Newsletter subject lines, revisited

November 4, 2008

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about clickable newsletter subject lines and gave examples of what it takes to get me to open a newsletter (not much, in reality, but your regular readers will be a tougher audience). But today I want to step back and take a broader look at newsletters.

I’ve already discussed why I think every site should have them, no matter how small-scale – there’s no better way to create a connection with your readers than to create a relationship with them through their inbox. (Hardcore RSS users might disagree, but they’re still a minority for most sites.) And ideally, that’s why your newsletters exist – your site’s readers feel connected with the site and are impelled to sign up so they don’t miss anything that happens.

There are three ways to measure success with newsletters. The first is the size of your active list – the number of people who are actually receiving your messages. Every list will have a certain number of bounces (returned emails) and it’s the job of your technical team to keep the list trimmed, but you should be able to measure the number of messages that get through. The second is your open rate, or the percentage of recipients who open the message. And the third is the click-through rate, or the amount of people who not only open the message, but click through to the site as well.

The key to a good open rate is a subject line that encourages readers to click. And this is where it can get tricky – as I have said before, many sites opt for the sexy subject line, promising secrets and expert tips and sex and rock ‘n’ roll and, above all, numbered lists. What can I say – people just can’t resist them. But another option is to go for the simple, even boring: just the name of your newsletter, perhaps with a date. The same subject every time. Kim Pittaway drew my attention to one like this, from Harvard Magazine: “Editor’s Highlights: November-December 2008”. It’s not sexy at all, but for an engaged audience, it’s one that probably works well – after all, don’t you want to know what the editor of Harvard Magazine thinks are the top picks online this month?

And now, to test out’s new poll tool (and official worldwide election day, right?), the question of the day. (Do you like the skulls?)


2 Responses to “Newsletter subject lines, revisited”

  1. Danny Brown Says:

    I agree that newsletters are still a key part of any company’s branding and customer relationship management. Blogs are great for instant info – but newsletters can offer so much more.

    I run a lot of special and exclusive offers via my own newsletter, as well as encourage feedback on what my subscribers would like to see. Plus, newsletters are easy to store and read at a more convenient time.

    I don’t think they’ll be going anywhere soon. 🙂

  2. Do you have any figures on open rates and click-through rates? What’s the threshold for a ‘successful’ newsletter across the industry?

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