or may not have noticed, I’ve since employed a few very non-invasive pop ups around here. Pop ups are not terrible. But please please PLEASE make sure they’re timed in ways that give people an opportunity to read your content before you inundate them with requests to sign up AND that they’re easily click off-able on mobile. There’s nothing worse than getting a pop up on a cell phone or tablet and not being able to get out. It makes your readers feel like this guy.

3. People who haven’t opted in.

Again, this falls into the rude, interrupting camp. We don’t have to dig too deep into this one. It’s illegal. It’s wrong. And it’s simply poor taste. You’re better than that. Take time to grow your list organically and honestly and you’ll see much more success (and end up in way more in-boxes) than if you fake it.

Don’t be that person.

4. Porn. Unless that’s your industry. And then definitely include some of that.

5. Speling and gramar mystakes or poor, sentence, structure;

If I had a penny for every time I read content where the person didn’t even bother to spell check or re-read their post… I’d have a shit ton of copper and be dead broke; The Canadian penny has been retired. But the point is, it happens. And often. One of the most important ways to show your audience that you care about them, is to speak eloquently. And because we can’t actually speak through our computer screens in a newsletter, what you type becomes incredibly important.

Create. Curate. Write. Edit. ….Walk away…. Come back, read it aloud, edit once more and then – and only then – send.

Next week in our 4 week series on starting a newsletter that doesn’t suck, how to get more sign ups, responses and return on your newsletter. I’ll also be including a free downloadable so you can start moving on this and get everything up, running and truly spectacular (kinda like you!) within the next couple of weeks. Savvy?

What do you put in a newsletter? What do you NOT put in one? What aren’t you sure of? Did I miss anything?  What’s the scariest thing about starting your newsletter? The most exciting?

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32 Comments on What You Should Put in a Newsletter that Doesn’t Suck (And What Not To)

  1. Amy Elizabeth
    August 19, 2014 at 3:44 pm (3 years ago)

    Couldn’t agree with you more. My personal pet peeve is grammar – if I see so much as a misplaced apostrophe, a business loses like 90% of its credibility in my eyes. Of course, I’m a freelance writer and junior editor so I think I notice more than most people would. (Their, there and they’re though – SERIOUSLY PEOPLE, GET IT RIGHT!) 😉
    Amy Elizabeth recently posted…7 Tips for Successful Home PartiesMy Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm (3 years ago)

      I know, right?! I know I sometimes use bad punctuation to. make. a. point. (see what I did there?) 😉

      …But obvious laziness and repeated offenses quickly put a brand from awesome to possum (which isn’t awesome). I mean, really? Is someone SO busy they couldn’t even take time to read something after they wrote it? Like you, I’m an editor and stickler for great punctuation so I’m probably pickier than most. But seriously.

      PS. hahahahahaha… There’s an episode of Friends where Rachel and Ross break up and he has a cow about how she spells “your”… “Y-O-U-R-E” spells you are. Y-O-U-R SPELLS YOUR” hahahahahaha… love it.

  2. Arleen
    August 19, 2014 at 5:02 pm (3 years ago)

    I have to say this post got my attention. Your points are well taken and I must, that is one thing I have forgotten to put on my website of which after I write this post will let my designer know. The most important point to me is what is audience added value. Yes you do not want to do a sales pitch however many people will sign up because they want know what is new. I sell promotional products so I think it is hard to get away from some kind of a sales pitch

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 19, 2014 at 5:12 pm (3 years ago)

      Oh thank you Arleen! I appreciate your kind words about my post and your insights 🙂

      I totally agree that people sign up to find out what is new. I think the key is framing those services or products in ways that benefit THEM. I sell services. That’s what I do – blog design, graphic design and social media “stuff”. But it doesn’t mean that every mailing I send out is about that specifically. Or directly calls them to buy buy buy. Instead, I frame it in a conversational way that allows them to make the choice instead of me demanding them “buy my latest XYZ”. Ya know? I hope that makes sense.

      People buy from people they trust – give them a reason to know and trust you and the sales will follow.

  3. Jacqueline Gum
    August 19, 2014 at 5:09 pm (3 years ago)

    Thanks for calling attention to those”fucking pop-ups.” They are beyond annoying and so are the side bar thingees that keep blocking my view that I can’t shut off! And I also agree with all of these tips!!! Excellent:)
    Jacqueline Gum recently posted…Hope…Where’s The Justice?My Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 19, 2014 at 5:13 pm (3 years ago)

      HAHAHAHAHA… Happy to do so Jacqueline! Honestly, that’s my exact wording when one rudely interrupts me. And it’s the last thing I say or do before I click right off their site. I agree about the sidebar stuff too – let me shut it off or shut up. haha!

  4. Donna Janke
    August 19, 2014 at 5:58 pm (3 years ago)

    I am annoyed by pop-ups and spelling and grammar mistakes. I think including people who haven’t opted in is illegal in Canada.

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 20, 2014 at 11:06 am (3 years ago)

      It absolutely is Donna! There’s new legislation too that just came in that makes it even more so. If something can be more illegal than it already was 😉

  5. Niekka McDonald
    August 19, 2014 at 7:26 pm (3 years ago)

    This is right on time as I am thinking about putting together a newsletter. I will be going back and reading the two previous post to this series. Let me just say the profanity made me happy lmao! Side note: thank you for the comment you left on my post, it made my day 🙂
    Niekka McDonald recently posted…No Need to StressMy Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 20, 2014 at 11:07 am (3 years ago)

      More welcome Niekka!! I’m so happy to be a part of your community 🙂

      PS. Also stoked that you don’t mind the cursing. I figure, why sugar coat things? I write like I speak. Which is a lot like a sailor 😉

      PPS. Good luck with your newsletter!! I can’t wait to see what you do. Shoot me an email if you wanna chat about it: kristy@ohksocial.com

  6. maxwell ivey
    August 19, 2014 at 8:53 pm (3 years ago)

    Hi; I just signed up for an auto responder so I can send out emails for my new site the blind blogger. So, finding this was perfect timing. I’ve noticed that a lot of the emails I get include some personal stories or short anecdotes from their day or weekend. thanks for sharing, Max
    maxwell ivey recently posted…List building without realizing it and getting an auto responderMy Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 20, 2014 at 11:09 am (3 years ago)

      Absolutely Maxwell! Those are always the best parts of doing a newsletter (with or without an autoresponder) – the anecdotes and stories from readers. Not only are they hidden gems for new articles, but those connections are what makes it all worthwhile.

      PS. An autoresponder is an excellent thing to have. Nicely done!

  7. Catarina
    August 20, 2014 at 9:31 am (3 years ago)

    Am delighted that you mention what a turn-off pop-ups are. Personally leave a site immediately when they use them. By the way, did you read this week that the guy who invented the pop-ups apologized for inventing them.

    To immediately get a pop-up to click to be contacted by the company that runs a site may be the worst way of using a pop-up. When you click in you haven’t yet made up your mind about the site and what the company offers.
    Catarina recently posted…Be yourself – instead of – parrotingMy Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 20, 2014 at 11:11 am (3 years ago)

      HA! Really Catarina??? I didn’t know that! I’m going to look that article up!

      I absolutely agree – if I can’t even get into a site without hitting a pop up, I’m out. How rude is it to demand something of someone before you even say hello?? Could you imagine if someone did that in real life?

      …”Hey Sally – this is George. George, Sally”
      “Hi Sally. How are you today?”
      “Buy my PRODUCT!”
      “uuuhhhhhh….. awkward”.

      Right?

      PS. The apology is about due. Now everyone who has them on their sites can do the same. And then take them down. Please. haha.

  8. Susan Cooper
    August 20, 2014 at 12:33 pm (3 years ago)

    I’ve not yet starting doing newsletters. I have done them in the past in the corporate world. That said, your post did get my attention. When I do start doing newsletters, I will heed your points. Adding value and avoiding sales pitches when I do one is an obvious. That will be an especially important to remember when I create and launch my drawing tutorial products. 🙂
    Susan Cooper recently posted…Milk Can Lesson: #StoryMy Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 21, 2014 at 10:03 am (3 years ago)

      Hi Susan!

      Thanks so much for stopping by to comment on my post 🙂 It’s great to see you!

      I know – a newsletter is something that we all think about, but some of us are a little slow to pick up the ball. I know I was. I was like “but I write so much content already!” haha… I ended up cutting back to one blog post a week here and taking time to craft a great newsletter every other week in addition. It’s a lot but it’s well worth it 🙂

      Thanks again! Good luck when you start one! Can’t wait to see what you do with the drawing tutorials.

  9. William Rusho
    August 20, 2014 at 3:59 pm (3 years ago)

    This is so apropos, I am putting a newsletter together now. Your article is so informative, and I know I will use the suggestions in it.

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 21, 2014 at 10:04 am (3 years ago)

      Oh thanks William!! I appreciate you and your kind words. Good luck with your newsletter!

  10. Meredith Wouters
    August 20, 2014 at 7:35 pm (3 years ago)

    Wow, this is a lot of really great information. I’m in the process of revamping my autoresponder/newsletter, so I’m going back to find your first two segments, and already looking forward to the fourth!
    Meredith Wouters recently posted…Trend Alert: Block Printing is Cool AgainMy Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 21, 2014 at 10:05 am (3 years ago)

      Hi Meredith!

      Revamping a newsletter (or anything) is always so exciting! And nerve wracking. I’m sure it’ll be amazing 🙂 See you next week and thank you for reading the other articles in the series!!

  11. Jeannette Paladino
    August 21, 2014 at 12:18 am (3 years ago)

    Kristy — I get your point about pop-ups. They are annoying — but they work. I don’t have one on my site. But complaining about pop-ups is like complaining about all the direct mail you receive. “Why do they keep sending this junk when no one reads it?” Yeah — 98 to 100% may not read it but the other 2 percent do and that’s enough to make money. So pop-ups are like anything else you try. If they work, use them, if you don’t, ditch them.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…Why Don’t People Show More Gratitude?My Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 21, 2014 at 10:09 am (3 years ago)

      Great points Jeannette 🙂 They can definitely work. I guess there are two different camps when it comes to making sales online. I’m sure there are more but a lot of the people I’ve met fall into one of these 2:

      1. Immediate cash and quick term payoffs
      2. Nurtured relationships that pay less in the beginning but more in the long term.

      My major beef with pop ups is that they don’t take the audience into consideration. I obviously fall into camp numero dos – my reader’s comfort, ability to absorb my content on their own time, etc… is much more important to me than getting the quick money. Not only do I get to know the people who come to my site and elect to subscribe to my newsletter or follow my social accounts, but I also get long term, return clients who value that I value them.

      I think you’re totally right – 2% of the readership will read and buy with pop ups. I’m more interested in the other 98% and fostering business relationships with other people who do too. Just a difference of philosophy 🙂

      Thank you again for your great point!

  12. Jeri
    August 21, 2014 at 12:55 am (3 years ago)

    I just got done writing my 12th newsletter today… I’m getting closer to an effective one, but if often feels like I’m taking a shot in the dark. Hence I guess I better go back and take a look at the rest of the posts in this series 😉
    Jeri recently posted…#PubTip: Publishing Fact and Fiction (PNWA 2014)My Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 21, 2014 at 10:10 am (3 years ago)

      haha thanks Jeri! 12 newsletter is awesome! How often are you sending them??

  13. Beth Niebuhr
    August 21, 2014 at 9:17 am (3 years ago)

    It is so important to make the newsletter about what your reader wants and needs rather than about yourself all the time. That and the big mistake of making grammatical and spelling errors. If you can’t spot them, hire a proofreader.
    Beth Niebuhr recently posted…3 Simple Ways to Improve Your ProductivityMy Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 21, 2014 at 10:12 am (3 years ago)

      Beth that’s an excellent point! I think too often – especially with something as intangible as online “stuff” – we try to DIY when we have no idea what we’re doing. I’m one of them. I love to do everything myself but there are simply just some things I am not good at. Knowing how and when to delegate these things is a key aspect of being a good leader and a great business person. Hire someone to help you if you need it – especially when it comes to spelling and grammatical errors 😉

      Thank you for taking the time to comment! It’s really valuable and I appreciate you!

  14. Christine | The Traveloguer
    August 22, 2014 at 9:33 am (3 years ago)

    This is really useful, thanks for sharing. I will be coming back to this when I do a newsletter. I really like the what not to do parts! 🙂
    Christine | The Traveloguer recently posted…The Beauty of a Buffalo MomoMy Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 27, 2014 at 9:25 am (3 years ago)

      Thank YOU for taking the time to let me know what you think Christine! I look forward to seeing you around more 🙂

  15. Pamela Heady
    August 26, 2014 at 1:29 pm (3 years ago)

    I wish more people would follow your suggestion about breaking content up in to sections…even in just a blog. I have an immediate intimidation or turn-off to seeing a blog (or other something I’m reading) that is one long giant paragraph as opposed to one that is divided. Excellent, to-the-point advice I hope more people will take!
    Pamela Heady recently posted…My New Gadget: The Vegetable SlicerMy Profile

    • Kristy Gardner
      August 27, 2014 at 9:26 am (3 years ago)

      Totally agree Pamela!!! People sometimes don’t realize how daunting a giant 1000 word post can be for people. But if they just break it up with headings, images or even simple paragraphs, makes it much more digestible.

      Thanks so much for commenting! It’s great to see you!

  16. Melanie
    January 17, 2016 at 4:15 pm (1 year ago)

    Ironically, you wrote “principals” when it should be “principles”.