How many times have you deleted an email newsletter from a company without even reading it?

Newsletters were originally created to act just like how they sound: letters containing news from the business. The latest products were announced matter of factly. There might be an employee spotlight. A letter from the CEO. Even a personal story.

But it quickly got tiresome to read the same things over and over. And it wasn’t helping customers and leads to solve their problems.

The biggest mistake most business owners make with their email newsletter: they still format it to look and sound like a boring, traditional press release.

It’s time to unchain your newsletter from the safe, tried-and-true format your company originally established.

Take a careful look at your newsletter template and content. Is it long or short? Does it offer a variety of articles and interesting content or one long-form article? Is it just pulling from your blog or is there exclusive subscriber-only content? (There are no wrong answers to these questions, by the way: it depends on what your audience wants.)  Look at your stats from the past year of newsletters and write down the following:

  • Average open rate
  • Average click-through rate
  • Average unsubscribe rate per month
  • Number of SPAM reports

Look at how those stats correspond to the content you’re offering. If you’re having an unhealthy open rate (typically below 25% or one quarter of your subscribers who aren’t opening) and/or an unhealthy click-through rate (CTR, should be over 5% from your openers), chances are the culprit is in the copy.

Let’s think back to one of the most important rules of marketing: use you-centric language over I-centric language whenever possible. (This is known as “awesome copy.”)

How can you improve the content of your newsletters?

The Subject Line and The Preview

If you are calling your newsletter Company X Monthly Newsletter or Company X News – October 2015, please consider doing something else.

35% of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone. If you are not running any other email campaigns–you should be, by the way, because email is the most powerful way to talk to and digitally handsell to your customers–you need to make sure your monthly or weekly newsletter has a catchy, branded title. Or use your Feature post in your newsletter to craft an eye-catching subject line and preview line that tease out what the reader will learn inside the email.

You don’t have to go full-Upworthy-drama on the subject line, but make sure it’s compelling and authentic to your brand voice.


What action do you want the reader to take with each piece of content? In order to decide your content, you need to create goals that mutually beneficial to both your company and your audience.

This means you have to know who is reading it. Who are your customers and what are their biggest pain points?

Some goals can include: announcing a new product or service, giving subscribers first dibs on a secret product, selling earlybird tickets to an event, gaining trust with a behind-the-scenes post, helping to solve a specific problem using one of your tools or your expertise, asking people to engage and comment on a hot topic. Be clear on your goals so you can measure your success.

Excerpts, not Full Posts

Sometimes this is just a tech hurdle you need to overcome. Using your blog platform (WordPress, Squarespace, etc.), make sure you fill out the Excerpt paragraph in your SEO optimizer fields if you have one. This helps you succinctly summarize your content in 3 lines or less. You can then copy and paste this with a READ MORE button in your newsletters and drive subscribers back to the website.


People like to be swept up into the moment…in a good way. Don’t put pressure on your list using terms like “Buy our products or you’ll regret it!”

Use teasers and a velvet rope approach to announce an upcoming sale. For instance, you can write to them: “We’re having a subscriber-only sale this weekend, here’s the calendar invite so you can sync it up with your iCal or Google Calendar, and we’ll send you a quick email when the ‘store’ opens! Limited supply, so be the first in the door.” Find ways to recreate a bustling shop atmosphere online for whatever you sell. It could be a service that’s only available to the first five people who buy.

Create a countdown timer. If people can see an embedded countdown clock, it psychologically triggers them to take action. Whether you’re hosting an event, selling a course, offering a new product, or even merging with a new company, a countdown involves people in the same “time sphere” as you.

Use news events to create urgency. If your products or services are particularly helpful in this certain phase of the economy, or there’s been a market shift, clearly communicate to your subscribers why reading this newsletter matters even more right now, thank them for simply taking that action, and list three more action items they can take. Blend helpful with promotional.

Content Upgrades

Chris Brogan, CEO of Owner Media Group, says 70% of his sales come from newsletters because he offers what is called a “content upgrade.” This is a piece of info you provide in PDF format, a book, a short course, an audio, a private/hidden video just for your subscribers, etc. You make it available at a price that’s right for your market but low enough to trigger them to take out their wallets (usually less than $20 but can go up to $300 depending again on your customer’s persona).

The point is that you’re accomplishing several things at once: engaging subscribers with a free helpful article, delighting them with something different that’s tailored just for them, helping them solve a big problem using this content upgrade, and welcoming them as a new customer–no matter how small their purchase. Your customers are your lifeblood…treat them with the respect and attention they deserve.

Smooth Details

And last but not least, make sure you get the little things right:

1. Play nice with smartphones. 41% of all email users read email on their phone. So make sure it’s mobile-responsive and easy to read.

2. Your images aren’t just images: A lot of people have “Don’t Display Images” set to default on their email programs, meaning most of them won’t see your pictures…at first. So what do you do to avoid awkward boxes called photoofmyface34.jpg? Edit your photo titles. Remember to add Alt Tags and Call-to-Action descriptions in your photos. If marketers optimized their emails for image blocking, ROI would increase at least 9%.

3. For the love of everything, use spellcheck. Look at your email in preview mode and have a friend or staffperson double check behind you.

4. Same double-check goes for broken links. Broken links or old links are the worst. Unprofessional and embarrassing. Don’t let the little slip-up drive sales and leads away.