Content Strategy For Email

Use this start to finish guide to begin or revamp your email marketing plan. Whether you need guidance on higher level objectives or crafting the best subject lines, this is sure to set you on the right track to improving your email’s content and reception.

One of the best ways to promote your website’s content is through email marketing — you can directly contact your audience about your newest and best work, and entice them with a short summary that will make them want to click through to your site for more. What won’t work is if your emails appear to be spam, arrive too frequently or infrequently, or never get opened. In other words, you’ll need a separate strategy for email to make sure you get this all just right.

The Big Picture


Let step one of your strategy be to list the goals you want to accomplish through your email outreach. First, write broad statements to give yourself a starting point. These goals can include:

  1. To inform industry newcomers
  2. To maintain relationships with existing customers
  3. To provide value for stakeholders

Next, focus in on the specific and measurable goals so that you can calculate your success later. Some examples are:

  1. To achieve over 60% open rate on every campaign
  2. To increase social shares on articles in our newsletter by 20%
  3. To grow our outreach list by at least 30 people each month

Building A Contact List

To set your campaign up for success, send emails to a targeted group who has opted to receive your emails. No matter how tempting, buying a list of contacts or importing every email address from your CMR that was gathered for other purposes is never the right answer.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that every customer you have will want to read your blog or hear about the events you are offering. Give them the option about whether or not they want to receive your company updates via email instead of taking a risk and making an incorrect assumption that will ultimately turn them away.

Beyond existing customers, one major way to find people interested in hearing more from you is to track people who are already reading your content. You can advertise your email newsletter on your social networks where you already have loyal followers. Additionally, if you have a case study, SlideShare presentation, or white paper, ask those who access it if they want to subscribe to your emails.  Remember, the point is that signing up for emails should be a choice, so providing an alternative such as paying with a Tweet is important.

Know Your Targets

According to Copyblogger, the #1 Secret to Writing Great Copy is . . . “Using words that work with the people you’re trying to persuade.” The same goes for your email marketing.

Every person you email should not be on the same general list or receive the same content. Separate out the email addresses you have by target persona. You may notice patterns in range to which you will have to cater. For instance, you will have potential, new and long-term customers, and people new to your industry or industry veterans.

For each of these segments, think about what they would value in an email. Is there a skill they need to learn? A piece of news they would be interested in? What promotions would apply to their wants? Next, think about the type of language that will best communicate the information they seek. This means determining how much industry lingo you should or should not use, and how casual or professional your tone should be.

What Can You Offer?

Now that you know what your audience wants, match this up with your available resources. Yes, you want to push out the content that’s most important to you in your newsletter, and you want to advertise any events and promotional campaigns you have coming up, but not every person on every list will be interested in each of these offerings.

Getting back to the purpose of your email, think about what you have to offer that will lead to something mutually beneficial. Have you produced a relevant blog post or webinar? Have you made an exciting addition to your products or services? Do you have any upcoming promotions?

What you want to keep in mind are which people will be interested in the different content choices you have. Additionally, keep track of the types of emails you send to each group so that you ensure each segment has received a range of content types. Sending a newsletter with a standard format at set intervals is great, but make sure that there’s not one group that is only receiving promotional information—making you look spammy, or that one group has only received blog post recaps if you have much more that you can provide.

Bottom line: make opening the email worth the reader’s time. If they do not immediately find value, there is a slim chance they will open your next email.

Planning Your Content

Email Content Calendar

Planning out email content should be very similar to planning an onsite content strategy. Topics should be brainstormed and approved well in advance for original content that does not appear elsewhere. Promotions that you want to include in emails should be scheduled ahead of time as well.

It is likely you will be emailing out links to blog content and other larger pieces of content that you are already tracking on an editorial calendar, so keeping track of your email schedule in the same place might be easiest. Whether you opt to do this or create a separate calendar for email marketing, be sure to follow the same rules of spacing out content of different varieties, formats, and lengths.

The First Email

Very shortly after someone new has subscribed to your email list, you’ll want to reach out to them to begin building your relationship. This can get tricky if you have one place to subscribe but you want to send different initial emails for different segments of people.

If you want to go the route of automation and have a welcome email sent immediately, make sure you include a broad overview to which any persona can relate. If you want to be more personalized, set a goal for a reasonably quick turn around time to add your new subscriber to the appropriate list and make that first contact.

This first email from Eventbrite is an awesome example.

In addition to introducing your brand and giving a taste of what’s to come in future emails, be sure to include a gripping call to action. The sooner you can start engaging the reader, the better the chance that he or she will continue to interact with your emails.

The Newsletter

Part of your email strategy should absolutely include some type of newsletter. If you have a strong content plan for your site and want to primarily use email marketing to push that content out to a larger audience, a wrap-up list of your best work can be the perfect way to go. If you have more time and energy to invest, your newsletter can contain original content and include columns specific to the target you are trying to reach.

The frequency at which you send out your newsletter depends on several factors. Unless you have a business like Groupon that has thousands of new deals daily, every day is far too much. If you wait over a month between emails, though, you’ve given your audience too much time to lose interest. Ideally you should create a weekly, biweekly, or monthly schedule based on how much original content you develop for your site and how often you use time sensitive promotional strategies.

Additionally, studies like this one from MailChimp about the best time to send emails can provide some insight into the days and times you choose.

Strategy Implementation

Subject Lines

As important as the content in the body of your email is, no one will ever get to it if your subject lines are not inviting enough. Unfortunately, writing subject lines is more of an art than a science. While various people have tried to pinpoint certain words or formats that improve open rate, there are no guarantees.

If you stick to these basic guidelines, however, you can usually increase your chances of getting someone to click through to your message:

  1. Keep it short. You don’t want your message to be cut off in “…”  in someone’s inbox.
  2. Geo-target when possible.
  3. Use CAPS for emphasis sparingly.
  4. Include relevant numbers, but not more than one number per subject line (i.e. 50% Off Sale, not $5 T-shirts, $10 Sweatshirts, 20% off All Other Merchandise).
  5. Create a sense of urgency, but not a false one (If there are 2 days left on a sale, tell them. If your subject is “Click Here Now!” but there is no sense of immediacy in your email, this is misleading).
  6. Don’t use RE: or FW: when this is a first email; this doesn’t fool anyone.
  7. Don’t include excessive symbols.
  8. “FREE” can draw attention but can also appear to be too much of a gimmick—use with caution.
  9. Limit your exclamation points to one per subject line! And what you have to say better be super exciting!!!
  10. Only include a promotion or topic that directly relates to the target market receiving the email.

Look at the following subject lines below. The first are emails from popular, reputable businesses, and the second are from spam emails. Notice that there are subtle but important differences between the two:

These all generally follow the above rules. With a few words they convey a message that provides me an offer in which I am interested, or piques my interest to learn more.

The spam emails break the guidelines with “Re:,” more than one number, extra symbols, cut off messages, and promotions that have no relevancy to me.


Using an email template will allow you to present your readers with the most organized and professional appearance. Email service providers like MailChimp, Constant Contact, and AWeber have great setups that will walk you through creating a tagline, adding multimedia, and changing fonts and styles.

Whether or not you use a preset template, keep your format simple. Don’t fall into the temptation of using too many colors, images or videos, and don’t write a novel. Putting user experience at the forefront, think about how appealing a neat and concise email will be. Certainly use branded images and styles, and incorporate visual aids as necessary, but don’t overdo it. If you can quickly grab the reader’s attention, get to your point (which is relevant and exciting) and direct the user to the next steps they should take, you don’t need anything flashy.

A final word of caution on using an email service provider’s structure is failing to fill in every section of the form. Don’t turn people way by appearing careless and allowing them to see that you haven’t previewed your message and made sure the format looks perfect before hitting ‘send.’

This is the top of an email… the first part readers see should not contain a careless mistake.


The largest plus in using an email service provider is the tracking of key metrics like open rate and unsubscribe rate. After each campaign you run, look at your statistics and assess whether or not you should make any adjustments to your format or content before your next email goes out. Set periodic markers to see if your results are in line with the goals you had established earlier.

What other tools or strategies to you use in your email marketing? Let us know in the comments!

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