7 Ways to Optimize Your E-Newsletter and Seize Recipients’ Attention

Ahh, the e-mail newsletter – so simple, yet so complex. The hardest part about it? Getting customers to sign up and stay subscribed. We’ve all fallen victim to the newsletter that seems to set out for world domination in our inboxes. You sign up for coupons from your favorite retailer, and shortly thereafter become swamped in a barrage of e-mails that you have no interest in reading – leading to a swift click of the “unsubscribe” button.

Looking for ways to increase subscriptions and readership? Have you been losing subscribers? I have compiled a list of 7 things you should know before you hit “send” on your next e-newsletter.

Customers are bombarded with emails. You have to stand out!

Customers are bombarded with emails. You have to stand out!

Give an incentive: Why should people sign up for your e-newsletter as opposed to the millions of others out there in cyberspace? Your newsletter needs to offer something that your audience can’t get elsewhere. You can create an incentive by offering a coupon for signing up and exclusive discounts for subscribers, or by offering access to special, relevant information. Your customers should know exactly which exclusive deals and information they are signing up for – clearly outline the contents and offers available in your newsletter on the sign-up page.

Be consistent: The exact time of day that you send out your e-newsletter is less important than sending it out at the same time each day. When customers sign up for your newsletter, make it clear which days of the week and what time of day they can expect to see it pop up in their inbox. This helps you in two ways: 1. Customers will know that you don’t plan on spamming their inbox throughout the week, and 2. Customers will know when to check their inbox for updates.

Cross promote: This one is pretty straightforward. Promote your Facebook and Twitter accounts in your e-newsletter, and promote your e-newsletter on your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Chances are if people enjoy receiving updates from you on social networking sites they will sign up for regular updates via e-mail, and vice versa.

Be creative:Cold, hard facts are good. In fact, they are essential. But customers will skip over boring text. Make your newsletter fun and entertaining so that your consumers read it all the way through the end, and are left anxiously awaiting your next update. Your headlines must be short and sweet, but specific and gripping. There’s no point in writing creative content if no one will even bother opening the e-mail to read on! Content should be unique and interesting – don’t bore your readers with facts and statistics that’ll completely go over the heads of your target audience. Look at your newsletter. Would you read it all the way through? If not, it’s time to get those creative juices flowing!

Will your E-newsletter work when displayed on a mobile device?

Will your E-newsletter work when displayed on a mobile device?

Go mobile: According to Simms Jenkins at, “Almost half of every hour on the mobile Internet is spent on e-mail.” With numbers like that, there’s no doubt that readers will be accessing your newsletter via mobile device. You want your newsletter to be a pleasant reading experience on both a large computer monitor screen and a tiny mobile one. You can do this by keeping your newsletter organized and simple to navigate. Avoid clutter and don’t jam-pack too much information into each e-mail. If there isn’t enough white space in your newsletter, then those valuable mobile users will give up trying to read your content or click on crowded links.

This should be expected.

Don’t rely on images: Most people will view your newsletter in the preview window, and a lot of e-mail providers automatically disable images. According to Jeanne Jennings at, only 33 percent of people surveyed have images enabled by default. This means that the design and function of your newsletter should depend on creative, informative content – not on graphic elements.  If your newsletter shows up in your subscribers’ preview pane as one big error message, no one will bother opening it, let alone reading it. Make sure your newsletter contains engaging content besides images, and that your images have alternative text descriptions.

When in doubt, test it out: Not sure if your e-mail will look suitable with images disabled? Afraid of your subject line landing your message in a spam folder? Test it! And don’t just test it with one e-mail service. Each e-mail service has different settings, so double check that your e-newsletter will work on more than one platform with and without images enabled.

What do you think? Did I miss anything in this list? What things hook you in to signing up for e-mail updates? What things turn you away?

Jenna Markowski

Jenna has a much easier time writing about the media and pop culture than she does writing about herself. She enjoys the simple things in life, like puns and typography. She is an avid fan of pop-punk, Halo 3, Spider-Man and origami, with a slight Taco Bell obsession. Her spirit animal is either a bulldog or a panda bear. You can also connect with Jenna on Google+.


  1. Jana Quinn

    Awesome tips, Jenna. Clearly you did some excellent research and found some clear, easy to implement tips. I think the images one is the most important; I know my gmail account – even viewed on my home laptop – doesn’t automatically have images enabled. As email checking behavior moves in larger percentages to smartphones, there’ll be even lower rates of images viewed.

    Great points!

    • Jenna

      Thanks, Jana!

      Yeah — All of the disabled images in my inbox never bothered me until I started researching for this blog and realized how many there are. Now that they’ve been pointed out to me, I find myself getting more annoyed with them. A lot of the newsletters I subscribe to make even the content part of an image, so all I see are error messages. When that I happens, I usually don’t even bother reading it.

  2. amy

    Great post Jenna! You have some excellent tips here! I totally agree with your “Be Consistent” tip. So far today I have received 8 updates from a news website I follow. Granted, I am kept up-to-date but this is just getting obsessive. I see that they’ve emailed me and I skim it over and it instantly goes into the garbage folder. But, if I knew they emailed me everyday at 2:00 PM, I’d probably actually take the time to read the stories they’ve complied.

    • Jenna

      Thanks, Amy! That is totally true. I get e-mails from a lot of retailers, and it seems like they send one out every couple of hours. I’d like to know in advance how many e-mails I’m signing up for and how frequently to expect them. Plus giving me an exact time of day to expect the newsletter builds the anticipation for each new release. If they are sent too often, they become the equivalent of “background noise” and I just ignore them!

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    Excellent tips here, Jenna!

    Being a content guy, I’d have to say that my favorite bit of advice here is to “be creative.” I’m subscribed to a few different newsletters on my personal e-mail account and I have to say that the writers for those newsletters aren’t putting a whole lot of effort into them. Sure, they’re informative, but they’re far from engaging, and nowhere near entertaining.

    I want what I’m reading to tell me something I don’t already know about a product, service, or brand! I don’t want to hear about the Who, What, When, Where, and How—I want to hear about the Why!

    Come to think of it, I should make a mental note to unsubscribe to some of my newsletters when I get home. They’re just cluttering up my inbox. Thanks for the reminder! 🙂

    • Jenna

      Thanks, Joe!

      I totally agree about creative content. While I was researching, a popular phrase I kept coming across was “content is king,” and that couldn’t be more accurate. If I’m not interested in the headline or the first few sentences of a story, there’s no hope in me taking the time to read the whole article. It’s the boring newsletters that end up in the trash bin, and the entertaining ones that I keep to reference later!

      Haha, good luck with cleansing your inbox! 😀

  4. Jill Tooley

    I hate cluttered emails AND image-heavy messages! Nothing encourages me to hit DELETE faster than an email newsletter that takes a full 3 minutes to load all of the ginormous pictures and flashing ads before it actually starts loading the real content. Argh!

    Here’s another tip for your list: If you’re going to personalize your emails or email newsletters, be sure you know how to mail merge correctly. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve received a “Dear Customer” email with gibberish characters in the subject line and/or addressee line! How unprofessional. And speaking of subject lines, creativity should play a part in those as well. Would you read an email with a boring, run-of-the-mill subject line? I wouldn’t. You have to engage people with that short subject line, otherwise they won’t care enough to even open the email! (Threadless and Think Geek have spectacular subject lines and I almost always open their emails based on that alone).

    Kickass post! 🙂

  5. Doc

    There are some GREAT points in this post that I never realized I actually think about! Especially regarding the images. If there is ever an image that I cannot open, I completely bypass the entire email and forward it to my trash.

    Unfortunately, my personal email gets flooded with this stuff because it’s always easier to just delete emails, then go through the “Unsubscribe” process. This blog post inspired me to rifle through any random newsletters that I clearly don’t ever read and unsubscribe and pay closer attention to the good ones that may actually be of interest to me. Thanks Jenna!

    • Jenna

      Thanks! I definitely think that image errors are something that a lot of companies completely overlook. I think a lot of people don’t realize that e-mail does not have the same capabilities for interactive media as other places on the internet.

      I do the same thing! A lot of newsletters make it very difficult to even find the “Unsubscribe” button. While this may keep their readers subscribed, that doesn’t mean that their readers are…reading! I’m totally guilty of signing up for an e-mail list to receive the initial sign-up coupon, then just deleting every other e-mail I receive — and I know I’m not the only one!

      Sounds like you and Joe both have a long night of inbox cleansing ahead of you! 😀

    • Amanda

      I agree Doc! This post inspired me to go home and unsubscribe to some of the junk I get everyday too!

  6. Jenna

    I agree! If an e-mail (or anything, for that matter) takes longer than 15 seconds to load, I give up.

    Those are good tips, too! While I was researching, it seemed like there are still a lot of glitches in e-mail generators and providers. The best thing anyone sending a newsletter can do is keep everything as simple as possible. And of course, test everything before sending it out to consumers! Gibberish in the subject/addressee line can be avoided if only they tested their newsletter on multiple e-mail providers before hitting “send”. And subject lines are crucial, and can be complicated. They have to be gripping and engaging, but senders also have to be careful that their e-mail doesn’t get flagged as spam!

    Thanks, Jill! 😀

    • Jenna

      Woops! That was supposed to be a reply to your comment, Jill!

  7. Amanda

    Nice post Jenna! I especially like the section on being consistent. I look forward to our blog emails everyday, and I don’t have to waste time wondering when I get to read one, I know that they come around 9-9:30am and 2:30-3pm each day….so I am expecting them. There’s also a radio show I listen to everyday on my way home from work, that starts at 5:10pm everyday…it’s always something I look forward to and can rely on for the ride home. I love it! If more of the other things I subscribe to at home came regularly, I could look forward to them too. But since they don’t, lots of things get deleted or filed away.

    • Jenna

      Thanks, Amanda! I totally agree! It’s the same thing as TV shows — if you expect them every Monday night at 7 p.m., you are more likely to tune in! Imagine if television series didn’t have a set air time, and came on different days at different times every week. No one would bother to tune in! The e-mails that are consistent become a part of my daily schedule, so it becomes a habit to read them!

  8. Wim @ Sales Sells

    Valuable tips, Jenna! Another one is to write in a conversational tone. People like to read newsletters that speak directly to them. This is where I see many companies fail. They want to sound “smart” and professional and don’t speak their customer’s language.

    Thanks for your advice!

    • Jenna

      Thanks, Wim! That is definitely an important tip to remember. Customers don’t want to read industry jargon. Writing in a conversational tone makes the newsletter more personal and engaging.

      Thanks for your feedback!

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