Newsletters are having a moment in the sun, as marketers experiment with more personalized approaches to increase customer outreach efforts. But not all newsletters are built the same. The difference between an effective and an ineffective newsletter can be the difference between higher revenue or being relegated to the spam folder.

What’s the difference? Marketing professionals identified the following elements as critical in creating a quality marketing e-newsletter and measuring its effectiveness.

Personalization and Relevance Are the Name of the Game

According to a Direct Marketing Association study, segmented and targeted emails generate 58% of all revenue, said Renee Spurlin, senior vice president of digital marketing and analytics at ARPR, a public relations agency. “The more personalized marketers can make their emails, the better they perform. Gone are the days of sending the same email to everyone on your list. Instead, microsegments of buyers with similar interests and similar buying behaviors, coupled with dynamic content insertions based on an individual’s previous actions, ensure that content is highly personalized for each recipient.”

“When it comes to email marketing of any kind — newsletters, promotional offers, lifecycle campaigns — relevance is always key,” said Jen Capstraw, director of strategic insights at customer engagement firm Iterable. “If you’re in a niche industry, you’re in luck: It may be pretty easy to meet subscribers’ expectations with a single version of your newsletter. But if your subscriber base is more diverse in their needs and expectations, more effort is required."

Often teams solve for this with multiple newsletters dedicated distinct segments, according to Capstraw. Sometimes simple segmentation by high-level category of interest or language does the trick. Others find it necessary to offer a wide range of newsletters for subscribers to choose from, especially media organizations. A quick skim of the subscription center for the Washington Post, for example, reveals a whopping 74 unique newsletters to choose from, including Lily Lines — last year’s Webby Awards winner for best newsletter.

“Some brands — the early adopters — are experimenting with machine learning and AI to prioritize or fully personalize content based on past behaviors,” Capstraw added.

In developing a newsletter for a law firm, Tim Absalikov, co-founder and CMO at digital marketing agency Lasting Trend, saw the following as relevant content:

  • FAQ: Educational resources helps your readers and saves you time time.
  • Case studies: People are eager to hear real-life success stories demonstrating the company’s expertise.
  • Changes in the law: Clients need to know relevant updates, but it’s best to explain it in simple terms.
  • Infographics: Set yourself apart from other firms. Plus, well-designed infographics are highly shareable.
  • Lighthearted humor: This establishes a less formal, more personal connection with readers.

Related Article: Marketing Automation, Beyond the First Hello

Tap User Generated Content

If you really want to engage with your audience, consider creating a section featuring reader comments, like “letters to the editor” at the beginning of a magazine, said Meredith Newell, copy director for Hero Digital, a CX company. “Use the section to encourage recipients to follow specific conversations on your social media channels, then pull comments from those channels for the next issue of the newsletter. This is also a great way to up your social media presence.”

Related Article: Want to Build Community? Try an Email Newsletter

Learning Opportunities

Measure Your Success

It’s important to monitor the effectiveness of the newsletter to determine where changes are necessary.

Can you trace a direct path from the call to action in the email and revenue? It can be multiple steps — the email promotes an event, they attend the event, they become a customer — but if there's no connection to revenue you should ask yourself: Do I really need to be sending this? said Dan Grech, founder of BizHack Academy, a training firm for digital marketers.

Grech added: “I know this flies in the face of a lot of the guidance out there about 'building a tribe' and creating value, but isn't your best measure of value the product you sell? If they're becoming a customer, you're providing value. Email must be in support of that. The rest is a distraction — and a waste of your precious time.”

“Keep an eye on all your usual email metrics (open rate, click through rate, etc.), but pay special attention to your subscribe/unsubscribe rates," Newell recommended. “If your subscribes are consistently outpacing your unsubscribes, congrats, you’ve made it. If not, you’ll want to rethink what content you’re publishing and how you’re presenting it."

Newell added you can use makeshift view-through rates to see if your main site or certain product pages get a bump in traffic soon after each newsletter is deployed.

Interactive social engagement is also relatively easy to track, especially if you assign specific hashtags to conversations, according to Newell. You should be able to see whether you’re gaining new social followers and/or newsletter subscribers by cross-promoting and monitoring engagement on both.