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Create and manage email marketing campaigns – Digital Standards

Victorian Government Digital Standards and best practice for email newsletters. Includes content strategy, frequency, timing and subscriber management.

Before you begin

What is an email marketing campaign?

An email marketing campaign is a regularly scheduled email sent to people who have signed up to receive the email from your organisation. They can include:

  • articles about organisation news
  • articles about industry or sector news
  • updates on projects or initiatives
  • case studies
  • notification of upcoming events

Email distribution software

This software performs functions needed to send out newsletters, including:

  • subscription form and account settings
  • subscriber database management tools
  • layout and formatting of newsletters
  • audience tracking analytics

Email software (such as Outlook or LotusNotes) should not be used to send bulk email newsletters. Recipients are not able to opt-out of emails sent from Outlook and most email clients will send BCC emails directly to the recipient's spam folder. You also won't receive any data on how many recipients opened the email.

Commonly used email distribution systems include:

  • Campaign Monitor
  • Salesforce Marketing Cloud
  • Vision 6

Any email distribution provider you use must meet the Victorian Government standards outlined below.

What the Victorian Government recommends

The open rate of email campaigns is generally under 20% of total recipients. Email campaigns should only be used when:

  • there’s a demonstrated user need (i.e. the recipients are generally interested in or will benefit from the information in the email)
  • research shows that an email campaign is the best and preferred channel to reach the audience
  • they will be a productive use of internal staff time and resources
  • the subscriber database is regularly managed
  • you regularly use analytics to optimise content and distribution

You should have a content strategy for your newsletter before launching a new one. You should review your audience needs at different times throughout the year. Refer to the How-to guide: create a content strategy and manage content.

Send your email newsletter at a regular time interval, such as the last Tuesday of every month.

Check your department or agency’s policies on email newsletters. Each department or agency may have its own approach.

Make sure information in emails is supported by information on your website. Ideally the emails should contain a summary with a clear link to the content on your website.

What standards must be met?

Accessibility

All newsletter and web content must comply with the Disability Discrimination Act and WCAG 2.0 Level AA.

If your audience is primarily people with disability, your site must comply with WCAG 2.1 Level AAA.

These standards also apply to internal newsletters and intranets. You should provide evidence of your compliance (such as a report from an internal or external audit) with an action plan to address any issues.

Email newsletters must include a link to view an HTML version in a web browser.

Privacy

You must comply with the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014. This means that you can only collect information that you’re legally entitled to collect on your subscription forms and in your user accounts.

You must publish a privacy collection notice on your website and include a link to it in every newsletter.

If your website or newsletter service collects personal information, the servers where the information is stored must have the same level of legal protection for personal information as we offer citizens in Victoria.

You must get a person’s permission before adding them to your subscriber database. Users must opt in to receive your newsletter and agree to your collection notice.

You cannot add someone to your database if they have provided their email address at a conference or event. The user must opt-in by completing the online form themselves - you cannot do this on their behalf (see 'Subscription form' below).

Email newsletters must also comply with the Spam Act 2003 (Cth). This contains rules about what information must be included in email newsletters.

Subscriber databases must have sender identification information. Emails must contain the name and contact details of the person that gave permission.

Email newsletters must contain an unsubscribe link so users can opt out.

Security

You must comply with the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014. The Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner can help you understand your obligations.

Branding

Newsletters must follow Brand Victoria guidelines, including use of logos.

Refer to the How-to guide Apply Brand Victoria.

Content strategy

All email newsletters must have:

  • a clearly defined purpose
  • a content strategy that maps out a plan for at least 6 months

New email newsletters won’t be approved without a content strategy. For existing newsletters, a content strategy must be submitted to the relevant department’s Digital Management Committee (DMC) annually.

The content strategy should outline the type of content to be included in the newsletter. This ensures:

  • high-quality information
  • streamlined content production
  • channel longevity
  • removal of unnecessary or repetitive content

The content strategy must state the newsletter’s:

  • purpose
  • audience
  • distribution methods
  • interactions with other channels (such as website and social media)
  • publishing workflow
  • approvals process
  • measurement plans

Getting it approved

If you have a legitimate need for an email newsletter, you must get approval from the appropriate people in your organisation. The process varies between departments.

  • In most government organisations, having approval from your manager, executive officer or a committee is not enough.
  • You may also need approval from the appropriate governance body. This will be the group that fulfils the function of digital management committee. If a DMC doesn't exist in your department, the business areas fulfilling specific functions of the group will probably need to approve your project (such as communications and IT or digital engagement).
  • You may need extra approvals for elements of the project, such a a dedicated email address, security, content and branding. These approvals may need to come from parts of government external to your department or agency. Check your department’s intranet for information about the process and authorisation.
  • You should seek advice from your department’s digital team. Agencies should check in with their lead department.

Know your audience

Your writing will be most effective if you understand:

  • who you’re writing for
  • what they need or want to know

When developing your content strategy, consider:

  • What outcome/s are you hoping to achieve? Having a clear focus helps guide what content you include and who you communicate with.
  • Who are you talking to? Defining your audience informs your content and approach.
  • What do they want/need to know about? Understanding what your audience wants from you will help you develop engaging content.
  • How often does your audience want/need to hear from you? Being aware of your audience’s needs will help you decide how often you communicate.
  • How does your audience search for information or describe things? Knowing this helps develop content that is relevant and in language they understand.

Design your email newsletter for mobile first

Most users read email newsletters on their mobile phones; all email newsletters must be mobile friendly.

Here are some good examples:

Writing style

Newsletter articles should follow your department’s style guide or the Australian Government content guide to ensure consistency in:

  • style
  • tone
  • grammar
  • spelling
  • formatting

Email subject

Email subjects should:

  • be short and concise
  • convey the main key message of the email in about 4 to 7 words

Example: Upcoming road closures in March

Email preview text

Email preview text is an optional field where you can give more information to help the user decide whether they want to open the newsletter.

Example:

  • Subject: Upcoming road closures in March
  • Preview text: We're closing parts of Hoddle Street and the Eastern Freeway

Scannable text

Your audience is likely to be:

  • time-poor and wanting to quickly find what they’re looking for
  • put off by jargon, unexplained acronyms and government language
  • seeking credible and relevant information

To engage this audience, you should ensure your newsletter’s content is scannable.

People reading emails pick out individual words and sentences in a glance. If the content doesn’t appear to be what they want, they’ll move on to another email. 

Scannable text must:

  • be concise
  • have the most important information at the top
  • have meaningful subheadings for scanning and to break up text
  • be in plain English
  • use 1 idea per paragraph
  • use bullet points rather than blocks of text, where suitable

Content structure

Using the inverted pyramid structure, the most important information and key messages go at the start of each newsletter article.

A reader should be able to understand what information they will find in an article by skimming the headline and first sentence.

A logical structure helps readers scan content and grasp concepts quickly. Headings and sub-headings and the order in which they appear are also important.

Tone and language

Your newsletter content should be:

  • direct and to the point
  • written for the audience or user
  • written in plain English
  • written in active voice
  • free of departmental jargon and unexplained acronyms – any acronyms must be written in full the first time you use them on a page

Be direct and to the point

Say what you mean and say it with as few words as possible to convey the meaning.

Use specific words, such as ‘teach’ or ‘train’, rather than ‘educate’.

Only use technical language when your audience understands the terms. It’s better to assume no prior knowledge and write simply so any user can understand what you mean.

Email audiences have very short attention spans. Emails should be short and to the point, with links to a web page for more information.

Use plain English

Plain English communicates your message in a way that all your audiences can understand.

It helps users to:

  • easily find the information they need
  • understand your content on a first reading
  • act on what they read because they understand what they need to do

Use active voice

Always try to write in active voice for email newsletters and web pages.

In active voice, the subject of the sentence is doing the action. For example: Mary sent an email to John. The Premier announced the initiative yesterday.

In passive voice, the subject is having the action done to them or it. For example: John was sent an email by Mary. The initiative was announced by the Premier yesterday.

Passive voice is more wordy, vague and can confuse your meaning. People with lower levels of literacy have difficulty understanding sentences written in passive voice.

Making your email newsletter accessible

Refer to the How-to guide: Make content accessible.

Making your content credible

Your audience will stop reading if it doesn’t believe your content is credible or up to date. You also lose credibility if your content contains errors or is poorly written.

When reviewing your content, check for:

  • typographical errors and spelling mistakes
  • confusing language, such as unclear sentences and jargon
  • incorrect names, facts and figures
  • broken links (check all links work and the content is still relevant)
  • inconsistent application of your style guide

Frequency and timing

How often and when you send out email campaigns depends on your audience needs.

Email campaigns should be sent at regular intervals, such as the first Tuesday of the month.

For the first 3 months, try sending your email newsletter at different days and times. Then look back at how each email campaign performed and use this data to inform your decision about when to send it. For example, you might find that when you send out your email campaign on the first Tuesday of every month at 2pm you get the best open rate.

You can change the frequency and timing of your newsletter if you have evidence to support this decision. Make sure to inform your readers of a change.

Do some user research to inform your decision. See the how to guide: research user experience.

If your email campaign is targeting a similar audience to other official or departmental communications channels you are aware of, consider timing your distribution so the communications don’t interfere with each other.

Subscription form

Users fill in a subscription form to sign up to receive email communications from your organisation. This is usually embedded on or linked from your organisation’s website.

Consider the language you use on your subscription form. Research what key words will work best for your purpose - eg ‘sign up’ or ‘subscribe’.

Your subscription form must include:

  • clear description of what email newsletter users are subscribing to
  • a collection notice for users to agree to
  • a link to your privacy statement

Refer to the How-to guide: Design forms

Welcome emails

A welcome email is the first email a subscriber receives after signing up to your mailing list. It’s important to make a good impression and tell the subscriber what they can expect.

You can set up welcome emails to automatically send when a new user subscribes. Check how to set these up with your email newsletter provider.

A welcome email might include:

  • a welcome message – eg ‘Hi [First Name], thanks for subscribing to the Business Victoria newsletter. We’ll send you news on topics like X, Y, Z once a month.’
  • popular content – you can include top links to your website to give users somewhere to start right away (as long as you keep your welcome message up to date)

Distribution and audience segmentation

Use an appropriate email distribution system to manage the distribution of email newsletters. Email software (such as Outlook or LotusNotes) are not bulk email management systems and must not be used to send newsletters.

Depending on what information your subscription form collects, you may be able to use audience segmentation to send targeted email newsletters to specific audiences.

For example, the Department of Transport segments their audience by location and interests. This allows them to tailor their messages to the audience.

For more information on audience segmentation, read this Campaign Monitor article.

Subscriber management

Mailing list maintenance is the responsibility of the program area. Subscriber management should identify:

  • processes for reviewing and ‘cleaning’ subscriber lists
  • effective management of unsubscribe requests
  • marketing and content promotion activity to attract new subscribers

Subscription-based newsletters must also include a privacy statement and collection notice, outlining how personal information is being stored, used and managed by the department.

Unsubscribing

Newsletters must include an unsubscribe function.

An unsubscribe function is often provided in the form of a link to a website where the user can easily click a button to remove themselves from a mailing list.

The unsubscribe process should be simple for users. Users should not need to log in to unsubscribe.

Your newsletter's unsubscribe facility should:

  • remain functional for at least 30 days after the original message was sent
  • allow the unsubscribe message to be sent to whoever authorised the sending of the message, not a third party that sent it on their behalf
  • have clear instructions
  • be actioned within 5 working days
  • be at low or no cost to the user (for example, in the case of SMS unsubscribe facilities, use a 1800 number)

Here are some examples of wording:

  • Unsubscribe: if you no longer want to receive messages from us, simply reply to this email with the word ‘unsubscribe’ in the subject line.
  • If you no longer want to receive these messages, please click the ‘unsubscribe’ button below.

Reporting and evaluation

All email newsletters should be regularly evaluated to:

  • remain relevant to the audience
  • protect the audience from being over-burdened with communications (which can negatively impact all departmental communications)

Audience feedback

All newsletters must include a mechanism for feedback from their subscribers. This will facilitate regular reporting and analytics back to the communications division and to the DMC to ensure continuous improvement.

Measuring success

You should monitor the performance of all email newsletters. Improve or discontinue ineffective newsletters.

All email distribution software systems offer audience engagement and tracking data.

Key metrics to look at include:

  • number of distributions conducted in the period
  • email open rates
  • click-through rates (CTR)
  • click-to-open rate (CTOR)
  • unsubscribe and subscribe numbers

Benchmark for success

Your email newsletters should aim to achieve a 25% open rate or better.

If your open rate falls below 25% you may need to revisit your content strategy and make changes.

Reviewed 15 October 2019

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