Improve Your Newsletter Open Rates

Do you ever send out a newsletter and get the impression you're talking to yourself?

You know the feeling. You spend hours researching great information and finding the most attractive images. You put the whole thing together in a well-worded document, targeted to your readers.

Feeling rather satisfied, you press "send," sit back, and wait.

And wait. And...

Three days later, only 12% of your subscribers have opened your lovingly crafted email. A pitiful 5% have clicked through to your website, and no one at all has bought a single product.

Why? After all, people must have been interested when they chose to sign up to your newsletter. You didn't force them.

So what's changed for your subscribers? And what can you change for better results?

What's Good? What's Not?

How do you know what's a good open rate and a good click-through rate (CTR) from the email to your site?

If you're new to writing newsletters, you might aim for an open rate of around 90% -- perhaps even more. That's a great target -- but you're likely to be disappointed.

MailChimp's research shows that an open rate of between 13% and 28% is standard. A CTR (clicks on links from your newsletter to your site or a third-party site) of around 2% to 5% of the total mailing is not unusual.

How can you tell what your rates are? A reliable email provider like MailOut Manager, or AWeber and MailChimp, will measure this for you.

So why do people sign up for but not open -- or even choose to unsubscribe from -- newsletters?

Let's look at this from your own perspective first.

Does Your Inbox Gladden Your Heart?

Take a few minutes now to think about your own inbox. The newsletters you receive can tell you a lot, even if they're in a different niche from yours.

How do you feel about the newsletters you have subscribed to? Which do you open? Why? Which remain ignored and unloved? When do you unsubscribe, and why?

Think about a newsletter you've really disliked. If you could give one piece of advice to the author, what would it be?

And importantly, which do you look forward to receiving? What is it about some newsletters that excites you? (If none do, that's important too.) If you met the author face-to-face, what words would you use to compliment her?

Taking a few minutes to consider your own thoughts and feelings can tell you a lot. 

Once you've done that, you'll have started to develop some ideas about what you think makes a poor -- and a great -- newsletter. Now, let's take a look at the evidence from newsletter specialists. Maybe some of these will resonate with your own "findings."

Be Clear About What Readers Can Expect

Have you ever signed up for a newsletter thinking it was going to be one thing, then it turned out to be completely different? Is that something you've identified on your checklist as a newsletter turn-off?

If it hasn't happened to you, how would you feel if it did? Probably not very happy.

And neither would your own subscribers.

So, before you write your first issue, make sure your audience knows what to expect. If you want loyal readers, be clear about what your newsletter will contain, and how often/when you'll publish it.

It may feel good to have a list of hundreds or thousands of subscribers. But if they're not sure what they're signing up for, or if the content doesn't match what they thought they were going to receive, they're unlikely to open future emails. They may even complain. Or they'll simply unsubscribe (if you're lucky).

If they don't unsubscribe, you'll likely end up paying your newsletter provider to send a lot of emails to people who will never see your carefully crafted writing. And they'll never buy anything from you.

Far better to have a smaller list of engaged readers.

How do you achieve that? Here are some practical ideas.

Don't just put a pretty sign-up box on your website and think that's enough. It's not.

Instead (or in addition), have a dedicated sign-up page that goes into detail about what readers can expect.

Include this information...

  • How often they can look forward to receiving your newsletter.
  • Why they should sign up -- what benefits your newsletter will give them.
  • What it will contain that they will not find anywhere else, including on your website.
  • How easy it will be to unsubscribe. It may feel counter-intuitive, but it gives people a sense of security to know they will not be tied into something forever!
  • That you will never sell or give away their details to anyone else. Make a point of emphasizing that. And then make sure you never do sell or give away their details!

Work Out How Often Subscribers Want to Hear From You

Some "gurus" suggest sending an email newsletter every day. Every. Single. Day.

But guess the number one reason people give for unsubscribing from newsletters?

Yep. That's right. A recent study3 found that 45.8% of those who unsubscribe do so because they receive emails too often. More than any other issue with newsletters, they wanted to receive them less frequently.

It can be even worse than that. Not only do some readers unsubscribe, they mark those too-frequent emails as spam. And that's the last thing you want.

So here's a word of advice. Don't send every day.

How do you find that "sweet spot" where readers don't forget you and you don't overwhelm them?

Go back to your own likes and dislikes. Think about your own inbox. How often do you like to receive newsletters? How often is too often?

Now think about your potential readers. How often might be the right number for them? Once a week? Once a month?

There's no right answer here. Each niche is different. As a rule of thumb, don't send it out less often than once a month. Readers have short memories, and may even forget they ever signed up.

If you're unsure, here are some practical tips...

  • Ask your subscribers!
  • Use a free survey provider like Survey Monkey
  • Include a poll in your newsletter -- make it clear that the majority view will prevail!
  • Don't commit to more than you can manage. Better to send newsletters regularly but less frequently, than promise more and not have the time or the content to keep your promise.

Make Your Subject Line Outstanding!

Grabbing the reader's attention in an inbox crammed with emails isn't easy. Your subject line will play a critical part in whether subscribers open your newsletter -- or quickly relegate it to trash.

Some current research from MailChimp1 found that subject lines are the most important factor in ensuring good open rates.

Here are some practical tips...

  • Make it personal. Use the subscriber's first name at the start or end of the subject line. Most email platforms, including MailOut Manager, AWeber and MailChimp, can do this automatically.
  • Keep the subject line short. In a full inbox, readers scan subject lines quickly. MailChimp suggests no more than 50 characters.
  • Make it relevant to the content. Don't try to be smart with the subject line to entice readers to click through. It may work -- but they'll click away (and may unsubscribe or complain) when they discover the content isn't related.
  • Make it fun! Use a different subject line for each newsletter, and include words you know your subscribers will relate to.How do you find the right words? Take a look at some threads on a well-subscribed forum in your niche and make note of emotive words, in particular. Putting them in the subject line will help your subscriber immediately identify with the message.
  • Test, test, test. Some magazines ask for help in getting subject lines right by polling subscribers. Survey Monkey questionnaires embedded in an email work well for this.
  • Or if, like MailChimp, your email provider offers split testing, send one subject line to half your list and another to the other half. Which gets the best open rate? Use that information from the first few mailings to discover the type of subject line your audience prefers, then use that one for future mailings.

Did you know that spam filters can stop your emails from ever arriving in your subscriber's inbox? To make sure this doesn't happen to you...

  • Never use ALL CAPS in a subject line.
  • Don't use several exclamation points -- one is enough, if any.
  • Beware of words like "free," "sale," "% off," "donate," "perfect" and "reminder" -- they trigger spam filters. Even if they sneak past filters, they've all been found to reduce open rates.

Don't Pitch to a "Prospect" -- Write to a Friend

You might have noticed the word "prospect" used by many marketing experts. Here's a piece of advice that doesn't fit with theirs...

Don't write a newsletter to a "prospect" -- send an email to a friend.

Remember those snail-mail days of long ago? If you're too young to remember, try to imagine. No mail for a week or two and then -- a letter from a friend appears in your mailbox. Oh, the excitement! The warm and fuzzy feeling that letter brought!


Because you always looked forward to hearing the latest news from someone you liked.

Your aim with each newsletter is exactly the same. Create excitement when your subscriber sees it in her inbox. You don't want her heart to sink at the thought of yet another jargon-heavy pitch-laden newsletter from you.

Always remember: you're a solopreneur, not a mega-corporation. Your reader likes it that way -- it's one of the reasons she subscribed to your newsletter. It's one of the characterful ways you stand out from the rest.

Your subscriber is an individual. Not a "prospect." Not a robot. A thinking, feeling human being. She has a family. A life.

She has problems, and she needs solutions to those problems. She has needs, which she's looking to you to fulfill.

That's another reason she's subscribed.

She wants you to talk with, not at, her. She wants to share the latest news about the major thing you have in common -- your niche.

She needs to know she can trust you, as you'd trust a real friend.

Yes, you want her to click over to your website, and yes, you want her to buy from you. But she will not do that if your newsletter is nothing but a glorified sales pitch. It's as important that it has the same high quality content as any page on your website.

So, talk to your reader. Write in a way that resonates with her. Here are some practical pointers to help...

  • Write in a natural voice that you know will appeal. Remember: you're not writing an official report. You're sending a letter about news in your niche.
  • Don't use jargon. If necessary, ask someone not familiar with your niche to edit your emails. She'll recognize it better than you.
  • Read your content out loud when you've finished. It will help you work out what sounds right and what seems forced or unnatural.
  • Finish with a phrase that sounds personal, and use an online signature maker to create a personalized signature. Or write your signature on a piece of paper, then scan it and turn it into an image that you can include in every issue.

Add a Little Magic

Of course, you want to sell via your newsletters. But have you ever opened a newsletter thinking "She'll be doing another hard sell -- yippee!"?


Just as you would never sell on every page of your website (you wouldn't, right?), don't sell in every mailing. The accepted average for a weekly newsletter is a sales pitch every fourth or fifth issue (so a little less than once a month).

Instead, try to make your newsletter content value-added. Do exactly what you do on your website: PREsell.

PREselling is gaining the trust and confidence of your readers. Without that, they're much less likely to be willing to buy from you.

How's it done?

Add a little bit of magic to your newsletter. Something that enhances your subscribers' lives.

Here are some ideas...

  • As well as links from your newsletter back to your website, add information your site doesn't contain. An extra tidbit makes your subscribers feel they're getting inside information that no one else is privy to.
  • Include a "Question of the Week / Month." Answer questions asked by your newsletter readers only. You could even do this using video, providing a link to a specific page on your website to which only newsletter readers have the password4.
  • Give something away for free -- anything that makes your readers' life a little easier...For a foodie niche, it might be a recipe PDF that's not on your site.For a travel site, a checklist of critical things to take on vacation.A free pattern for an embroidery site.Advanced knowledge of release dates for the free edition of your latest Kindle book.

People who occasionally get something for free are more likely to open every newsletter -- just in case.

Do you sell something? Give subscribers the first chance to buy from you -- and make sure they know about it in advance. "Coming soon" may not be a good subject line, but when included inside your newsletter it gives readers an incentive to open the next one.

When you do sell, include a discount or voucher in your newsletter. 7 out of 10 consumers say they've used a coupon sent to them in a marketing email. Everyone loves to feel they're getting a bargain!

And Finally

A hard-to-read layout is one of the reasons people give for unsubscribing from emails.So when you've written your latest issue, send a copy to yourself. Double-check to make sure your layout looks good. Make sure you read it on a mobile device, too.More critically, ask yourself this important question..."Would I open this email? And, if I did, would I spend more than a few seconds reading it?Is the answer a resounding "Yes!"? Great -- press that "send" button!And if the answer is a wishy-washy "Meh," or a "No," invest more time in improving the content.