6 Signs Your Email Newsletter is Failing (and How You Can Fix It)

Ginny Mineo
Ginny Mineo



signs-email-newsletter-failing_0If I had to take a guess, I'd venture to say that 90% of marketers have been pressured at some point in their job to have an email newsletter. Your boss is convincing. She says that email newsletters are a one-size-fits-all solution to your email marketing problem. Because of the way they are laid out, you can solve for lead generation, lead nurturing, sales, and customer "delightion" all in one swoop. 

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So you give in. You put together that darn email newsletter faithfully every month to appease her wishes. Then, after a few months, you're not entirely convinced the newsletter is working ... but you're not sure how to prove it to your boss. Which metrics matter, and which don't? Based on those metrics, what's you next course of action?

Truthfully, there are a bunch of red flags you could monitor to see if your newsletter is working, but if you're just getting started, the following six are the most important for you to keep an eye on. Keep in mind that these should serve as warning signs if you notice that they're becoming the norm -- not if you have a wacky week. If you're experiencing any of these over a few months, it's time to rethink whether an email newsletter is really your best option -- and maybe if it's the time to cut the newsletter altogether.

6 Signs It's Time to Rethink Having an Email Newsletter

1) No one is subscribing to your newsletter or lots of people are unsubscribing from it.

If you're not growing your subscriber list, you've got a problem. No matter what your goals are -- generating leads, closing customers, or developing a vibrant, happy customer community -- your list should be bigger from month to month.

More people in your list means more opportunities to reach your goals, so if your list is staying stagnant from your initial send or even petering off, you might want to think about whether you want to continue your email newsletter. 

Not ready to stop sending your newsletter? Here's what you can try instead:

Reconsider your email newsletter subscription strategy. How do people sign up to get your newsletter in the first place? Consider new, frictionless ways for people to sign up for your blog -- maybe as a widget in your blog sidebar or as a check mark on a landing page. Maybe you run a Twitter campaign to get people to sign up. The important thing here is to get creative -- and if multiple attempts at generating new subscribers don't work, swiftly get rid of your email newsletter.

Disclaimer: I am NOT advocating buying lists to counteract subscriber stagnation or decline. While yes, buying lists will increase your overall list size immediately, your open and clickthrough rates will take a sharp turn for the worst -- never mind your spam rates. The problem here is organic growth, not just growth in general.

2) Your open rates are taking a dive.

Another big red flag is when your email newsletters aren't even getting opened in the first place. All the hard work you put in curating content and designing the newsletter all go down the drain when people won't even open the email in the first place. There are lots of reasons why people won't open your emails -- an unfamiliar sender, uninteresting subject line, or previously uncompelling email content could all prevent subscribers from opening your emails. So when declining open rates are becoming the norm for your newsletters, and you've tested a bunch of different options, go on -- pull the plug on your newsletter.

Wait, wait, wait ... you haven't tested anything yet? Here's what you can try instead:

If you're not ready to give up your newsletter just yet, try testing out email elements that people can see without opening it: the email subject line and the sender name.

The problem could also lie in the content of the email itself. You can try narrowing the focus of your email newsletter content and to appeal to a more niche audience -- maybe to a specific industry or a specific persona. (If you're going to do this, don't forget to pare down your email list to only people who qualify for that niche.) The more relevant the email is to your list, the more likely the members are to open your email. 

3) Your overall clickthrough rates are dismal.

Are your email newsletter clickthrough rates consistently hovering below 4.3%? According to Epsilon's most recent study, that's the industry average. While your industry may be different, it's a good benchmark to keep in mind. If your email newsletter clickthrough rates are way below that, you've got a problem. And if that's been a problem for you for a while, go on and cut your email newsletter and focus on creating more targeted, clickworthy emails.

You're not ready to give up on improving email newsletter clickthrough rates? Read on.

Here's a post with some fabulous tips for increasing email clickthrough rates. If you're reading this now, chances are you can also read that article, so I won't steal much of its spotlight. But one of my favorite tips in that post is to hit your subscribers over the head with a call-to-action -- it's the one fix that could give you immediate positive results.

4) The number of clicks on your main call-to-action (CTA) is close to zilch. 

You also want to take a look at individual clickthrough rates to see which pieces of content in your newsletter are performing the best. Great email newsletters all have one primary call-to-action -- it cuts down on subscriber confusion and helps improve the overall clickthrough rate. But if the one CTA that you're relying on is failing, it's time to reconsider whether you should be sending email newsletters at all.

Okay, you want one more test before stopping? Here are two things you can try:

First, try changing up the design of the CTA. It's possible that people just aren't noticing that it's a CTA they can click. Change up colors, fonts, or shapes -- whatever works to make the call-to-action pop from the rest of your email. Need help getting started? Check out our call-to-action template.

Second, try cutting other content from your email newsletter. It's possible that your email newsletter is still too crowded. Reducing content clutter can help your subscribers focus on one thing: clicking through on your emails.

5) Your spam rates are going through the roof.

If you're buying lists, you pretty much deserve the spam rates you get ... but if you've organically grown your list, it's incredibly frustrating to have people mark your emails as "spam." The older and more unengaged the list is, the more likely you are to get hit with those spam complaints -- so you should go ahead and cleanse that list to only newer, engaged subscribers.

But if you're noticing that a targeted, fairly recent list is hitting spam on your email newsletter, it might be time to close shop. While subscribers may want to receive emails from you, the newsletter probably isn't the right approach in that situation. Go on -- it's okay to let it go. 

But wait -- you think you can fix this? Okay ... there is one other thing you can try:

If you think there's been some mistake -- maybe your subscribers mistakenly signed up for the newsletter or had a very mean competitor sign them up as a joke or something. Regardless, if you want to make sure your email subscribers are truly prepared to engage with you from the get-go, try enabling a double-opt in for new subscribers. Most email providers have this functionality built in -- you just have to set it up yourself. HubSpot customers, here's a tutorial on how to set yours up. 

6) You're not hitting your marketing goals.

Last but certainly not least, you've got to step out your email metrics bubble for a second. If you're so focused on open rates, clickthrough rates, spam rates, and the numbers on your list, you're going to be missing out on the whole point of you sending email.

Whether you're using email newsletters to generate leads, get customers, or delight customers, you've got to always take a step back and see if your email newsletters are accomplishing those goals. (Closed-loop analytics can help you tie your company goals to marketing activities.) If you're not hitting your overall marketing goals with your email newsletter, it's time to reconsider whether you should be publishing one in the first place.

Not quite ready to shut down your email newsletter? Do this first:

If you're kinda hesitant to completely cut your newsletter from your activities, try aligning the content you feature in the newsletter more tightly with your marketing goals. For example, if lead generation is your marketing goal, you want to make sure nearly every component of the newsletter drives toward that goal. Take a good, hard look at your content and its metrics to see how it's achieving your goals -- or not -- and then only feature the best content in the newsletter to reach your goal. 

All in all, there are really three main takeaways from this post:

1) Always make sure you're keeping an eye out for your email newsletter performance.

2) If any of these red flags pop up, run tests to see if metrics can improve.

3) Run a few tests and nothing improved? Get rid of your email newsletter.

Seriously -- just do it if it's not working. While your boss may have wanted an email newsletter in the first place, they'd much rather have a solid, successful email marketing strategy. 

Have you ever brought an email newsletter back from the dead? How did you do it? Share your stories with us in the comments. 

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