Do You Commit These Seven Deadly Newsletter Sins? Part I

    August 1, 2003

Why do you publish a newsletter? Is it to inform, delight, and educate readers? Then you’re halfway to newsletter success. But there are still pitfalls to be aware of. In part one, we’ll cover the deadliest of them all: lack of subscribe functionality, bad design, and being boring.

Thou shalt not keep subscribers on thy list against their will. How you handle unsubscribe requests is absolutely crucial to your newsletter’s success and your company’s reputation. Lately, it seems I can’t get off anybody’s list anymore.

Now, I’m not talking about lists that are obviously spam that only include an unsubscribe link because the rule of writing spam is that you absolutely must be as annoying as possible. Rather, my inbox lately has been filled with genuine newsletters for which the unsubscribe simply isn’t working.

One newsletter I received recently contained a link (much like the one at the very bottom of this issue) that was supposed to be personalized with my email address. Rather it looked something like this: I have a sneaking suspicion that all of the newsletters went out with the same email address. I hope Paul doesn’t mind being unsubscribed a dozen times!

Of course, problems happen with email systems. And there will be times when links are broken or incorrect.

So, it’s not so much a perfect subscribe and unsubscribe process that’s crucial (though that’s nice), but rather a genuine, real person readers can write to when they run into problems. For Newsletters in Focus, that’s me–if you have trouble with the unsubscribe process, just send me an email and I’ll get it taken care of. (It doesn’t have to be the company’s president–I just like knowing with absolute confidence that it’s been handled.)

Repeat after me: “We will let subscribers unsubscribe. We will even help them if need be.” (And, remember, people who don’t want to be on your list anymore, for whatever reason, aren’t likely to be your target audience anyway.)

Thou shalt not deliver painful-to-look-at pieces. Huge pet peeve: HTML email newsletters with solid yellow backgrounds and red text. Really, who thinks that’s a good idea for a color scheme?

If you can’t or aren’t going to hire a professional designer, stick to plain text. No matter what everyone says, you don’t *have* to offer an HTML version. In fact, if it’s going to be poorly designed, badly coded, or enormous in size, it’s better for your reputation if you don’t bother.

Sure, HTML, when done right, is great. It’s easier to read, tends to have higher click-thrus and conversion rates, and makes your company look like they keep up with the times. But, when it’s done wrong, it’s impossible to read and makes your company look like they don’t care about the times.

Study after study has demonstrated that people evaluate a website’s credibility based on the design. What makes you think your newsletter’s any different?

Want some basic rules to follow when designing your newsletter? Start with a white body, black text, add a dash of color (beginners should stick with one accent color), and maybe a graphic or two. Unless you’re experienced with design, simple really is best.

Repeat after me: “We publish at the pleasure of our readers. We don’t want to cause them pain.”

Thou shalt not be boring. A few days ago, I received an email from a reader that made me want to turn off the computer, lock up the office, and go home and back to bed. It was, well, pretty vicious.

Instead of closing up the office for the day, I forwarded it to one of my colleagues, asked him if I could tell the reader off (he kindly gave me permission), and then wrote the reader a quick “Thanks so much for your feedback. It really does help us improve the newsletter,” email (that was a little less generic). Sure, it bothered me a little the rest of the day–but now that I’ve deleted it, I’ve completely forgotten what it said.

The first time you get a nasty email from a reader, you may be tempted to stop publishing an authentic newsletter– better to stick with safe topics and viewpoints, right? Absolutely not. There are hundreds of thousands of email newsletters out there. And you can bet other publishers cover the same topics you do. All that separates your newsletter from others is you (and your team).

Chances are, for every one negative email you get, there are at least two or three readers who genuinely appreciate your newsletter. Even if they don’t write and tell you.

When you’re too concerned with how something might be interpreted, anything you do write will be essentially worthless to readers–they don’t need to read more generic, widely accepted advice. Rather, they need your unique insights. That’s why they’ve subscribed to *your* newsletter instead of the competitions’.

Repeat after me: “We will not bore our readers. Even if they scare us.”

When you avoid these three deadly sins, your newsletter will go a long way towards meeting your goals–whether you’re looking to make employees happier, increase sales, or dazzle journalists with expertise.

Looking for more advice on successful company newsletters? Subscribe to The Write Exposure’s free newsletter, “Newsletters in Focus,” and receive a six-part email course “Do You Make These Six Mistakes in Your Company Newsletter” as a new subscriber welcome gift. Visit to subscribe.

Copyright 2003, The Write Exposure

Want more tips on making your newsletter personable?
Subscribe to Newsletters in Focus for free tips every two
weeks on creating wonderful newsletters. Visit to sign up
and receive your free copy of “Do You Make These Six
Mistakes in Your Company Newsletter?”