A Publishers’ Blueprint for Curating Content Subscribers Will Read

2021 has been a strange year. But one effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been increased engagement with email newsletters. 

According to Kabir Seth, COO and VP of Product Strategy at the Wall Street Journal, subscribers are clicking and reading through email newsletters now more than before.

Many media and news organizations are shifting their focus to email newsletters as a result. Here are a few examples:

  • The New York Times has over 71 email newsletters, with an open rate up 150% from 2019, as well as many brand-new newsletters dedicated to unique topics such as COVID briefings, science, and parenting.
  • Many media outlets are experimenting with format and writing styles, such as Vox’s Sentences, which curates the news in short, digestible bullet points.
  • Journalists have turned to email newsletters as a direct channel to write to their readers, like Dave Pell’s NextDraft

With so much content being created, the role of email has evolved to focus more on curation and filtering through the noise. Brands have to figure out how to differentiate themselves from the crowd by providing a unique value to their readers.

So, how can ensure your content is noticed in crowded inboxes and that your readers are, well, reading?

There’s no magic formula, but here are some of the best newsletter tips, trends, and formats that will keep your audience reading, clicking, and subscribing.

1. Be personable and friendly

Our inboxes today are flooded with marketing promotions, work updates, and other impersonal messages. So an email from a real human being written like it’s from a friend or family member sticks out.

When you’re curating your content, it’s a great idea to keep this thought at the forefront. Try kicking off each email with a personal introduction. This makes the email seem less like a marketing message and more like a thoughtful note from a friend. It’s an up-front reminder that a real person is behind the screen.


Source: The New Yorker

I’ve personally never met Jiayang Fan of The New Yorker Sunday, or James Palmer of Foreign Policy, but reading the personal introductions in their regular newsletters almost makes them feel like an old friend. Keeping a friendly, pleasant tone will work wonders in establishing a solid readership.

How to do it: An intro can be a short and sweet teaser of what’s in the email, or it could be long and personal. Choose one person to write the intro to maintain consistency and establish a rapport with your readers. Or, you can switch things up with a rotating intro from different writers and editors each week who have their own unique voices, opinions, and takes.

2. Share your links

Don’t spend all of your time talking about yourself. 

Being a content curator means more than just sharing the articles published on your blog this week. One great example is Monocle. Instead of just focusing on their work, they dedicate half of each newsletter to sharing great content they’ve found online.

While a traditional strategy might tell you to keep readers on your domain, when it comes to curating, sharing is a sure-fire way to initiate trust with subscribers. 


Source: Monocle

The Verge, which has bulleted sections called “On the Verge” for articles they’ve written, and “Off the Verge” for articles published elsewhere. Really Good Emails, the email about emails, includes a section of related links from top stories in other publications.

Using an email template can be a great way to build different sections for your newsletter while maintaining a clean, consistent look.


How to do it: The great thing about this approach is that it’s easy, so long as you plan ahead. Start compiling links throughout the week. Add links from your Slack groups into a running document. That way, you have a list that’s prepped and ready to publish come send time.

3. Make your emails short and sweet

Email newsletters are a visual medium. There’s a lot of potential for imagery, fancy formatting, and eye-catching colors. But sometimes, simple is better.

A header, a button, and a clear call-to-action (CTA) is a good formula for an effective email. Especially if it’s used as a break from your usual format. An attention-grabbing headline, a snippet of concise copy, and a CTA can do the trick.


Source: Really Good Emails

How to do it: Don’t overthink it—especially when you have a clear action to highlight. Include a headline, button, and an image with a description. The example above by Rapha shows this strategy off perfectly. Not every email needs to be a four-page epic.

4. Personalize each email

When you’re preparing content for your subscribers and designing your email, you’ll want to consider how to personalize your newsletters. When we spoke with Kabir Seth, he had a lot to say on the subject.

Kabir mentioned how important it is to personalize newsletters to your subscribers’ preferences. “Are they looking for tech? Specific news about a company like TESLA or Goldman Sachs? Then give them the option to subscribe to something that’s a niche for them,” says Seth.

He went on to explain how integrating fresh, unique angles into your content is a great way to keep your readers engaged. “A lot of our subscribers are up to date on the markets,” says Seth. “So now we have emails with live market data that refreshes, we’re not serving them something cold.” 

A significant part of personalization includes sending a welcome message to new subscribers. This kind of email is designed to get people used to hearing from you and opening your messages. People are often overwhelmed in their inboxes, so you have to show and tell why your email newsletter is worth their time. 


Source: Wall Street Journal

How to do it: Keep it simple. This email serves as a quick note thanking them for subscribing. It’s meant to get them used to opening emails from you and seeing your name pop up in their inbox. You don’t want it to drag on for six or seven paragraphs. 

Here’s a simple formula for a welcome email: 

  • Say hello and introduce yourself
  • Have a quick link out to your site or a CTA
  • Sign off

It’s as simple as that.

Wrap up

These are just some of the ways you can improve your email newsletters. Remember, you want to provide readers value in every email, so focusing on quality is essential. Once you understand what your readers are interested in, it’ll get easier to provide content that resonates. 

If you’re interested in taking your content curation strategy to the next level, Campaign Monitor offers email marketing software that makes automating and segmenting your content a breeze.

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