Newsletter Content: A Guide to the 6 Core Elements

By Gina Broom
Newsletter Content: A Guide to the 6 Core Elements


Email marketing is crazy lucrative — like $44.25 returned for every $1 of investment lucrative, according to Salesforce. Yep, newsletters make money fly around like sparkly flecks in a glitter bomb, which explains why so many marketers do it. Wanna get some of that money? Yeah you do! 

Whether you are interested in starting a newsletter series, or you want to improve the one you've got, I'm going to break the content down for you in a juicy little guide. 

Before I begin, I'd like to point out something that I've noticed through research and experience, because I urge you to keep it in mind every time that you think about any part of your newsletter content strategy. I'll be showing you how this applies to every one of my points, how it works and why it matters. 

Here it is: You need to treat your newsletter series like a conversation, with the aim of building a friendship. 

The Vertical Response blog has a quote from the Nielson Norman Group which sums it up perfectly: 

Newsletters are personal

It's all very touchy-feely, but it's true. An inbox is a person's correspondence kingdom, and if you displease them they can banish you by unsubscribing or worse (clicking that "spam" button). BUT! If you become a friend who visits regularly with great conversation, never asking more than you give, then you'll have a lot more sway when you do decide to promote products or offers. 

It comes down to social science, and just like with any science experiment wanting to be taken seriously, there are a few variables to consider across the board. In the case of email marketing, everything revolves around these 6 core elements. Any other fancy-shmancy stuff is a distraction till you master these elements, so sink your teeth in here.

1. Subject Lines That Get Opened

You've got a few words to sell your email before you get ignored or deleted. Going back to the core "friendship" theme of this post, I want you to think of it like your one chance to convince someone you've always wanted to befriend that you're worth their time. If you are unmemorable, or you say the wrong thing, you'll lose them.

So what do you say to get them to notice you?

Get in Their Heads

What do they want? What do you have to give them? You'll go further into this when you're writing the body, or "meat," of your newsletters, but it always pays to think, "What is the general type of person who would sign up for this mailing list?" and, "If I were that person, what would snag my attention? What would I want to know?"

Get to the Point with 6-10 Words

Web Marketing Today shared the results of a Retention Science study in which subject lines with 6-10 words performed better than shorter or longer subject lines: 

how subject length affects open rate

Keep it short and sweet! And keep in mind that because you only have a few words, you need to get to the point. What are you trying to say? You want to entice them, but also inform them of what they'll get from opening the email. 

Include a number

The blog has shown that having a number in your subject line can be incredibly successful:

People like to know before they invest any of their time, that the information they'll be browsing will be easy for them to scan. Numbers promise easily-digestible structured information, while also invoking curiosity: "There are 6 ways of doing that? I wonder what they are..."

Address them personally

If you were in a crowd and you saw a friend, yelling their name will be a lot more effective for getting their attention than just yelling, "Hey!"

When people are skimming through their inbox, seeing their name will snag their attention. It feels more personal, as though you're taking the time and effort to talk specifically to them, rather than lumping them in as just one of many. People like to feel special, not lost in a sea of others, so personalize your subject line with their name. 

Different auto-responder services will have different ways of including your subscribers' names. Most will have the option to "personalize" nearby, which will give you options for information that you can include in your subject heading.

For example, if you were using Aweber, you could populate your subject line with your subscribers' first names by selecting {firstname_fix} from the personalization menu, or just typing it directly into your subject. It's definitely worth figuring out how to do this with whichever auto-responder service you choose to use.

Tell Them What to Do

Don't make the mistake of using passive wording that doesn't implore your subscribers to take action. Instead of, "Free e-book," write, "Get your free e-book now!" Let them know they should take action; don't let them delete it or put it aside for later only to forget about it completely.

Avoid Words that Spam Filters Hate

Spam filters are a marketing fun police, so you need to avoid words that could stop your newsletter from being seen altogether. There are plenty of useful lists of spammy words to avoid on the internet, like this list by HubSpot. Read it over so you get a better idea of what not to include in your subject lines.

2. Greetings! We Come in Peace! Hellos, Sign-Offs, and General Tone

It may seem like a small thing, but the greeting you open your emails with, and the sign off you use at the end, can greatly affect the tone of your newsletters. For example, if you were to send a newsletter about expensive jewelry with the greeting, "'Sup," I doubt it would go down very well.

What type of audience will your newsletter be going to? Is the topic up-market, something that requires a somewhat formal greeting and sign-off? Or is it quite relaxed? (In which case you should aim for laid-back and friendly.) Either way, it needs to be welcoming. 

Often a "Hi (firstname)," to open, and a "Kind Regards, (your name or company)" as a sign off will do fine, but remember to consider your audience specifically.

3. Optimal Newsletter Content Length

51 seconds

If you couldn't skim through your newsletter and get the gist of the valuable information within 51 seconds, it's either too long, or has poor layout. The 51-second mark comes from the Vertical Response blog, which shows that 51 seconds is how long the average person will give you.

This doesn't mean that you have to cut your content to be so short that you can't squeeze a good amount of valuable information in there. Internet goers are scanners, they won't read a block of text thoroughly, not even a small one. The Nielson Norman Group performed a study that showed that "only 11% of newsletters were read thoroughly, so layout and content scannability are paramount."

So don't make the overall newsletter too long, only as long as you need to get in enough valuable information without extra fluff. And as for your sections, use clear understandable headings, and only small paragraphs under each one. 

4. Butchering Your Content to Get The Best "Meat"

The actual body of your newsletter is what it's all about, and this is where a lot of people really get stuck: "What do I write? Where do I start? Do I just promote my products?"

This is where the rule of treating your series like a conversation is perhaps most important. If you walked up to someone you wanted to befriend and started spinning of offers and telling them about products like a door-to-door salesman, chances are they won't respond very well to you.

It's spammy, it's impersonal, and it's frustrating, which is why showed that, "On average, content beat promotion by a 2.2x on open rate and a 6.0x on click rate."

You Need to Build a Friendship First

Greet your readers, then ask them a question about themselves. Offer some information that they might find valuable. Don't hard-sell anything in your first few emails. Let them value your newsletters and look forward to them — let them trust you — before you promote anything. It's a give-and-take, mutually beneficial dynamic that works best in business.

Your average newsletter might look something like this: 

"Hey, it's [Name] from [Website].

*question about them* or *personalized intent for reaching out* then,

*helpful information* then,

*link* then,

*personalized statement* then,

friendly sign off."

You'll want to change it up from newsletter to newsletter, but generally these are the elements you want to include. Earlier you'll want a minimal level of promotion, and then later on you'll want to throw in the odd hard-sell email to really push through some sales.

By that point, it'll be more like a friend throwing into the conversation, "Hey, have you seen this thing yet? It's great! You should get one." That's a much more powerful recommendation than any coming from the annoying impersonal door-to-door salesmen. 

A final note for the "meat" of your newsletters is to research your content well, so that you really are providing quality, on topic information. Look at forums to see what people are looking to know about your niche topic. You can even use AffiloTools to look at which pages on your website are getting the most attention lately, to see which type of information is the most popular with your site visitors. 

AffiloTools Traffic

Research the answers to the questions being asked on forums and build on the most popular topics of your website to give your subscribers some truly valuable information. That way, when you do promote, they'll be as receptive as you need them to be to really make the most from your newsletter series. 

If you don't have the time to do this, you can hire someone to do your research, or to write for you at the likes of Upwork. Alternatively, you could purchase something like AffiloJetpack, which already has a full series of quality newsletters created for a variety of popular niches. 

5. What Frequency/Consistency Gets You PAID

No one likes a friend that makes personal space feel like an unreachable oasis, but a friend who is never around can be even worse. You need to set a pace for your newsletter series, not too often, but not too sparse, and stick to it. Don't be flaky and inconsistent. shows that at least 1 newsletter a week is much better than every two weeks:


They also stated that "...the #1 criteria for impact was by far the frequency of our campaigns." If you're providing quality content, your subscribers will be looking forward to your newsletters. You need to be sending them at least once a week, but more likely twice a week, without fail, to ensure the best relationship with your subscribers. 

6. Don't Drop The Ball: Follow Up

Last but not least, you can't just leave your friend hanging when it's their turn to talk. If you go on and on, even if it's all fascinating stuff, if you haven't also taken the time to listen to them, they'll feel like you don't care.

If people reply to your emails, respond to them! If they're asking for more information on a particular topic, take that into consideration when you craft your future newsletters. You could even reach out to them with a survey at some point, asking how they're finding the newsletter series. What do they like or dislike? What would they really like to hear more about?

Also, if you have a friend who wants to leave, it's sad, but you have to let them go without making it hard for them. Always make it easy for people to opt-out of your newsletter series if they want to, or you'll risk the inbox version of a restraining order and a criminal record. If they can't click, "unsubscribe" they might just click "spam," and that's worse.

Some auto-responder services automatically include this, but you might want to check with the one you're using that there is in fact an unsubscribe option going out with each of your newsletters.

It's inevitable, but it's not really a loss in the grand scheme of things. Just like with friends, the ones who stick around are the ones you really want anyway.  

Elizabeth Arseneau 9 years ago
I already have affilojetpack it came with my subscription . Why am I being led here ?
Gina Broom 9 years ago
Hi Elizabeth,

I'm not sure how you were led here sorry, but this blog post is just for anyone interested in experimenting with writing their own newsletters.

You'll have all of yours set up with AffiloJetpack, so this isn't something you'll need to do. But it's here for you if you ever decide to try your hand at it in future. :)

- Gina