5 Reasons Why No One Is Reading Your Email Newsletter

5 Reasons Why No One Is Reading Your Email Newsletter

Reader Comments (106)

  1. I’m a stat whore when it comes down to my email newsletter. I’m thinking I may even start to do split testing with different types of subject lines.

    My avg open rate is about 30%. I try to add value to my tribes life as much as possible.

    I like your point about stories. Will try to work more of them into my routine.

  2. Sean,

    I couldn’t agree more on the call to action. Plus, if you have already provided valuable content, people do not mind a good call to action. I would even suggest they want it so they know how to respond.


  3. Awesome magic my friend.
    I’m always adding my voice to it, and telling stories is also a big go go.

    But you got me with the frequency – I pretty much create one newsletter whenever I feel like it, and that isn’t probably very healthy.

    Thanx for enlightening my soul with your ideas, I definitely put way more effort into it.

    Keep rocking

  4. Um… (goes through list) OK, I guess I have some work to do…

    In all seriousness, this provides a good summary of things to look for. I never really considered #3 as being that important but, upon reflection, I do see this in a lot of E-Mail newsletters, so there must be something there.

    I have a blind spot concerning #2 because I find it really hard to judge my own voice. Although I have done some audio recordings lately (that was a revelation…) but of course you’re writing about the written word. But there can be strong parallels between the two…

    Thanks Sean.

  5. Sean,

    First, love your site- It’s chock-full of great information that no one is going to find anywhere else.

    Second, you are dead right about your own voice and the power of storytelling. I found that I was teaching way too much and not being entertaining enough in my posts. When I started to info-tain people, was when things got a lot better.

    I will admit that I do love to preach every now and then, but for the most part I leart my lesson. People are not reading email newsletters every day to feel bad about themselves.

    They read these things to find out how to learn from other people’s mistakes and to get some good ol’ home-grown entertainment out of it.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  6. Good tips. Great tips in fact. Definitely the best responses have been when my newsletter include a bit of a personal story in it (usually a story of me screwing up).

  7. Hey Sean,

    The call to action in most cases are not strong. So yes, tell them what you want to do. I see a lot of people choke up when it comes to a call to action. Great stuff!

    Chat with you later…

  8. This is a very useful article. I’m still new to the blogging scene, and have just started to work out how I’m going to incorporate an email newsletter into my site and schedule. I’ll definitely keep these ideas in mind when I get started this weekend. Thanks!

  9. I agree with frequency. If I am reading a blog and they don’t post for a week, I assume they quit writing and don’t come back to it. Great articles! I find these articles very helpful!!

  10. As a testament to active voice, i split tested my newsletter with the following two sentences:

    Option # 1: Complete with a print-and-pinup worthy info-graphic (link), this post contains valuable information on how to get started running an online business.

    Option #2: The info-graphic (link) alone in this post is a must-see! You’ll want to print it and pin it up, trust me.

    Can you guess which link had a 33% higher click-through rate? 🙂

  11. You are quite right. It is the regularity of the newsletters that people feel comfortable with. A haphazard newsletter will never gather followers. Good stuff!

  12. Terrific article Sean. I’m just signing on with a small company that provides an e-newsletter service. Reading your points, I’m concerned the newsletter might come across badly and diminish credibility. Especially the tone of voice part. There’s typically no intimacy in a generic newsletter. They usually write them to project a solid professional image, which is the antithesis of effective copy.

    Joe 😀

  13. I like the idea of transcribing your voice.

    I recently read where some one does this for his blog posts. I get a lot out of his posts and like the casual tone.

  14. Great post!! Too many times people send out email blasts just for the sake of doing so… without any compelling or relevant content… that’s usually when I hit “unsubscribe”

    • Beth,

      Yet so many of these publishers yearn for your attention. They want to be heard over the ever growing online din, but really don’t get that we don’t have the time to be spammed with constant emails flowing into our inbox.

      The more people that learn the careful balance in quality over quantity the better. 🙂

  15. I have to disagree with #5: So you’re saying it’s better to get a half-assed newsletter out the door on time than a decent one a little later?

    That’s ridiculous: “Pixar would rather be late than shoddy.”

  16. I’ve found that transcribing spoken stuff is actually faster and better than typing. I get some of my best ideas while jogging, so I take my phone with me and dictate into it.

    “And then ::::gasping::: after they ::::gasping::: sign up ::::gasping::: you need to ::::gasping::: …”

    (Added benefit is that with all the pauses it’s easier to keep up with it when transcribing.)

    I’ll be thinking about how to add more stories to the stuff I do.

  17. Thank you for your article. I started a newsletter – “ezine” 6 months ago. No matter how busy I get I make the effort stop everything I am doing and get my ezine out by the end of the first week of the month. Got to do it. I really liked what you said about “telling stories” in your newsletter. This does make one’s article so much more personal. I plan to do more “story telling”.


  18. Right on, but I’d add #6 – Its about you not about them. People read things that are relevant to them, their life and their interests. Broadcasting content about you (“shameless self-promotion”) results in the typical low response rates, engagement is a different game that involves conversations.

  19. I didn’t check who the author was but as I read, I thought of Sean. The point about the news running at the same time each night. Also, the style.

    A lot depends on the purpose of your newsletter. Mine has no specific call to action. Maybe that’s foolish. My goal is simply remind readers that I’m looking out for them. Maybe that’s too low key but seems to work. Familiarity breeds business, after all.

    I now put all previous issues online. This shows prospective subscribers exactly what they’ll get. Current readers can easily revisit an old issue without digging through their email. You can see this for yourself at http://marketingreflections.com.

    PS Checkout Sean’s newsletter.

  20. Good Article, Thanks!

    I heard another popular blogger say that “broadcasting your posts” is a good alternative to a newsletter. (Sending the post you publish on your blog to everyone on your email list)

    Does anyone else do this?

  21. I think content and consistency are the key. I hired a writing coach and it really helped me find my voice and begin telling stories.

    This post comes at the perfect time, as I’m converting my practice newsletter to a blog this week. Thank you for the reminders.

  22. I have to disagree with #5: So you’re saying it’s better to get a half-assed newsletter out the door on time than a decent one a little later?

    That’s ridiculous: “Pixar would rather be late than shoddy.”

    Andre: It’s not about sending “half-assed” newsletters just because you want to meet a deadline. For starters, you’re confusing the difference between frequency and deadline.

    Your example of Pixar vs. your newsletter is slightly off the mark. You’re comparing a movie, which usually has some kind of deadline, but not a frequency. There’s a difference between deadlines and frequency, and frequency is based on what you promise to your readers.

    This means that for instance, Copyblogger now has to publish frequently (often two-three articles or more a week) because you’ve come to expect that frequency. The news has to run every night and come up with some amount of material or you’ll get no news. You’ll open your newspaper and whole chunks will be blank. Even the cartoon pages will have whole patches of newsprint. But that doesn’t happen. Everyone knows what they have to do in a professional set-up. Even the cartoons are done a good 16 week in advance (believe me, I was a cartoonist, I know).

    So yes, frequency is different from deadlines to begin with. And yes frequency matters because it sets certain expectations.

    This brings us to the second part: namely “should you send half-assed newsletters?” And it’s not what anyone would suggest. But why would you assume that anything that went out with a certain frequency would be anything but excellent?

    There are two points here:
    1) Frequency often leads to better quality over time.
    2) The content can change

    1) Frequency often leads to better quality over time.
    So if you write more often, you’ll find your writing will improve. So by that same token, if you write less frequently, I can guarantee (yes, guarantee) that your writing will turn to mush. So writing fewer newsletters doesn’t mean that you’ll turn out better newsletters. Writing more of them, and learning how to fix the “mistakes” as you go along, will almost certainly result in better content over time.

    2) The content can change
    The content can change from high intensity to low intensity. Your newsletter doesn’t need to be all go, go, go. You can mix it up with a lot of stuff. Sometimes we send out a shorter newsletter. Sometimes a newsletter is about the ‘chaos’ in our lives. Not every Psychotactics newsletter has to be all go,go,go. In fact, as someone noted above, readers relate a lot to newsletters where you demonstrate your mistakes.

    So yeah, long response to a short comment, but let’s not mix up deadlines with frequency. And “half-assed” isn’t what you’d send. Instead just send a “different” kind of newsletter (either shorter, or just different) . 🙂

  23. @ Joe — I use my phone to transcribe while out and about too. It works especially since my state has a no texting law while driving now.

    @ Salma — those are great examples. Definitely have to use a better call to action in my posts and newsletter.

    Great post, Sean. I have a question about the storytelling. Can I write in 1st person or should it stay as 2nd or 3rd person? What have you found works best?

    One tool that helps with writing how you talk is to have a free text to speech program read it aloud to you. I do this with articles to catch awkward phrasing.

  24. Good points, but you forgot my #1 pet peeve: Your newsletter is in PDF form only.

    Last week I got a PDF from a local community arts centre. They have terrific events, and a really solid bunch of educational programs for which locals can apply, but I’m never going to know what they are because the PDF was – get this – 65 PAGES long, and the forms you had to fill out to get in the programs were attached AS JPGS.


    Sorry, rant over. I mean, it’s great that they love the way their newsletter looks. That’s important, that they like it. Because nobody ELSE is ever going to see the damn thing.

  25. Having non-targeted newsletter recipients is also part of the challenge. Another factor is the amount of emails recipients receive and the amount of time they have available to dig into the newsletter. Some variables are within the writer’s control while others are not.


  27. I have to disagree with the suggestion to transcribe while driving. Every time I get in my car, I hope not to find myself and loved ones in a collision with someone who is texting, transcribing or talking on the phone while driving. Using the phone while driving is a dangerous practice, legal or not. No one’s life is worth the savings in time. Please don’t do it.

  28. If you’ve tried and failed to find your voice before, put down the pen and Skype a friend. Get them to ask you questions about the topics you’ll be writing about in your newsletter — recording every word, naturally. Then just blab away, and transcribe what you’ve said.

    OK. I am getting a digital recorder now. I have been think alot about writing in this way. Thanks for the affirmation, Sean.

  29. Um, I don’t know. I write a lot in first person. It depends on the situation. The entire book by Andre Agassi (which is a very good book, by the way) is written not only in first person, but first person, present tense.

    So it depends.

  30. I write first person too. I think first person is good. Not sure which post of Brian’s might have said third person is good, but he writes in first person quite a lot. 🙂

    @Carol, I missed where someone said to transcribe while driving, but I agree, doing any kind of multitasking while driving is much more dangerous than people realize. Don’t do it, gang. 🙂 Joe mentioned recording while jogging, that’s very different.

  31. I agree, Sean. It depends what you’re trying to accomplish. Naomi Dunford (www.ittybiz.com) writes on entrepreneurial topics, and she has a strong following. By using the conversational–and quite colorful–first person, she has given her blog a strong point of view. Her posts would be interesting and engaging and people would read her, even if she covered material that could be found elsewhere.

    She admits some readers are upset by what she refers to as her potty mouth. But she obviously captures a readership who likes her style, which she could only accomplish with the first person.

  32. What a great post! What a great post! What a great post! (and yes I meant to say it 3 times!) I haven’t started my newsletter yet, so this is very timely for me. I especially liked the part about recording yourself talking about what it is you do or your topic and transcribing it. Smart! I a going to do that from now on. I have noticed that when I speak, the passion and excitement comes through, but not necessarily when I write. Thanks!

  33. Sean,

    Thanks for the tips! I like the point your made around consistent frequency for the newsletter. I use to have my blog posts on syndication to my subscribers but found out that my subscribers didn’t like receiving daily blasts. Now, I’ve found that once/week works for my subscribers and have seen an improvement in my open rate in the form of a newsletter. Now my subscribers can pick and choose what they want to read from my blog.

  34. I’m working on establishing a good balance in terms of frequency. For the most part, I try and share case studies and/or tutorials. If I’m getting reply emails (questions), I know I’m doing good. Still, every now and then I’ll ask a question to solicit feedback and make sure that I’m on track with delivering what people are looking for.

    The one area where I struggle is my newsletter landing page. I don’t fancy myself that creative and I’ve changed it a couple of times. But hey, it’s ok if it’s a work in progress right 🙂

  35. 5 power packed points on what to do…. love it!

    At this point in time I don’t even have a schedule for my newsletter let alone a tone or structure… At least I have somewhere to start now!
    Great post Sean!

  36. Ummm, did anyone else read this and cringe inwardly because they have the obligatory signup form but rarely do anything with it? 😳

    Maybe it’s just me but thanks for the proverbial kick up my delicate rear end. And with this great advice in place I can make sure I start strong. Result. 😉

  37. I thought it was because I had no free prize inside.

    The frequency thing is tricky. I’ve seen some people work pretty hard at being consistent, but without much impact. I’ve seen others succeed because rather than consistency they nailed that beautiful bar of … “When Sean speaks, I listen.”

    It’s like a Blue Ocean strategy over an efficient Red Ocean approach.

    It seems like there’s a lot to be said for creating amazing value. I do think that where two streams create amazing value, the more consistent one wins in the long run … but sets a tough bar to meet, and a tough act to follow.

  38. Another reasons is that *nobody* actually asks the person signing up how often they would like to be contacted !

    I’ve signed up for the newsletters of so-called internet marketing experts and they send an email *every day*, sometimes twice a day!

    I apply filters to my inbox now so I never see most of the “newsletters” that I get sent. I have *thousands* of “newsletters” sitting un-read in an email archive folder that I never look at.

  39. People are not reading my newsletter because I rarely send anything out, don’t promote it (no mention on my blog of it) and it doesn’t offer anything you can’t find on my blog.

  40. Great post as it helped me realize that I really need to stick to a schedule with my email newsletter, something I haven’t been consistent with. On a side note, have any of you found a better tool than Constant Contact for this service, I’ve found that unless you actually create the newsletter inside of the service the editor can be really buggy and it takes me forever to reformat before sending, thanks for the help in advance…

  41. I totally agree with the frequency bit. Ive been doing my company newsletter for a year now and although at the beginning we sometimes missed the deadline we now always send a newsletter out once a month on the same day.

  42. I have not done a newletter yet but I totally see how important these tips are. I love to read other people’s stories so I will have to start implementing some of my own it.
    Strong call to action is another weak point I need to work on before I can begin with a newsletter.

    I enjoy your site, thanks for all that you do.

    Oh and thanks for the heads up…

  43. I write a weekly newsletter/blog for the parents of my Kindergarten students. Your 5 common mistakes are very helpful and will alter what and how I write. Thank-you.

  44. What a great post, Sean. Sharing genuine insight and expertise in your copy is the minimum you need to make it useful. So we looked at ourselves! With 10 years of helping hundreds of corporates conceptualise, design and send their email newsletters, we decided to share our expertise by way of a 32-page report, published just last week.

    Although the sample of emails (nearly 100 million) we analysed are mostly from New Zealand businesses, the takeouts apply to all marketers. Which days are best to send email? What’s a good open and click-to-open rate for a retail store?

    We hope, though that it’s the insights into this data that add the most value to your efforts. We’ve held nothing back, so go ahead and download the report.

    Just click from the home page at http://www.smartmailpro.com, and if you like, opt-in to our ‘real-spoken-voice’ newsletter there too.

    BTW – wow, Sean. Is it really 10 years since we started talking about this stuff? That makes us waaaayyyy overdue for a coffee.

  45. Great post! This really explained a lot with my site just starting out, and trying to build my list. My mistake was #4 and not having a great call to action! (which is a no brainer!) Thanks for turning the flickering light fully ON : )

  46. Great guidance Sean. #4 is such a tough one for people to implement. With a newsletter, as you mention, it is a fine line between selfless promotion and requesting a reader call to action.

    With calls to action, I find they work hand in hand with frequency. For example, if a website sells products/services that are purchased 1 or 2 times per year, a promotional call to action every week is a sure way to lose readers. Unfortunately the quality content vs call to action balance isn’t set in stone for every site. Otherwise I would be able to suggest offering a promotional newsletter for every X amount of newsletters.

  47. Haha #4 got me laughing! But that’s an excellent point right there. Maybe we just fear being bold sometimes that’s why we don’t specifically tell our readers what to do, but hey, that’s how we should do it in the online marketing world and people to respond to call to actions that are bold, clear and daring.
    I also like the fact that you mentioned having your own voice. I agree — it’s not super important, but it does count and sometimes, I find that people love sites or newsletters because of that signature voice. 🙂

  48. Of course I want my newsletter to be read by even more people each time and your ideas are great so I’ll try to remember them… right NOW… (since I’m in the process of writing my monthly newletter as we “speak”.)

  49. Thanks for this article. I don’t have a newsletter–yet. Never thought I had anything worth sticking in someone’s inbox. But I’ve been thinking about creating one, and these tips help a lot.

  50. Here’s the issue I see —> the actual email newsletter doesn’t always deliver on the initial sales pitch. That is, you sometimes get sold this incredible offer for information that will change your blogging life forever, only to receive the first email and find it filled with useless fluff and padding and some opt-in offer….puhlease!

  51. Hey Roanne,
    Whenever you’re ready, we can have that coffee. 🙂 Now there’s a call to action. 😉

  52. This was an excellent article, and it’s gratifying to know that we’re doing a lot of things right at my end already. However, I’d love to see a follow-up post on delivery and formatting of a newsletter.

    Over time, we’ve discovered that a lot of newsletters can get flagged as junk or spam based on keywords (“Click here” is a pretty big one for us), and also various e-mail clients will format a newsletter differently….Gmail vs Yahoo, for instance. Even a browser can alter a newsletter, if it’s hosted as a webpage. If your CSS is too heavy, that can cause problems as well.

    A newsletter can be chock full of information but if most of your subscribers don’t receive it because of delivery issues, the message falls flat.

  53. Thanks for all the great pointers on writing a great newsletter. However, while writing a great and memorable newsletter can be a wonderful and profitable thing, I want to how to write a GREAT subject line. If the subject line is not going to elicit a higher open rate, than it doesn’t matter how great your newsletter is if no one is reading it, or if it is always the same clients reading it. This is where I fall short. Please address this in the near future. Thanks!!


  54. I get so much BS in my inbox all day, that I would never have time to open up an email newsletter, much less be able to find it in there. I use RSS to keep up with sites that interest me.

    Do people really really have a connection with their audience through email? Am I some kind of anomaly demographic?

    • Outside of hardcore tech and blogging circles, RSS never really caught on. So in that sense, you’re an anomaly (me too).

      In any sort of mainstream niche, email is still the way to go.

  55. I was guilty of a few of these at one point and realized what it was. It happens to the best of us.

    At least I learned from my mistake.

    Thanks for passing these on.
    Jerome Ratliff

  56. Good tips. Great tips in fact. Definitely the best responses have been when my newsletter include a bit of a personal story in it (usually a story of me screwing up).

  57. All are correct but I think the #2 is extremely helpful as it is mainly related to writing style and skills. No many of us can write a good newsletter. However, it is not something impossible. Practice makes perfect!

  58. Great article! I own a tent rental business and I find it can be difficult to craft an interesting newsletter to send out with some kind of frequency. I have found that a catchy email headline, and a “thank you for being a customer,” goes a long way! If you have a good rapport with your recipients, you can get away with an occasional “hey, dont forget my business exists, and tell your friends.”

  59. These are all excellent tips but I think to summarize everything above is that those that are sending email newsletters fail to connect with the recipient.

    They do not get into the shoes of those recipients and determine what they will find interesting and what they would like to receive if they were on the other end.

  60. Great article! Frequency is definitely my problem. I also LOVE the tips on recording and recognizing voice. It takes work and dedication. The whole point of the newsletter anyway is to give value and show appreciation, thereby strengthening your relationship.

    Take the time to prepare and write, and generate quality articles and stories.

    That’s a reminder to myself 🙂

    Thanks for all the wonderful input!!

  61. Great artice. I have a sixth mistake you could be making…

    You aren’t using a “You have to open me or you are going to miss out” type of headline.

    It doesn’t have to be a salesy, overhyped, I’m trying to get you to open this so I can sell something to you headline…

    Just a headline taht says there is some great info in here that will be really beneficial to you.

  62. Great article and comments too. Rob’s point about an informative heading vs a sales heading is very valid. I know a lot of people turn of to the ‘sales’ approach that is becoming more and more prevalent.

  63. Great that someone – Sean D’Souza – finally put this in writing. It’s something people think about but might not being doing anything about because they aren’t sure where they are going wrong. I especially enjoyed the point about ‘telling stories’. People forget that everything they see, hear and do is a potential story for their next newsletter.

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