Did you know email marketing drives a reported 4,400% ROI?
Believe it. Email is low-cost and direct. If people are on your email list, it’s because they want to hear from you.
So, give them what they want with an irresistible email newsletter.
With strategic planning, a consistent schedule, and sharp curatorial and copywriting skills, any marketer can create one that drives results.
Follow along with this step-by-step process to get started.
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What Are Email Marketing Newsletters?
For our purposes, they’re informative emails sharing your latest news and announcements. That could include blog articles, curated content, events, sales, or anything else you have to share. We’ll further define these as emails delivered on a set schedule that your audience can expect.
How Are Email Newsletters Typically Built?
Generally, in one of three ways:
- Using an Email Service Provider: Platforms like MailChimp, Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor, and others typically have WYSIWYG email template editors.
- Using Email Building Tools: There are also tools that allow you to build emails and then send them with the ESP of your choice. Taxi for Email is an example.
- Custom-Coded HTML: Some companies prefer to code email newsletters by hand. This allows more flexibility.
Where Can I Find Free Email Newsletter Templates?
No matter how you prefer to build your emails, there’s no shortage of them on the Web. Here’s a roundup of places where you can find free templates:
Downloadable HTML Email Templates
- The Litmus community offers tons of free email templates, which they are built by some of the best designers around.
- Zurb has several downloadable responsive email designs (that even work in Outlook). They’re created using their Ink framework.
- Themezy provides 16 free templates here.
- You can get tons of Retina-ready email templates from CakeMail here.
Email Templates for Popular ESPs
Here’s info on free templates for some popular ESPs:
If your business uses any of the above ESPs, too, there's some great news. You can plan and schedule all your marketing newsletters in CoSchedule.
With Email Marketing from CoSchedule, you can:
- Seamlessly integrate with your *favorite* email marketing platform. You already have a kick-a$$ email platform you know and love, so why give it up? With Email Marketing, you can easily connect your preferred email platform to CoSchedule with just a couple clicks.
- Write click-worthy email subject lines...every time. With Email Marketing, you can use CoSchedule’s *exclusive* Email Subject Line Tester to optimize and perfect every subject line to drive more opens, more clicks, and more conversions.
- Get full visibility into your ENTIRE marketing strategy. Say “buh-bye” to disjointed marketing content (and constantly jumping from screen to screen). With Email Marketing, it’s easy to see how your email campaigns relate to the rest of your marketing strategy and quickly make adjustments if necessary.
Can You Show Me Some Examples of Email Newsletters?
We certainly can. Let’s take a look at a few.
Lifehacker regularly sends an excellent newsletter rounding up their latest how-to guides and advice:
Each newsletter leads off with a primary story that’s typically tied in directly to the email’s subject line. Then, they include smaller content blocks broken up with an ad on the right side:
Next, there’s a sponsored story (which makes sense given Lifehacker’s propensity to feature products):
Planning this email would require:
- One lead story.
- Three supporting stories.
- One sponsored story.
This email newsletter is also sent one per day. That makes sense too given their high daily publishing frequency.
Emerging Prairie is a local tech and entrepreneurship organization located in Fargo, ND (one of two cities CoSchedule calls home).
Their email newsletter is straightforward, once again leading with an article that’s teased by the subject line:
Notice they also have three sharing links in the upper right, plus an upcoming events list in a right-hand navigation bar.
Then, the layout of this email continues with a simple format, listing more articles discussing events and news from the area:
Planning this newsletter would require:
- Rounding up seven recent blog articles.
- Maintaining an updated list of events.
Zapier is a cool service that connects apps together to automate tasks and workflows (and happens to integrate with CoSchedule).
The first story in this newsletter is a how-to article from their blog:
Standard stuff so far. Next up, they’ve got a customer story (third-party endorsements for your product like this are great):
That’s followed with more, similar helpful articles. But, then, they list a roundup of new features they’ve added to their product:
Plus, there’s a further roundup of pieces their community has written:
And it’s all wrapped up with their latest job listings (which, for a global company, is a smart recruiting move):
So, there’s a lot going on in this email. Planning something like this requires:
- Seven recent articles.
- A new feature or product announcement roundup.
- Five community articles.
- Several jobs listings.
This newsletter is sent out daily as well.
Now, How Do You Plan Your Own Newsletter?
Alright, now let’s get down to brass tacks. Here’s everything you’ll need to get together to plan, organize, and execute effective email marketing newsletters.
- Start With Goals
- Email Content Strategy
- Establish an Email Publishing Cadence
- Plan Your Email Design
- Crafting Email Copy
- Writing Email Subject Lines
- Additional Considerations
Step 1: Setting Goals For Your Newsletter
First off, ask why you’re creating a newsletter.
Setting goals before you’ve sent any emails can be tough because everything is a guess at this point. So, start by figuring out a few things:
- Some basic email marketing metrics you’ll follow to track success. These are things like open rates, click-through rates, bounce rates, and so on.
- The business objectives you want to achieve through email. A good newsletter should move the needle for your business. That could mean more sales, leads, or what makes the most sense for your company.
- Some rough numbers you’ll try to hit for each. You can adjust them later if you’re either blowing past your goals too easily, or realize they aren’t realistic.
If you have no existing email marketing performance data to compare your newsletters against, then treat these as though they’re somewhat fluid at first. In either case, having some benchmarks to compare performance against can help you set reasonable expectations.
Use the following data from MailChimp to figure out email benchmarks based on industry and company size:
Plus, here are some average campaign stats (once again from MailChimp):
So, using these numbers as a guide, set some targets for the following:
Email Marketing Metrics:
- Email referral traffic.
- List growth.
- Lead generation.
- Increasing brand awareness.
- Driving ROI.
Step 2: Give it a Theme
Your content as a whole likely fits some type of theme.
That’s probably something to do with what your content helps readers achieve. For a car parts company, you might create and share content around customization or DIY auto repair. A clothing store might share fashion trends and tips.
With your newsletter, try sticking to a general area of interest for your readers. That should extend to curated content you include, too.
For CoSchedule, we create marketing calendar software that helps teams get organized, all in one place. So, everything we publish (whether it’s a blog post, social content, webinars, courses, and yes, email) helps marketers do better work and achieve their goals.
Step 3: Plan Your Newsletter Content Strategy
Now, you’ll need to figure out what content you’ll share via your email newsletter. This might vary depending on what types of content you create elsewhere (like your blog or website).
Here are some common things you might see in a brand’s newsletter:
- New blog posts and articles.
- Most popular posts from the past.
- Company news.
- Product announcements.
- Job listings.
- Curated content.
- Sponsored content.
Based on your overall content marketing strategy, list how many of which content types you’ll include in each newsletter.
Step 4: Establish An Email Newsletter Schedule
How often you should send email is something up for debate.
Something you definitely need to consider, though, is how often you’re sending emails overall. Then, you’ll need to determine how often you’ll deliver your newsletter.
CoSchedule sends a newsletter once a week that rounds up all our latest content:
Plus, there are several product-related emails that go out through the week:
Now, keep in mind that if someone on your list signs up for weekly newsletters, they might also get daily updates from you, too. This makes two things important:
- Giving people the option to control which emails they receive from you. If they just want your newsletter, make it easy to opt out of everything else.
- Ensuring they aren’t delivered at the same time. For those who choose to get your newsletter and other emails you might be sending, keep the times reasonably separated.
It’s also helpful to know the best days to send email:
And the best times:
Now, these are averages based on data and research. Experiment to find your ideal timing.
Next, plan out your email newsletters ahead of time. There are two ways to do this:
- Use the free marketing calendar template included in this post.
- Using CoSchedule.
Let’s start with your free template. Here, you’ll see an Excel sheet:
For each email, you’ll see the following fields:
- Send Date: When will each email be delivered?
- Owner: Who is creating this particular email?
- Email Type: Label newsletters accordingly alongside other promos (you can plan ‘em all here).
- Target Persona: Who is the primary audience for each email? Buying Season: Note things like seasonal sales or buying cycles your content is targeting throughout the year.
- Email List: If you have different customer segments (and email list segments, which is a topic unto itself), then list them here.
- Lead Stories: Which stories will you be including in your email? Make sure this is synced with your content or blog calendar (or simply note the general topics they might cover).
Plot out newsletters as far ahead as you reasonably can.
You can also do this with CoSchedule.
Create a custom content type for Email Marketing:
Then, select a day on your calendar, and choose the Email Marketing content type:
Next, give each email newsletter a name. Use the Description field to make note of the target audience, buying season, and which email segments it should go to. Add the tag “newsletter” (or any tag you’d like) to denote this is a newsletter (rather than another type of email):
Next, add the owner from the list of CoSchedule users in your account, and set the date and time:
You can also use color labels to add more organizational power to your calendar. These can be sorted by team, or completion status:
Now, you’ll be able to plan, schedule, and manage all your email newsletters on one marketing calendar, alongside every other project and campaign you’re working on:
Step 5: Understand Your Newsletter Design
The design of your email will, to some extent, dictate how much content you can include.
If your template has a fixed design calling for three lead stories, two pieces of curated content, a and a sponsored post, then each newsletter you send will have to check each of those boxes.
However, if you use a more fluid single-column design where you can list as many or few articles as you’d like, then you have more flexibility.
- Select a design (whether using a template or one coded for your company by an in-house developer or agency) and stick with it.
- When you’re ready to compile content and write copy, know exactly how many slots you need to fill each week (or day, depending on your cadence).
- Understand what your template can and can’t do. For example, if each content block has a fixed character limit, then stay under that number.
Even as a marketer or copywriter, it’s useful to know the following, too:
- Image dimensions. These should be consistent.
- Interactive capabilities. Can you add videos?
- Buttons. Will you use buttons, or stick with plain-text links?
So, let’s take an example template from MailChimp:
This is a simple template with a header logo, one lead story, and two content blocks. To fill this out, I’ll need:
- My company’s logo.
- A lead story.
- Two sub-stories (one for each content block).
- A paragraph of intro text and two short paragraphs for copy under each sub-story image.
- A call-to-action (along with a destination page where I want to direct traffic, somewhere in the text at the bottom).
Knowing this, you would then know that each newsletter will need, at a minimum, each of these elements.
Step 6: Compile and Curate Content
Now we’re ready to actually put an email together.
Depending on your email content strategy, this may entail:
- Collecting your most recent and top-performing blog posts.
- Rounding up trending content or curating interesting pieces for your audience.
- Lining up content for sales and events you might be promoting.
Finding Your Most Recent Content
This much is easy ... unless you work for an extremely high-volume content publisher or brand (then it may take some digging).
Review your editorial calendar and track down your past week’s worth of content. Then, prioritize your lead story based on what you think your audience will be the absolutely most interested in. To do this, try asking a few questions:
- Which piece seemed to get the most traction on social media?
- Which piece showed the most organic search opportunity?
- Which piece is the most relevant to a current trend?
Rounding Up Trending Content
There are several ways you can surface trending content your audience might value.
First, Feedly is an excellent tool for keeping track of content. It’s a powerful RSS reader that makes it easy to follow news on most any topic or niche.
Create an account and start adding content using the + Add Content control:
Now, most folks familiar with Feedly think of it as a news aggregator. But, you can also track mentions of competitors, brands, and topic keywords in general. Create some lists around the following:
- News sources and brand blogs in your industry.
- Competitive brand mentions.
- Other topics that intersect with your brand’s purposes and your audience’s interests.
Next, set up some lists on Twitter, and to the same thing. The value of lists for personal use is up for debate, but they can be helpful for curating content:
Finally, consider using Google Trends. It shows the level of interest on a given keyword over time, and can be used to compare interest levels between multiple topics:
Using these tactics can be especially helpful if you’re not actually an expert on the product or industry your company or client operates in.
Step 7: Write Your Email Copy
Even if you’re primarily rounding up links to include in your newsletter, you’ll still have several copy elements to write:
- Subject line: Studies show 33% of users open emails based on these alone. Other studies show variations on this figure, but somewhere in the 30% to 40% range appears to be consensus.
- Pre-header: This is the text that appears next to the subject line in your recipient's inbox.
- Newsletter intro: Some newsletters include a short paragraph introducing the issue’s content.
- Content summaries: Each link might have a short summary selling people on the idea of reading that content.
- Calls to action: You might want to include a call-to-action at the end asking readers to try your product, check out a sale, or take some other sort of action that gets them closer to making a purchase.
Let’s walk through each piece.
Nail Your Subject Line
We’ve established why subject lines are important.
Now, how do you actually write them well? Try following a few best practices:
- Keep your word count concise.
- Keep them simple.
- Experiment with emojis and numbers.
For the 20 most important best practices for subject lines (informed by research from tons of studies), check out Nathan Ellering’s detailed guide here.
Then, when you’re ready to write some subject lines, use the Email Subject Line Tester. It’s a free tool that makes it easy to analyze subject lines based on word choice, length, sentiment, and more:
Craft Your Pre-Header
The pre-header gives you, the intrepid email copywriter, another opportunity to catch your reader’s attention. That means another chance to get them to open your email.
Here’s an illustration from Campaign Monitor showing where you see pre-header text:
Now, it’s important to note that not every email client displays pre-header text the same way. Here’s a cheat sheet from that same Campaign Monitor post:
So, how do you make the most of this space?
Try using the pre-header as a continuation of your subject line. Each of these examples (from Microsoft, the BBC, Adobe, and Shutterfly) uses the preheader to either add context to the subject line, or shout out an additional offer:
Or, add a CTA. Here’s an example from The Economist promoting a sale on subscriptions:
Here’s how to copy this idea:
- Identify your newsletter’s lead story. We did this a little bit earlier.
- Write a subject line that promotes that story. Keep it short and get your reader’s attention.
- Then, add context with your preheader. Stick to around 40 characters to ensure it’ll show up optimally across the majority of devices.
Write An Intro (Optional)
Depending on your design, you might include an intro in your newsletter.
Here’s an example of one from CoSchedule:
It’s short and leads into the first piece of content in the newsletter. Here’s another from The Verge that takes a more conversational approach:
Write Content Summaries
Each piece of content in your newsletter may need a short summary. Whip up some copy that offers additional context and gets readers clicking.
One quick and easy way to get this done would be to repurpose a couple lines of intro text from each article. Or, pose a question and promise to deliver the answer in the piece:
These don’t need to be complicated.
Add CTAs + Button Text
Each article or promotion in your newsletter will likely have a button. While it may be easy to neglect button copy, it’s worth spending time trying a few different options to see what seems to get the most clicks.
Here are some common options:
- Read More (or Read Now)
- Sign Up
- Save Now
At the end of your newsletter, you might add a call to action for something higher-value, as well.
There are a couple things to note here:
- This CTA uses a third-party endorsement from a customer (none other than Pat Flynn, who has done an incredible job with Smart Passive Income).
- The actual directive is split between two objectives: either starting a trial, or scheduling a demo. This is because one may be better suited to the reader than the other, depending on whether they’d like to check out CoSchedule themselves, or get some guided assistance.
So, how can you create a call-to-action of your own? Here are a few ideas:
- Promote an upcoming event.
- Hype up a new product line you’ve added.
- Create an evergreen call-to-action inviting people to check out your product or service.
You could even consider cycling through CTAs depending on what’s most relevant for a given week.
RECOMMENDED READING: https://coschedule.com/blog/how-to-write-a-call-to-action-template/
Schedule Email Newsletters With CoSchedule
When you’re ready to send your email, open up CoSchedule and
Click a day on your calendar and select Email Marketing:
Then, select MailChimp or another ESP:
Next, create your email and schedule the delivery time in MailChimp (or another ESP).
Now, the email will be synced on your calendar. Once the delivery date and time have been set in the ESP itself, they can be changed inside CoSchedule:
You’ll now be able to see your scheduled email alongside all your other content and campaigns on your CoSchedule marketing calendar.
As a reminder, you can also plan out and schedule email newsletters with the free email calendar we’ve included in this post:
Now You’re Ready to Plan Better Newsletters
We’ve covered a lot of ground, but by now, you should have all the information you need to rock your email newsletter planning.