Why email newsletters still work — and how you can make yours better

The email newsletter model comes from some very humble roots, yet has grown into a powerful business model. As the former CEO of DailyCandy, I got firsthand experience on what works — and doesn’t — for email newsletters.

DailyCandy launched in 2000. We borrowed from the direct mail business to create a model based on email newsletters, and shared daily tips about local stores and restaurants. Thirteen years later, a lot has changed but I still think that email newsletters can be a viable business model. Here are tips for anyone trying to build a successful newsletter today:

  • Entertain and inform. This strategy builds and supports the voice of the publication, and that builds and sustains the brand. At DailyCandy, even if our users didn’t shop at or eat at the places we wrote about, they always ended each read with a smile — that kept them opening our emails. Of course, some brands and topics lent themselves to creative copy more than others. One of our more popular examples of this “entertainment factor” was dubbed IROD, an interesting massage device that was tethered to your iPod. I don’t know how many devices the manufacturer ended up selling, but the topic generated buzz and entertained readers.

  • Be brief. Newsletters should get their point across in 150 words or less. People today skim rather than read, and reading email is no exception. Thrillist recently got me hooked on a automatic home beer maker in just 106 words (yes, there was an additional video, but the content was short and sweet).  No long lists of specs, parts, pieces…just a simple what and why. In the early days of DailyCandy, we developed a template of sorts (e.g., great hook, better kicker) to ensure that each of our newsletters hit the key points, but was still a short read.

  • Stick to one topic. Long lists of items about different topics don’t sustain reader attention and don’t have the same brand impact as focusing on one individual item of interest. If you do send out lists, feature one topic prominently and try to stick to quality curation. People want to be told what’s hot and are happy to leave the trend-sorting to the experts. InsideHook’s fall personal audio guide is a great example of this type of quality curation: There are dozens of headphones and bluetooth speakers on the market today, but InsideHook surfaced the best and made my job as a reader (and consumer) easier. Red Tricycle‘s kids-focused email newsletter also does a nice job of this (check out Beyond the Boring Lunch Box).

  • Leverage non-email channels for delivery. Email is not the only channel to consumers — and it shouldn’t be the only way for your content to reach them, either. Facebook (s FB) accepts full posts (although paid promotion may be necessary) and Twitter can link back to your site’s archives. When measuring your reach, these channels need to measured and added to your total list sizes (though some brands will limit advertising on them). Mobile should be a priority too. BrightNest, for instance, has a solid, well-designed mobile app that lets users organize, manage and maintain everything in their house.

While the email newsletter model has changed and adapted to the times, it’s continued to thrive. People love curated content, and they appreciate the lean-back experience of having interesting information delivered to them. I’m confident that there will always be a place for the newsletter in any digital content strategy.

Pete Sheinbaum is founder and CEO of LinkSmart, a Boulder, Colo.-based company that helps web publishers develop, engage and manage their audiences through in-content text links. Follow him on Twitter @sheinbaum.