Newsletter 101: Conquering Structure

Newsletter 101: Conquering Structure

You have 51 seconds to get to the point.

That’s all the average email gets, according to the Nielsen Norman Group. In those seconds, readers determine the email’s value and decide whether to act.

Clear presentation makes this decision easier. As Dr. Flint McLaughlin of MECLABS says, “Clarity trumps persuasion.”

Don’t try to convince your subscribers – instead, clearly present them with an appealing offer. These four techniques show you how the structure of your email newsletters can provide that clarity and take your readers to the next step.

Make Your Text Scannable

Make Your Text Scannable

Only 19% of newsletters are read, according to the Nielsen study – the rest are scanned. Introductions are skipped and headlines get the most attention.

In an age of 30- second commercials and short Twitter posts, don’t bog readers down with one giant paragraph. Instead, try these techniques:

  • divide your text into sections by subject
  • if your content lends itself to list format, use bullet points
  • for multiple articles, include only the first paragraph of each – link to the rest

There are many more ways to make HTML messages scannable. Plain text can be made scannable by tweaking both design and content.

Position Each Part Properly

Position Each Part Properly

Arrange your best enticements above the fold.

“Above the fold” is the part of a newspaper you see before unfolding it. In email, the “fold” is the point where readers have to scroll down. The job of above-the-fold content is to prompt that scroll-down.‘s tips on how web sites can sell themselves above the fold easily translate to email. See how they might work for you.

Include Links For Credibility

Include Links For Credibility

If you cite statistics, link back to a reputable source. If you mention a company or public figure, link to their web site.

Web developer Jennifer Kyrnin explains how to use links properly in web writing. Larry Masinter puts her ideas into play with some clearly explained examples.

Linking when appropriate has several benefits:

  • your emails earn an extra layer of authority
  • your readers get the extended value of the linked content
  • most important of all – it’s polite

Use a Single Call to Action

Use A Single Call To Action

The most effective emails offer only one call to action:

  • Redeem your coupon
  • Buy this product
  • Take our survey
  • Come get this information

The Erickson Barnett blog explains why this is. That 51-second scan is fast. Readers need to encounter one simple choice: to act or not. Until then additional calls to action clutter and confuse.

Other choices should stay on the landing page. Then readers can encounter them after they’ve decided to click through.

Why Should You Use These Techniques?

When an email has a messy structure and no clear objective, “I have to look at and make sense of this, and that is far too much unsupervised thinking,” says McLaughlin.

These techniques give your reader guidance and make it easy for them to engage. You may also want to use them on your landing page – according to McGlaughlin, after your reader clicks through, you only have about seven seconds to convince them to stay.

How do you use structure to make your emails easy to interact with?