Category Archives: Email newsletters

Does the mail always get through?

Boarded up post box, by Ellie Brown.

After putting a tonne of effort into producing an email newsletter we want absolutely everyone to read it.

There’s always a nagging doubt that the latest bulletin has been snagged somewhere. Marked as spam. Banished unread.

To avoid this cruel fate it’s worth double checking that any email blasts you prepare can get through.

Before sharing a few tips and resources, can I offer some sources of consolation.

You can get an idea of whether people are receiving a newsletter by looking at open rates (though only if you are using an email service providers like Campaign Monitor, MailChimp, et al). If the open rate is zero, you’ve got a problem. If it’s 25% or higher you’re doing pretty good.

Statistics in web analytics packages, such as Google Analytics, show whether people are clicking on links to your website in an email newsletter. If you can see this happening, then messages are getting through.

If people follow up with bouquets and, heaven forbid, brickbats, or ask questions, you know that not only is the content getting through but people are actually reading it. This is something the open rate alone can’t tell you.

According to a new training course on email newsletters, content within an email newsletter causes just 17% of spam triggers. The remaining 83% of triggers arise from the technical layer of email distribution.

These ‘invisible’ barriers to delivery are related to the trust worthiness of your domain, and the digital service from which your email is sent from. If you or your email service provider are tarred with a spam brush, this is hard to shake.

So it’s best to stick with reputable services and don’t get marked as spam in the first place. Idealware’s article on “Understanding and Improving Email Deliverability” covers this in depth. MailChimp, who are not exactly unbiased, also have some helpful and detailed guidance, see “Avoiding the spam filters”.

The more your content looks like spam, so it will be treated like it. To avoid being a spam look a like, here are tips that offer:

  • Send high quality content, with valid coding, alt-text and correct grammar
  • Use more words than images
  • Punctuate and format in a professional way. Avoid SOLID CAPS, big fonts, !!!, $$$, etc
  • Use a clear, accurate headline and don’t repeat words
  • Avoid spammy words like cheap, buy, offer, free, win… But don’t worry too much: vocabulary is a minor concern.

Encouraging subscribers to add your email to an address book and to whitelist your messages can also help.

Now, to get people actually engaging in your enewsletters, that is another story altogether. As the folk at make plainly clear, it’s about the basics of any effective communication: writing compelling content and refining this based on feedback from your audience.

Photo credit: Ellie Brown.

Counting the impact of email newsletter #1

Eight thumbnails of my email enewsletter as it would render in common email clients or web-based mailIt didn’t take long to learn how many people opened my first email newsletter. Though much later than planned, I eventually sent out my first issue on 7 November. I really wanted to get issue one out to subscribers so they would get the notice about the Wellington NGO webmaster event before it happened.

I’m not sure how many of the subscribers attended the event (held last Tuesday), but I do know how many saw my words and notices.

50% of subscribers opened the email, of whom 19% clicked on a link. The most popular links were tied between the networking event sign-up page and blog posts on “An unplanned hiatus” and “Why I didn’t get an iPad”.

Looking at my blog analytics package I can see that all visitors arriving from links in the enewsletter came within 48 hours, and stayed on average for 2.37 minutes (which is longer than the average for all visitors).

While I have got some idea of the quantity of visits, I don’t have any qualitative feedback. Nobody sent me a message saying “wonderful” or “rubbish!!”

I’ve learned all this about the trajectory of the email newsletter without having to do anything special. All the data I’ve summaried is built into the email newsletter system I use.

The other things I looked for when choosing a specialist email list service were:

  • Flexible, low cost subscription plan
  • Ability to create and test HTML formatted newsletters
  • Both email version and online archive
  • Simple administration of list membership, including segmentation
  • Visible, full-proof and easy unsubscribe option for people who change their minds
  • Reputable supplier with longetivity
  • Ease of creating sign-up widgets for my blog.

In the absence of any email list suppliers in Aoteraoa, the only thing that bugs me is that my list is stored on servers hosted by a company from the United States. I’d much to prefer the records I’m keeping are on a computer in this country.

I didn’t undertake a thorough research exercise before choosing MailChimp. I could have as there are many excellent guides out there aimed at community and charitable organisations.

I commend MailChimp for making the way of creating enewsletters fairly easy. It is a bit fiddly, but I didn’t once need to call on the helpdesk or read a lengthy manual. Now that I’ve got a template, I’ll only have to do tweaking each time I send out a new (irregular) issue.

Before sending I paid an extra $3.00 to run an Inbox Inspection. This tested the draft newsletter in 29 email clients or web-based mail using a service from Litmus. I also tested samples myself, including a plain text version.

Now that I’m up and running, my aim is to increase numbers signing up, and tyring to get people engaging with the ideas I’m sharing. For me, that’s not just encouraging people to visit my blog, but to also comment on things I’ve written and/ or join in events I’m running.

It takes more than just firing out a newsletter to actually engage people. Having got as far as sending out issue # 1, I shouldn’t dose off. I need to use stats and other feedback to improve my newsletters. There’s a lot to learn so that I can increase the number of subscriptions and improve my open rate. I’m going to work through a list of 14 ways to increase opening rate from Brent at NTEN. I’m also thinking about joining a webinar on “Nonprofit Newsletters That Engage” (free for NTEN members).

It’s seem fitting to end this post by plugging my (irregular) email newsletter. Sign-up here (or on the right somewhere if you’re reading this on my blog). And don’t forget to tell me what you think.

PS I do have a Privacy policy – as I hate having my own email address used by someone sending me things I don’t want, I’m very careful about respecting my subscribers privacy.


Still wondering about using Outlook or a email list service, see “Broadcast Email Tools VS. Microsoft Outlook”

The Basics of Email Metrics: Are Your Campaigns Working? by Idealware (October, 2008)

A Few Good Broadcast Email Tools, by Laura S. Quinn, Idealware (March 2010)

Is your privacy policy visible?

No nonprofit spam logoAs I start to collect people’s contact details for my new email newsletter I realised I might be missing something on my website. I didn’t have a clear, explicit statement about how I’ll protect any personal information I collect.

Anyone giving me their details should be able to easily find some reassurance that when they hand over an email address it won’t end up in the wrong hands.

After this realisation dawned on me, I quickly set about rectifying the omission. After looking at a few examples on websites I have entrusted my own email address to,  I’ve come up with a pithy privacy statement.

This is probably something I could have addressed earlier. People leave their details when they make a comment so I have been storing personal information ever since I set up this blog in 2004. Without deliberately meaning to I’m storing quite a list of email addresses.

Thinking of my own situation made me wonder whether community organisations are explicitly addressing privacy.

The opportunities for collecting personal information are pretty extensive. Opportunities include inquiry forms, donation pages, a membership sign-up process, subscriptions to alerts and newsletters, discussion boards, comments on blogs, online petitions, and social media sites.

As an aside yes, you can collect personal information from a Facebook page or other similar social networking site. According to Richard Best Wellington based lawyer working for the government technology, privacy and other legal concerns do extend to an organisation’s social media presence. His NZ lawyer article from 2008 provides a useful checklist of legal issues

I’ve just run an informal survey of 14 New Zealand commuinty organisation websites I regularly interact with, have recently talked with people from or which have been in the news recently. Six had clear and easy to find privacy policies. On the other eight websites, no sign of a privacy policy. Or perhaps it’s so deeply buried I couldn’t easily find it.

The absence of a policy makes me wary about giving the organisation with my email address and other details. Perhaps the organisations are relying on people trusting them. They are charities after all, and can be counted on to do the right thing.

Sadly, this isn’t always true. Information collected can be used within the organisation itself in ways that the submitter never intended.

Because some organisations repeatedly added people to mailing lists without permission led some in the nptech in the USA to launch the No Nonprofit Spam website. Organisations that repeatedly mis-use personal information collected are named and shamed. As it says:

Your mission is noble, and your intentions are honorable. But if you subscribed us to your organization’s bulk email list without our permission, then you are sending us spam. That is discourteous, unethical, illegal, and ineffective – so please stop.

Being transparent about how you collect and store personal information helps to build trust, and how you use it yourself (ie only sending things people opt into). If after looking for a privacy link in the footer and on legal or site policies page visitors can’t find one, then how could blame from moving on.