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I’ve been writing content for newsletters for (gulp!) almost 37 years now. The medium has changed drastically since I started my professional writing career in the 1980s working for a newsletter publishing firm.

The biggest change, of course, is the shift from paper to electronic newsletters. I remember when this shift started in the mid-to-late ‘90s. Nowadays, you probably get lots of e-newsletters in your email inbox but comparatively few print newsletters in your mailbox.

Are E-Newsletters Effective?

Given the email overload that most of us deal with every day, some marketers are starting to wonder how effective e-newsletters are. It’s a fair question — and one of great interest to me, since I invest time and money into sending out an e-newsletter.

A friend of mine, commercial real estate broker Brian Patton, conducted an informal survey to try to find out. Brian has been sending out an e-newsletter for 16 years now and in a recent issue, he asked his readers to answer the question, “Are email newsletters a relevant form of marketing?”

About two-thirds (65%) said yes, email newsletters are relevant. Brian acknowledges that this is far from a scientific survey, and the results are likely skewed a little given that people reading the newsletter are more likely to think it’s relevant. But like Brian, I view this as a positive and one more reason to keep publishing my e-newsletter.

“As business owners, we tend to think that we are always on our clients’ minds,” Brian told me. “The truth is we are rarely on their minds. Everybody is busy and our business will soon be forgotten if we don’t stay top-of-mind with our clients.”

Tracking E-Newsletter Metrics

One of the best things about using e-newsletters as a marketing tool is that it’s easy to track and measure your success. Email marketing services like Constant Contact and Mailchimp provide detailed analytics and data regarding your newsletters and campaigns — everything from open and click rates to bounces and unsubscribes.

Mailchimp recently crunched the numbers on billions of emails it sends out monthly on behalf of millions of e-newsletter publishers. These range from one-person solo entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies so they represent a broad cross-section of marketers.

If you’ve ever wondered how your e-newsletter’s performance stacks up with other publishers, now you can find out.

Digging into the Data

According to Mailchimp, the average e-newsletter open rate across all industries is 21.3%. In other words, about one out of every five people who receive an e-newsletter open it up and (hopefully) read it. Meanwhile, the average click rate is 2.6%, the average bounce rate is 0.4% (hard bounces) and 0.6% (soft bounces), and the average unsubscribe rate is 0.26%.

Mailchimp broke the data out for a number of different industries and segments — you can see all of them here. I was especially interested in business and finance, since those are the main industries I write within.

For business and finance marketers, the average e-newsletter open rate is 21.5%, the average click rate is 2.7%, the average bounce rate is 0.4% (hard bounces) and 0.5% (soft bounces), and the average unsubscribe rate is 0.20%. These numbers are right in line with the broad averages.

The segments with the highest e-newsletter open rates are government (28.8%), hobbies (27.8%), religion (27.6%), non-profits (25.2%), sports (24.6%) and photo/video (23.2%).

And the segments with the lowest e-newsletter open rates are vitamin supplements (15%), daily deals/e-coupons (15.1%), e-commerce (15.7%), beauty and personal care (16.7%), marketing and advertising (17.4%) and retail (18.4%).

Of course, researching this data prompted me to check my stats and see how my e-newsletter is doing in comparison. Over the past 12 months, my average open rate was 24%, which Constant Contact says is 8% higher than the industry average. Yay! But my average click rate was just 1%, so I’ve got a little work to do here.

How to Boost Your Open Rates

According to Mailchimp, low open rates are usually due to poorly written subject lines, poorly targeted mailing lists or publishing too frequently or infrequently. They recommend using A/B testing to try different subject lines and see which ones perform best.

One of my readers made the same suggestion recently in a reply to my article this summer offering e-newsletter publishing tips. “We have increased open rates and click-thrus dramatically by sending out A/B versions,” wrote Gayle Davis, the Director of Corporate Communications for AORN. “For example, we use different subject lines and pre-headers in each version.”

Other tips from Mailchimp for boosting e-newsletter open rates include:

  • Personalize your subject lines with readers’ names, if possible.
  • Write descriptive and benefit-oriented subject lines.
  • Keep subject lines short — no more than nine words and 60 characters.
  • Limit punctuation marks and emojis in subject lines since these can look spammy.