Lucas Brenner » Articles » 3 Steps to a Better Newsletter

Today there are more email newsletters than ever. Unfortunately, there is also more and more spam, “dead” subscribers and data garbage. Especially with newsletters, it seems to be more about quantity than quality. An email list with 50,000 addresses is often preferred to one with 10,000 real, active ones.

Yet it's easy to keep an active and well-maintained newsletter. In this article I will present three basic principles to achieve this.

Don't Bait Subscribers

Nowadays, you can find subscription forms to newsletters on almost every website. Most of the time, these newsletters advertise that you will receive e-books, tutorials or other gifts after signing up.

This is a bad idea - if your goal is to attract active subscribers. Most people will sign up with an email address that they don't check frequently to get the reward. As a result, the newsletter open rate goes down[1] and they have one more subscriber who either ignores the newsletters or unsubscribes after receiving the reward. In addition, the costs for you will be higher because they are calculated according to the number of subscribers.

You should not force anyone to subscribe to the newsletter. This may result in higher subscriber numbers, but they won't make a qualitative difference. People should subscribe to you because of the content of your newsletter, not because of a free download. That's why your newsletter archive should be accessible, so people know what kind of emails to expect.

Regular Decluttering

Despite this selection, initial subscribers may still lose interest over time and become inactive.

Some of these people will unsubscribe from your newsletter themselves, but the majority will ignore the emails or delete them unread. This impacts email open rates, increases costs, and creates avoidable data garbage.

That's why you should remove inactive subscribers from your list. This may seem counterproductive at first, but it will lead to the improvement of your email list. What good is a newsletter with tens of subscribers if the email addresses are outdated or inactive?

Depending on the size, you should declutter your list once a year or quarter. That way, you'll ensure that your emails are only received by people who are interested in them. And instead of removing someone right away, you can send out an alert first, asking them to confirm their email address again.

Establish Relationships with Subscribers

The implementation of this step is the most difficult. You won't manage to connect with every subscriber. Nevertheless, this is how you make sure that there are some

Derek Sivers does this right at the signup confirmation stage. Instead of just having to click on a link, new subscribers are supposed to reply to him on his first email. Those who don't respond are not added to the list.

This is, of course, a very radical but effective method. It would also be possible to include specific questions in your newsletters and ask subscribers to respond. Depending on the size of your newsletter, you will receive more or fewer responses - but generally far fewer people respond to your emails than you think.

So, to maintain a well-curated email list, you should avoid rewards for new subscribers, declutter your newsletter regularly, and build the strongest possible relationship with your subscribers. It's easier said than done, but it's worth the effort.

Newsletters aren't about subscriber counts, because those just increase costs - they're about connecting a small but active group of people.


[1] I write about open rates and other metrics in this article because it's a good way to illustrate how the quality of a newsletter changes. Of course, this doesn't mean that quality only depends on these metrics or that you should use email tracking. On the contrary, I am generally an opponent of tracking.