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How to Start Your Own Email Newsletter

Emailing contacts.
Shutterstock/one photo

Email newsletters can be a great way to connect and engage with your audience, and can help drive traffic into your website. They’re easy to get started with, but you’ll need to know a few things first.

Before Starting a Newsletter

Before you go creating a newsletter, you’ll first want to examine what your goal for your emails is. Do you have a blog, and want people to read your content on a regular basis? Do you have an online store, and want interested customers to see new products? What is your newsletter doing for you?

Most website analytics focus on goal completion. Email newsletters are no different. Usually the purpose of a newsletter is simple—to engage with your follower base. Someone subscribing to your newsletter is similar to following you on social media sites; it’s a confirmation that they enjoy your content and want to see more of it.

Do you regularly create content that can fill a newsletter? Even something as simple as a weekly RSS feed of your blog emails emailed out to subscribers can be effective for those interested in it.

Complying with CAN-SPAM

The CAN-SPAM Act is a U.S. law that establishes regulations against automated commercial emails. Even if you’re not sending out advertisements, you still need to comply with CAN-SPAM. Here’s what your emails need to include:

  • A way to unsubscribe from the newsletter. If someone requests to be unsubscribed, you need to remove them within 10 days. Most mail providers can automate this for you.
  • Your business’s name in the “From,” “To,” and “Reply to” labels, so readers can tell where the email is coming from.
  • An honest subject line. This is to protect against “clickbait” in subject lines designed to get readers to open the email.
  • The physical address of your business, both for credibility, and so readers can send real-world mail to you.
  • A declaration that the email is an advertisement. This can be as simple as including “This advertisement was sent by [Business Name]” in the footer of the email.

Even if someone else is doing your email marketing for you, your business is still liable for any CAN-SPAM violations, so you’ll need to make sure it’s being handled properly.

Make an Account with a Mail Provider

It’s not a good idea to send out mass emails from a personal mail account. For one, your account will quickly get marked as spam, meaning your emails will stop sending, and most consumer accounts from providers like Gmail will have limits on the number of people you can send to in the first place. Plus, managing the mailing list itself will be a huge hassle if you’re doing it yourself, as you’ll still have to comply with CAN-SPAM, meaning you’ll need to have a system for allowing people to unsubscribe, which will likely end up being you removing it manually.

The solution is a mail provider, which can not only handle sending email for you, but handle your mailing list itself. This can take the stress off your shoulders and make the logistics of sending your newsletter easy. In addition to sending email, many providers will include other things, such as analytics, A/B testing, and content creation tools, which may help with your marketing.

There are many popular mail providers, including Mailchimp, AWeber, Constant Contact, and Sendgrid. Most will charge per email sent, or based on your subscriber count.

If you really want to do it yourself, you can try using Amazon SES, a mail delivery service that’s very cheap compared to other mail providers, and doesn’t include any bells or whistles. If you want a simple application to manage your mailing list, you can try Sendy, which uses Amazon SES under the hood to deliver emails and only charges a one time fee for the application.

How to Get People to Sign Up for Your Newsletter

Most mail providers, like Mailchimp, will have connections for managing subscriptions that can integrated directly onto your existing website or onto a new landing page.

If you already have a site, you’ll want to include sign-up forms so people have something to do when they’re done reading. This can be as simple as including a form at the bottom of your website, as well as in the header, just like the one on this site.

If your site is going to be all about getting users to sign up for the newsletter, you’ll want to create a landing page. A landing page is a website specifically designed to meet your marketing needs. In this case, that’s funneling users into subscribing to your newsletter. It’s where a user will “land” when they come to your site from an external source, such as clicking on an ad or in search results, and it’s designed to be simple and to the point.

You’ve probably seen quite a few of them—a common design is a full page illustration, with some headlines and text explaining the service, and most importantly, a “call to action” button. In this case, signing up for the newsletter. It’s usually much more streamlined than your actual home page.

Shopify's landing page.

There are plenty of online templates for landing pages, including many you can make with some mail providers, but they’ll all include one thing: a subscription form. This is usually just a form element or other block of code that you can include on your own site. For example, this Mailchimp form can be embedded in your site’s HTML, and included directly on your homepage:

Mailchimp's subscription form.

If you’re not able to add code to your website, you can create custom form links that will take you to an external sign-up form, usually hosted by your mail provider. This probably isn’t the best idea, as you’ll definitely want a form on your landing page or main website, but it can help you out if you’re just getting started.

Once you’ve got your form set up and connected to your mail provider, you’ll need to drive traffic towards it. This is the hard part—after all, traffic is what you’re after in the first place. Social media is a great free way to drive traffic towards your site. Google search results (as well as other search engines) can also help people find your site. You’ll want to make sure your search engine optimization (SEO) is done correctly.

Creating the Newsletter

A custom WYSIWYG web editor allows you to create the newsletter content manually.

Most providers will have a custom WYSIWYG web editor that will allow you to create the newsletter content manually. Usually, the footer with the social media links, copyright information, and CAN-SPAM compliance will be managed for you, so you can focus on the content.

If you’re not sending handwritten newsletters, there are plenty of options for automating the newsletter. If you’re using WordPress or anything else that can output an RSS feed, you can send automated RSS updates with MailChimp.

Setting up and automated RSS update.

In addition to your newsletter, mail providers can offer other email-related services that may be useful to your business. You can create emails to welcome new subscribers, thank customers who have made an online purchase, and even wish people happy birthday with exclusive offers.

Make Sure Your Emails Get Where They’re Going

Your emails need to have Domainkeys Identified Mail (DKIM) and Sender Policy Framework (SPF) authentication, or they’re likely to end up in a spam or junk folder. DKIM and SPF authentication verify that the person sending the email is the same person who owns the domain name, to make sure nobody can send spam email on your behalf.

Most mail providers will have options to set this up, and some will even have it set up by default. Mailchimp has authentication built in, and will send emails through its own servers, which will be trusted. This leads to “via mcsv.net” showing up next to the “From” name in some email clients, so if you set up your own custom DKIM and SPF authentication, you can get rid of it.

On another note, you can make sure your emails are being opened with certain mail providers. Many newsletters and marketing emails use special tracking pixels that can detect when the email is opened by each person on your list. This can help you understand what kind of content gets more clicks, and when used in conjunction with A/B testing, can really improve your newsletters engagement rate.

Anthony Heddings Anthony Heddings
Anthony Heddings is the resident cloud engineer for LifeSavvy Media, a technical writer, programmer, and an expert at Amazon's AWS platform. He's written hundreds of articles for How-To Geek and CloudSavvy IT that have been read millions of times. Read Full Bio »

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