So you want an HTML newsletter?

The types of projects our department takes on seem to go in waves. A bit of a history lesson takes us back to an abundance of websites which pushed us to build the CMS. The many events that followed gave us the idea to write and centralize them all in to a university events calendar. Then came the RSVP’s for those events. We got fed up creating hundreds of forms so we wrote an RSVP system for the events calendar. After that the campus community could maintain their own websites, and create events and RSVP’s by themselves. They then asked us to create pretty HTML emails to announce all of these components and we did that for a while before crafting the self- serve HTML email creator.

Everything goes digital

Now we are on the age of transitioning traditional print newsletters to digital pieces. These are a little more complex than the standard email and sometimes connect to a broader website with more information. In the last four months we have literally transitioned more than ten complete print publications to online editions. I would love to say that in those four months we created a self-service system for the entire campus to create and maintain publications, but I can’t. They all seem to have some unique factor that required individual attention.

Multiple flavors

Requesting a new HTML newsletter can result in a 2 hour or up to a 40 hour project. It’s important to know what you need before starting the process. Let’s walk through the process of the newsletter request and I hope I’ll be able to shed some light on the reason for the complexity.

Simple single column email

The most basic email is just a single column with a single message and any action items go off to existing websites. The types of emails have a custom header that identifies your department or group and is reusable at your leisure.

Here are a few examples of single column emails we have done:

Multiple column email

Typically a multiple column email is required when there is a single message that needs to be communicated and the content warrants “action items” on the side. These can be: upcoming deadlines, buttons for next steps or just “for your information.” They’re a little more complex but offer some flexibility to highlight multiple items “above the fold”. (BTW, there is no fold on the Web.)

Here are a few examples of multiple column emails we have done:

Multiple column newsletter

Using the same format as the multiple column email the newsletter takes it one step further and keeps a consistent format but with categories and articles feeding in to compile a complete email. Typically the format is set up and each month/semester/year a new “publication” is created which consists of article titles, teaser descriptions and links off to more information.

If the links for each article go to existing stories already published on the Web it gets the user to interact with multiple areas of your website and possibly explore things they otherwise wouldn’t have without being prompted by the email.

Here are a few examples of multiple column newsletters we have done:

Newsletter Web page

Lastly the most complex and time consuming is the HTML newsletter that has a stand alone website which features the full text of each article and is organized like a newsletter with editions and archives. This approach is really driven by the print mentality of compiling an entire edition of articles and publishing the entire thing at once. It wraps up the email and website into a single package for the user to experience. One of the downsides, just like a printed newsletter/magazine is once the user receives it and browses through, they typically recycle it or close the window and never come back. Their only reason to come back in the future is when their next email comes in. It isn’t “sticky” and doesn’t build continuous engagement, but in the end it’s what most traditional writers are comfortable with.

Here are a few example of newsletter websites that we have done:

Thinking about requesting an HTML email?

Make sure you have thought through how you want it to work and be prepared to answer some tough questions by our team. Just because “email is free”, aka you don’t have to pay postage, it doesn’t mean that your audience will engage the same way they have in the past.

New Newsletters: Exemplar & Synergy

This last week we launched two newsletters. Over the last year or so schools and colleges across campus have been transitioning their traditional print publications to the web. Right now most are doing dual format but we expect them to go all digital over the next few years. This will not only allow them to save money (on postage and printing) but also get the word out to in a timely manor and start interacting with their audience.

College of Engineering – Exemplar

Traditionally a print magazine and will still be for some time but now they give their readers the option to read and subscribe online. The main audience is alumni and unfortunately they don’t have email addresses for them all. This is a slow transition by promoting the online version in print to get people to subscribe to the email and online version. It is still early so we don’t have statistics yet to show the conversion rate.

View the Exemplar Newsletter

College of Pharmacy – Synergy

Also started out as a print newsletter but this one has gone all digital, no more print. Traditionally they would publish a PDF of the print version online but not many people were reading them. The new site also includes an HTML email formatted specifically to promote the primary articles and upcoming events. Below is the preview of the email.

View the Synergy Newsletter

Overall this trend doesn’t look like it’s going to stop. Almost all the school and college sites we do have brought up bringing their newsletter online. Initially these were all custom but as we do more of them we noticed tons of similarities. We are building the tools to bring this capability into the CMS for anyone who hosts a site through us to use. We will keep you updated on these features as they become available in the CMS.

The Link – C&IT Video Newsletter Web site Launches

The Link is a video newsletter from our Computing and Information Technology (C&IT) department on campus to highlight the services, partnerships and computing practices they have to offer. Many of the videos have a humorous twist and feature staff and faculty from around the university.

This is a brand new site so there is nothing to benchmark its design/success on. But its main goal is to offer quick access to short video clips produced in house and explain services or prevention tips for all computer users.

The newsletter will be released twice a year with a complete set of new videos with a new theme. Check out the videos, they are quite entertaining. It is a great way to put a face on the tech support around campus, they don’t all just sit in a dark room in the basement.

Check out the site at:
http://thelink.computing.wayne.edu/