10 Death Sentences in Email Newsletter Marketing

A guideline for seasoned digital publishers and for those in the making


Digital publishing has become a lucrative business. In the early days, no one would have predicted the E-Force with which badly designed newsletters and spammy e-zines would explode into what it is today: The very foundation of content marketing.

The ability to create an electronic product from scratch and release it to (don’t we wish) millions of people have made more and more people jump on the runaway train that is digital publishing. Anyone can write an ebook and link it to a splash page with a sexy conversion rate, or get an autoresponder and compile their own newsletters and e-courses to their subscribers at the cost of pennies. LinkedIn itself has joined forces with the world of digital publishing by purchasing SlideShare, the largest document sharing site on the net.

However, as with any moon-walkin’ endeavour, mistakes made by newbies are rife. These include unsolicited e-mailing (eek!) and not focusing on their core business. If you’ve been wanting to start a newsletter – or transform your existing one – and have bigger plans for your profits than swim-coaching them down the drain, read on.

Death Sentence #1: Sending newsletters (or anything else) from your Gmail or Yahoo! account

Part of the temptation for newbies is to collect a group of e-mails and start mailing out from their own personal e-mails. Resist it. Then resist it some more.

At first, this may seem quite harmless when you have less than 20 people in your list, but once your subscriber count exceeds 50 people, you’re going to have a very big problem on your hands.

Firstly, you’ll have to handle people who newly sign up for your list manually. Then, unsubscribers will need to be manually removed as well – causing you massive administration problems. And if you can’t even read a 10-point LinkedIn post in one sitting, why bite off more than what’s needed for the stew, email list-wise?

The worst thing is most Internet service providers refuse to let you send bulk e-mails to many people at once. Of course, this is – for any of us with an email account – a very wonderfully fantastic thing: It prevents spammers from preying on the unsuspecting through their networks. Chances are, if you’re bulk-sending from your ISP email account, your email will be on the road to SpamBox as quick as you can press ‘Send’.

Make sure you get a good and reliable autoresponder to handle all the work for you. Be smart like that.

Death Sentence #2: Signing people up without getting them to opt-in

One of the biggest newbie mistakes when it comes to newsletters is signing people up on (other) mailing lists without their permission. You might think just because

a) you have someone’s email address, or

b) they’re on another of your email lists,

it automatically gives you permission to sign them up. Prepare to be slaughtered if that’s how you’re going about things.

A certain percentage of LinkedIn users are notorious for doing this. The fact that you’ve connected has given them the green light to endlessly update you on their latest and greatest business propaganda. If you’re tempted, go take a cold shower, instead.

Take it from a digital marketer who’s been on the ‘Can I kill you already?’ side of things too many times herself: Unsolicited signups is a big no-no on the Net, and will get you in deep trouble! Worst-cast scenario, you’ll be accused of spamming and you’ll get your IP blacklisted on the ISPs. Not to mention what it’ll do to the business brand you’re trying to build.

You must do things the proper way. Like flushing the loo during an evening of good curry at a friends’ house so you won’t be unfriended on Facebook in the morning so, too, do you need to make sure you do things the right way when building your email list. Direct potential subscribers to a landing page or opt-in form, and when they manually opt-in, then you’ll have their permission. Short of that golden pot of, “Yes, please send me…” at the end of the newsletter rainbow, you’re just two big canine teeth away from being a big, bad spamwolf. It’s your job to ‘convince’ them – ethically – why they should opt-in to your list. Never ever take any shortcuts. That only leads to being cut.

If you already have a list and have procured their sign-ups through anything less than white-hat methods (i.e. letting them know what they’re getting themselves into before they’re into it, and actually giving them a say in the matter), now’s the time to rectify your oversight. Send out an email directing them to an opt-in form, and state explicitly that should they fail to do that, they’ll be removed from your list. Then, shocker, do it. Of course, sending a few reminders help. But ultimately, if they’re not clicking, it means they don’t want to be there. Get over the rejection and move on. They were clearly never fans, anyway.

Death Sentence #3: Not giving good or useful content

Some publishers are so obsessed with getting traffic and making a profit that all they ever do in their newsletters is sell products or services and talk about themselves. They use their newsletters to boast about how great they are and how good their business is doing, to the point that they bore their subscribers to death. We all know people like that in our daily lives. And we all find them utterly obnoxious and to be avoided at all cost. Don’t be that person in expanding your business online. It’s defeatist, to say the least.

Another common mistake is loading a newsletter with so many ads or affiliate links that it disrupts readers’ reading pleasure. You have a very small time scope within which to keep them interested. Do you really want to annoy them into oblivion?

You were to buy the latest computer gadget or fashion magazine, only to have to dig through a haystack just to find the content pages – would you buy the next issue? Recommend it to a friend? Have anything good to say about it?

Thought so.

Content is king. Never diverge from that. But even more important than said industry mantra – relevant content for your subscribers should be the main deal. That’s the only reason they’re there.

Provide useful content for roughly 80% of your newsletter and leave the rest for business news and/or ads. It is a healthy balance.

Death Sentence #4: Not focusing on your business

On the other side of the coin, there are many publishers who talk about everything under the sun by serving up powerful and useful content for their readers but they forget about the most important thing – making MONEY.

Ultimately, publishing a business newsletter is about making money. You can hardly do it without promoting yourself or your business. It’d likely be a great big waste of time, energy and resources unless there ends up being an R.O.I. in the long run somehow. In any business, branding is key, and a newsletter is all about creating that awareness while at the same time providing value-added content that establishes you as the go-to in your particular industry or niche.

Learn to use strategically placed sales links so that your prospects don’t feel as though they are being ‘sold to’. Talk about the problem first, then introduce solution(s) to that problem, before finally addressing YOUR solution. End everything with a call-to-action. That way, you won’t be wasting traffic from your subscribers. Make ‘em click! But make em want to click. That’s the secret, whether it be digital publishing or parenting or social relationships of any kind.

Death Sentence #5: Publishing whenever you feel like it

Did you know that you should keep in touch with your subscribers as regularly as possible?

There are more people on the Internet than you could ever imagine. Many (i.e. hundreds of millions) of them are signing up for digital communications with online and offline businesses alike. And the number of businesses offering these digital publications are climbing steadily every single day. If you don’t keep in touch with your subscribers, they’ll most likely forget all about you and your newsletter – and your existence as a whole. Don’t ever let this happen to your business! It’s far easier to keep an existing customer or subscriber compared to getting a brand-new one. The fact that they’ve signed up is, statistically speaking, a dot on the i short of a miracle. If they open your email, to bootconsider yourself fortunate indeed. That’s no mean feat. Don’t abuse it and don’t underutilise it. Use it.

Publishing regularly suggests to your readers that you are organised and on the ball, and you’re able to meet deadlines and commitments. Not to mention committed. Sounds like the kinda person to do business with, right?

You must learn to set aside some time for your publishing schedule. (I have a sneaky suspicion most good things in life can be traced back directly to good time management.) Take 20 minutes – you can do that while waiting in line at the bank or supermarket – and brainstorm topics to include in your newsletter. Remember that attention spans are short. Short and straight to the point is the name of the game. Think 10 ways to…’, ‘5 kinds of…’, ‘3 times when…’ Writing a novel is not the objective. Being helpful (content marketing) and regular (communication 101) is.

To add value to your communications, take a few hours and construct an e-course on a topic your audience would find useful or that they struggle with. That’s a good way of drawing in new subscribers, too.

Even if you don’t have any special content for your subscribers, try to stay in touch with them as regularly as possible. Even a simple “Hi” followed by a link to an industry breakthrough that could impact them will do the job just fine!

Death Sentence #6: Neglecting the older archived issues

Part and parcel of the process of newsletter publishing involve moving from one issue to another. As you progress, you’ll have many back issues at your disposal, something most businesses tend to neglect. Past issues are seen as outdated or useless. Anything but!

Unless your information is completely obsolete, there’s a whole list of things you can do with a back issue. One example is to repackage previously issued newsletter content as an incentive to get prospective subscribers to sign up for your list. A quick shuffle here and there, and voila! An ebook at the ready that took little more than cut and paste.

Note: See why it’s important to offer quality content in your newsletter? It takes ya places!

You can also make your archived newsletters available on your website or blog. People do read older issues, especially if it contains information that benefits them. You’ll be able to get more of your visitors that are on the “fence” to join your newsletter, giving you a bigger list to market your products or services to.

Plus, it comes up in search results. Even if the word SEO brings up no other meaning than some boy band your teenager probably listens to, know that a newsletter is, by its very nature, full of the rich long-tail keywords search engines love. You’re already sitting on a goldmine.

Death Sentence #7: Forgetting to publish your newsletter in RSS

RSS is one of the many ways people use to access your content without having to visit your website or blog directly. Most of the time, newsletter publishers want their subscribers to subscribe directly through their e-mails or autoresponders because they can keep track of the size of their list.

However, neglecting RSS is silly. Would you rather have four imperfect eggs for a scrambled egg breakfast and leave the table with a full tummy, or one perfect specimen, only to fantasise about lunch for the next few hours? Although you can’t cater to every single subscriber’s needs, enabling RSS is a way to reach your readership across many different platforms. There are people who would rather read everything through their feeds. Try your best to meet their needs.

Another advantage of publishing on RSS is that you’ll increase your readership and sales through bypassing all the email filters. If your e-mail for your newsletter contains a trigger word that alerts the SPAM filters, you can be sure that word would be captured and thrown into the SPAM or Bulk folder as fast as you can say the word ‘spam magnet’! Of course, best is to not use those trigger words at all.

Death Sentence #8: Neglecting the ‘subscriber only’ privilege

Businesses have the tendency to treat a subscriber just like any other person on their database.

However, newsletter subscribers are some of the most important people in your arsenal, especially for your marketing strategy. They are people who are genuinely interested in your work and spend time reading it. You should pamper them and treat them with care because that is probably where the money is!

Since they usually follow you from the beginning to the end, you should give them a reward. For example, if you are a promoting a product or service, consider giving your loyal subscribers a discount. Not only will it get you more sales, but they’ll appreciate it and will gladly refer others to subscribe to your list or even start promoting as your affiliate (if you open up that avenue) because they’ve been given the special treatment. Ultimately, loyalty is as loyalty does. Your newsletter is a fast track to making you get lots of it.

Death Sentence #9: Neglecting the personal touch

One of the problems of bulk mailing to many people at once is that we forget to be human. People aren’t stupid, and we all receive enough emails on a daily basis to be considered mini mail-experts. As much as you can tell when someone’s written you an email personally versus the generic email everyone gets and, usually, ignores, one glance at your e-mail is all your list needs to tell whether it is from you personally, and whether you’re sending it out to a large group.

If you don’t know how to add the personal touch to your e-mail headlines, you’re missing out on a lot of engagement with your newsletters. And that’s the whole point of mailing your list in the first place.

Always talk in a personal tone rather than selling to your subscribers all the time. Otherwise, they will think you are just trying to grab their money (and you’re not, are you?) Be their ally; be someone they want to open emails from. That’s the kind of thing that gets you the leads and the business and the loyalty.

Death sentence #10: Never offering any bonuses

Sometimes, businesses forget to offer bonuses to their subscribers. They forget that, once in a while, they should offer free gifts to entice them to stay on. You can also use bonuses to entice people to join as new subscribers and in so doing grow your email list.

Try writing a free report about the latest developments in your industry, and offer this as a bonus. Tell them how much the report would be worth if you were to charge for it. This increases the value your visitors place on your bonus. (Just ensure that the report really is of top quality and worth the monetary value you place on its head!)

For example:

“We’d normally charge $27 for this special report, but we’re giving it away for free to our loyal subscribers…”

You’ll increase the perceived value of your bonus, as well as make your subscribers feel pampered and appreciated.

Never neglect this powerful method!


There are many mistakes committed by newbies, but the worst mistake you could ever make is to repeat your mistakes over and over again. This is where the dramatic title of this post series truly comes in. If you keep committing small but crucial mistakes like the ones listed, you’ll end up losing credibility in the eyes of your subscribers (even if you are a seasoned digital newsletter publisher).

Always be vigilant and keep an eye out for blind spots you might’ve missed. Keep on refining your work – digital marketing changes its spots on a daily basis. Stay current and updated. Consider outsourcing to a freelance digital marketer to make sure that what is delivered to your audience is on par with the most up-to-date best practices.

Good luck!

Feature image by Austin Distel on Unsplash