When someone hands over their email address so you can send them your newsletter, they are taking a risk. You’ve been on the receiving end of a barrage of hard-sell emails. The regret sets in instantly.
Let’s respect our readers and their inboxes. Make the most of this first impression. Show them they made smart decision. When you give them reasons to feel positive about the important work you’re doing, they will stick around.
The very best newsletters are useful, relevant and anticipated. The first step to being useful, relevant and anticipated is how you welcome your new email newsletter subscribers.
In this post I’m going to break down real welcome emails to show you what works. Then, I’m going to walk you through writing one. If you follow the step-by-step guide, you’ll have a brand new Welcome Email in less than an hour.
Why you should send a welcome email to new subscribers
The Welcome Email is your opportunity to roll out the red carpet for your new subscribers. This is your chance to make the right first impression.
Your welcome email is not a receipt. If your mailing list uses a double opt-in, your confirmation email is separate from your welcome email.
Surprisingly, in my study of 99 Newsletters from publishers in 46 states, only 48.4% of newsletters sent a welcome email. This is a huge missed opportunity!
Experian research shows a 57.8% open rate for welcome emails. That’s 4x the open rate for other emails in the study. (Source: PDF link, 16 pages).
What’s the open rate on your main newsletter? Somewhere around 20-30%?
Mailchimp says 22% is average for media and publishing.
For best results, show your personality. Loosen up a little bit. This tone of this email should be personal, spiced with enthusiasm. The goal is to make new subscribers feel comfortable and excited to read what’s coming.
Positive feelings lead to loyalty
I’m not just saying this from personal experience. Research backs it up!
Getting something special makes people feel good. Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D, a research psychologist and Senior Scientist for Gallup, has done extensive work exploring positive emotions. She says/writes:
“If people feel grateful for your services, then that is the first step toward creating loyalty and engagement…. And if you can harness that and find ways to make people feel grateful for what you’ve done for them, they’re more likely to repay you with loyalty. “
And if you can harness that and find ways to make people feel grateful for what you’ve done for them, they’re more likely to repay you with loyalty.
How awesome is that?
Here’s how to get started crafting impactful, reader-focused email: Think about what your most enthusiastic fans and supporters absolutely love about you. Look at feedback emails and survey comments. Use their words as guidance. You want to find more people like them.
Keys to writing a welcome email
1. Be human.
Nobody likes being treated as a nameless, faceless record in a database. Just because technology makes things easier doesn’t mean you need to turn into a robot.
Think about how many impersonal emails you send straight to the archive folder. You don’t even have to open them to know what they are. Do you like those? Do you want more of those? No way! Neither does anyone else.
Let your new subscriber know you aren’t one of those obnoxious emailers. Let them know they made the right decision.
2. Put the reader first.
Each new subscriber gave you their email address. They probably also gave you their name. Show them they can trust you with that information. Put the reader first.
First and foremost, this means don’t hit them with the hard sell.
We want to put new subscribers at ease, and get them excited for what they signed up for.
Think of it this way: If you meet a complete stranger, and in the first few minutes this person says, “Trust me” — do you? Or is that a weird red flag? And why are they so insistent this “unique business opportunity” absolutely isn’t a pyramid scheme?
We don’t want to do that. Demonstrate value on their terms.
3. Keep it brief.
Don’t overwhelm your new subscriber. Hold a little back. Don’t be pushy. Allow your new subscriber time to get to know you.
I know you are excited to show them what great work you do. You will get that opportunity. Trust me.
You have this person’s email address and attention. Don’t send one jam-packed email covering everything from the history of your organization to how to give you money to all your social links to all your top stories — take a breath.
Examples of great welcome emails
Set clear expectations
Who: ProPublica Illinois
Where it excels: Making a human connection with the new subscriber, starting with the subject line
The less conventional or traditional your newsletter is, the more important it is to help people understand what they are going to get. ProPublica Illinois has one of my favorite welcome email subject lines: “Welcome. Now let’s set some expectations.”
In this email, you learn this newsletter is weekly and (1) it’s written by a real person. This newsletter is different, because it won’t be “a lonely, skeletal feed of headlines in your inbox. We’re all people here.”
You can reply to this Welcome Email, because (2) an actual person from ProPublica Illinois will read it and reply. They want to hear from you, they aren’t just broadcasting at you.
This is important. If you want to build valuable relationships, you will have to open yourself up to your engaged readers. These small messages are more than courtesy. They are goodwill deposits, and the value accumulates over time.
As an added bonus, Logan also adds the subscription page link to the P.S. section of the newsletter. Many readers look at the bottom to find out how to adjust their newsletter preferences. Making it easy to reduces the chance that they mark you as spam.
Give your new subscribers something special
Who: Omaha Dines, the food & dining newsletter for Omaha World-Herald
Where it excels: What better way to put your readers first than promising them exclusive newsletter-first content?
This email does a great job of showing readers what they are getting out of this free newsletter. Let’s look at it closely:(1)“You’ll get clued in on the latest new and hot restaurants in the city and on the best patios, best new dishes and best cocktails around”.
That’s specific, relevant and useful. It’s much better than something like “We cover the local restaurant and bar scene”. That’s not specific enough, and the value isn’t immediately obvious to the reader.
Second, you get a special bonus. You are a person who needs to know the under-the-radar hot spots in the Omaha food scene. Sarah is going to give you a (2)“sneak peek at the newest weekly dining review” before it’s online or in print.
But wait, there’s more! You’ll also get a story from the weekly home cooking magazine.
It’s really that simple. You have great work to share. Instead of saying “we cover all the restaurants and bars in Omaha”, dig one level deeper. Think about why people read these stories, and what they do after they read them.
Keep it brief
Who: The Marshall Project
Where it excels: It’s straight to the point.
It’s impressive how a new subscriber gets three important pieces of information in only five sentences.
- How often you are going to email.
- How to update subscription preferences.
- Whitelist instructions.
Let people know when they will hear from you
Where it excels: They don’t publish every day, so they let new subscribers know
“We produce in-depth stories across multiple platforms including web, radio and TV. That takes time, so we don’t publish every day.”
This is another example of putting your readers first. Inewsource is telling you upfront that you will hear from them when they have something important updates. You won’t get an email every day.
This schedule won’t work for every newsletter. It depends on your goals and your audiences, so be prepared to do the research and testing to back up your ideas.
Introduce new readers to your membership program
Where it excels: Membership is important part of their revenue strategy, so they showcase the benefits of joining to break the ice.
Like nonprofit newsrooms, many people only know the passive consumer relationship with news outlets. The news broadcasts, the customer reads the stories, and that’s it.
Membership changes the relationship between newsrooms and their communities.
Denverite lets new readers know that membership gets you access to “special events, early story releases and more”. This is a deeper, more rewarding subscriber relationship that many people realize is possible.
Putting it all together
Who: The Tyler Loop
Where it excels: Everywhere! From start-to-finish, this is a best in class welcome email.
For starters, it’s from a real person: (1) Tasneem at The Tyler Loop. Real name and a real email.
Next, we have (2)a personalized greeting. If you are asking people for their names, you should put them to good use.
After the intro, we have (3) information on a live storytelling event, “something bold and new for Tyler and East Texas.” If you have events, don’t forget to invite people!
Then, Tasneem shares (4) her favorite stories. Note the first one: “Readers asked, we answered.” This is an excellent way of putting the reader first.
Last but not least, the Tyler Loop will (5) “turn your dollars into journalism that drives positive change”. People feel more comfortable donating when they know where the money goes.
And maybe my favorite part, (6) in her signoff, Tasneem encourages readers to email: “drop me a line anytime – I love hearing from readers”.
Step-by-step: Write a new welcome email
As we walk through the steps, I’ll share welcome email copy you can copy and use to create your own message. If you already have one, compare yours to the template. A few easy changes might give you some great benefits. What kind of benefits? Read on…
Step 1: Send emails from a real person
Trust is an important topic in journalism. You will have a hard time getting people to trust you if you don’t treat them like a person from the beginning. An easy way to earn your reader’s trust is to make sure your first contact with them is from a real person with a real email address.
This means you should not send emails from a email@example.com email address.
Why not? For starters, this reader gave you their email address and that’s valuable because it’s personal. Using “firstname.lastname@example.org” doesn’t feel personal, and doesn’t invite reader engagement.
Moreover, no-reply email addresses damage your email deliverability and brand reputation. It’s not worth it.
Important tip: Set up a brand new email address for sending your newsletter. If your main email is email@example.com, set up firstname.lastname@example.org. If you use the same primary email used for one-to-one emails and mass mailings, you risk your personal emails going to someone’s promotions folder.
If you don’t want to attach your newsletter to one person’s name, try options like:
- email@example.com, used by New Tropic and InclinePGH.
- Charlotte Agenda uses firstname.lastname@example.org.
- email@example.com used by Rivard Report in San Antonio and NJ Spotlight. Not as personable as “hello”, but it suggests a person can reply to the email.
Using the name of the newsletter as the sender email also works. Examples include the food newsletter from Berkeleyside coming from firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com from Texas Tribune.
If you choose one of these options, make sure to introduce the author or sign-off with a real person’s name.
Step 2: Write a crystal clear subject line
What’s the number one most important goal of your subject line? Stay out of the spam folder. Using exclamation points or phrases like “discount” or “lowest price” can trigger spam filters.
To steer clear of the spam folder and catch the eye of your new subscriber, it pays to be clear and straightforward.
Here are good examples:
Welcome to the InsideClimate News community [InsideClimate News]
Welcome. Now let’s set some expectations [ProPublica Illinois]
You’re in the Loop! [Tyler Loop]
Thanks for subscribing to ecoRI News [ecoRI News]
Step 3: Write to a real person
Nobody likes to be treated like a chunk of data. The best way to get around this is to write like you’re talking to one specific person.
Take a minute to visualize them. Why are they reading this? What gets them excited when they see your newsletter in their inbox?
Now, what’s a good greeting? Be friendly, but not too familiar. Hi. Hello. Thanks for subscribing. Welcome!
Don’t greet this person with “Welcome new subscriber” or “Dear Reader”. That’s worse than no greeting at all, because it feels like junk mail.
“Hey there” may be casual, but it’s not clunky and weird like “Dear Customer”. If “Hi there” is too casual for your tastes, try “Thank you for subscribing” or “Welcome”.
Here are some examples:
- “I’m Scott Lewis, editor in chief and CEO of Voice of San Diego.”
- “Thanks for subscribing to our daily newsletter, Opening Statement. We’re happy to help you start each day with the top news and stories about U.S. criminal justice” [Marshall Project]
- “Welcome to The Incline, a news organization for Pittsburghers who want to understand today’s issues to make tomorrow better.”
Tip: If you can’t execute personalization, skip it.
Personalization is a great way to connect with your newsletter subscribers, but it’s harder to pull off than throwing merge fields in an email.
Lack of personalization is better than bad personalization, so if you can’t nail it, skip it. Broken personalization like “Dear *|FNAME|*” is the worst.
A final tip about personalization: If you’re going to use it, *test it first* to avoid the dreaded broken personalization.
Keep your message simple.
After your quick intro, keep your focus on the reader. It’s about them, not you. What do they need to get the most out of the newsletter?
Put the important points at the top
This should be information like:
- How often you are going to email. Day & time is even better, especially if it isn’t daily.
- How to update subscription preferences.
- Whitelist instructions.
How do you make sure you get the most useful points first? Start with those three, but keep an eye out for any recurring problems you’ve had. If you can address those before they become problems, your new subscriber will thank you.
Wrap it up (with a delightful bow)
Use the last paragraph to surprise or delight your new subscriber. To make this work, you must present benefits rather than features.
Think about what resonates the most with your current audiences. Take another look at the examples above: The Tyler Loop highlights their “wildly popular” downtown development map, while Omaha Dines teases exclusive newsletter sneak peeks.
Be specific, and avoid cliches. Terms like “trustworthy”, “stories that matter” or “award-winning” aren’t as compelling as they sound. It’s better to show people your work than tell them about it.
Welcome Email Template
Now it’s your turn! Open a blank document to write your new Welcome Email.
Step 1: Choose your greeting, and paste it into your doc:
*Pick one*: Hi, there! // Welcome! // Thanks for signing up!
I’m *[ your name* ] of *[* *your publication* ]. Thank you for signing up for *[* *name of your newsletter* ].
Step 2: Give subscribers the most important information
You will receive *[* newsletter name ] every *[* add your frequency here, as specific as possible ]. You can change your subscription preferences *[*link to preferences page ] at any time.
Don’t miss a single email: Add *[* newsletter email address ] to your address book.
Step 3: Wrap up your welcome message. Choose one of the options below:
Option 1: For nonprofits
We are a nonprofit newsroom, and many of our readers donate to fund our work. *[* your publication’s ] members love that we are watching out for our neighbors and our communities. We’d love for you to join our growing membership.
Option 2: For membership or events
We are a little different than your average news site. Our members enjoy special events, exclusive content and other benefits. Curious? Learn more here (link to membership page).
Option 3: Promote other newsletters
Did you know we offer other free newsletters? Check out our most popular newsletters here: View all newsletters *[* linked to signup page ].
Option 4: Promote top stories
Just getting to know us? Take a look at some of our best work:
Story 1 description with link
Story 2 description with link
Story 3 description with link
(Note: try to keep these upbeat as much as possible. Surprising or interesting stories, not tragic ones.)
Step 4: Sign off as a real person:
We’re excited to have you on board. Have questions? Reply to this email. I enjoy hearing from readers!
Thank you for reading,
*[* Sender’s Name ]
*[* Sender’s Title ]
*[* Publication Name ]
Don’t worry too much about the design
I prefer text-based welcome emails, because the message is the most important piece. Too much design can clutter the important information in your welcome email. Your logo and your message is plenty.
Staff photos are a great addition. It shows there are real people on the other side of the email. Casual staff photos are even better for many audiences. Remember, personality and a little vulnerability helps people connect with one another.
When should you send your welcome email?
I suggest sending your welcome email within 1-4 hours of when a person signs up. Personally, it feels more personal if there’s a slight delay. Just because the email is automated doesn’t mean it needs to feel robotic.
Additionally, if you use a double opt-in process, getting a confirmation email and a welcome email at the same time can come across as aggressive, and set the wrong tone.
However, other email experts have different views. Some people prefer to send it as soon as person subscribes. Others recommend waiting up to 24 hours. Ultimately it’s your email, so take some time to experiment and find what works best for you.
Your welcome email is a great opportunity to start building loyalty
Getting people to sign up for your newsletter is the easy part. Guiding them toward becoming loyal, engaged readers is the goal, and it takes work to make that happen. In fact, a recent Medill study found that building a regular reader habit led to better subscriber retention.
Your new welcome email puts your readers on the right path to becoming loyal readers.
Unfortunately, many newsrooms leave this opportunity out in the cold. In my observations, less than half of newsletters sent a welcome email to new subscribers. Some even sent a boring, impersonal template straight from their email provider.
Writing an effective Welcome Email doesn’t have to be rocket science. If you mind the three keys above, be human, put the reader first, and keep it brief, then you are providing value to your new subscribers that will leave a great first impression.
Cory Brown @tcb
Cory Brown is the founder of Impact TK. He helps newsrooms develop email and subscriber strategies, so they can grow reader revenue, reduce churn and build loyal audiences.
This article was originally published on The Byline and is re-published with kind permission.