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The Key Ingredient Behind High Newsletter Open Rates

Tips that helped us consistently achieve over 30% open rates for our newsletter.

In this article, we will discuss how our 9-month-old newsletter 'Last Week in Plain English' has been consistently getting over 30% open rates.

Even in the age of social media, the success of newsletter marketing has not dimmed as it still brings consistent results to companies, entrepreneurs, and influencers who use it.

But - and here's the catch - crucially, a newsletter is a form of email marketing that will only work if your target readers open the email.

We live in a fast-moving world where our attention spans are constantly strained. How many of us take the time to sort through the hundreds or even thousands of emails we receive each day?

So, if you're starting out with only a handful of subscribers (as we did 9 months ago), it's extremely difficult to get people to even open your newsletter once, much less get them to do so on a consistent basis while growing your audience.

And that's exactly where we believe we can help. With over 35 issues released with consistently high open rates, Team In Plain English would like to share some key insights to get those open rates soaring and improve your business prospects.

Background

'Last Week in Plain English' was launched nine months ago (October, 2021). For our first issue, we had a mere 307 subscribers, a number that has since swelled up to over 4,000. Along with the number of subscribers, our open rates have also consistently gone up and now remains steadily >30%.

Here, for example, is our open rate for our sixth issue which had 1089 subscribers.

And here is the open rate for our 35th and 34th issues which had 4103 and 4094 subscribers respectively.

Thematically, our newsletter is a weekly roundup of developments from the world of technology. Every week, we scour the web for anything that we believe should be brought to the attention of our readers.

For example, the latest developments from the React team, high-profile layoffs, scandals in the tech world, developments in the world of crypto, AI, web3, and so on, the impact of certain technologies on the environment, creating more accountable tech, the latest trends in the field of software development - and sometimes even "non-tech" news that affect us all universally.

In addition, we provide job opportunities for readers who are interested. And last but not least, we include weekly highlights from the IPE publications and the IPE blog.

All of this information is presented in one place for our readers but we can only reach them if they actually open the emails. In what follows, we will go over how we can get our readers to do just that.

The Secret Sauce

Disclaimer: These are not rules set in stone. As a fairly new newsletter, we have experienced quite a few bumps in the road and we have learned and grown from them. Going forward, no doubt, we'll continue to learn even more. But these are the provisional lessons we have learned from our failures and successes so far and we hope that they prove to be insightful to you as well.

The one factor that determines a healthy open rate for a newsletter is the subject line or the title. Let's have a look at how the subject line you decide to go with affects the open rate.

The Subject Line

As mentioned earlier, in these attention-strained times, a suitable subject line is required to grab the attention of the readers. Picking the right topic/s to form a title around is paramount because this helps hone in on the most important themes that may appeal to the broadest section of your audience.

You should keep in mind the following factors to ensure your newsletter's subject line stands out from the rest:

Tip 1: Know Your Audience

This, by now, is an ancient piece of advice but it still holds true as a fundamental building block and so it's best we get it out of the way. In order to have a strong voice, it's important to realize exactly who you are writing for.

For example, our readership primarily consists of people who work within the tech world in some capacity (whether as junior developers, senior developers, product managers, etc).

So, when crafting the newsletter, it's important to put yourself in their shoes and take a moment to think about the topics that they would be interested in. And since our newsletter consists of an average of 14 articles, while crafting the subject line, we have to pick the strongest topics that have the broadest possible appeal across our reader base.

Tip 2. Include Trending Topics

From our experience, we found that subject lines containing numbers (an amount of money, for instance) or a hot current topic (e.g., web3, crypto, etc.) tend to get us 30% and above open rates.

In the above example, we covered the crypto meltdown that's been all over the news recently and we felt it was a strong enough topic to include in the subject line because whichever way you may feel about crypto, the fact that it was all the buzz up until a few months ago and is now suddenly having a meltdown is worth an investigation.

Tip 3. Avoid Long Subject Lines

It's also a healthy habit to ensure the subject lines do not get prematurely cut off. It's counterproductive if an important portion of a subject line is truncated with ellipses and is missed out on by readers. In our past issues, we often made this mistake and it led to less-than-ideal open rates.

From our learning experience, it's a healthy practice to keep the subject line within the character limit.

Tip 4. Use Shortened Words to Reduce the Length of the Subject Line

Often, we get topics that are wordy. To put them up as part of the subject line while maintaining grammar and style can be a challenge. But there's a workaround to this. We can use shortened versions of certain words. For instance,

As shown above, in the 29th issue of our newsletter, we used '&' instead of 'and' and 'w/' instead of 'with' to keep the title within the character limit while maintaining our three topics per title rule.

Tip 5. Bend Rules Where Needed

However, no rule is absolute. For example,

In the 35th edition of our newsletter, we decided to omit the third topic altogether. This ensured the wider appeal of the first topic remained intact. While some may argue that the first topic is not relevant to tech, we would respectfully disagree for the simple reason that an issue affecting millions is too far-reaching in its consequences to exclude the tech world. By the same token, we covered updates regarding the Ukraine war because such events affect us all and their consequences are too wide-ranging. But anyway, the lesson to be learned here: not only did we shorten the subject line but we also included what some might say is an unorthodox topic. This issue is currently sitting on a 34.47% open rate. Hence, bending the rules when it's required is always an option to fall back on.

Tip 6. Include an Emotional Hook

An emotional hook in the subject line is another proven method of getting higher open rates. Success is ever elusive and there is an abundance of talent present in the world. Yet, very few have gone on to be successful in life. A story based on this topic has the potential to garner a lot of attention among readers because it strikes an emotional chord with them. So, we decided to include that into our title and it worked its magic.

Tip 7. Include Trending News

Any relevant news topic that might interest your reader base is something you need to use in the subject line. As our primary readership consists of coders and developers, we make it a point to stick to topics from the world of technology. If there's any headline-grabbing news coming from Big Tech, we ensure those topics end up in our subject lines. For instance,

Twitter selling user data is definitely going to pique the curiosity of a lot of people, more so to those who are in the loop of how data--and data-based surveillance--works on the internet. Hence, we made it a part of the subject line and it proved to work in our favor.

A Few Parting Words

In Plain English has always prided itself on transparency between our team and our readers/writers who are a cherished part of our community (and without whom, our newsletter would not have seen an iota of success). This is why we previously set up a Discord community that provides a direct line of communication with us. And why now, we felt compelled to share with you the journey of our newsletter so far and the factors that have led to its successful flourishing.

In this particular article, we have covered one particular angle behind our newsletter's successful open rate: the subject line. While the subject line is arguably the most important factor behind open rates, it's absolutely not the only one.

For example, it's one thing to get your audience to click on your newsletter email once, another thing altogether to retain your audience so that they keep checking out your newsletter over a long period of time. For that, you have to constantly draw lessons from each newsletter, understand your audience, and put care, effort, and time into crafting your newsletter each time. In the future, we'll certainly cover other aspects that help create a successful newsletter,

As mentioned earlier, these are not hardcoded rules or guaranteed recipes for success. We have fumbled, and we have learned, and we will continue to keep learning. We wanted to humbly share the insights we have gleaned so far in our journey, and we will be very happy if they were of some use to you.

If you're a reader of our newsletter, please don't hesitate to comment with any suggestions or feedback. They are always welcome. And if you're not yet a subscriber, please feel free to subscribe to 'Last Week in Plain English' here.


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