Newsletters are a crucial tool of online marketing; get yours right and your audience will pay attention to you and whatever you’re trying to promote. Get it wrong and if you’re lucky people will just route your newsletter straight to the trash. If you really goof up, you’ll be swamped with abuse and unsubscribe requests. So, to help keep you on the path of digital righteousness here's a selection of the best ways for you to screw up your newsletter:
#1. Be boring. This is the simplest path to a failed newsletter. To really be boring ensure that your newsletter is in plain text, short, minimally formatted, and contains absolutely no graphics.
#2. Over-design your newsletter. It’s bad enough to be boring but when you go too far in the opposite direction the end result is pretty much the same. Garish colors, poor typography (see below) choices, clumsy layout that render incorrectly on mobile devices … these are all choices that kill your messaging and turn your audience off.
#3. Use Comic Sans. This point is really a catch-all for all of the typography choices that mark you as an amateur. The Comic Sans typeface is one of the worst choices you can make for three major reasons: The first reason is that it has been used to death so you’ll just look like every other dweeb trying to be interesting but failing miserably. The second is that it makes your message look weak (note that even if you are sending a message about a pre-school, Comic Sans looks sad). The third reason is that Comic Sans is an offense against man and nature.
#4. Screw up images. There’s one newsletter I get that for the first year or so of its life always managed to mess up its embedded images. What was happening was that the author embedded images in a Mailchimp template and allowed them to be resized to a fixed height and width (i.e. not keeping the aspect ratio constant) so the majority of images got squashed horizontally. I actually exchanged email with the editor and explained the problem but it took several months before he did anything about it. Deal breaker? Nope, but it look totally amateurish.
#5. Not render properly on mobile devices. It’s surprising how many people forget that mobile isn’t just big, it’s central to any serious online marketing strategy yet many newsletters manage to render poorly on smartphones and tablets. In some cases this is because the author is trying to be too clever with the layout while in other cases the problem is not being clever enough. Using templates on mail services such as MailChimp, Get Response, Campaign Monitor, and Constant Contact are an easy way to avoid this problem.
#6. Use poor grammar. I’m always surprised when I get newsletters that contain serious grammatical gaffes. Minor ones such “very unique” are bad enough (and should be severely punished) but when entire sentences are incomprehensible (I swear I see this in at least one out of ten newsletters I receive) then you are going to lose your subscribers’ attention and your marketing opportunity.
#7. Allow misspellings. Misspelling “the” as “teh” is inexcusable as are most spolling erraz. Why? Because spelling checkers are now commonplace. If you’re doing anything that purports to be professional you have to use a spelling chocker. Misspelling complex, specialized names is somewhat defensible although even then, it makes you look amateurish and won’t make you any friends or gain you any advertisers.
#8. Use weak content. Weak content is content that doesn’t engage your audience. People recognize when you’re padding your newsletter and have little to actually say. If your newsletter is going to survive and thrive you need real content that people will care about.
#9. Not use double opt-in. Everyone should know this (at least everyone who isn’t a complete noob) but even so, I regularly find that yet another idiotic organization or some dork who thinks my email address is his (this happens a lot with my Gmail address) has subscribed me to a newsletter and I have to follow some annoying opt-out process to get off the list. The concept of sending a message to confirm opt-in isn’t complicated or hard to implement but there are any number of newsletter senders that just don’t bother. They apparently don’t understand that they aren’t making friends and look naive.
#10. Screwup automation. How many newsletter have you received that begin with something like “Dear [fname]”? Du’oh. Even worse is just “Dear,” although lists with poor data hygiene can be just as bad (“Dear Suite 52,”).
#11. Send to a “CC” list instead of a “BCC” list. Perhaps the biggest noob mistake of all time is to carbon copy your newsletter recipients rather than blind carbon copying them. Exposing the other recipients is a great way to allow people to discuss your product or service and for competitors to mine your leads and customers.
#12. Append the actual newsletter content. I’ve seen a spate of newsletters recently that append PDF documents as contents and even received newsletters with MS Word and ZIP archives attached. These messages usually get filtered out by malware detectors but only the dumbest user will fail to think twice before opening an attachment.
#13. Don’t comply with the CAN SPAM Act. While many newsletter authors either don’t know about the requirements of the CAN SPAM Act or just choose to ignore it, the fact is that compliance is a best practice and non-compliance can get you into trouble with the FTC (sure, the RTC does a poor enforcement job but do you want to run the risk of being one of the select few they decide to nail?).
Avoid these major Du’ohs and you’ll be on your way to a potentially effective communications mechanism. Allow any of them to be part of your newsletter program and you’ll be wasting your time and possibly mine … and I don’t take kindly to such abuse. You have been warned.