Before you begin
What is an email newsletter?
An email newsletter, email marketing campaign or EDM 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
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?
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.
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.
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).
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.
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:
- 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:
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.
- Subject: Upcoming road closures in March
- Preview text: We're closing parts of Hoddle Street and the Eastern Freeway
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
If your open rate falls below 25% you may need to revisit your content strategy and make changes.
Reviewed 14 November 2019