What newsletter content is best for your audience?

Optimizing Newsletter Content

// October 12th, 2016 // Best Practices, Email Newsletters, Media, Newsletter content, Tips & Tricks

A lot of people (including us) have said “Email newsletters are back!”. But the truth is, they never went away. They’ve just experienced a resurgence that has had an impact on a lot of businesses, and in particular, digital publishers.

Newsletters are always evolving and there’s a lot of considerations when deciding which content to include within a new newsletter, or an older one that you want to experiment with. From recently attending the Online News Association’s annual conference in Denver (ONA16), Upaknee was able to speak to dozens of people about their ideas when it comes to newsletter content and how to meet subscriber’s unique preferences. Here’s what we know:


1.Newsletter Voice & Style

When we talk about style, we’re considering ways a newsletter can be created using a voice or tone that subscribers will identify with. Your style will depend on a variety of factors, such as:


– What type of content are you sharing?

– When are you sharing content?

– Where are you sharing content?

– What does your audience like?

– What do they identify with?


All factors considered, what we’ve observed in the industry is two distinct newsletter styles: Editorial and Headline-Driven newsletters.


Editorial newsletters like New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof newsletter allow editors to have a regular conversation with their subscribers. For editors, producers, or journalists that have a following, or are frequent contributors, editorial newsletters  enable people to strengthen their relationship with audience members.
On the other hand, headline driven newsletters are a great way to share breaking news or top headlines quickly and efficiently.  When publishers send a collection of their top 10-15 stories in an optimized template (see below), it enables readers to do a quick skim, and click through the links to read the articles that interest them the most. Check out an example from CBC News Top Stories- Morning Edition (BTW They have an evening edition too).


CBC Morning News Digest

CBC Morning News Digest


Whichever style you choose, strive for consistency. And if you are going to experiment with the style, let your readers know and seek feedback from them- allow them to provide their thoughts somewhere and use it to inform your next newsletter.


2. Linking = Traffic

Whether you use an editorial or headline-driven style, links are important for bringing people back to the website. The more website views and visits, the more revenue is generated. So, whether it’s a subtle reference to a previous article embedded in text, or a list of 10 of the day’s top headlines, make sure that you include the correct hyperlinks back to the site. If your newsletter shares industry content, make sure that you link back to the external source as well. 


3. Images vs No Images

Whether or not to include images in your newsletter has been a big topic of discussion the past few months. Previously, including images seemed like a no-brainer; images are enticing, make things more visually appealing, and can lead to more clicks. But if not done correctly, you could experience issues with how those images render within the email. Now, newsletter-based organizations like the Skimm experience immense popularity without including any images, suggesting we don’t always need them.


To decide, we advise that you perform Advanced Testing or ‘Email Preview’, which allows you to view how your email (and its images) will appear across platforms and devices. We also advise performing an A/B Split Test of your newsletter, one version with images, and one without, to see which performs better based on click-thru rates.


4. Advertisements & Sponsorship

To generate additional revenue from advertising, platforms have made it possible for publishers to insert advertisements within newsletters. This is done  by signing up to a service, choosing an advertisement, and inserting it within’ your newsletter (you can have more than one, too). When subscribers open the email, they’re served the advertisement. This is a great opportunity for publishers with large subscriber lists, since the revenue is frequently based on CPMs (Cost per thousand).  Newsletter sponsorship can also yield a great return; from what we’ve gathered, sponsored content within’ email newsletter can generate up to thousands of dollars per campaign.



5. Email Template & Layout

Once you have an idea of the content you’d like to include in your newsletter, consider what template will work best for you. Your email template will help serve as a skeleton for your email newsletter, helping you decide how many columns you’ll have, number of pictures you’ll include, and where different content types (ie. images, links, feeds etc) will populate. One of the most important considerations, is how your template will render across email clients and on mobile devices (YES, both!). You can experiment with this by using advanced testing services like the one Upaknee provides, to see exactly how your email will look:


Upaknee Advanced Testing


6. Subject Line

 Creating a subject line can be tough; you’ve just created this killer newsletter full of awesome content and now you have to summarize it in 50-60 characters. The good news is, we have some advice. Based on what we’ve seen in the industry, subject line can sometimes be dictated by newsletter style. For example, headline driven newsletters often have the same, consistent subject line that people recognize everyday.  If the newsletter has a high frequency (ie daily), then it’s best to choose a consistent subject line that you don’t have to worry about changing campaign. 


CBC Morning News Digest Subject Line



When you have an editorial newsletter based around a theme, there’s a way to maintain consistency, but add your own spin on things, based on the newsletter content. This is great for newsletters that aren’t as frequent- say weekly. Check out how the CBC Marketplace crafts their headlines for their Watchdog newsletter. They use a consistent variable (the newsletter name) and pair it with a topical, attention getting sentence or question.


CBC Marketplace Watchdog Newsletter

CBC Marketplace Watchdog Newsletter



Whether you decide to go editorial or RSS, images, or no images, ads or sponsorship, your newsletter is whatever you make it. When you spend time paying attention to what your audience is interested in, your decisions will become easier. If it’s not getting easier, then you have the ability to experiment by sending test campaigns or asking for feedback to give you a more accurate idea of what subscribers like. Or, check out what other people are doing by subscribing to a few newsletters that interest you (we’d suggest starting here). Whichever content you use in your newsletter, choose it with the audience in mind and your newsletter will succeed.



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