Q: What’s the right number of articles for an issue of your e-mail newsletter?
Only kidding. There is no magic number of articles that works for every newsletter. In fact, let’s restate our Q&A as follows:
Q: OK, so what’s really the right number of articles for a single newsletter issue?
A: As many as it takes.
Now I’m not kidding. The right number of articles for a newsletter is however many it takes to do the job. And the job is reaching your target audience, getting your message across, and persuading your readers to take whatever action it is that you want them to take. That might mean just one article. Or it might mean 30. So take a deep breath and repeat: “It All Depends.”
In this case, form definitely follows function. If you know what your newsletter’s all about, then the right number of stories for a single issue will follow as naturally as night follows day. Get it wrong, and your newsletter will come on either too weak or too strong. But get it right, and your newsletter becomes an effective tool.
Unfortunately, there is no secret formula for determining the right number of articles. Instead, you’ll need consider this short list of common variables. Each has implications for the best number of articles:
Who You Are: Do you want to convey breadth and range? Or deep, intense focus? However you answer, the number of articles in your newsletter should support that. For example, if you work for a weekly news magazine, you want to demonstrate the broad range of topics you cover; do so by publishing many short articles, perhaps as many as 20 or more, in your newsletter. Or, let’s say you’re a strategic consultant who trades in big ideas. You work in depth and with a select group of high-level clients. In this case, the ideal newsletter might need only one, very smart, and fairly lengthy article per issue. In both examples, the number of articles reflects the publisher’s identity, and the image they want to impress upon their readers.
Who Your Readers Are: Who you’re reaching out to matters. For example, if your newsletter is read mainly by current customers, people who already know your company, then they just want to know what’s new. Here, a handful of articles will do the job—so long as the articles present something that’s truly new. For instance, the maker of my office PC sends me a newsletter with three or four security tips each month, which is perfect. But let’s say your readers are mainly prospects, people who are still getting to know you. For them, a larger number of short articles will do a good job of introducing them to your company, your products and services, and your benefits.
What Actions You Want Your Readers to Take: Many newsletters exist primarily to drive traffic to their company’s Web site. If that’s true for you, then your newsletter might do best with many short articles, each with an internal link (that is, a link to a specific article on a site, not its home page). Other newsletters exist mainly as a way to keep in touch and keep readers up to date on a company’s progress. If that’s your situation, then two or three articles, presented in full with no links, should suffice; links, if you want them, should be limited to a promo box or two or the very bottom of the letter. Just make sure the links point to content that’s relevant to your readers.
Your Resources: All the above goes out the window if you lack sufficient resources. For example, if you run a one-person marketing firm, you probably don’t have time to also write, edit, and ship a daily newsletter with 20 articles. Instead, a monthly newsletter with perhaps one to three articles is probably best. On the other hand, if you have all the resources in the world, then by all means let ‘em rip. A multi-billion-dollar, global corporation that ships just one article a month could seem downright stingy. Better to provide a larger number of articles that gives a more accurate sense of your company’s scale and reach.
So remember, if you find yourself wondering how many articles your newsletter should include, first consider who you are, who your readers are, what actions you want to inspire, and your resources. That way, the magic number will be the one that truly supports your most important marketing goals. Who knows, it could even be seven!
Peter Krass is president of Petros Consulting LLC (www.petrosconsulting.com), a firm that helps clients improve their written communications to attract, nurture, and develop excellent customers, quality suppliers, committed employees, and long-term partners. He has helped create, plan, and edit newsletters for clients that include BusinessWeek, CMP Media, and Nokia.