The competition for awareness is at an all-time high. From social media to television to our inboxes, we're constantly barraged with bids for our attention.

The days of sitting down to read the newspaper are long gone. People are now more likely to consume relevant content if it's delivered somewhere they're already spending time—like their email inboxes. And that's showing in the marketplace: A new email newsletter seems to pop up every 15 minutes, and new tools have empowered their creators to reach readers faster and more efficiently than ever.

So it's no surprise many marketers are jumping at the opportunity to grow their email audiences, either as a core strategy of the business or just to re-engage their customers.

To remind newcomers and incumbents alike in the newsletter space: An email newsletter strategy is a marathon, not a sprint. There's no shortcut to launch you from a great idea to tens of thousands of highly engaged subscribers overnight.

That said, 1440 Media has collected some hard knocks over the past 3+ years, so read on for advice on what we'd do if we started over on our email newsletter strategy today.

Content is critical to your email newsletter strategy

Content quality is critical. Subject line testing is great; it can be the difference between someone opening or not opening the first email you send them. But the content within that email will determine whether the reader will open emails 2 through 200.

Test the layout, design, tone, length, links, and personalization (among other things) of your email before doubling-down on any subscriber-acquisition strategy.

Avoid clickbait-y subject lines altogether. You might see a great open rate on that particular day, but you need to keep in mind that you're playing the long game. You'll likely see a spike in unsubscribes, and you'll lose the trust of recipients who could otherwise become daily readers of your newsletter.

Your best bet is always to create a newsletter so good that readers can't help but open it, regardless of the subject line.

Email open rates are a positive feedback loop

Once you feel comfortable with your newsletter's content, it's important to note that open rates are a positive feedback loop— that is, the higher your open rate, the more it will rise. This is one of the most underappreciated facts in the email space.

Every inbox provider (Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc.) assigns a "reputation" to your IP address and email. When that reputation improves, your email will land in your recipients' main inbox regularly. However, when your reputation worsens, you'll find your newsletter in Spam, Junk, Promotions folders, or [ominous voice] the email void.

But how do you improve your reputation?

A great first step is to ensure you're only sending to people who love your content and open or click in your email regularly.

Take this simple example: You have an email list of 100 subscribers. Every time you send a campaign, 15 people open it. 45 people have opened at least one email. Therefore, your daily open rate is 15%, and 55 of your subscribers have never opened an email.

Here's a suggestion: Send your campaigns only to your 45 "openers"! On your next send, you'll increase your open rate from 15% (below average, poor reputation) to 33% (above average, strong reputation) without impacting the total number of opens; the leftover 55 weren't opening anyway.

Over time, you'll see your open rate climb beyond 33% because inbox providers will grow to trust you more and place you in the main inbox more regularly. Your readers will also appreciate you more: Gone will be the days of a nonreader angrily marking you as spam for adding to their already-full inbox.

There are also tools that can help you to whitelist your IP address and email domain with the biggest inbox providers, but that's better done once you've scaled your audience to the hundreds-of-thousands. Which brings us to...

Scaling your email newsletter

How do you go from 70+ friends and family members to 700,000+ subscribers (like we did)?

From the onset, focus on high-quality acquisition channels—channels that don't just drive subscribers but also highly engaged email openers.

One of the best ways to grow is to barter deals (or "cross-promos") with other newsletters, we found. For example, we told our readers to check out a partner newsletter, and they, in turn, recommended 1440 Media to their subscribers.

That worked really well early on, especially when we partnered with newsletters of a similar size, because people who open one email newsletter have a higher likelihood of opening another newsletter.

Separately, we found our organic word-of-mouth growth rate was incredibly high when we started, thanks to—you guessed it—strong and consistent content that our readers love.

Over time, we've learned to double-down on high-quality acquisition channels. That still includes email newsletters, but we now pay directly for email placements more often than we run barter deals.

We've also expanded our media channels to sponsoring podcasts and YouTube creators with audiences similar to ours. That includes topics such as science, professional development, and political and philosophical thinking—or, more generally, "how things work."

Above all, we've found that having our brand introduced by a trusted source of information far outperforms programmatic ads with little to no context.

For the rest of 2021 and beyond, we'll continue to target high-quality verified channels and test more aggressively where we think we can succeed. We're also becoming more intentional with our funnels when a person first subscribes. How do we make someone open five consecutive emails? How can we incentivize someone to refer a friend? Is there a point at which we can "save" someone from no longer opening our emails?

At our current scale, 1% improvements to such metrics can boost our daily opens by thousands, so the impact can be massive.

* * *

To recap, our email newsletter strategy best-practices:

  • Home in on quality and think about the long-term when growing your email audience.
  • Create excellent valueadd content and avoid clickbait.
  • Send only to people who actually open.
  • Choose acquisition channels wisely, and never ever buy an email list (for legal reasons, if nothing else).

Also, listen to your readers every day, and encourage feedback.

More Resources on Email Newsletter Strategies

Putting the 'Letter' Back in 'Newsletter': Ann Handley Talks Writing on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

Seven Ways Newsletter Marketing Still Works for Professional Services Providers

How to Build an Exceptional Newsletter, According to People Who Did

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image of Pierre Lipton

Pierre Lipton is a co-founder and the COO of 1440 Media, a daily email newsletter created to save busy people time when consuming the day's news. 1440 has over 700,000 subscribers and a 53% daily open rate.

LinkedIn: Pierre Lipton