Why No One Reads Your Newsletter

A few months ago, I wrote a post offering a few suggestions for your newsletter template. Even if you are sure your template is awesome, you might have dismal open rates. People have different ideas about what a “good” open rate is. I had a client at one point who was perfectly satisfied with an open rate that was consistently around 15%. The average for my clients is around 30%. I’ve talked to business owners who have open rates above 90%.

Most people worry  more about how many addresses make up their lists than about how many people actually read their newsletters. It is better to have a list of 20 people with an 80% open rate than a list of 1000 people with a 10% open rate. You are far more likely to find that email marketing works for you if you begin with a smaller list of people who really want to hear from you, than you are if you begin with a list of hundreds who might have heard of you.

If you do it right, your list will grow. People will open, read, and, most importantly, respond to your newsletter. It’s the getting-it-right part that is hard. A few tips to help you keep your carefully-crafted newsletter out of the trash:


You use it like a sales circular. I subscribe to a newsletter from a local pet supply store. Every single week, they send out an email to advertise A BIG WEEKEND SALE!!! Things like 10% off all gerbil food do not excite me. After two or three weeks, I stopped opening it.

It’s okay to use your newsletter to let people know if you are offering a special or a discount, but don’t make that the only thing your newsletter does. It’s boring – especially when your “sales” are only going to appeal to a tiny segment of your subscriber list. Make sure that any offer you make will have broad appeal, and that there are, at least sometimes, other reasons to open your newsletters.


It’s all about YOU. One of the biggest reasons to use email marketing is that it builds your relationships with your customers. It gives them a small window into your company’s culture, or even a chance to know more about you personally. People are easily bored, though. Relationships require balance. When every issue is about you, but you never address your readers’ needs, values, or priorities, they are going to quit opening.

The key to avoiding this mistake is to make sure you are writing with your ideal customer in mind. Write as if you are having a conversation with that person. There’s nothing wrong with letting your customers get to know you – just make sure you are  keeping them in mind.


It’s the same thing, again and again. There have been so many times I’ve subscribed to newsletters and been delighted with the first 4 or 5 issues that hit my inbox. Then, after a couple of months, less delighted. Then, bored. If every issue is an interesting personal anecdote, followed by a customer testimonial, with a great coupon only for newsletter subscribers at the bottom, people are going to get bored.

When you find a combination that works, it’s tempting to stick with it. What you need, though, are four or five or six combinations that work. Keep surprising your subscribers and you will keep them interested. Send a link to a news article related to what you do, then a personal story, then a product offering, then a link to a video about your company. Try keeping a log of ideas, so that you always have something to turn to when it’s time to write the next issue, and so that you have a place to keep up with “extra” content for the future.


You need a proofreader. Everyone makes mistakes. I’ve re-read this post approximately 50 times and found a mistake every time. Feel free to point out those I miss in the comments – because I’m sure I will miss some. However, when your newsletter is so riddled with misspellings and poor grammar that it makes my head hurt and my pulse race, I’m going to stop torturing myself by reading it.

There are people, ahem, who will proofread your stuff for a small fee. If you lack confidence in your writing skills, paying someone to proofread or edit your newsletter is well worth the money. No matter how laid-back your customers are, you can bet there is at least one grammar nut on your subscriber list. You can sell her stuff, too, if she is not so annoyed with you she fails to see what you are selling.


You are overwhelming. Smarter people than I have done studies that show you can send email to your list daily and not suffer a significant drop in subscribers. If you send me stuff daily, or even every-other-daily, I’m going to unsubscribe. First I’m going to delete everything you send me without ever looking at it for a couple of weeks, then I’m going to unsubscribe.

There are a few types of newsletters that can get by with daily sends, but not many. You have to gauge the tolerance of your subscribers for yourself. Sometimes weekly works perfectly, sometimes bi-weekly, and for some businesses, sending randomly works best. You can do some testing, and you can even ask your subscribers their preference.


There’s nothing personal. I love Mini Coopers. I used to own one and hope to own another some day. When I learned that Mini had a newsletter, I was excited, but the excitement faded within a couple of issues. There was just nothing in them that I could relate to. Once, there was a link to a blog written by someone who was testing an electric mini, and that was interesting, but that was the only thing that got my attention in ONE YEAR of receiving the newsletter.

The scope was just too big. Mini has an international audience, and their newsletter attempts to appeal to lots of different kinds of people. It rarely has anything in it about the cars, or about the people who drive them. It is clearly written by a large marketing department for a large audience. Mini would be better served by email marketing by making their newsletters more relatable. If you are running a small business, embrace the fact that email marketing is personal.


There are plenty of other reasons newsletters fail. Do you have an email pet peeve? What is one of the worst mistakes you have encountered in your inbox?

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