Falling email newsletter metrics? Here’s a quick pick-me-up.

Falling email newsletter metrics

It’s a phenomenon digital publishers know all too well: when something works well, publishers do it. That is, until too many publishers hop on the bandwagon and ruin things for everyone.

For instance, programmatic revenue made publishers easy money, until everyone started piling ads on their sites, diluting CPMs. Facebook propped up that ad revenue with easy clicks, until cheap content clogged the feed and publishers fell to the algorithm. Then, savvy companies turned to the email newsletter. Are newsletters the next tragedy of the commons?

According to the latest DMA email benchmarking report, email metrics are falling, and publishers rank among the worst performers. As reported by The Drum on August 15:

Emails are opened and read 14.2% of the time, but consumers have been more cautious about clicking through to external links with a reduction in the aggregate click through rate from 1.8% in 2015 to 1.6% in 2016.

…open rates have continued to fall from a high of 20% in 2013, to 14.2% in 2016.

The lowest performing sectors when it came to click through rates are publishing (0.77%), not-for-profit (0.83%) and finance (0.88%)…


The fact is, digital publishing newsletters still work. Really well. They drive clicks, subscriptions, and revenue for publishers in ways that no other communication channel can. That’s why
practically every major publisher has one. Some have 50 or more. But with more publishers sending more email than ever, you have to work harder to keep your numbers looking nice.

Has your newsletter performance fallen? Is it unable to get up? No need to sound the inbox LifeAlert. Here are a few ideas for improving your email newsletter metrics.

Don’t just track your email newsletter metrics. Act on them.

You are tracking your metrics, right? Just thought we’d ask. These metrics should guide your design and content efforts. Of course, they won’t tell you everything you need to know about building newsletters, but they can definitely provide important insights into how effective your emails are. They can also tell you what you need to change.

Mic.com subjects their daily MicCheck newsletter to a battery of tests. An Energizer Bunny battery of tests. They perform a new A/B test each week or so, carefully reviewing the relevant email metrics to gauge its success. Nearly every aspect of their data-driven newsletter is determined by the results of these tests.  Tone, images, length, send time, content type, and more — you guess it. It all goes back to the tests.

Email marketing, whether for publishing or other industries, is a never-ending process of constant testing and improvement. If you’re just standing by and watching your metrics fall, they’ll only fall faster. To undo the effects of gravity on your email newsletters, you’ll have to break out the science and act on your data.

Make sure you’re looking at the right metrics.

With that being said, different metrics play a different role in different newsletters. There’s no magic metric that will tell you everything you need to know, nor does tracking every single metric ensure email newsletter success. The metrics that should matter to you depend on what you’re trying to accomplish with your email program.

In fact, having lower metrics in some areas might not be all that bad for you. If your newsletter is designed to drive traffic to your website, then yes, sound the alarm! A low click-through rate poses a problem for you. But what if it’s a newsletter with few to no links that’s designed for purposes other than getting quick clicks? Then, it’s not quite as important.

Focusing on the metrics relevant to your newsletter can help you deliver a better product (not to mention, it looks good to advertisers. That can allow you to command higher CPMs for your in-email ads). That’s why a critical part of your email strategy should be thinking about what you want your newsletters to achieve in the first place. That’s also why the next section of this post is…

Consider your newsletter’s purpose.

So what do you need your newsletters to do for you? Do your newsletters need to drive clicks and generate on-site ad revenue? Or do you envision your newsletters as a way to promote your brand in the eyes of your readers? What if it’s simply an additional product for your premium subscribers?

Some media companies view their email newsletters as a standalone product, not to generate clicks but as another self-contained way to consume content. They might use certain newsletters to increase reader loyalty, or they might form part of a bigger premium subscription offering. These newsletters also generate revenue differently, whether by nurturing premium subscribers or delivering in-email advertisements.

Whatever the purpose of your newsletter, every aspect of your newsletter design needs to serve that goal.

When looking at metrics, don’t forget your email deliverability!

It’s not the snazziest metric, but it’s definitely one of the most important. For everyone.

From astronomy newsletters to zoology digests, every email benefits from improved deliverability. In fact, if your click-through rates are down, your deliverability might be to blame. That’s why PostUp has dedicated deliverability consultants ready to work with our clients. It’s just that important.

Keep in mind that just because your email got delivered doesn’t mean it avoided the spam folder. The latest Return Path research found that one in five emails doesn’t reach the inbox, which means that many senders are neglecting inbox placement. This can make or break your program. After all, not everybody checks their spam folder. If your email doesn’t make it to the inbox, it could be as if it was never delivered at all.

Make sure to follow deliverability best practices, especially when you modify your sending habits. Whether changing your ESP, your IP, or just your email frequency, significant changes can signal suspicious behavior. As a result, your deliverability can take a hit. By keeping an eye on your deliverability metrics, you can address any such problems quickly.

Evaluate your newsletter’s relevance.

Once you’ve got a handle on your metrics, the next step is to evaluate the relevance of your newsletter content. Is the content you’re sending the content readers want to open? Is it the kind of stuff they want to click?

It’s possible that readers might lose interest in your content over time. Reader engagement tends to be highest among new subscribers, which is why publishers prioritize list growth. Perhaps you can salvage these waning readers by pointing them towards new content. Newsletter cross-promotion can lead them to more engaging content. By offering multiple newsletters, publishers allow readers to self-personalize email to their own taste.

But what if readers signed up and never really engaged? It could be that they signed up for your newsletter without realizing what they were getting into. Be sure to set clear expectations for your newsletters upon signup. These misdirected readers might also enjoy one of your other newsletters. If they go to unsubscribe, try sending them to an email preference center, where they can opt into something else before leaving forever.

Rethink your email design.

For some publishers, boosting your email newsletter metrics might be as simple as a quick template refresh. Do your links actually look like links? Maybe your links blend into the surrounding copy, and readers just don’t realize where to click.

Is a broken template preventing clicks? Do you have a mobile-optimized newsletter template? When more than 70% of readers delete emails that don’t look good on mobile, building an email that works on all devices can make all the difference.

The design of the copy is just as important. If your emails aren’t driving enough website traffic, ask yourself if your copy really entices readers to click through. Are you writing copy that invites clicks? Is there too much information available in the email itself? Is there too little information. Testing small details like this is important, but testing big changes can bring big results too. That raises our final point.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with your newsletter offerings!

Publishers often use the email inbox as a virtual sandbox where they can test new kinds of content. Why? Email subscribers consistently rank among media companies’ most engaged readers. It makes sense that these audiences would be ideal for trying out new content.

Plus, the email inbox is a more personal environment. You can experiment with new ideas before introducing them at large, or play around with things that don’t quite fit the character of your website.

When email metrics are falling, sometimes the only thing you can do is think big, even if it’s a little scary at first. It might be worth it to completely scrap old newsletters in favor of new ones. Publishers introduce new email products all the time. It’s certainly not uncommon for them to discontinue widely-circulated newsletters either (RIP Washington Post’s WonkBook).

If the email inbox is a sandbox, there’s no reason you can’t have a bit of fun. Just make sure you pour out your shoes before you walk back in the house. Otherwise, you’ll send your “angry mom" metric through the roof.

Editor, PostUp PlayBook