Email Newsletters – lessons learned

By Herb

MarketingSherpa published an interesting case study on what the National Association of Realtors (NAR) learned from a recent email newsletter redesign. With 1.3 million members the NAR is the largest trade association in the world. The objective was to design a newsletter that the sales-people that make up this group would actually read.

Some of the ideas that resonated with the readers:
– Focus on advice and helpful tips, limited “news” items
– Spotlight one available handout per issue
– Provide handy, printable checklists
– An “ask the expert” column with a very tactical answer to one specific and common question

Some additional insights:

Each article summary (roughly five lines of 60 characters each including spaces), is carefully copywritten to (a) show immediate value by giving a useful tidbit of information up front and (b) compel a click by sounding incredibly enticing.

Loaded with the word “you”, often summaries start with a head-nodding question (example: “Would you like to close more listing appointments?”) Or they use action verbs, “Calculate what your time is worth per hour…” Sentences are kept short for easy scanning.

The copywriters also avoid saying “article.” Instead, content might be described as “Advice,” “Ideas,” “Tips,” “Answers,” “Steps,” etc.

Finally, an interesting sidelight to this study was that the ad with the best click-through rate of all time occured in the May 2006 issue.

Some observations:
– The ad is in a preview pane hotspot and right above the first article where the reader goes for “real” content
– The ad is text in the same style and format of the articles appearing below it
– While the ad is clealy labelled the wording is modeled after the newsletter and article themes (Business Tips)
– The link is at the end of the ad – again like the articles below. Also links near white space are easier to click then those surrounded by text.

Given the size of the readership and the results, these may be good rules of thumb to keep in mind when placing ads in newsletters.