Marketing with email newsletters

What is it?

An effective email newsletter is a personalised email sent to your prospects and clients. The personalisation may be discreet (but not completely invisible) in that the links within the newsletter may be tagged so that you can see if a particular individual responded to your marketing campaign.

Why do it?

Usually to generate traffic on your website, but it could also be a vehicle for encouraging a direct sale all by itself, be part of a viral marketing campaign. Another possibility is to stay in the eye of a prospect by offering something (usually advice or information) for free on a routine basis - the idea being that if you offer worthwhile advice, your reputation for expertise in your field will grow, putting you ahead of the competition.

When is it a good idea?

When you have something to say on a regular basis. Getting a good system set up requires a fair bit of effort and expense which will be wasted if you only manage a single newsletter.

Legal issues

We are not lawyers, so you may want to seek professional advice before sending out your email campaign.

There are regulations concerning bulk email newsletters covered in the The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.

Amongst other things, this directive extends controls on unsolicited direct marketing to all forms of electronic communications including unsolicited commercial e-mail (UCE or Spam) and SMS to mobile telephones; UCE and SMS will be subject to a prior consent requirement, so the receiver is required to agree to it in advance, except in the context of an existing customer relationship, where companies may continue to email or SMS to market their own similar products on an 'opt-out' basis.

Our interpretation of this is that if you've done business with someone, you can continue to email them subject to providing the facility to opt out. If you haven't done business with someone (ie a prospect, not a customer), then you have to get their consent to email them in the first place. This isn't necessarily a hard thing to implement - all you have to have is a 'newsletter' box on your web page that collects their email address. By clicking the button to add their name to the list, you've got their consent.

What the regulations do mean is that some newsletter management services (particularly US services) may not be compliant with UK and EU regulations.

However, like we said earlier, you should seek professional advice if you have any concerns.

Nuts and bolts

Before you start considering your email campaign, think about what annoys you about newsletters you receive: too long, no real news, too frequent, too garish, too confusing, no means of unsubscribing, etc. Your starting point is not to annoy the recipient.

One-off steps

  • Create the design template - even if it's basically text, ideally it should be consistent with your existing web pages
  • Prepare your database - sort, cleanse
  • Transfer the data to the newsletter mailing system

The mailout process

The steps are:

  • collect assets - copy, images
  • prepare content - usually in a word processor like Word
  • create content pages - it's good practice to have copies of the stories as website pages
  • send newsletters (as emails)
  • track website activity (ie who has visited the website as a result of the email)

This last item requires that the web server has a database either to log visitors and/or manage unsubscribe requests. Since the web database is the one being updated, there has to be a route back to your (local) database and a means of integrating it. One thing to remember is that the web database is not keeping office hours, it's going all the time.

Although this requirement does add to the expense, the same database could make it a proper 'round trip' for you in that you should be able to track individual responses to newsletters.

After it's gone

All being well you should see an increase in website traffic. You will probably also get a number of unsubscription requests which will require your local database (if that's how you've done it) to be updated. Failing to update unsubscription requests could get you branded as a spammer by one of the anti-spam organisations eg though their major concern is bulk spammers (hundreds of thousands per day).


Buying lists of recipients

Be very careful. It can sound like a good idea but it will backfire royally if you overdo emails to one organisation. Recipients frequently have more than one email address and when they find three of the same email in their inbox they might be more than tempted to drag this to their spam bin. If their spam bin is connected to a central spam bin, then you might find yourself marked down as a spammer. This is a hard place to get out of.


In order to be able to begin you need the following resources:

  • An email address list, ideally with the recipient's first and last names
  • 'Stories'
  • Some kind of design template

and optionally:

  • images
  • categorisation of the recipients - allowing personalisation of content to ensure it's relevant to a particular individual

Correct identification

Make sure that your newsletter's subject line cannot be confused with spam. We've had emails through with subjects like Congratulations, Hi! and Website.

Equally, the sender must be 'realistic' and not Sales or Administrator. The best thing is to be able to identify your organisation name from the sender (eg My Company newsletter) rather than an email address (


Keep it short and sweet. Get your key points across and then direct them to the long version on your website. Which of course means that there must be a long version on your website. Establish a house style, probably chattier than your usual website pages.

You can add in other standard marketing techniques like coupons - but remember to put in a redemption date limit.

Perhaps consider something engaging to add to the bottom - to ensure they get there. We've seen jokes/humour used in this way (though the quality is sometimes questionable) and a sudoku has been suggested...

Creating the newsletter

The newsletter service provider should have tools to help you create the content. If you find that the test email is somewhat spangled in appearance, it may be that you have hit the sad-but-true email client problem. Many email clients are horribly out of date with their rendering of 'pretty' emails (Gmail was the worst). To get around this newsletters have to be coded using HTML tables to bring some semblance of order back into them. Web designers hate going back to using table-based coding so you may meet some resistance. As older hardware and software goes out of fashion, this should be less of a problem.

Your marketing decision is to try and estimate how much of your audience will be using older kit with older software. If it's significant, your designer will have to use HTML tables.


HTML - ie pretty, not plain text in a Courier font - newsletters will almost certainly get your message across better. However, not all email clients can read them, so you need to provide a link back to your website at the top of your email to make sure that these folk get to see it.

Make sure that your newsletter works without the images being downloaded. On many email clients (eg Outlook) external images are blocked by default unless the sender (ie you) is trusted. If the recipient can't make head or tail of your newsletter, they will take about 50 milliseconds to decide that it's binnable.