Tripling clickthrough rates for email newsletter

The problem: Readers barely reacted to B2B software company’s email newsletter.
The publication had low open, clickthrough and click-to-open rates.

The solution: I applied a variety of best practices and relaunched the newsletter with relevant content.
I resolved deliverability issues, improved segmentation, set a new editorial strategy, optimized for mobile and performed multivariate testing.

The results: Clickthrough rates nearly tripled, open rates more than doubled and click-to-open rates improved by 74 percent.
Newsletter metrics 2011 vs 2012

The details: Here’s how I improved the newsletter’s effectiveness.
When I joined the company in the fall of 2011, it was making two common email-marketing mistakes:

  1. blasting its monthly newsletter to a large, legacy house list that had never been cleaned.
  2. focusing too much on self-promotion instead of on educating readers.

Consequently, the newsletter’s engagement metrics were low, and the company’s sending IP address appeared on blacklists.

The first thing I focused on was email deliverability. I worked with IT to add DKIM and Microsoft Sender ID authentication, and I requested that the blacklists remove us. But the most important thing I did was segment our legacy house list so that we stopped mailing to hundreds of thousands of users who were not engaging with emails or visiting our website. That action reduced the number of spam traps we unwittingly hit with each email send.

In 60 days, our Return Path Sender Score rose from a low of 87 to 99. Over the next year, our Sender Score remained in the 96-99 range, giving us a good shot at landing in the Inbox instead of the Junk folder.

My next order of business was making the newsletter more appealing. The existing newsletter, The Scoop, had a self-promotional agenda. Links often led to landing pages with forms, and topics tended to be company-centric.

At the end of 2011, we put the newsletter on hiatus. When we relaunched it several months later, I got Marketing buy-in on a new editorial strategy and gave it a new name: Collaboration Decoder.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all newsletter that truly fit almost no one, we would send two different versions to two different industry segments. To minimize workload, we would repurpose blog posts that our content-marketing manager generated.
Newsletter editorial strategy

The graphic designer and the head of marketing took the lead on redesigning the email newsletter. I provided feedback and coded three distinct HTML templates, so we could see which of the three potential designs performed best. When the newsletter relaunched, I tested:

  • an image-heavy design, a rich-text-only option and something that fell between the two extremes.
  • the use of a cloud symbol in the subject line vs. no symbol.
  • responsive mobile design vs. a standard desktop-optimized template.


And the winner was …  Winning newsletter design

I included Facebook Open Graph tags in the HTML meta data, so we could control the images and descriptive text that appear when readers share each edition of the newsletter.

I taught myself how to create CSS @media queries to make the newsletter render cleanly in Android, iPhone and other mobile devices – without making the reader rotate the phone or pinch to view the content.
Mobile rendering PDF

Last but not least, I created a metrics dashboard for the Marketing team that I updated monthly. It summarized the overall health of the newsletter in terms of engagement, engagement over time and list size.
Newsletter metrics dashboard

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