Blog Insights
Improve Your Public Sector Email Newsletter

The email newsletter is a standard, go-to channel for government entities to share information, solicit feedback, and educate the public. Some government agencies have a single newsletter, others have several. If you are managing a government newsletter, how can you be sure you are using it to its full potential?

Over the years, Forum One has helped both nonprofits and government organizations craft compelling digital newsletter strategies to make sure their valuable content ends up in the right inboxes, and receives optimal open and click rates. As an example, we worked with Climatelinks — a global knowledge portal for USAID staff, implementing partners, and the broader community working at the intersection of climate change and international development — to develop a strong email engagement and content strategy that helped them to double their email subscription rate. 

Based on our work with government email newsletters, we recommend a number of ways that you can improve your strategy and content — whether it applies to a weekly, monthly, or issue-specific newsletter.

1. Pay attention to the data

If you have an existing email list, take time to review and assess the data about your list and the previous emails you’ve sent. Historically, where have your bounce rates, open rates, and click rates been? If people aren’t opening your emails, is it because your subject lines aren’t engaging enough, or your sender is unfamiliar? Are there certain links that consistently gain more clicks than others? Are people clicking on certain types over others, e.g., video versus web pages? By taking stock of your current email newsletter strategy and content, you’re better able to set new goals and make well-informed adjustments. 

2. Focus on high-value content

This might seem obvious, but every email you send should be interesting and useful. What stories can you tell? What are your calls to action? When developing new content, there are many places you can go for those high-value ideas. Look at your top performing blog posts, pages on your website that get the most traffic, or other popular content that you can repurpose or resend. What topics are people in your field talking about the most on social media or even on competitor’s websites? Use current events and news hooks to send content that’s relevant. Build out an editorial calendar based on seasons, holidays, and regular events, so you’re not scrambling for content each month. For example, one of our clients, the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, sends a series of emails about home buying during the season when people are most likely to purchase a home. 

If you’re consistently low on items to include in your newsletter, then this might be a sign that you should decrease your cadence and send emails less often or only when you have something new to say.

3. Make your emails easy to read

Just as important as what your email says, is how it looks. Keep the layout simple and easy to skim. For government agencies, emails should also be ADA compliant and written in plain language. Keep your emails fairly short and link to longer pieces and more information on your website or blog. If your newsletters are consistently too long, consider sending them more often with fewer items to keep the length reasonable. Most people nowadays check their emails on their phones, so be sure to optimize your newsletters for mobile.

4. Know your audience and what they need 

Is your email making it to the right inboxes? Hopefully the people on your existing list are your target audience. If so, what content do they want most? How can you answer their questions, provide resources, and give updates that will be useful and appreciated? If you don’t know how to answer those questions, you may want to conduct surveys of current and potential subscribers to learn what resonates with them.

5. Find new ways to grow your list

If your list doesn’t have as many subscribers from a specific audience you’re trying to reach, consider promoting your newsletter through other offices, organizations and channels. Encouraging visitors to your website to sign up for your newsletter with a prominent signup box on every page, and include a subscribe option on the email newsletter itself for when the email is forwarded to nonsubscribers. Try using a pop-up box asking first-time visitors to your site to subscribe. Make subscribing as easy and intuitive as possible. If you have a multi-step process for people to subscribe, or if you require a lot of information from them, you might lose people along the way. 

As a public entity, it’s also important for people to be able to easily unsubscribe from your list or manage their subscription preferences. Most email platforms will incorporate this for you, but you may have to adjust the settings for which lists people can access. Never add email addresses to your list without asking permission first. And follow your agency’s standards for handling personally identifiable information (PII). 

6. Don’t sit back – optimize regularly

Once you’ve implemented changes to your emails, take a look back at the metrics you used in your initial benchmark. Track the rate of subscribers, opens, clicks, responses, etc. Did things get better? What can you still improve? If you have the capability to A/B test subject lines or layouts, that’s a great tool to test and see what’s most effective. Measure what’s working and tweak accordingly.

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