Newsletter Best Practices: How to Boost Engagement & Subscribers

by | Sep 11, 2023 | Blog, Email Marketing

Not every customer will become your loyal repeat buyer.

Most will become inactive after just one or two purchases and your goal will be to encourage them to return to your website with various strategies including personalization.

This is Alaska Airlines’ insightful approach to newsletters and one that demonstrates their understanding of newsletter best practicespersonalization.

A personalized newsletter will always resonate with your audience, compelling them to click on your posts and read through your entire content. And as a business, this equates to greater engagement levels, conversions, and a successful content marketing strategy.

The customer’s perception is your reality.”

— Kate Zabriskie

We’ve gathered more best practices to inform your approach to newsletters. As we delve into each idea, you’ll also learn:

  • How defining your target audience improves your newsletter content
  • How your newsletter layout will benefit from A/B testing
  • Why the value of your newsletter content comes above your layout 
  • How OnDigitalMarketing will take your newsletter strategy to the next level

But first, who’s your target audience?

1 – Define Your Newsletter’s Target Audience

Who are you writing for, and what’s their lifestyle like?

These were the fundamental questions that guided Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin in shaping their newsletter strategy for their media company, theSkimm.

They understood the value of deliberate messaging and segmentation in crafting an effective email newsletter, which generated valuable insight into their readers.

The typical Skimm reader is a professional woman between the ages of 22–34 with a busy schedule. As such, they like to read and respond to emails first thing after the alarm goes off, starting with their friends and family.

The conclusion, therefore, was that theSkimm’s newsletters needed to fit this early morning routine and feature a friendly and conversational tone to blend seamlessly with the emails from friends and family.

The result of this strategy? 1.5 million daily reads

Understanding and catering to your readers’ lifestyles and interests is key to boosting user engagement and cultivating a long-term relationship with your subscribers. So, start by defining the purpose of your newsletter.

Is it to inform your subscribers about product updates or industry news? Will it provide helpful tips and tricks to make their lives easier? Whatever the purpose, make sure it is clear and consistent throughout your newsletters.

Next, define your target audience. Conduct market research to understand your audience’s needs and preferences and create more relatable and compelling newsletters. One effective strategy for this is through marketing analytics tracking behavior and engagement rates.

Analytics such as A/B tests of different design elements (subject lines and CTAs) help you identify improvement areas and contribute to an overall effective newsletter strategy. For instance, were there changes to read-through and bounce rates with different design elements?

Top Tip: Define your newsletter’s purpose and target audience first. Incorporate design elements that appeal to your audience, such as lead magnets and visuals, and then track their effect on subscriber behavior to improve engagement.

2 – Design Your Newsletter for Maximum Engagement

Your layout plays a significant role in determining the success of your newsletter marketing strategy.

Incorporate the following elements to increase the chances of subscribers engaging with your content and generating leads:

  • Easy-to-read fonts
  • High-quality images
  • Clear call-to-action (CTA)

And once you’ve researched your audience, you’ll be able to precisely identify the elements that resonate the most and feature them accordingly.

This was Apartment Therapy’s exact approach when designing their newsletter. They understood that their subscribers wanted dreamy apartment photos to help build their vision of the perfect home.

As such, the brand focused on leading with high-quality images at the top of each newsletter titled “The Daily.” This supported the emotional experience of their target audience who’d be compelled to read on and discover similarly emotive images throughout the post.

newsletter design by Apartment Therapy

Another critical consideration point for your newsletter design is mobile responsiveness. A majority of your users access emails on their smartphones and, as theSkimm founders realized, as part of their morning routine.

Therefore, you’ll need to ensure that the elements you feature in your newsletters such as high-quality images, columns, and font styles also display optimally for small-screen devices.

This will involve A/B tests evaluating the mobile responsiveness of different design elements plus their effectiveness for your audience, from color to layout to CTA placement. After, you’ll have a proven working template for all your future newsletters.

Bonus Idea: Social media integration in your email newsletter design increases user engagement. Social media icons in your newsletter footers, for instance, encourage shares and follows by your subscribers, furthering brand connection and expanding your reach.

3 – Develop High-Quality Content and Consistent Delivery

Picture yourself as an apartment hunter and consider the following newsletter content ideas from Apartment Therapy. What makes them work?

“A Couple Turns a Basement Into a Hip Home

“Mismatched Decor Can Look Cohesive”

These ideas touch on common themes that are likely to resonate with apartment shoppers; creative problem-solving and decor design. As such, they offer unique insights that readers will find useful and engaging, which is the pillar of any high-quality content.

Your newsletter might be well-designed with stunning visual elements and optimized opt-in forms, but what really matters to your audience is the value of your content and how consistently you deliver it.

Your content needs to cater to the interests and needs of your target audience, providing valuable solutions and insights to their problems. This enhances relevance and engagement beyond your layout, which promotes subscriber retention.

One effective way to achieve this is by using lead magnets such as in-depth leadership thoughts featuring unique data, perspectives, and advice for your audience. They’re particularly useful for making purchase decisions, for instance, choosing between close products.

Meanwhile, call-to-action buttons are also effective at encouraging your subscribers to engage with your content and act, perhaps to take advantage of a limited offer.

Apartment Therapy successfully used this approach in their newsletter titled “Allswell Is Offering AT Readers 15% off Their Entire Site.”

The great news is that for all these content-boosting ideas, A/B testing will help you identify the best-performing techniques to ensure consistent quality for all your newsletters.

You’ll be able to narrow down your analysis to parameters such as subject lines, images, and content layout, and identify the combination with the best open and read-through rates.

The table below provides an overview of different parameters that can be tested in a newsletter using A/B testing methodology.

A/B Testing Parameter Performance Metrics Example Variations
Subject Lines Open rates, Click-through rates Exclusive Offer vs. Limited Time Discount
Images Engagement rates, Conversion rates Product image vs. Lifestyle image
Content Layout Read-through rates, Time spent Long-form article vs. Digest-style summary

List segmentation is also an effective way to develop high-quality content and deliver it consistently to your subscribers.

By dividing your list into smaller, more specific groups based on demographics, behavior, and interests, you make it easier to develop tailored content for your subscribers that they are more likely to find valuable and engage with.

As for consistent delivery, email automation plays a vital role in ensuring perfect timing for every newsletter you send.

An example of this is triggered emails based on subscriber actions, such as welcome emails, confirmation emails, and cart abandonment emails.

These emails provide a seamless and consistent experience for your audience that increases user engagement and reduces subscriber churn.

4 – Use Personalization and Segmentation to Improve Relevance

You’ve just finished Stranger Things. Let’s find something to watch next.

Netflix’s approach to personalization is a perfect example to emulate in your email newsletter design. By providing recommendations based on users’ past viewing habits, they make the newsletters feel more tailored and engaging to their subscribers.

This encourages open rates and read-throughs and ultimately helps Netflix with subscriber retention—all of which are key performance indicators.

But your approach doesn’t have to be this deep. Personalization can be something as simple as using the subscriber’s name in the subject lines. Take Todoist’s straightforward email as an example:

“Are you getting the most out of Todoist, Jake?”

The name inclusion creates a personal feel that makes this newsletter more engaging. It also appears right before ideas for Jake on how he can do more with the planning tool Todoist. It’s the perfect combination of personalization and high-value content that makes this strategy work.

List segmentation, on the other hand, involves grouping subscribers based on common characteristics, such as demographics or behavior.

This allows you to send targeted messages that are more likely to resonate with each group. For example, special offers to customers who’ve purchased from your store before or promotional offers for a new product to subscribers who’ve shown interest in similar products.

This form of targeting also makes your newsletters compelling and likely to resonate with your subscribers and limit churn.

The table below highlights different behavior segments and their corresponding characteristics, providing valuable insights into how to effectively engage with each behavior segment.

Behavior Segment Characteristics Benefits
Abandoned Carts Started but didn’t complete the purchase Recovery campaigns, personalized incentives
Inactive Subscribers Haven’t engaged for a certain period Re-engagement campaigns, exclusive offers
Repeat Customers Made multiple purchases Loyalty rewards, exclusive access to new products
High Openers Consistently open newsletters Early access to content, special updates

As you’ll be dealing with various approaches to personalization and segmentation, it’s critical that you conduct A/B testing to track effectiveness.

For instance, whether name inclusions in your subject lines generate more engagement for your readers when combined with recommendations based on their past activities. This helps you spot possible improvements, maximizing the effectiveness of your email marketing strategy.

Expert Tip: As you incorporate and test your personalization and segmentation elements, don’t forget to offer a lead magnet and have a clear call to action.

A lead magnet, such as a free e-book or webinar, enhances the value of your content while a strong call to action encourages your subscribers to take action.

The best marketing doesn’t feel like marketing.

— Tom Fishburne

5 – Optimize Your Signup Process for More Subscribers

The success of your email marketing strategy depends largely on your ability to acquire new subscribers. To that end, optimizing your signup process is critical and there are several best practices to achieve optimization and boost your subscriptions.

First, consider using a lead magnet such as an e-book or whitepaper to incentivize people to sign up. A lead magnet should offer real value to your target audience and be closely aligned with the type of content you offer in your newsletter.

By offering a lead magnet, you increase the chances that people will sign up and remain subscribed to your newsletter.

Next, make sure you prominently display your opt-in forms on your website, using a clear and concise call-to-action to encourage signups. Use A/B testing to try different messaging and designs to see what resonates best with your audience.

Additionally, consider using list segmentation to send targeted messaging to subscribers based on their specific interests and behavior. By sending highly relevant content, you increase the chances that subscribers will engage with your newsletter and remain subscribed over time.

Finally, make sure your signup process is mobile-responsive and includes social media integration. This allows more people to easily sign up using their preferred device and social media platform.

Boost Your Newsletter Strategy With OnDigitalMarketing

So there you have it. Five best practices to boost engagement and subscribers.

But there’s still more to explore from OnDigitalMarketing regarding your newsletter strategy. There’s getting to know and engaging with your customers as well as user personas and email marketing analytics.

So why not sign up today and get exclusive access to insider tips and tricks that’ll take your newsletter game to the next level?

Jake Cook


I'm a forever curious entrepreneur that works across ecommerce, analytics, and AI. I've been creating and teaching courses on ecommerce, design thinking, and data science at Montana State University and University of Montana since 2007. Most recently, I've been lecturing and assisting with research and case study development for Harvard Business School.


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