How to Create Newsletters People Want to Read
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but newsletters are popular right now. They receive far less attention than the latest technology, like live video, personalisation, and interactive content. But that doesn’t mean they’re not popular and powerful.
For example theSkimm, a newsletter with a daily roundup of interesting articles was launched in 2012 and has amassed over 4 million subscribers. Newsletters work for business-to-business brands too — with AppSumo, an email list offering regular deals, having over 700,000 active subscribers.
Even The New York Times, one of the most venerable media establishments in the world, is big on newsletters, running no less than 33 (and launching more), with an average open rate of 50%. If that doesn’t legitimise newsletters as a major force, then I don’t know what will.
So why are newsletters so popular?
For readers, newsletters offer an easy way to stay in touch with their favourite brands or media sites. No searching on Google and no having to scroll through overly busy social media feeds packed with ads. Newsletters are delivered regularly to their inboxes. With simple filters in popular email applications, all the rubbish is kept out of the way, so what people want to read is easier to discern these days.
For senders, newsletters are a powerful way to stay top of mind with readers, providing a direct route to getting their attention. The best newsletters — the ones readers value the most — get an almost automatic open because readers want to see what goodness is inside that day.Newsletters are a powerful way to stay top of mind with readers, a direct route to getting their attention #contentfirst Click To Tweet
How can you create a newsletter that gets opened every time you send it? Consider these eight strategies with best-in-class examples.
1. Go super curated
One of my absolute favourite newsletters is ReadThisThing, a super-curated daily email that highlights just one piece of brilliant journalism. It picks from a wonderfully diverse range of topics, sources, and formats, so each day is genuinely a nice surprise. This element of surprise is one of the foundational principles of Hooked, the psychological model (and book) by Nir Eyal, for building loyal audiences. He refers to it as a “variable reward.”
2. Let your personality shine
Newsletters feel inherently more personal — like a personal letter. Don’t waste that unique ambience by sticking to impersonal corporate speak. A brilliant example is CB Insights, which sells expensive business intelligence to corporate venture capitalists and other senior business leaders. You would expect straight-laced content, but it’s far from that. Each newsletter is signed off with “I love you,” and is generally packed with irreverent and sometimes cutting commentary, directly calling out critics or offering random observations. Does it work? Well it now has over 240,000 subscribers, a thriving business, and from my personal perspective, it is one of the highlights of my inbox every single day.
3. Offer value
Finimize (Finance for Our Generation) is a great example of a newsletter that offers value because it succinctly explains to me the two biggest business or economic news stories of the day before I reach the office. It only takes three minutes to read, but it explains what’s going on, what it means, and why I should care. I feel like I’m up to speed without having to leave my inbox — very handy on a crowded commuter train with sketchy roaming data.
4. Make it personalised
Eventbrite, recently updated its newsletter to offer personalised event picks based on the recipient’s preferences and order history. It’s algorithmically generated, meaning it can scale to all recipients. It’s spot-on with what it picks each week, even with relatively limited data.
5. Keep it fresh but focused
“Your Friday Five” from a small London digital agency called Zone Digital. You can find something that’s different and has otherwise escaped your attention despite religiously reading dozens of articles a day the rest of the week. Zone Digital keeps its sources fresh, which means I’m never 100% sure what I’ll see in the newsletter each week. However, I do know it will be centred on digital innovation and future technology.
6. Go niche
Newsletters, perhaps more than any other format, allow you to go really niche. Take for example Disturbances, a super niche newsletter that meditates on the nature of dust and how it can be “a method for seeing the (end of the) world – from space dust to sandstorms, the domestic to the digital.” You see, you don’t need huge audiences for your newsletter to be valuable, you just need the right people — those who care and who are engaged.
For smaller businesses, niche has another advantage — most email service providers offer free use of their software for smaller databases (2,000 for MailChimp), so your niche audience newsletter might not cost any money at all.
7. Be exclusive
Speaking of money, one way to keep people opening your newsletter is to get them to pay for it. Most people tend to be more committed to things they’ve made an investment in, particularly a financial one. This is an approach taken by Ben Thompson, the author of Stratechery, who offers his readers the chance to receive an exclusive daily email with his take on the most important news of the day. He charges $10 per month or $100 per year.
8. Keep it pure
For those of you who love writing, newsletters could really be your thing. You don’t have to write with SEO in mind or in a click-bait way to rise above the noise on social media. This is your chance to have a pure and build your own subscriber base, honest conversation with your readers, and if they appreciate it, they’ll reward you by opening up your newsletter each time it’s sent — no reliance on Google’s black box or Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm.
You send; they receive. And if you follow some of the tips above, then you’ll build up a loyal audience of readers — and that’s what every business wants, building your own audience that you can talk too.You send; they receive. That’s what every business wants, building your own audience. #contentfirst Click To Tweet
Are you having similar success with your newsletter? Or are you subscribed to a newsletter you would like share below?