Tips to Improve Your Weekly Email Newsletter

Approximately the same number of people open the weekly St. Andrew email newsletter as attend worship every Sunday, making it equal in communications importance to a worship service bulletin or screen advertisement – in other words, a top tier channel for communication.

When I arrived at St. Andrew, I felt that the weekly email newsletter was not being leveraged to the best of its ability. So we shut it down, then relaunched a new one a few weeks later.

Performance of the new design is through the roof. This post is about what we did, why it’s working, and some of the philosophy behind it.

First, some statistics on the six weeks since the relaunch:

  1. Unique user opens are up 182 people per week on average. This is a 14% increase in opens compared to the final six weeks pre-change.
  2. We’ve crept up to a 27% open rate, versus a 26% average open rate pre-launch. (Universally, across all organizations, times, formats and industries, the average open rate for a corporate email is 29%. Yes, that’s pretty bad. Open rate is a reputation-based statistic – people only open it if they know they’ll like it – and takes time to change, so seeing the uptick is a positive sign for the design change.)
  3. Most significantly, contact links are through the roof. (Contact links are unique people who not only open an email, but click a link in an ad to learn more.) Prior to the re-launch we were averaging 43 contact links per week. Since the re-launch we are averaging 88 contact links per week. This is a 105% increase in engagement with our ministries.

Here’s the scoop:

The Old Design

The old design was a clutter-y mid-2000s model, built for desktop viewing, with two columns, lots and lots of boxes, information and links. It was difficult to read because of its design limitations, inability to respond to mobile users, and lack of clarity on what’s important.

The last weekly newsletter pre-launch had 29 separate pieces of info, and 29 links, with some information containing no link and other links with no accompanying information. It resulted in 57 unique contact links, meaning 57 different people clicked at least one of the links in the email.

The New Design

Consider these aspects of the new design:

  • Much more minimal
  • One column with a simple header
  • Responsive, in other words built for mobile viewing
  • A big lead image that is designed to be visible in the user’s view window, whether on desktop or phone
  • Clear font hierarchy
  • Fewer items for easier processing and a call to action for more information, to register, join, etc.

The first email of the relaunch, which hit after a six week absence, contained 5 separate pieces of info, with 9 total links. It resulted in 109 unique contact links, meaning 109 different people clicked at least one of the links in the email.

That’s a positive change from 57 to 109, which is a 109% increase, on about a sixth of the possible links.

A few specific examples of the positive effect of the switch:

  • In the last 3 ads on the old format, our Starting Point assimilation ministry ads got 1, 0 and 1 clicks. In the first ad in the new format, Starting Point got 6 clicks.
  • In the last 3 ads on the old format, our Seven Loaves mission ministry got 2, 7 and 13 clicks. In the first ad in the new format, Seven Loaves got 67 clicks.
  • In the last 5 weeks on the old format, 4 people on average clicked to the church home page. In the first 5 weeks of the new format, on average 32 people per email clicked through to the church home page.
This last anecdote is critical, because the key to good marketing strategy is to make the site a hub for all activity. We are trending that way.
We have a long ways to go to overhaul our messaging at St. Andrew, but this is a good start.

The Philosophy Behind the Switch

My wife had asked me to swing by the school the other day. She said, send me a text as you arrive so I can alert the front office that you are coming.

As I shut off the car, I got my iPhone out of my pocket. I touched the home button, then touched it again to access the unlocked keypad. Walking now, I waited a moment for it to wake up, and then entered the six-digit lock code. I touched the home screen of apps and then the Messages app, then the tiny window in the Messages write space to start the message.

By the time I was ready to start the text, I had touched the screen 11 times and was standing at the front office door. 11 steps just to begin a message. 

The latest Apple iOS is pretty difficult to use – fellow users, are you with me? It used to not be this difficult. Apparently Apple is having difficulty remembering it’s founder’s credo to keep it simple, or to…

Make user experience a primary value.

Now let me clarify I am not a member of the cult of Apple. I realize there are limitations to using Apple as a metaphor, because it runs the risk of making metaphor into model. But historically, Apple has been its best when it has been its most simple.

Now, post-Jobs, I see the same dynamic happening again. The Apple mobile operating system is starting to operate with the same sense of clutter as its less elegant competition.

Which brings me back to what happened when I relaunched the email newsletter.

Narrow your communication focus.

There’s a gem of a saying at my new church, Saint Andrew, that came from consultant Will Mancini a few years ago. Thankfully, the church remembered it. Here’s the phrase:

Narrow your focus to broaden your reach.Will Mancini

What this means is that you have to stay focused on your desired audience first, and not the needs of the organization. If you focus on the needs of the organization, you will end up with clutter, every time. And clutter leads to poor communication.

To be focused on the user’s experience – to reduce the steps to the center of your message – means you must say no to many of the demands of the people inside the organization. This is hard and may not win you friends.

But if you don’t, you sacrifice communicating with the very people you hope to reach.

Decide what to communicate most.

When everything is equally important, no one knows what really matters.

My communications goal is not to ignore ministries or to prevent them from due promotion – it’s to give the best exposure to what matters the most to your targeted audience.

Every item of communication matters – just not equally and through equal channels.

If you’re having trouble with this concept, think of this as a stewardship issue. You would not buy air time in a pro football broadcast for an issue concerning your neighborhood HOA. That would be a poor use of funds. Rather, you would create alternate channels to communicate with targeted audiences.

Re-evaluate every communications channel based on your clarified values.

In each channel, we are trying to narrow our focus to 6-8 church-wide ads, focused on those that have the largest audience and those that match worship’s themes for the day.

For example, if the item in question is from a seniors group to the entire church, then that’s a marketing message, geared toward a broad audience, that needs exposure in primary channels. But if it is from the seniors group to the seniors group (an internal communication item), then that is an informational message geared toward a more narrow audience, which is best served by a channel tailored to the group (such as a newsletter or email distribution list).

The same approach we’ve taken with the email newsletter, we’re also in the process of applying to other vehicles, such as the worship bulletin. (I took a similar approach when redesigning the bulletin for my previous church, Peachtree, which I wrote about here.)


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).