I got this question recently from two different clients who had both received similar advice. One was asking about general email templates, and the other about newsletter email templates.
Both had basically been advised to change the layout of their email or newsletter each month – change the layout the design and where different parts of the email or newsletter were found – vary the order of things. Both clients asked me if this is what I recommend.
My short answer: no. You do not want to change the layout of your email or newsletter on a regular basis.
Of course then I went into a long answer to walk through the reasoning behind why my answer was the exact opposite of what they had already been told.
The newsletter is part of your overall company branding, and as that it should have a consistent look and feel. Switching it up monthly can provide a short-term bandaid for a long-term opportunity – what you want is for more people to read the email content and engage with the newsletter.
Moving the content around can help readers see a section that they didn’t notice before, which could increase a click. So doing that every now and then can be an effective strategy.
However, when you do it on a regular basis it causes more people to unsubscribe.
I’ll relate that unsubscribe concept to grocery shopping.
You go to the store, and you always buy the same brand and type of bread, you love the bread and it’s one of the staples you always get. It’s always there, it’s good, you always buy it.
Then next week you go into the store and they’ve moved the bread, and you have to hunt for it a bit, and eventually you find it. And you’ve seen several other things along the way – the stuff which is now where the bread used to be, things on shelves that you noticed while searching. You even bought something extra. You’re a tiny bit frustrated but not enough to worry.
Next week you go back, and the bread is in yet again a different place. Plus now the aisles overall look a bit different so it’s still hard to know where to look. This time you’re slightly more annoyed. You don’t understand why they’ve changed again – it sure hasn’t made it easier on you.
Third week, and what do you find? Yet again they’ve moved the $*%&$* bread. You like the store and it’s your favorite bread, but seriously? Fine, you’ll buy the bread, but one more time and it’s no longer worth the effort to look for the bread in this store.
Fourth week, it happens again. Unsubscribe!
So initially, changing up your email or newsletter can be an okay short-term strategy: readers can see different content that perhaps they didn’t see last month or the month before. You may see some percentage more clicks and the numbers say that it worked and you’ve had a bit more engagement.
The more effective strategy for your email and newsletter consistency
Changing your email design and layout can even be a very effective strategy if you are very up front that it’s what you have done, and you can pre-teased and post-questioned to get even more traction. An email before the changed one saying something along the lines of “stay tuned, we’re updating our newsletter to make it filled with more value and be more reader-friendly”. Then the next email or newsletter they receive they see the different layout (and you’ve already told them that one is coming so at least some of them will be more likely to be looking to see what you did). In that same email you remind them that you’ve made a few changes that are for their benefit, so you’re reminding them things will look different and why. Shortly after the email it gives you another opportunity for interaction with them when you ask them how they liked it, send them a quick survey or a follow-up email.
But the next month, and for several following, they have familiarity with what they are seeing. You aren’t moving the bread each time they’re there to shop. They know your “brand image” as it relates to your email or newsletter, and they are seeing that same look reinforced repeatedly. And the only reason you moved the bread before was because it’s now better for them, which you have told them repeatedly, so they know you care about them. And at some point in the future, you can make a change again, using those same guiding principles.
The long-term strategy to increase readership and engagement is good content. You give them good content that they want to keep reading, and they will keep coming back to your newsletter (but they want to find that specific content they want easily, without searching all over the store for a loaf of bread).
That’s why I do recommend changing the content of your newsletter each month, definitely changing the one-line preview that will show up in their inbox for every email (that is the main instigator of them clicking to read the email at all). Periodically you can move a section up or down (best used when there is a benefit to the reader – such as one section has such awesome killer content that it needs to be in front of the reader first this month – and you tell them so). And on less frequency you can change the layout, look and feel of the newsletter, when it is a customer-centric decision and you let them know what to expect.