Reading time: about 9 minutes

Is your newsletter struggling to gain readers or generate sales? Maybe it’s just not serving the right stuff. Here are some quick tips to give it a tune-up.

1. Tracking & Measuring

If you’re expecting any level of success from your newsletter, it’s a must that you track response and measure progress. Your email service provider or ESP (the company that sends out your newsletter) should provide some sort of dashboard to do this. If they don’t, get a better provider! This is also one reason you really shouldn’t send your newsletter from your own Outlook or Gmail account.

In fact, response tracking is at the heart of the rest of the tips in this article. That’s why it tops the list.

So, how do we measure response? Here are some key things to watch:

Opens & Open Rate

Opens refers to the number of subscribers who actually opened your email once it hit their inbox, and Open Rate is that number represented as a percentage of your total subscribers. For instance, if you have 5,000 subscribers, but only 1,000 opened your message, your Open Rate would be 20%.

Keep in mind, tracking Opens accurately requires recipients to download at least one image within your email, so it’s possible people are opening but have images turned off so they aren’t being tracked. There are ways to encourage this behavior, however.

A good way to encourage readers to download your images is to include important information in graphic format only, such as an infographic or chart. Including a description of what the info is (minus the actual info, of course) will let your text-only readers know what they’re missing by not allowing your images.


Clicks are simply the number of times readers clicked on a link inside your email. Click-Through-Rate (CTR) is that number as a percentage of those who actually opened your email (not total recipients).

There’s another distinction you’ll want to pay attention to. Unique vs Total. Unique Clicks is the number of distinct individuals who clicked a link, where Total Clicks includes repeated clicks on the same link by the same individual. So, if clicks the same link 5 times, it would add 5 to the Total Clicks count, but only 1 to Unique Clicks.

In my view, Unique Clicks is a better measure of content effectiveness, as it gauges overall interest. You’d rather know how many unique readers clicked something, because that determines your content’s reach.

Subscriber Rates and Bounce Rates

You should be keeping track of subscriber numbers, in particular how quickly you gain or lose subscribers. If you’re gaining a lot of subscribers, but also losing them quickly, it means your newsletter isn’t living up to its promise, or your sign-up offer isn’t attracting serious customers.

By the same token, keep an eye on your Bounce Rate. That’s the number of emails you send that come back as undeliverable. This can happen for a number of reasons, but most often it’s because that email address is no longer valid (or never was). It can also happen if your domain has landed on a blacklist because you’ve been flagged as a spammer.

This is why you should strive to keep a clean, healthy list. Remove hard bounces quickly, because too many can lower your Sender Score and get you blacklisted. Why? Mostly because a common spammer practice is to send a shotgun blast of unwanted email to a huge list of auto-generated email addresses in hopes of getting their junk through to

On-Site Metrics

In addition to your ESP’s tracking tools, you should also be taking advantage of Google Analytics, Google’s free tracking service, and its Campaigns feature. This can help you get more detailed information about your customers’ behavior after they click a link in your newsletter.

One thing it can help you measure is probably the most important to you — Conversion Rate. Conversion Rate shows you how effective your message is, and how effective your landing page is. Are enough subscribers clicking through to your offer? And are they taking the desired action once they get there? If not, you know where to start making changes.

So, what should your numbers be?

It really varies based on company size, email frequency and industry. Here’s a handy article from HubSpot that can give you an idea:

2. Supercharge Your Subject Line

If your Open Rate is low — or worse, going down, it could be because your subject line isn’t drawing your subscribers’ interest. Most readers make the decision to open or not in just a few milliseconds. Try a few of these simple tweaks to earn that click:

  • Use Numerics to give the reader an idea how long and how useful an article might be. Such as “7 Ways to Grow Larger Tomatoes” or “8 Things You’re Forgetting To Upsell”.
  • Focus on the benefits. Make it clear how the contents of your email can help your reader.
  • Ask a probing question. Nothing inspires curiosity like doubt. If you can put a question in your reader’s mind, they may be more likely to seek the answer within, especially if it’s a question they may already be asking themselves deep down.
  • Up the Urgency. Let them know about your limited-time offer, your flash sale, or that there are a finite number of slots open and they don’t want to be left out. Just don’t overuse this, or be too desperate sounding. You’ll turn off your readers, fast!
  • Avoid ALL CAPS. Nothing says “spam” like shouting. Now, something like “FREE for a limited time” is probably fine, but “FREE FOR A LIMITED TIME” makes you that guy at the party who talks too loud.

3. What’s the Frequency?

It may be that your readers are hearing from you too often, or aren’t hearing from you often enough.

In either case, your subscribers could go blind to your message. At best, they’ll ignore it. At worst, they’ll flag your message as spam. If enough of your readers do this, your Spam Score will go up which might cause your newsletter to end up in their Spam or Junk folder instead of their inbox, so they’ll probably never even see it.

If you’re sending a lot of email to your subscriber list and not getting much response, try dialing back the frequency. Remember, less is more. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Blah blahditty blah.

On the other hand, if you’re the timid type, maybe you need to up your game. Part of marketing is changing customer habits, so you’re trying to work your way into someone’s routine. If they only hear from you occasionally, and not on a regular basis, they might just forget you’re out there.

Another thing to think about is when you send. Certain customers have a particular day or time that they are most likely to open and read your newsletter. Depending on your industry, it could be due to their work or leisure schedules, or even buying habits.

Experiment by sending out on a different day, or maybe first thing in the morning instead of lunch (these are just examples, only you can know what works best), then measure the results in your tracking dashboard.

4. Don’t be content with just any old content.

One metric mentioned above is Click Through Rate (CTR). You should be measuring the amount of clicks your newsletter content is getting, and what specifically is getting clicked. This can tell you a wealth of information about customer preference and behavior. Seriously, it’s one of the best ways to learn your audience.

If your subscribers aren’t clicking, it could be your content isn’t meeting their needs. After all, they signed up for a reason, right? Sure, maybe it was to get that e-book or one-time promo code, but if you want to keep them, you’d better deliver value on the regular.

You want your subscribers to read your newsletter and, typically, to take some sort of action (like click to read an article or view a product on your website). They want that too, but you’ve got to make it worth it to them.

Pay attention to what your readers click on, and what they don’t. Then do more of what gets results. Try new things and see how they respond. Repeat until your server blows up from too much website traffic, and you have to buy a second house to hold all your “Newsletter of the Year” awards.

One thing I need to stress here, as I usually do in my content marketing articles, is that you should offer more value than self-promotion. That means, the content should not just be about sales, it should appeal to your customer’s needs — lifestyle, information, entertainment — whatever they may be. If you watch their response to your content, they will tell you what they want.

5. Find Your Way Forward

There are a number of ways to grow your subscriber list, but like most things, one of the best is through personal recommendation. Just like you check reviews before you try out that new restaurant, you want to hear from a satisfied customer. The same applies to your newsletter.

Include a prominent link somewhere (usually toward the bottom of main content) that makes it easy for your readers to forward it to a friend. The recipient is much more likely to read it, and subscribe themselves.

And speaking of subscribing, include a link to subscribe as well. Seems stupid, right? Well, if not everyone reading is a subscriber, why not make it easy to sign up. Plus, you’ll probably be sending them to your website to subscribe, and they might just buy something.

If available, use the forwarding code provided by your ESP in your newsletter template. This will allow you to track forwards to see if it’s having an impact.

6. Upward Mobility

Did you know that today, over 55% of emails received are read on mobile devices? That means a few important things for your newsletter:

  • It needs to look great on a tiny smartphone screen (so no tiny fonts)
  • It needs to load quickly and save bandwidth (so no gigantic photos)
  • You can take advantage of in-store features like scannable bar codes in enhance value

So, just like your website, your newsletter needs to be responsive. That means the design adjusts to the size of the screen viewing it.

Unfortunately, the technologies behind email haven’t change much since the late 1990s, so you won’t have the same flexibility you would with a full website, but you can still deliver a good experience with a little creativity.

There are also a ton of ready-made newsletter templates out there that are attractive and responsive, and often developed using tested methods to improve readership and conversion rates (that’s sales to you).


I hope you enjoyed this quick guide and found some ideas to help your newsletter reach new heights, and more inboxes.

Feel free to reach out to me in the comments, or directly via (what else?) email.