Business Management

7 tips for driving up email newsletter engagement

Eric Goldschein

Updated: May 27, 2020 · 7 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

email newsletter engagement content

The numbers are clear: Email newsletter marketing provides the best return on investment of any tactic in the digital marketing space. Experts say you can use email marketing to convert leads, re-engage old customers, and strengthen brand loyalty.

If you’re a small business owner dipping your toes into the email newsletter waters, however, you might be having a different experience. Maybe your emails are going unopened, or subscribers aren’t clicking on your content. You’re spending money on this marketing channel with little to show for it.

First of all, don’t worry, because you’re not alone. Campaign Monitor surveyed marketers and found that 44% said increasing engagement rates was their greatest challenge.

Also, this is a fixable problem. Between tweaking the appearance and content of your email newsletters, how and when they arrive in inboxes, and who you send them to, you can drive up your newsletter engagement and gain positive ROI fast.

With that goal in mind, let’s review 7 tips for boosting email newsletter engagement:

1. Test the following: subject lines, send times, and content

As with most digital marketing tactics, testing should be a core component of your email newsletter campaign efforts. This is particularly true across 3 main areas: subject lines, send times, and content.

Most quality email marketing platforms will help you to A/B test your messaging. An A/B test sends 2 versions of an email to your subscribers, or a segment of subscribers, with 1 key variable changed. Higher performance on 1 version over another helps you identify what to keep, and what to discard, in future emails.

You can test virtually any aspect of your newsletter, but here’s why you should focus on these 3 variables:

  • Subject lines: Your subject line is your first impression to readers. Unless you can make a compelling pitch to subscribers in a few words (which is harder than it sounds), your email will go right to the trash. Experiment with humor, pithiness, emoji, and urgency in your subject lines.
  • Send times: What’s the best time of day, or day of the week, to send a newsletter? The exact answer may depend on your subscribers, so play around with what leads to the best open rates.
  • Content: We’ll delve into this more below, but testing to see what kind of content — image-heavy versus copy-heavy; short-and-sweet sentences versus paragraph-laden storytelling — resonates with your subscribers is crucial.

A/B testing these aspects of your newsletter never needs to end. There is always room for improvement.

2. Segment your audience and send them tailored campaigns

When it comes to email marketing, 1 size does not fit all.

Just as every customer has different reasons for shopping with you, everyone who signs up for your email newsletter may expect different things from your messaging.

With this in mind, you can segment your subscribers into different buckets and send each bucket different email content. You can bucket them by engagement level (often, sometimes, rarely, and never) to send them content that reflects their previous interactions with your emails.

Tailor your messaging to reflect their preferences. Congratulate frequently engaged subscribers and reward them for their brand loyalty with a discount. Re-engage subscribers who rarely interact with you and encourage them to open your next email for a "surprise,” such as —well, a discount usually works nicely in this situation too.

If you’re in a position to offer discounts and rewards, keep in mind that how you present them to various segmented audiences is as important as when you do it. Tailoring and personalizing your copy will work wonders in this regard.

3. Poll your audience

What does your audience want from your emails? Ask them.

Include a poll in your emails asking subscribers what kind of content they want to receive. Even a few responses will help you bucket your audience more effectively.

Some subscribers will only want to know about discounts and sales. Others may want to know about new products. Some want frequent messaging; others, not so much.

By letting your subscribers dictate what they want to hear and when, you stand a much better chance of getting engagement at the levels you’re looking for with each email sent.

4. Don’t overwrite your copy

Some people have a bit of an outdated concept of what it means to send a "newsletter.” In the past, a newsletter sent to someone’s home might have a format similar to a small newspaper, with lots of text and maybe some photos.

Let’s be real: People aren’t reading email newsletters like paper newsletters of old. They’re scanning your copy for the most salient points — what is this about? — before deleting, moving on, or converting.

Don’t make your newsletters wordy or hard to read. Consider packaging your messaging inside of a photo, or keeping your copy short and to the point. (Note that if some of your subscribers enjoy reading longer updates, that’s great — but segment them, as they aren’t your typical reader.)

5. Use web-safe fonts

Formatting in general is an important consideration for your newsletters. You need to make sure your newsletter is easy to read, on brand (using your brand colors and/or logos), and mobile-responsive.

If you only take 1 action today to drive up your engagement, however, it should be to work on your font. Nothing will turn a reader off faster than an illegible font that you chose in an effort to be fun and creative. Your font might also get switched out for an off-brand font if you use something that a browser doesn’t recognize.

Consult a list of web-safe fonts and choose 1, such as Arial or Times New Roman, that is guaranteed to show up with major email clients.

6. Make your call to action clear

Something that many small business owners don’t understand about email marketing is that each message should typically contain a “call to action.”

Your “CTA” should be a straightforward and clear request. Maybe it’s, “Shop now!” or, “Redeem your discount,” or, “Answer this 1-question poll,” but readers should understand exactly what you want from them in each email. It should also be easy for them to convert — make sure your CTA itself is clickable by including a link further down the page.

Multiple CTAs, CTA language that isn’t clear, or CTA design that isn’t user-friendly is how you lose the interest of subscribers. If you don’t utilize CTAs well, you make it impossible for them to engage in the way you want them to.

7. Audit your subscriber list

If your open rates, engagement rates, and other metrics are down, there may be a simple solution: Make sure you’re sending your email to people who want to hear from you.

Many email marketing platforms charge you by the number of people on your lists, so take the time to audit your subscriber database and ensure you’re not getting a lot of bounce backs or immediate deletions. That right there is a waste of your time and money.

In addition, sending email blasts to large numbers of people, only for them not to open your messages for any number of reasons (they don’t remember signing up for your emails, or they’ve lost interest), gives you an imprecise measurement of how effective your emails are.

As painful as it might be, you can send emails to subscribers asking them to confirm that they want to receive your emails. You may end up losing subscribers overall, but those you keep are much more likely to engage.

Final thought:

There’s no surefire way to ensure 100% engagement with your email newsletter all the time. That being said, the above tips will help you reach the people you want to reach, in the way they want to be reached. It should be a win-win for all parties involved.

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