1) All email newsletter platforms give you some kind of reporting. We use Constant Contact. Check into the data for your reports. See how your Open Rates and Click Rates compare to market averages. Open rates should be at least somewhere around 10-20% (i.e. this percentage of your messages that didn’t bounce should be opened if the subject line appeals to them). Click rates should be somewhere around 15% too (i.e. this is the percentage of your opened messages that got clicked on, with each click counting towards it).
2) If you are seeing a low Open rate, try playing with the subject line: avoid things like “Our newsletter – August 2011” in favor of things like “Learn why it pays off to do XYZ”, i.e. include something that will make more people want to open the email, such as including a reference of what they can expect inside. Think action verbs, teasers, things that will prompt an action, not things that are descriptive.
3) If you are seeing a low Click rate, try working with the content. If you have too much content on the newsletter, it will likely not be all read, but it will still likely take you very long to put together. People’s attention span typically won’t go beyond a minute or so per email, so keep it short (test it yourself: read it and see how long it takes you). This is an example of a newsletter (ours) that is intentionally not too long.
4) A very good way to reduce the amount of content you include in a newsletter is to blog about it and LINK to it from the newsletter, instead of including all the content in the newsletter. It will make for an easier-to-skim piece too, which will likely engage people until the end of the newsletter.
5) Another way to reduce the amount of content you include in a newsletter is to send more frequent (though I would recommend against more frequent than weekly) newsletters, with less content each.
What pieces of advice you have for people wanting to improve their newsletters?