The Anatomy of a High Converting Newsletter

Newsletter subscriptions have functioned as a highly effective educational and informative marketing tool for businesses, organizations, and enterprises for longer than the Internet has existed. Mail subscriptions to print newsletters helped keep tabs on customers while showcasing the latest products for sale and the most up to date news out of the organization. The mail-away catalog once served as the main mode of buying products away from stores. Companies from JCPenney to Kenner provided special newsletter subscriptions (and now some of the most valuable Star Wars collectibles date back to the mail-order newsletter days). Now, the mail-order days have gone by the wayside. Although some businesses still provide small catalogs and ship brochures to remain in the mail, this is an added expense to stay in front of former customers. Now, newsletters run primarily through email. Yet even emails end up in spam folders or deleted before ever opened. So how can a company ensure the highest conversion rate possible, without reverting back to the extremely costly print-and-mail newsletter? Here are several tips, tricks, and statistics into the anatomy of a high converting newsletter.

Build the Email List

It doesn’t matter how great a newsletter is if there’s nobody on the other end to receive it. So, the very first step in creating a high converting newsletter is to actually build the email list.


There are a handful of methods available to help build up an email list. Generally, asking someone to sign up for a newsletter isn’t going to do all that much. Outside of the select few visitors who are really into the company, there’s no immediate need to add additional incoming mail to an email account. To do this, it’s necessary to provide some sort of incentive. One of the most common methods of doing this is to offer some sort of financial discount on a future order by signing up for the email list. Other companies may offer a free eBook for signing up for the newsletter. Realistically, it all depends on what kind of products a company offers and its client base. It may also take some experimenting to determine what is deemed most valuable to the key demographic. Whatever it may be, providing incentive serves as one of the best ways to build a quality email list.

Determine the Purpose of a Newsletter

Every newsletter needs a purpose. Without purpose, the newsletter will become misguided. Every bit of media, every marketing presence and every form of advertising outreach a company puts out needs to have some sort of reason behind it. What does a company want to accomplish with the marketing material? The same holds true for a newsletter. What’s the reason behind the newsletter? Many newsletters go out in order to showcase a new product or to increase sales by highlighting specific discounts. Other newsletters go out in order to bring new traffic to the website or to build a social media following. Other newsletters attempt to help boost eBook download numbers. There’s no limit to what a business might want out of a newsletter, it just needs to have an established purpose ahead of time. This way, the material included in the newsletter can drive home the set goal.

It is important to note here a newsletter should not have varying goals. One newsletter shouldn’t go out attempting to build a social media following while also wanting recipients of the email to download an eBook. This is a mistake too many businesses execute. In an attempt to twice the bang for a single email, it actually ends up reducing the effectiveness. A newsletter comes with a call to action. When there are varying goals incorporated into the email, it will include varying calls to action. This may confuse the person reading the email, which in turn reduces the effectiveness. Overly complicating emails and confusing readers not only hinders the conversion rate, but it may lead to an increase in unsubscribe requests.

It’s All About the Subject Line

Even after an individual subscribes to an email newsletter, it doesn’t guarantee they will ever open the message. Some just subscribe for the initial discount offered on the website and avoid opening future emails. The right subject line can be the difference between someone opening the email and someone sending the message directly to spam. According to CoSchedule, 35 percent of all email recipients open an email completely based on the subject line. 43 percent of email recipients send an email to spam based on the email address name, and 69 percent of recipients send emails to the spam folder based on the subject line. With such a large percentage of individuals sending the email to spam based on the subject line, it shows just how important it is to have a quality, attention-grabbing line that doesn’t in any way come off as spam.


There are a number of ways to improve the subject line and boost engagement with the message. One of the best ways to do this is through personalization. If the email mentions the recipient by name within the subject line, they not only are less likely to trash the message (or send it to spam), but they are more likely to open the email. According to SaleCycle (2017), 82 percent of Internet markets suggest a personalized subject line does result in an increase in a newsletter’s open rate. It also results in a 75 percent increase in the newsletter’s click-through rate. So, while it does take additional time to personalize the outgoing emails, it’s well worth the time spent.

Urgency, But Consumers Get What They Pay For

One of the best ways to increase sales, regardless of industry, is to include a sense of urgency. Potential customers are far more likely to make a purchase if they believe the sale will no longer exist within a few days (or even by the end of the day). Building a sense of urgency within both the subject line and the newsletter increases both the open and click-through rate. Words such as “important,” “urgent,” “breaking,” and so on all add the notion of a topic not likely to last. At the very least, it peaks an individual’s curiosity.

On the flip side, using the word “free” (as in giving away something free) doesn’t always translate. According to MailChimp, using the words “free” or “freebie” translates the best with recruitment and staffing newsletters, with a 0.45 percent increase in recipients opening the message. After this though, the percentages drop to 0.11 for restaurants and beauty care. Entertainment, music, e-commerce, media, and education all drop to below 0.1. In some instances, it actually hinders the open rate. For a retail newsletter, the open rate drops by .04 percent. This number dips further to 0.15 for medical and real estate newsletters. For travel and transportation newsletters, the open rate drops by a full 0.25 percent


Don’t Spam Subscribers

It’s very important for a newsletter to go out on a regular basis. This may be once a week, twice a week, once a month or so on. When someone subscribes, they expect the email to go out on a regular basis. It also may take a few times to understand the general schedule of the newsletter. Now, the frequency of the newsletter will heavily depend on the desired outcome. If it’s to increase sales and promote special offers, a company may send out emails more frequently. A clothing retailer such as Nordstrom’s sends out multiple emails a week, usually indicating the weekly sales and special flash sales in between. That regularity works for the company as it provides new and helpful updates. A subscriber identifies this frequency and while they may not open every message, they will read the subject line and open those messages specific to them. However, this kind of frequency does not work for all companies. If a subscriber is under the assumption of a monthly newsletter, but instead begins to receive messages several times every week, it will come across as spam, which increases the potential of not only the recipient unsubscribing, but to report the message as spam, which increases the chance of future emails from the company’s email account to end up in the spam folder of other subscribers.

According to Litmus (2018), there are several reasons that lead to a newsletter recipient reporting a spam message. 43 percent of those reporting spam said it’s due to the emails not working on smartphones. 45 percent said because they had an undesirable experience with the brand and wanted nothing to do with the company. 50 percent said they reported the newsletters as spam because they couldn’t unsubscribe. 51 percent said they didn’t mean to subscribe in the first place, while 53 percent said they were no longer interested in what the company had to offer. However, more than any other complaint, 57 percent of former newsletter subscribers said they reported a message as spam because they receive too many emails.


When a consumer provides their email, they do so because they have confidence in the business not taking advantage of their information, selling it off to third parties or overusing the email address.

Add Excitement With Media

One of the best ways to improve excitement and boost user engagement with an opened email is to provide some sort of visual enhancement. According to GMass (2017), emails with included videos experience a 96.38 percent higher click-through rate and are opened at a 5.6 percent higher rate than emails without any videos included. This is because the average subscriber will spend up to 51 seconds scanning and reading an email yet will only read 20 percent of the text on the page.  While some of this does have to do with grabbing the attention of a subscriber, there’s also a mental reason as to why people respond better to video than text. The brain itself is able to process visual information 60,000 times faster than text, so more information can be absorbed through video than in test form. Highlighting key information within the advertisement is important. This includes the call to action and bullet pointers within the email. However, the vast majority of the email newsletter’s context should be delivered in a visual format


Measure Everything

It’s crucial to measure and monitor all forms of marketing. This holds true for a newsletter. Understanding what works, what doesn’t and how to improve is the basis of a great email campaign and a high converting newsletter. Exceptionally well-performing newsletters do not develop overnight. It takes work, experimentation and an understanding of the analytics. There are several important points to continually measure. This includes the open rates, how often the email is forwarded, unsubscribe numbers (and which email received the most unsubscribes), the bounce rates and the click-through rates. Some of the best email monitoring programs also provide email read rates and the amount of time an individual message is open on a recipient’s computer. By monitoring this information and comparing it to all other sent out newsletters, it’s possible to compare the contents of the email (including the subject line).


It may also take some experimentation with identifying the right email marketing software and embedded analytical services, but by taking advantage of the data, it’s always possible to build upon and develop a high converting newsletter.

In Conclusion

A high converting newsletter not only has the power of persuading recipients to open the email, but to revisit the website and make additional purchases. By following the blueprint of previous high converting newsletters in the past, it’s possible to replicate the success. In addition to implementing these tips and tricks though, it’s essential to continually test, analyze and experiment, in order to see what works, what improves results and what fails to deliver. As every business relies on different customers and key demographics, not all performance metrics will remain the same. However, by starting with the established anatomy, it’s possible to edit and evolve into a well oiled, results driven newsletter.

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