Digital newsletters can act as a key line of communication for almost every business – but only if they’re getting read. And these days, it seems like everyone’s got a newsletter, from small charities to global brands, and there are even internal company newsletters.

All that noise often leads to creators struggling to engage communities with their unique newsletter offering. Before you can even think about increasing engagement or tweaking valuable CTAs, you need to have a solid foundation that your digital newsletter is built upon.

There are 4 critical areas for your newsletter that, done right, will make your readers stick around for longer:

📐  Format

🖼️  Value

💌  Relevancy 

🧮  Analysis

Explore each one in more detail below…

Format: Your newsletter format needs to be designed for the reading brain

Neon sign head and brain

We get it. You’re writing your newsletter because you’ve got something important to say. Giving your newsletter the best possible chance of being read, means being choosy with its format.

The average newsletter has at least one of these three features that aren’t considered brain friendly:

  • Big text blocks
  • Scroll navigation
  • Static formatting

While newsletters that contain all three are becoming increasingly rare, these features have become standard for digital comms – especially internal newsletters. The problem with these features is that, from a psychological standpoint, they do not engage your readers and maintain their attention.

So, how can you optimize your newsletter format?

A) Start chunking your digital newsletter

In cognitive psychology, chunking means separating information into smaller “chunks” to help readers absorb content more quickly.

Lots of marketers use the tactic to communicate information more efficiently. Chunking minimizes the risk of scaring off skim readers by capturing their attention instead of overwhelming them. The simplest way to implement this into your newsletters is to break up your sections into even smaller paragraphs. The strategy also improves readers’ recall rates, meaning your newsletter will stick with your audience for longer.

It is also worth moving away from the long-scroll format that is still popular with many newsletters. When we read a long, scroll-heavy piece of text, our brains “run out of memory” to process it.

Breaking up your content has a number of other advantages to boot. Choosing a modular content strategy can also improve production times and reduce the workload of creative teams.

B) Use focal points

As tempting as it is to pack as much information, as systematically as possible, into your digital newsletter, being crafty with your layout is actually more important.

Formatting features such as pull quotes, imagery, and different font sizes, draw your readers’ eyes. Using them strategically around your most important pieces of information can subtly steer your readers toward them and ensure they get read. Treat them as cognitive signposts to help your reader navigate through your newsletter.

Another helpful strategy, often used by designers, is ‘white space.’ Often considered to be ‘wasted space’, harnessing the power of nothingness is an underutilized strategy that has been shown to reduce bounce rates, and keep readers reading.

C) Offer non-linear navigation

Given the opportunity, readers will not initially explore any written document in the way you intend it to be read. People prefer to figure things out independently and make their own choices.

Think of a magazine – do you open to the front page and read every word until you reach the very last page? It’s more likely that you scan through the different headings and images and skim-read until you find something that interests you. Then you read that specific section. This is self-determination in practice.

Individual readers have unique reading habits. When you present them with a digital newsletter that has to be navigated by scrolling, you’re taking away their exploratory choices.

Creating your newsletter in an easily navigable format lets readers jump straight to what interests them most. Readers that can do this will spend more time exploring before they bounce.

Not all digital content formats are created equal, not least when it comes to navigation and interactivity. Explore Turtl’s scientific study into format’s relationship with reader behavior to find more formatting pointers.

responsive display, like a thermal map, over lumen research on a computer screen

Value: Your newsletter needs dynamic, multimedia enrichment 

There are countless studies on the impact of imagery on our ability to engage with and retain information. In fact, it was the compelling results of these studies that inspired Turtl’s unique format.

We’ve covered briefly how impactful focal points are for drawing attention and encouraging readers. And while imagery or other multimedia qualifies as a focal point, it has other benefits too.

It’s been shown that, when compared to text alone, written information accompanied by relevant imagery is:

  • Over 5x more memorable
  • 50% more persuasive
  • 35% more understandable

This is because reading isn’t a natural-born skill, so our brains don’t always want to do it. But, you can trick the brain into absorbing textual information better by combining it with other sensory experiences as you incorporate prominent images and reduce text. Don’t expect your readers to force themselves to read a static text-heavy digital newsletter; make it as easy as possible on the eyes with contextualized imagery.

If you don’t have original images, you can access a wide range of free images from unsplashrawpixel, and pixabay.

Relevancy: Your newsletter hasn’t taken into account your unique audience

The stats are there for everybody to see. 2022 saw Forbes report that personalization is one of the biggest turn-ons for prospective customers, and the world reacted. 51% of marketers identified personalization as top priority, and 89% of digital businesses committed serious investment to it.

But personalizing a digital newsletter is easy, right? It’s just a case of: ‘Hi %fname%!’ And to really push the boat out, you might even add in ‘… at %company%’.

And while that is personalization as many people know it, technology has reached a point where we can tailor digital newsletters in more innovative ways. Deeper, scalable personalization, like the sort that Turtl offers, needs to become a vital tool in the workshop of digital newsletter marketers trying to increase their read rates.

That means really getting to know your audience, not just uploading their name and company from a database using your CRM. Conducting audience surveys, understanding search intent, and using tools like are useful ways of understanding what exactly your audience wants to know and addressing this in your newsletter. Content that is created for the individual is always going to keep your readers active.

Analysis: You can’t track your digital newsletter

Depending on your distribution method, there may seem to be a couple of ways of tracking your digital newsletter’s performance. Emails have open rates, web pages have visitor numbers – and there’s the all-important read time. 

But at best, these metrics offer a top-level view of interaction with your newsletterThis means, unfortunately, lots of newsletter writers waste their time creating content that no one has real interest in. 

Meaningful insights into exactly how your audience is engaging with your digital newsletter have the power to solve this. The ability to see precisely which sections of your newsletter people are reading (and which they aren’t) and how long for lets you discover quickly what is resonating with your readers.

To access this information requires data analytics software. But even so, most software will only be able to tell you whether someone opened or downloaded your digital newsletter. Even so, there are more sophisticated tools out there (including Turtl) that allow you to measure reads and read times by chapter.

This gives you invaluable insight. If people are bouncing past a chapter, you know you shouldn’t replicate it in your following newsletter. Tweak and trial, and see what performs better. Likewise, you may have a section with high reads and longer read times. Maybe see if that section can be built on or recreated for future issues.

The Turtl Takeaway: In a sea of digital newsletters, make yours stand out

Go off and design your newsletter for the reading brain. Then, you can tailor your content to what your audience actually wants to read. Now, your newsletter is optimally positioned to capture readers!

You can’t force people to read something. But you can make it as easy, natural, and enjoyable as possible for them to do so by avoiding the text and scrolling heavy formats, such as PDFs or email templates.

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