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Newsletter optimization: This is how you get (even) more out of one of the best marketing channels

The newsletter is one of the most powerful marketing tools: The recipients form the perfect target group since they are usually very interested in your brand or rather your product. Conversion rates of more than 30% after a click on the website occur every day.

But to even get them to click through, there is still a lot to do. In this article, I will give you some tips that will help you optimize your newsletter.

740x400-200x200-EmailFormular-02 newsletter email marketing email

How do I generate more sign ups?

Even a perfect newsletter does not get you far if it does not reach enough people. This is why your permanent goal should be to pick up more people for your newsletter mailing list. With a few simple adjustments, you can make sure that noticeably more people subscribe to your newsletter:

Avoid the word “Newsletter”

I know – kind of a peculiar tip in an article on newsletter optimization. The word "Newsletter" is associated with negative emotions and spam for many people.

Instead, try to bring across a more descriptive title. For example: Some time ago, I was sending out a monthly "Conversion Newsletter". Since that did not go down very well, I decided on calling it "Regular conversion tips via email". After that, the sign up quota hit double digits – significantly higher than before.

Give users one – or several – reasons

(Almost) nobody subscribes to your newsletter because of the newsletter itself. Make it clear why someone should subscribe to your newsletter. What will the recipient get from it? What is it about? How can people benefit from it?

The right place at the right time

A current trend is to get users to sign up for a newsletter by covering all the content they are trying to consume with a giant sign up request. These code snippets are colloquially called "Exit Intent Popups" or, more technically correct, "(Exit Intent) Modal Windows". They appear before someone leaves a page or has been on it a while or has reached a certain point on the page (or sometimes just accidentally), and you should be very careful with them.

They might have a positive effect on sign up quotas but will often lead to annoyed users as well as dropouts. This way, they lower the conversion rates of other goals such as sales. After testing such technologies more than once, I can only discourage you from using them.

exitintent newsletter email marketing email

Figure 1: Exit intent popups might promote the gathering of email addresses but have a negative effect on superior goals

Many website owners place the newsletter sign up field in the footer. Unfortunately, it has little effect since many users will simply overlook it or deem it unimportant because of its location.

The best time to offer your newsletter to the user is when he or she has made some positive experiences with the website. This can happen before or after reading an article, for instance, or when taking a detailed look at a product. During my tests, the following has proven to be good for conversion and not annoying at all:


After the user has spent at least 20 seconds on a page containing important content and has read more than 30% of it, display an unfolding box for newsletter sign up at the bottom of your website that covers none or very little of the content.


Make sure that the box can be easily closed and then does not open again for at least 24 hours. Otherwise, users quickly get annoyed. (Man, they sure are sensitive…)

For big websites: Offer customized newsletter content for various recipient groups

If you are responsible for email marketing of a bigger portal, I advise you not to offer the same content to all users. A financial portal, for example, could offer newsletter mailing lists dedicated to the subjects "Investments", "Stock market", and "Insurance" and hereby increase the sign up rate and relevance of their newsletter. The more you know about your user, the more you can personalize – and improve – your content.

Think about what a "content recommendation engine" would need to entail to fit your target group.

How do I get users through the double opt-in?

150 words of boring theory

In some countries – Germany among them – commercial and advertising emails are only legal after getting the recipient’s approval beforehand. This approval is called "opt-in". Since the once declared (alleged) permission by a recipient could be made by third parties (for example, by signing someone else’s email address into a form), the actual recipient of advertising is not bound by the opt-in. The fact that the advertiser is deceived as well is not taken into account since the recipient is not at fault.

To avoid this problem, advertisers often choose double opt-in. Here, the advertiser can be sure that the permission to send out emails actually came from the account that will later receive advertising emails. The inquiry needed for double opt-in was recently considered as not anticompetitive by courts in many cases. Double opt-in happens when confirming approval by clicking on a link in an inquiry or confirmation email.

Yawn. You made it.

TL;DR: Recipients have to confirm their email. This is called double opt-in.

Double opt-in. Your enemy.

Users often think that signing up for a newsletter is over after registering (single opt-in.) They do not know that they still have to confirm their own email address. Quite often, this is why you can never write to someone who was actually interested. How annoying.

Which requirements does my single opt-in page have to meet?

In order to keep users from thinking that the sign up process is complete, the most obvious of methods will help: A big, prominent, unmistakable headline telling the user he or she is not quite done yet.

You should not place any information other than that on the single opt-in page (the page the user is taken to after registering his or her email address) in order not to distract the user. It is imperative that every user understands that another step is necessary.

A good single opt-in page of course only does half the trick. The other half comes from the double opt-in email itself:

What makes a double opt-in mail good?

Many users have had the same email address for years. Because of this, a glut of daily emails is inevitable and so single emails can easily be overlooked or regarded as unimportant and therefore not opened.

To make your double opt-in email unmissable and to get people to click on the link, you can just follow these easy tips:

Subject line

The subject line already needs to make it clear that one more step is necessary. Words like "Welcome to our newsletter" or something comparable are quickly dismissed as unimportant information emails and not opened.

Bildschirmfoto-2016-12-09-um-10.41.22 newsletter email marketing email

Figure 2: The subject line of the double opt-in email needs to make it clear that some form of action is required


Your double opt-in email should not (and cannot for legal reasons) contain any advertising content. Advertisements would only distract or repel users at this point and would keep them from finalizing the sign up process.

Just repeat the main reason that they should confirm their email address. For example: "Confirm your email address now and regularly get tips via email".

Click invitation

The click invitation is the most important part of the email. Users do not read every word of this kind of confirmation but skim it in search of a clickable element. As far as my experience goes, a highly visible button with an adequate label works best.

How do I increase the opening rate of my newsletter?

Do not be junk mail

In order for an email to even be opened, it first has to reach the recipient’s inbox. It is therefore essential to not be categorized as spam. Because: no one takes a look at the spam folder and, if you are down on your luck, your emails will be completely blocked by the recipient’s email provider.


5 tips that will help you not be classified as spam:


1. In your double opt-in email, ask the recipient to mark you as one of his or her contacts. Send along a vCard (.vcf). You can find vCard generators with your trusted search engine. If you are marked as a contact, the likelihood of you being classified as spam is pretty slim.

2. Do not make your newsletter and especially your subject line seem like an advertisement. Words and phrases like "complimentary", "get your money back", "guarantee", "100% satisfied", etc. will ring the bells of every spam filter.

3. Offer a simple and clearly visible opt-out option at the end of each email. This will reduce complaints ("mark as spam") made by users to their email providers.

4. Before sending out your newsletter, do a spam check. Good newsletter tools offer the appropriate feature.

5. Groom your mailing list. Delete recipients whose servers reject you ("bounce").

First impressions count for each new email

The little preview presented to recipients by their email client or rather browser is the only chance your newsletter gets to be read. Specifically, this preview consists of the following components that are relevant to you:

Name of the sender

While most senders use their company’s name here (and are right in doing so), it can make sense to use the general topic of your newsletter instead (e.g., "Marketing hacks"). Because of the prominent location of the sender’s name, much attention is given to it. If you want your newsletter to come across as very "personal", the author’s name instead of a company name or topic description will work as well.

Subject line

Of course, every newsletter’s subject line is different, which is why I can only give you some very general tips here. The boys (and girls) of Wisita, for example, have taken to working with icons lately. Because of this, their emails get more attention in a mailbox than others do.

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Figure 3: Wistia gains attraction by using icons.

Many people also show a positive and especially attentive reaction to reading their own name. It can therefore increase your opening rate if you start the subject line with the recipient’s first name.

Text excerpt

One component that gets dismissed as unimportant much too often is the text excerpt from the email. Just like a META description of a website, you get valuable space for more information here. The first paragraph or sentence of an email is used as an excerpt. Most newsletters just give this space away, and recipients only get to see calls to action like "If you can’t read the newsletter properly, click here" – not very motivating.

Pro tip: Place an invisible 1x1 picture element right at the beginning of your newsletter. The ALT text you assign to this picture will be used as a text excerpt by most email programs.


<img alt="Exciting introductory text here" src="//a.storyblok.com/f/117064/8448cf3bc3/picture.gif" width="1" height="1">

How can I increase my click through rates?

Your newsletter can be your main source of traffic. Users that visit your website after reading a newsletter have already taken two huge steps: They have opened your email and have clicked on the requested link. They are highly qualified and in my opinion the most valuable traffic you can get.

In the past, I have seen or rather accompanied many email marketing campaigns. From one click in an email to reading the lead article or buying a product, these campaigns have achieved conversion rates of over 50% (and I am not even talking about repeat orders). As soon as this kind of "click through" has happened, it is up to the landing page to properly convert this traffic (get tips on how to do that here). But how do I get a user to click on links in my newsletter?

Your newsletter should not look like advertisement

"I don’t like advertisements. I’d better sign out of this again."

Something along these lines is what most people probably think about advertisements they get via email. That is why advertising slogans or rather calls to action should only be used very rarely.

Do you want to get people to buy a product by using your newsletter? Do not even think about initiating any kind of sales pitch in your first two emails. First, introduce yourself as an authority. An expert. Then, after a few emails, you can point to your product in a friendly manner.

You should also be careful when designing your newsletter. The more arranged it seems, the more it is perceived as advertisement. Here is my idea for an A/B test: Put your branded newsletter up against a simple text email without (many) visual elements.

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Your newsletter should be linked to just one single target page

Marketing landing pages and newsletters are very much alike. The more choices a user has, the less he or she actually uses any of them (also see The Paradox of Choice).

Do not present your whole overwhelming selection to a user in just one email. If you do it right (see next paragraph), you will have lots of time to promote your various target pages in "bite-sized bits", one after the other.

If you only present a link to one target page, your newsletter has to stick to one topic only. This is good for your readers and ultimately for you as well.

How do I make sure my recipients do not sign out again?

Really. Good. Content.

Give out valuable information to your readers. Make sure your content will help them in life and that they can personally use their new knowledge or information in one way or another.

As an example, take a look at my articles on OnPage.org or one of my talks. I would never publish or present something that does not contain any tips that (ideally) everyone can put to practice. Otherwise, I would immediately lose readers or my audience – and my good name. It is no different for newsletters.

Make them want more

The film industry shows us how to do it. Good series end with a cliffhanger – a scene or event that makes people want to see the next episode. Use this method for your newsletters. Get as specific as possible without giving away too much.

Do not bug your users

I get it. You are so convinced of what you have to offer that you would just love to send out a newsletter every day. Sadly, this will backfire most of the time.

Therefore, only send out newsletters periodically such as every week or every month. The best way is to let your recipients choose the frequency for themselves and to let them adjust it if needed.

Conclusion & bonus tip

Building up big newsletter mailing lists isn’t rocket science. By taking into consideration the tips mentioned above, you will soon be able to achieve lasting success – especially if you are still new to the whole marketing issue. Just try it, it’ll pay off :-)

Do you have more advice on newsletter optimization? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading <3

Bonus tip: Do not only test your website but also your newsletter! The most commonly used newsletter tools include an A/B test feature. This way, you can test various subject lines and content with a smaller group of recipients, considering opening and click through rates. Afterwards, the version with the best performance can be sent out to all recipients.

Ryte users gain +93% clicks after 1 year. Learn how!

Published on Dec 9, 2016 by Nils Kattau