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How to improve your newsletter open rate: Marketers share their insights

According to Campaign Insights, email newsletters tend to enjoy an open rate of 15-25% – meanwhile, the average Twitter clickthrough rate was just 0.8% in 2020.

As email users pass the four billion mark worldwide and are expected to hit 4.6 billion by 2025, we spoke to newsletter creators in PR and marketing to understand how to get more people to click.

Must be better than paid content

Nick Rines, award-winning newsletters editor, said: “My golden rule is that they must be better than what the recipients pay to read. If there is no significant value to the newsletter, it says there is no significant value to the organisation publishing it. It undermines, not reinforces the brand or cause. 

“Those responsible for publishing newsletters have to be firm about not including commercial or vanity content. The other essentials are having a professionally-designed template, and an experienced editor.”

Segmentation and automation

John Lamphiere, RVP EMEA & APAC at ActiveCampaign, a cloud software platform specialising in email marketing, said: “There are many ways of improving your newsletter open rate. These include segmentation and automation so readers can choose the content they want to hear more about and less of what they don’t want, making newsletters much more personalised to their needs. Subject lines should be compelling but not spammy. So, avoiding the use of all capital or lower case letters or using exclamation marks can help avoid the dreaded spam filter. By using custom fields, you can also personalise the subject line to the subscriber based on their interests or geographical area. Above all, test to see what works for your unique audience and then iterate that process for the future.”

Content that solves readers problems

April Mullen, Director of Brand & Content Marketing at SparkPost, the world’s largest email sender, said: “The key to improving newsletter open rates is a combination of high-quality content and excellent deliverability. Authentic and timely content that solves your readers’ problems and answers their most pressing questions will keep your audience engaged and establish loyalty to your brand. It goes without saying that journalists should also make sure emails are actually reaching readers’ inboxes, and there are deliverability tools available to help with this.”

Ask a question with your subject line

Lee Simpson, Account Director at Fourth Day PR: “A/B testing subject lines is vital. We’ve done various testing on this and have found that our best performing newsletters are those with subject lines that ask a question. But the key is to keep testing. Emojis used to work well in subject lines, but this seems to have fallen out of favour recently.”

Imagine you are writing to an individual

Dale Bonsor, Digital PR Executive at marketing agency Quibble: “When you put together your email newsletter, it’s easy to consider the hundreds, or even thousands of subscribers that your newsletter might land in front of.

“But it really is better to develop tunnel vision and imagine you’re speaking to one single individual. This way your email will come across as organic, friendly, and therefore, far more likely to resonate with the individuals within your audience demographic.”

How to improve newsletter open rates: Send it from a person

Petra Smith, Managing Director of marketing and PR agency Squirrels&Bears: “Send your newsletter from a person – 70% of marketers say their highest performing email campaigns were sent from a person, not a brand. Keep it personal.

“Also take a walk in the recipient’s shoes – ask yourself why they should read your email and what they are going to gain. If your email list allows, try to segment your audience to ensure the right people are being reached with the right message.

“Finally use a compelling subject line – this is the first and often the last element of your newsletter the recipient will see. Generate curiosity but make your message clear and easy to understand.”

More entertaining or informative content

Alex Spencer, PR and Marketing Executive at Prezzybox: “When looking to increase sales, it’s tempting to use email marketing purely to push products. But we’ve increased our email open rate significantly over the last year at Prezzybox by focusing less on product-only emails and, instead, on delivering more entertaining or informative content. This might be in the form of quizzes, infographics or roundups.”

Bold colours and designs can go a long way

Chantel Piper, B2B Marketing Manager at Kaizen, a digital PR, content and SEO agency: “Always segment your lists – personalisation is more than just Hi <insert name> . Lots of emails come into inboxes, and depending on which provider your users use, they might get a preview of the design, so bold colours and designs can go a long way.

“Cull your lists – remove unsubscribes, and bounces – to improve deliverability and prevent spam or create a separate email series for unengaged users to see if you can get them re-engaged.”

As our experts confirm, the effectiveness of newsletters heavily rely on content quality and relevance, yet it is important to remember there is more to consider than the open rate.

Matt Edgar, Founder and Managing Partner at the Global Marketing Alliance, who publish articles and guides for data-driven marketers, runs regular newsletters.

“From a publishing perspective, the focus always needs to be on reader retention and this is a data-driven exercise as well as a content one. In B2B a large percentage of subscribers are normally ‘sleepers’ – people who rarely visit your website. So, the objective of the newsletter is a marketing exercise to pull them willingly to your site to read more.

“Evaluating open rates after each broadcast is reasonably useful in terms of monitoring the effectiveness of subject lines and analysing the best day/time to send the newsletter. However, just as any business should concentrate on profit, rather than turnover, the same should apply to communication. A reader opening your email is only as good as someone peering through your shop window and then moving on. Engaging with the content and clicking through for more is the key to campaign success.

“Your messaging should match the temperature of your readers. Warm them up slowly with valuable, problem-solving, trust-building content.

“It’s also worth noting that Apple’s iOS 15 update now protects users mailbox privacy, so readers opening your newsletter on the Apple Mail client can now shield themselves from being tracked.”