It should be noted that in this post, we’re going to be discussing image-based newsletters, since they have generally proven to be a more effective option than purely text-based newsletters. We’re all visual creatures, and that doesn’t change when it comes to email newsletters – which are really just another form of advertising. While text-based newsletters can work, they require a great deal of time and effort, and are generally best left to the professional copywriting agencies. I’m sure some of you will disagree, so I’d love to hear from you about experiences with text newsletters!
Free Email Newsletter Templates
But let’s get down to brass tacks. To create template, you’ll need favorite image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, or something similar (don’t try this with Microsoft Paint unless you want to drive yourself crazy!) and a little bit of time and some creative inspiration. You’ll probably want a few photographs to include as well, depending on what the point of your newsletter is. There are a ton of free stock photo sites that can help make your newsletter look more professional – some of our favorites here are MorgueFile and StockExchange. Their images are usually royalty-free, so you won’t get into any legal trouble for using images that don’t belong to you – which can happen if you just use images you find using a simple web search.
But before we get into actually MAKING the newsletter, you really should stop and plan out your email campaign if you haven’t already – go ahead, grab a piece of paper and a pen. I’ll wait!
There are several basic elements that you should include in every newsletter, no matter who you are and who your readers are, so we’ll go through those elements now. This should help you figure out how you want to design things. If you’re just interested in the newsletter template we’re going to make, not the theory behind it, feel free to skip down to the bottom of the post. I promise not to be offended.
- Probably the most important thing to consider when you’re creating your own newsletter templates is the real goal of your newsletter. If your readers just got ONE thing from your newsletter, what would you want it to be? You should be able to pinpoint one major item that you’re trying to get across to your readership in each newsletter, whether it’s a new promotion, a new product launch, or even just a personal message to make sure that your customers and clients keep you in the front of their mind. This is known as ‘mindshare’ – basically, the more your potential clients and customers think about you, the more likely they will be to buy something from you. So in your template, you want to make sure you leave room for a large main section that you’ll use to showcase your #1 most important item.
There will be secondary items that you’ll want to showcase, of course, but there should always be one main item, or else your message starts to get lost. If you have 5 or even 3 things that are all screaming for attention, your readers will get confused and they might just abandon your newsletter altogether. That’s not to say they’re stupid – but information overload is a serious problem online, and every usability and newsletter marketing expert agrees that simpler is definitely better. If you’ve got so many things that you can’t wait to tell your readers about, you should consider splitting up your newsletter over the course of several weeks instead of cramming it all into one. The more you contact them, the better (remember mindshare?) – just make sure you don’t overdo it. A couple of times a week is fine, but once a week is best. We’ve all got clogged inboxes already, so sending to them every day isn’t a great idea unless they were expecting daily emails when they signed up to your newsletter list.
You’ll also want to ensure that you include some sort of header at the top of your template that showcases your company branding, as well as a footer that has all of your contact information. If you have a website, one easy way to make a header is to simply re-use the logo and colors from your website so that your viewers feel a sense of continuity when they move from your newsletter to your website. This isn’t the only way to make an email header, but it’s certainly one of the easiest and most consistent.Be sure to choose colour palettes that work well with your company logo and other branding materials, to ensure that your readers will instantly know that you’re the originator of the message.
As all modernist designers know, form should follow function. For example, you probably don’t want your car to have a bathtub attached, unless you like the idea of high-speed public baths (apologies to Pimp My Ride), so keep things simple and don’t include things that aren’t necessary. You’ll want to make sure that your template has a location for your central showcase item, as well as some smaller secondary highlight locations, as we discussed earlier.
There are several simple ways that you can achieve this. The very simplest is to design your template with a simple 2 column layout. What that means is that you’d have your header, and then below that, you’d divide the available space in two – one large, wide column for your super-important main focus, and then next to that you’d have a much narrower column which you can divide into smaller sections vertically. The actual relative sizes of the columns is up to you, but make sure you consider the screen size of your users when you’re picking sizes. If you’ve got any kind of web analytics software installed on your website, such as Piwik or Google Analytics, you’ll probably be able to find out what your user’s most popular screen sizes are. If you don’t have that kind of demographic info, a safe bet is to make the entire newsletter no wider than 600 pixels, or else you run the risk of having serious display issues. Sure, people can just scroll, but most people won’t – make things simple for people, and they’ll use them. If it’s too hard, they won’t bother.
So in our 600 pixel width example template, we’d make a header image that was 600 pixels wide. Then we’d divide the space below into two columns, one that was 425 pixels wide for our main section and one that was 175 pixels wide. If we have several secondary items to include, we could then subdivide the 175 pixel column into squares 175 pixels high as well (or however high you want).
When it comes to actually writing the code for this template, we’d suggest that you use a series of HTML tables. You can learn more about HTML tables here on the W3 schools website, which is a great resource for novice web designers and developers. Note that you don’t actually need to follow their suggested courses, but you can just use it as a reference to find the bit of code you need to make your project work. While tables aren’t very popular anymore for designing websites since much better alternatives have come along thanks to CSS, they still reign supreme in the email newsletter world because they’re very simple and effectively universal. They display well in any email client and they’re completely self-contained.
Using tables, however, will change the way you slice up the images for your newsletter when you save them. Since you probably want each of the sections of your newsletter to link to a specific place on your website, you’ll have to keep them separate so they can each have their own link. But because of the way a table works, you can’t mix and match sizes and still have things come out properly. If you’re using Adobe Photoshop, this process is super simple: Using the ‘Slice Tool’, cut up the newsletter you’ve made into different sections, and then use the ‘Save for Web’ command to generate your own customized HTML using tables – and you don’t need to know any code at all! It puts all the images and HTML files into a single folder for you, and then you can just send that over to your programmer or web designer and they’ll know what to do!
Remember that there are a wide number of different email clients available, and each has its own quirks and idiosyncrasies. Since you don’t want to spend time checking how your newsletter displays in half a hundred different email clients, the best practice is to go for the simplest possible solution, and you can be sure that your e-newsletter campaign will be a complete success!
Time Your Newsletter Sending! Sending an e-newsletter can be a complicated endeavour. Trust me, I’ve been in the trenches and I know how it works. There are a million and one things to think about, and seeming never enough time to get it done – although that might just be the nature of small business! There are number of tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years, and I’ll share a few of them here with you.
When you’re looking to send a newsletter to your prospective customer base, you know that the most important thing is to get people engaged and interested in what you’re selling, and you’ve got to start from square one: the send time. The day of the week you send your newsletter is absolutely crucial, as is the time of day that you send. This may vary from niche to niche – perhaps people like to shop for furniture on the weekend, but shop for life insurance while they are bored at work on a Wednesday – you’ll have to do split testing to determine what’s best for you, but there are some general rules I’ve learned. Keep in mind that many people sign up for newsletters with their work addresses, and those that don’t are likely to be checking their personal emails during work hours (nothing you can do about it, employers! Sorry!).
Mondays and Fridays are a bad time to send, because at the beginning of the week people’s inboxes are flooded from the weekend, and on Friday they’re focussed on the end of the work week and what to do on Friday night.
Weekends are also dangerous – nobody checks their work email during the weekend, unless they’re a small business owner like we are, so you’ll lose a good portion of your prospective clients to the Monday morning inbox rush by sending on the weekend. Some of your users may prefer shopping online during the weekend, and be completely ready for your pitch during that time.
Remember that there’s more to this science than volume – having 10000 people click through who are not going to buy isn’t worth more than 100 who will buy, so always focus on the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of your readership.