I sent out the first issue of my e-newsletter The Writer’s Block more than a decade ago in 2011. Since I’d been writing and editing newsletters going all the way back to my first professional job in 1985, this was an obvious step for me to take as a new full-time freelance writer.

Over 20-plus years, I’d seen first-hand how effective newsletters are as a marketing tool when they’re done right. A newsletter puts you in front of your customers and prospects on a regular basis, typically once or twice a month. It helps you build relationships and trust by providing value-added, non-sales information that positions you and your business as a subject matter expert.

All these benefits are contingent on one very important thing, though: People have to actually open and read your newsletter. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter how insightful, well-written or beautifully designed your newsletter is. It won’t be anything more than a vanity project and waste of your money and time.

Defining High Readership

Before I get to my tips for boosting e-newsletter readership, let’s talk for a minute about what constitutes high readership. One of the benefits of electronic newsletters is that it’s easy to find out how many people open each issue. (Note that I said open, not read, each issue. It’s impossible to know how many people actually read the content, but let’s assume that most openers are reading at least some of your newsletter.)

According to Mailchimp, the average e-newsletter open rate across all industries is 21.3%. This means that about one out of every five people who receive an e-newsletter open it up and, we’re assuming, read it.

Newsletter publishing platforms like Constant Contact and Mailchimp offer detailed analytics on newsletter open rates as well as click-throughs, bounces, unsubscribes and other metrics. This is a treasure trove of data you should be monitoring to see how you’re doing in these areas.

Open rates are the most interesting and relevant stat for my purposes. After holding steady in the mid-20% range with an occasional bump up over 30%, my open rate soared to 48% for my December issue at the end of last year. Since then, every issue has topped 30%, so I must be doing something right!

My Top 5 Tips

Over the years I’ve learned a little bit about how to boost e-newsletter open rates and, presumably, readership. Here are 5 tips that I think are most useful:

1. Pay attention to the From and Subject lines. These are important. I mean, really, really important. About half of email users (which is pretty much everybody, isn’t it?) don’t open emails from addresses they don’t recognize, according to Statista. So make sure your full name is in the From line. ‘Nuff said.

The Subject line is a little more nuanced. There are different schools of thought here, but every expert (don’t you just love experts?) agrees that the most important job of a subject line is to get people to open and read the newsletter. So the more compelling and intriguing your Subject line, the better.

Subject lines with specific numbers have been proven effective (see the headline of this issue) as are benefit-oriented subject lines. Subject lines should be relatively short — try to keep them under 10 words and 60 characters. And limit punctuation marks and emojis in subject lines since these can look spammy.

2. Include an introductory note. Newsletter guru Michael Katz (see, I didn’t call him an expert!) really stresses this and he always does a great job with his own newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette. As he puts it, “If your newsletter is nothing more than an article on a particular topic, you are missing out on an opportunity to make a human connection.”

An introductory note lets readers know that there’s a real human being behind the newsletter, not just a bot or something like that (don’t ask me what a bot is). You can make it a little whimsical if you want like I usually try to do and then include a short synopsis of what the content is about. Also invite people to share their comments by clicking on a link.

3. Make sure your newsletter is mobile-friendly. More than half of all emails are opened on mobile devices nowadays so it’s critical that your newsletter reads well and formats properly on a smart phone or tablet. The industry term for this is “responsive design,” which means that the e-newsletter will automatically respond to the device on which it’s being opened and read.

Michael offers a few more tips for making your newsletter mobile-friendly:

  • Design it in a single column.
  • Use large buttons and well-spaced links.
  • Write even shorter subject lines — no more than 25-30 characters.

4. Don’t force a click. Have you ever noticed that some e-newsletters just include a brief intro to the content and make you click a link to read the rest of it? I hate this! I know, it’s just one click, but for some reason that’s a major obstacle to me reading the rest of the newsletter.

And I’m not alone. Studies have shown that fewer than half of people who open a newsletter with a forced click follow through by clicking and reading the entire issue. I tried it once with my newsletter and just a handful of people clicked through. So I resent it a week later with all of the content in the body of the email. And I haven’t tried this experiment again!

5. Make the copy easy to read. Most of what people read these days is on a screen, not paper and ink. (Although I might be the exception given my affinity for reading a good old-fashioned print newspaper and hardback books.) Unfortunately, reading on screens is harder than reading on paper, especially for those of us over 50.

So you should do whatever you can to make your copy easy to read. For example, Michael suggests using a large font and plenty of spacing between lines. Also use black text on a plain white background instead of reversing text out of a colored background. And keep paragraphs short — two or three sentences tops, regardless of what your high school English teacher might say!boost e-newsletter readership