Newsletter Cheat Sheet: How To Get Them Opened And Read

People sign up for email newsletters with no more thought than ordering a coffee at Starbucks. Then these unopened editions pile up in the inbox until the recipient gets fed up and unsubscribes from every one of them.

How do beleaguered newsletter editors avoid having their work tossed into that pile? More importantly, how do they get their newsletters opened and read?

Here are some suggestions, based on years of conversations with experts, reading their bylined articles and trying — sometimes imperfectly — to follow the advice of actual practitioners.

First, to state the obvious: The best way is to fill your newsletter with relevant — and we would add, well-written — content. But even that won’t work if you have neglected the more basic elements.

For example, do you have compelling teaser copy? Does your "from" line inspire confidence?

Think of your email as a digital direct mail package. Here are the four essential components:



Subject lines — This is your envelope headline. Hype your top story, using crisp language and an appeal to self-interest. And follow these general rules:

  • Keep them short and punchy
  • Communicate urgency
  • Test
  • Skip spam words
  • Don’t put in blatant product pitches

From Lines — These are often more important than subject lines. The person has to recognize who sent the email. Here are some tips suggested by Return Path:

  • Identify your company
  • Name the brand or division you’re part of. The name has to be familiar
  • Don’t use personal names
  • Make sure the name is always the same

Pre-headers — The pre-header is a line of copy that you place on top in the preview screen. It also can determine whether your email gets read, especially if your image fails to render.  

Teasers — Newsletter teasers are usually one or two cleverly written lines that explain the story and engage the reader’s interest (that is, if you link to stories and don’t run them in their entirety in the newsletter). They are the call to action — you have to persuade the recipient that this is worth clicking through to the landing page. There is no set rule about how long teasers should be. A simple headline might suffice when it’s hard news, but it may not work for a more complicated subjects. In general, though:

  • Write short, action-oriented teasers
  • Make sure they are relevant
  • Write clean copy (no tongue-twisters)
  • Throw in a little humor, but don't overdo it
  • Clearly direct the reader to the link
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