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Email Newsletters – what works (measuring engagement)

Jul 18, 2016 | e-newsletters | 2 comments

What I discovered about newsletters that get good engagement

This is the second part of the article I wrote last week, Best Performing Email Newsletter Campaigns. Last week’s article I discussed how analysing open rates was only part of the story of successful email campaigns. Getting your audience to open your email is only half the race won. The next important hurdle is engagement or getting them to take action. This article digs deeper into your email campaigns’ stats, namely the click through rate, to find out what in your newsletter campaign impacts the engagement of your audience.

How to measure engagement in a newsletter

In my article last week I explained the importance of open rates and the three components that can affect open rates.

Some email clients (e.g. Outlook and Mail) have a preview facility and that can register the email as an open. Which means that an ‘open’ doesn’t necessarily mean that your content was read.

So how do you know if your audience is actually reading your email newsletters and campaigns?

You do this by providing a call to action that involves clicking through to a website. Preferably, but not necessarily, yours. The stats then record this as a ‘click-through’ and it tells you which link(s) were clicked.

What I discovered about newsletters that get good engagement Click To Tweet

How long should a newsletter be?

A question I’m often asked, is how long should an email newsletter be.

One consideration that was put to me is that page length mattered, i.e. the number of pages that the newsletter takes to be printed on. I personally don’t print any email newsletters. If they’re not read immediately or deleted, then they get stored in my ‘read and delete’ folder. They don’t all get read there either.

I thought perhaps I might be alone in this so to check I asked the members of a group I belong to ‘what percentage of email newsletters do you print off?’. The members are business women, so if anyone is likely to print off emails, then possibly I’d find them here. More than 99% of all of those that responded said they don’t print any email newsletters ever. Only 1 (out of more than 100) admitted to printing off less than 1% and only then if they added to her knowledge, for instance a how-to article.

So actual page length doesn’t matter because on a screen (mobile or desktop) no-one is aware how long an email newsletter is and they certainly don’t care how many sheets of paper it might take to print out.

What styles of newsletters get good engagement Click To Tweet

Does length have an impact on engagement?

I wrote a blog post following some training I received from email providers, Constant Contact. One of the takeaways on email length was that shorter is better. So I had a look at various campaign styles and checked out their stats to see if this held true.

There’s a two basic styles of content to compare, long form and short form and within those styles there’s short articles and long articles.

Long form – 1 article – no link

All the body of the article is contained within the email newsletter. No links to anything further. Whilst it may seem convenient to the reader that the whole article is in one place, because there’s no call to action inviting the reader to click on any links, there’s no way of measuring the success of this type campaign. It registers zero click-thros, and the only way to know is asking, which isn’t very practical.

Long form – 1 article – 1 link

Like above where all the article is contained within the email newsletter, however there is a link to something further, e.g. a video or a sales page. Now we can measure engagement. Interestingly, I notice that click throughs to a sales page are lower than links through to information and info/fun videos/image galleries.

Long form multiple articles – multiple links.

1 main article and 2-3 shorter snippets some with links. There’s a trend because I notice links that go to something that’s not sales related (like a video or other information) perform better than links that are pitched as sales related.

Long form multiple short articles (more than 5 articles, multiple links)

The format here is a batch of 4 or more articles. They have an intro para with a link to read the full article on the client’s website. If the research that Constant Contact was to hold true then here’s where I’d expect to see a drop off in click-throughs. You’ve succeeded in tempting the reader to open the email. But when a reader opens it and sees how many articles they need to read, it gets deleted. Or filed in ‘read later’, which is a good as ‘deleted’.

I notice that click throughs are highest for the articles that are positioned near the top. The links near the bottom register very low click-thros to zero links. That’s a shame because a lot of work went in creating those articles, but it does seem that the higher up the newsletter the articles, the more likely they’re clicked on. Despite this, the average click-through rate is around 7-11%.

Short form – 2-4 articles, multiple links

A bit similar to the above, only the maximum number of articles is 4. There could be an introduction/welcome para but it’s short. There’s intro paras that have links to the full articles. I notice the whilst the open rate is high, the click throughs are quite low around 2% level or lower.

Short form – 1 article, 1 link

Like above but only 1 article. There’s an intro para that links through to the full article. Here’s where I see the highest click throughs of all forms of newsletter styles. And significantly higher with click through rates in the range of 20-40%

Other influencing factors

I’ve lumped my research all together and this might not necessarily be an accurate or scientific method to draw comparisons. Clients tend to stick to one type of format, so their audiences might not be as engaged as with another client, so maybe it’s not such a fair comparison. Frequency and how people ended up on the lists are other important factors and will have an impact on how engaged and responsive they are.

Take aways

Even from my limited study, I think it’s fair to surmise that the best engagement does indeed come from newsletters that have just 1 article with a link to the full article.

So if you are producing a big long newsletter then, chop it up into smaller newsletters and increase the frequency to improve your engagement rates.

If you’re not yet sending out email newsletters, then the good news is you only need produce 1 article per newsletter to get a positive engagement from your list.

If you want my help increasing the effectiveness of your newsletters, then let’s talk. Set up a free, no-obligation 30 minute consultation.


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  1. Sherry Bevan

    Very interesting … I have a longer newsletter with the occasional shorter non-newsletter format in between. I’m going to review the format after reading this article.

  2. Emma Saccomani

    Useful stuff Vee, I’m working through my inbox! It’s fascinating how we all handle information overload and I could relate to the fact that ‘click throughs to a sales page are lower than links through to information and info/fun videos/image galleries.’
    Helpful for me to understand that 1 article per newsletter is enough to get a positive engagement.

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