Creating an Online Newsletter

Newsletters are an excellent way to keep your name on the minds of your customers and to bring them the information which will keep them coming back to do business with you.

Every so often, we are approached by someone asking about doing an e-mail or online newsletter. While there are several ways to accomplish this, I will concentrate on the two most popular – sending the newsletter via e-mail, and devoting a section of your website to a newsletter.
Regardless of which method you choose, you will need to compile a list of recipients. One of the best ways to do this is to utilize the e-mail contact information you may already be collecting from your website, perhaps through your guestbook or a "contact us" form. These people have already expressed an interest in your services just by visiting your site. If you choose to, you may also create a separate form on your site specifically for visitors to sign up for your newsletter (see our home page at http://www.virtualtech.com for an example).

A word of caution about compiling a list – in this day and age, people are starting to receive "junk mail" at an alarming pace. If you include anyone in your mailing that has not specifically requested to be added, it is vital that you include a means to unsubscribe their e-mail address from your list. If someone requests to be removed, MAKE SURE that they are. Continuing to send unsolicited email after a removal request is the quickest way to alienate potential clients and presents a very unprofessional image for your business. Also, use caution should you choose to purchase a list from a third party – most are simply "harvested" addresses from other sites that may not have any interest in your services.

The next step is designing your newsletter. Regardless of which method (site-based or e-mail) you choose, if you wish to include any formatting of pictures, special font faces, or a specific layout, you will need to have at least a basic knowledge of HTML and access to a program to edit it. If you are already designing your website, you have these tools in place (some examples include Microsoft FrontPage, Macromedia DreamWeaver, Adobe GoLive, or NetObjects Fusion). When designing your newsletter, make sure that it includes items of interest to the subscribers that they can use... avoid the temptation to make it yet another sales pitch for your products and services.

Once you have it designed, you have two choices as to how to deliver it. The first is the actual e-mailing of the newsletter to your subscribers. If you have a small newsletter, it may be OK to include the newsletter in the body of your e-mail. Doing so will require the cutting and pasting of the actual HTML code you generated in the design process.  It is difficult at best to design your layout in an e-mail program – the message that your subscribers receive may look VERY different from your actual layout. 

Another way is to designate a part of your website as your newsletter. That way you can design the appearance to your specifications, and rest assured that it will arrive in the format that you intended it to. Then, simply send out a plain text e-mail to your subscribers which quickly outlines the content in the newsletter and includes a link to the website address where the newsletter is located.

September 1, 2001

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