Breathe new life into newsletters with updated aesthetics, subject lines

By Summer Moore

American City Business Journals

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA


Acquisition and retention of newsletter subscribers is top of mind for most media companies today.

Regardless if the company is focused on subscriptions, ad revenue, or both, newsletters have become a leading source of revenue and sales leads.

However, the novelty of e-mail has worn off. In fact, most people today have a contentious relationship with their inbox. Something that used to be a daily habit of checking in has become a trudge through marketing, communications for work, family, and hobbies. It’s become a lot of noise, and, therefore, the fight for actual inbox attention has ramped up exponentially.

Going into the second of 2022, there are several things you can do to revitalize your newsletter strategy.

Newsletters are an increasingly important for revenue and sales leads, and media companies need to put effort behind their strategy.
Newsletters are an increasingly important for revenue and sales leads, and media companies need to put effort behind their strategy.

Speed versus aesthetics

It’s interesting how many different philosophies there are out there about using images in newsletters. Marketing e-mails tend to be more visual, and many use animations. But newsletters are all over the place.

The differences range from large images and animations (such as Morning Brew and Axios) to fewer images (The New York Times) to nearly none (Reliable Sources).

Thinking through and testing with your audience is key here, but also pay attention to loading times and sizes. If you use too many images, your newsletter risks being too large and will get cut off or sent to spam.

However, in this visual world, moving completely away from imagery risks making your newsletters look like work. If people look at their e-mail and see something that looks hard, they will delete.


When I was setting up morning newsletters at GateHouse Media, we tested a multitude of times to send them. We settled on an earlier-is-better strategy to account for the many commuters we were targeting.

Fast forward to a pandemic and a changing work day. Most of us fall out of bed at 8:45 a.m. to turn our computers on for a 9:00 a.m. Zoom meeting. Things have changed. Habits have changed.

Without commuting to a job, we are waking up later and staying up later. Newsletters are doing better closer to 9:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. rather than the old 5:00 a.m.-6:00 a.m. Or, maybe it’s time to change it all together and send at night.

Think through your audience and how they spend their days. When are they looking through their inboxes for things outside of replying to Sharon about the latest spreadsheet?

Subject lines

To emoji or not to emoji? That is the question of the day. Many brands are leaning into emojis in subject lines. Morning Brew uses a cup of coffee (get it?). Tubefilter and The Hustle use them as well.

Here’s what to think through: Subject lines are precious, precious spaces. You have around 25 characters to convince someone to open (plus the pre-header on most devices, but the subject line is queen). If you can say it in fewer words, and maybe an emoji says it better, do it. No one should rely on automated subject lines anymore. That space is too important.

Sign-up pages

It’s time to rehaul your sign-up pages. They should be visual and ridiculously easy to navigate. One click sign-ups are key. National Geographic and the Los Angeles Times are great examples.

New York Magazine and Boston Globe went without visuals, but they are still easy to use and visually pleasing.

The key to a great user experience is to make signing up easy. Also make sure your sign-up pages are SEO-optimised and easy to find on search.

Newsletters continue to be one of our strongest engagement tools. They can be incredibly impactful for subscriptions and ad revenue. However, like most parts of our business, the strategy needs to be assessed and retooled as habits change.

About Summer Moore

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