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Question: We’re starting a new HTML
e-mail newsletter. Do you have any tips for the layout?

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Answer: In publishing an e-newsletter, your focus should be on delivering compelling content, not wrestling with your newsletter’s design. Start out with a well-designed template, which does more than just make your newsletter look pretty. At its best, it creates a layout that draws your readers into the content and eases their navigation while allowing you to communicate your message more effectively.

Your top considerations in developing the template should be:

  • Branding your newsletter. Your newsletter brand needs to align with your corporate identity, while creating a separate identity for the newsletter itself. Ways to do this include using your corporate colors as a background scheme, using fonts consistent with those used in corporate collateral and drawing on imagery used in your corporate messaging.
  • Making your newsletter easy to scan. To ensure you get your key messages across and capture interest, design your template with a clickable table of contents that presents a summary of the newsletter’s stories. Also, use short headlines and story summaries. Break articles into manageable, scan-friendly blocks with subheads.When you’ve finished your newsletter, look at each page. Can you scan the story—without reading it through—and get some idea of what it’s about? Do headlines and subheads create interest and drama to draw you into the article? Remember, too, that unless you expect readers always to print your newsletter, your copy needs to be shorter than what you typically read in a print newsletter.
  • Easing navigation through the newsletter. Your template should incorporate navigation features that make it simple for readers to: jump to content that grabs their interest, move to your Web site, return to the beginning of the newsletter or return to the previous article. For example, a good template will include "Back to top" or similar links at the close of every section and alongside each page jump. And you should ensure that after every jump to your Web site or a new page, the reader is able to return to their previous place. A high percentage of readers will abandon a newsletter when they discover it has disappeared entirely from the browser. Finally, if newsletter content continues on another page, provide multiple points of entry to the article. This means that headlines, TOC entries and other references to the article should be hyperlinked.

Your newsletter design doesn’t have to be a masterpiece to be an effective communicator for your company and your message. You’ll go far—month after month—with a simple newsletter template that takes the reader experience into consideration.

Marilou Barsam is VP-client consulting services for TechTarget (http://www.techtarget.com), an information technology media company based in Needham, Mass.

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