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Are you sending newsletters or spam?

The statistics on email marketing are a sad story. Only one in five emails are opened. It's especially bad, considering people say "Yes please, send me your newsletter!". In this article, Michael Kazarnowicz shares insights and tips on how to best create newsletters that are actually opened and read.

Written by Adam Horne
June 8, 2020

There are lots of numbers that suggest that we've collectively devalued the value of a "newsletter". However, this does not mean that newsletters are dead, we just need to think about how best to work with them. First action: shift focus from "number of subscribers" to "engagement".

The boundary between sending spam and sending useful newsletters is delicate, and many Swedish companies that send newsletters cross that line often. If you look at statistics on how many open rates, distributed by industry, the majority of sectors are around 20%. The best opening rate has the category "Hobby" with 28.8%, worst is "Daily Deals" with 13.81%.

When four out of five do not open your newsletter, you have to get five new subscribers to get a new reader. Even though only one fifth opens a newsletter, they continue to be sent out. It runs on the idea of quantity: if we send something to enough people, someone will bite. This is precisely the same principle that spammers use: you only need one in a million to be fooled because it's so cheap to send email. But when four out of five do not open your newsletter, you have to pick up five new subscribers to get a reader.


What Swedish law says about email marketing:

Email marketing to individuals or individual companies is not permitted unless the person has explicitly requested it.
If there's an established relationship, then it is legal to send email as long as the person opted. And it is, in principle, free to send advertising and marketing via email as long as it is relevant to the company or the employee. We can call this the "narcissist's loophole."


"Narcissist's Loophole"

So the narcissist marketer only cares about collecting email addresses and believes that any form of contact will do that. Even after just one interaction, the narcissist will put you on their email list. In the world of the narcissist, the only essential message is their own. Rarely do they think that the receiver will feel that it's annoying. If you're wondering about your business, take a look at how people sign up to your newsletter.

Meet The law-abiding fool
This person blasts emails. To company email addresses, and in the worst cases, to a generic address like - and claims that their email should be delivered because of the law. The dummy may follow the law, but the spam filter won't care about that. They'll usually be blocked.

Spam filter, email's best friend
Most spam filters of any quality are trained by users on what is spam, and what isn't. Gmail is one of the world's largest email providers, and their spam filters work on two levels: individually, and for all users. If you mark a mail from Dumstruten as spam, then all messages to you from Dumstruten in the future will be marked as spam. When enough users have marked a specific sender as spam, the rule becomes universal, and all emails end up in the spam bin for everyone.

Sadly, following the law and Swedma's industry recommendations protect from being spammed the way that helmets protect you from falling over. Although neither the narcissist nor the law-abiding fool could be reported for unethical marketing in Sweden, they could have problems with big services such as Mailchimp or Gmail.

Each time a message is marked as spam, a report is sent to Mailchimp. A couple of spam tags are no danger. Still, if you repeatedly get people saying that your emails are spam, Mailchimp will investigate. Among other things, they will want to know how to collect your email addresses. In the worst case, you can have your account suspended because you haven't followed their rules. This sets standards that are higher than both Swedish law and Swedma recommendations.


What should you do, if you want to increase the value of your newsletter, improve the open rate, and use email as a valuable channel that builds your brand?


5 tips to increase your engagement with your newsletters

Sell ​​your newsletter. Tell the recipient what to expect from the newsletter. A great example is Elle & Company, which tells you what the newsletter contains and what to expect if you subscribe.

Don't: Use passive "approvals". This includes techniques, although legal, do not allow people to make an active choice to receive your newsletter. Example: Pre-checked checkboxes for subscription in forms (like register an account, pay an order), and everyone who has left their business card at a trade show booth.

Ask subscribers to tell you what they benefit from your mailings. If they see no benefit, it means you have to think about the content. Here, too, Elle & Company is an example:

Don't: Bribe potential subscribers. If a 10% discount on a purchase is the only reason why people choose to subscribe to your newsletter, the engagement rate in your newsletters will quickly suffer.

Content that is important to you, but unattractive to the recipient. Newsletters, like all other communications, must be based on the recipient's needs. It is at the intersection of you and the recipient's needs that useful content is found. (Tip: most often when you send out invitations to buy a product or item, it is your need to sell as a guide, not the recipient's need to buy)

Create a dead man's grip. Keep track of how many times in a row a subscriber has not opened your newsletter. When there are too many, you send them an email where they must actively act to continue subscribing. Buzzfeed does this:

Don't: To use the address lists of others, such as partners. It does not matter that you are partners, and your partner's customers technically agreed to it by accepting a partner's terms. Instead, ask the partner to promote your newsletter, and let those who are interested start their own subscription.

Balance content and selling. Hubspot recommends that you have 90% educational content and 10% sales. In other words: for every point where you try to sell something on the recipient, you should have nine points of useful information.

Don't: Assume that something important to you is important to the recipient. Just because you have a new product in stock, does not mean that those who previously bought from you want to hear it. Always ask "in what way does this help make our subscribers' lives better or easier?"

Vary email subject lines. Writing "Newsletter No. 10" in the subject line is a sure way to minimize the recipient's interest. It takes more time to write subjects and headlines that describe the content, but if you do not spend time writing the newsletter, why should the recipient spend time reading it?

Don't: Use an address that no one ever reads, such as If you send out a newsletter and the sender's address tells the recipient not to hear, what does it say about your willingness to listen? If you keep your list up to date, there will be few bounces per mail, and the autoresponders that come can be sorted from your list.