Content Marketing Newsletters: How To Increase Your Distribution

Content Marketing NewslettersAre you surprised that content marketing newsletters can improve your distribution?

You shouldn’t be.

Because social media platforms use email newsletters to get you to return.

And so do news media.

Unlike marketers, the news media have done content creation and distribution for centuries. 

But, like you, they now face the challenge of getting distracted potential readers to find and consume their articles.

And they also must get first-time readers to return to their site to read additional content.

Measured in page views, 25-35% of an average site’s traffic comes from returning readers according to To Tweet


Reader attention maxes out at about 3 page views per session on average. (

So why use email newsletters?
Because with regular content distribution, they become a proxy for appointment media. 

In the process, they make your content marketing part of your target audience’s weekly content consumption diet.

As a result, a content marketing newsletter helps to build your audience’s reading habit.

Since news media entities make money based on audience size and readership, they’ve researched and tested new ways to increase reader loyalty. As a marketer you can apply these lessons to your content marketing distribution to improve your results.


What News Media Newsletters Can Teach Content Marketers

A Medill Local News Study from Northwestern University analyzed 13 terabytes of anonymous reader and subscriber data from 3 daily local news entities: Chicago Tribune, Indianapolis Star, and San Francisco Chronicle.

Their local news media discoveries have important implications for your content marketing:

The single biggest predictor of retaining paying local news media subscribers was a regular reading habit. Further the number of articles read or time spent per visit didn’t make a difference to subscription renewals. 

Reading habits based on email newsletters predict reader retention

Medill’s results wouldn’t surprise Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Product.

“In an online world of ever-increasing distractions, user habits matter. In fact, the economic value of web businesses increasingly depends on the strength of the habitual behavior of their users.”

From Eyal’s perspective, media email newsletters create hooks. As a result, they connect readers’ desires for information with the media entity’s articles on a frequently enough basis to develop a regular reading habit.

Hooks create either an internal or external trigger that causes the individual to take an action yielding a reward. If the reward leaves the individual wanting more, he continues to repeat this activity and forms a habit. 

The Hook Canvas

How do these findings translate to your content marketing?

To get your content marketing audience to regularly find and consume your content, make it part of their pre-existing routines or create new ones. Like news media entities, create content marketing newsletters that your audience finds “unmissable.”


Show Me The Facts: New York Times Newsletters Case Study

To understand how to use content marketing newsletters to build reader habis and support content distribution, let’s examine how the New York Times uses them.

The New York Times has 14 million subscribers to over 50 different newsletters and each newsletter has its own unique objective. 

The New York Times Newsletter Mission:
To “build meaningful relationships with readers by delivering our original, world-renowned journalism and product experiences straight to their inbox.”

By creating newsletters focused on other, often short-term interests, such as “The Game Of Thrones,” The New York Times has extended its relationships with email subscribers. These emailings succeed for these 3 reasons:

  • Know your target audience. Have a clear idea of the reader for whom you’re writing.
  • Have an experienced writer who cares about the newsletter’s focus. Be passionate about both the topic  and writing a newsletter.
  • Use a clear, conversational voice. Since email is a personal medium, write as if you’re talking to a friend.

According to Lindsay Goddard, Email Product Manager, the New York Times rigorously runs  A/B tests on their newsletter to improve results. Their tests include:

  • Subject lines,
  • Newsletter length,
  • Number of stories, and
  • Time of day sent.

Top New York Times Newsletter metrics:

  • Number of paid subscribers per newsletter list and 
  • How each list has grown over time.

New York Times Newsletter Results:
Newsletter subscribers consume twice as much content as non-subscribers and are 2 times more likely to become paying subscribers.


How To Make Your Email Newsletter More Engaging For Better Results

To increase newsletter engagement,

  • Added a letter from a real person and 
  • Implemented a regular publishing schedule.

This didn’t surprise me. 

Because my friend Ann Handley believes, “The most important part of a newsletter is NOT the ‘news,’ BUT the ‘letter.'”

Your newsletter is an important opportunity to create or deepen a relationship
. It’s not a “content distribution strategy”.

Rather use your newsletter to build a personal relationship and a reader habit, only then  can you occasionally use it as a soft-sell Trojan Horse for your most important marketing messages.

Others share Handley’s belief about email newsletters creating personal connections:

“Email is kind of like a living room. It’s a very personal space. You let in your friends, the coworkers you like, and a couple of brands you really trust.” – Dan Oshinsky, The New Yorker.

Further, newsletters create community and communication with readers. During its first year, Quartz’s Obsession newsletter received 10,000 individual notes.

Actionable Content Marketing Newsletter Tips:

  • Make every newsletter into a personal letter. Readers to open your emailings because they feel a personal connection. In the Actionable Marketing Guide newsletter, I talk about what I’m doing and include photographs.

    Example of content marketing newsletters getting personal

    Photo from Actionable Marketing Guide spotlighting Heidi Cohen at MAICON19

  • Limit the number of links in your email newsletters. The primary goal of the newsletter: Getting reader to engage with your content and form a reading habit. Driving content distribution and traffic  are secondary!

Want to improve your email newsletter?


How To Add AI To Improve Your Content Marketing Newsletters

Use AI in your newsletter creation and delivery to learn more about your readers. Then you can better tailor emailings to individual reader interests.

Using a small data sample from the Austin American-Statesman, The Missouri School of Journalism ran a head-to-head test of a human edited versus an AI personalized newsletter.

The AI personalized letter yielded two times the open rate and three times the click-through rate.

Which Newsletter performs better: Human curation or AI Personalization?

Apply the results from a news media test of human editor versus AI to your content marketing newsletters.

In a follow up survey, AI personalized newsletter recipients were:

  • Slightly more satisfied and 
  • Moderately more likely to recommend the service to a friend.

With significantly more subscribers, the human edited newsletter recipients had a longer life span.

So what should you do?
Continually test different newsletter options and new technologies to see what works best for your audience! 

At MAICON19,’s Jared Loftus explained that marketers can use AI to learn their readers’ content preferences by using curated content. These newsletters provide individual personalization without using personalized data requiring security and privacy.

Jared Loftus & Heidi Cohen at MAICON19

Jared Loftus explains using AI for content marketing newsletters to Heidi Cohen at MAICON19

Also, Robert Barclay  recommended using AI to discover the optimal email cadence for each subscriber. “You need ‘smart email frequency’ so you send the right message with the right content at the right time.”

Actionable Content Marketing Newsletter Tips:

  • Determine whether artificial intelligence (or AI) will work for your newsletters. At a minimum, check use cases.
  • Start testing ways to segment your email list with content curation. Create a section of “Recommended Articles” for curating different topics. 


How To Use Email Newsletters To Increase Content Distribution

Beyond building engagement and reader relationships, content marketing newsletters drive direct traffic to your website. As such they’re content distribution gold!

By providing links to stories of interest to readers, The New Yorker’s newsletters represent around 12% of all traffic to their website.Click To Tweet


Did you know that:
Your content newsletters probably drive a significant amount of traffic to your site as well!

You just don’t have the right tracking in place. 

For example: gets 32.0% of its traffic from internal sources, the same amount as from search (20.5%) and social media (11.5%) combined?

The Relative Importance of Internal Traffic Sources to Drive Website Visits

How do you determine the portion of your traffic coming from email?
Add a UTM tag to the URLs in your newsletter to track specific results in Google Analytics.

Further, use email UTM tags to measure other factors:

  • Track audiences from different newsletters
  • Test the results from different calls-to-action (or CTAs).
  • Determine the cadence that your readers want to receive your emailings (daily, weekly or monthly)
  • Provide geo-targeting, and
  • Traffic to specific articles.

Actionable Content Marketing Newsletter Tips:

  • Add UTM tracking to your email newsletters to measure the amount of traffic they generate in your Google Analytics.
  • Keep your email newsletter focus on your reader and your personal connection. Don’t be tempted to use your email newsletters only to promote and push marketing and sales initiatives.


Content Marketing Newsletter Conclusion

Content marketing newsletters increase your content distribution. 


By building an on-going reader habit where they anticipate and open your emails. In turn this creates Share of Audience Attention (or SOAA) where you’re able to get your readers to focus on your content!

Once you have established your audience’s relationship with your content marketing newsletter:

Use it sparingly as a Trojan Horse to strategically deliver your important content marketing messages and to curate your existing content.

But exercise care or you risk burning through your list.

Overloading your newsletters with marketing push and sale hype! 

Rather A/B test different approaches and versions of your email newsletters.

Instead of filling your newsletters with promotions, develop another emailing that takes a more personal approach to convey similar information in a more reader-friendly way. 

Try it—both you and your readers may be surprised!

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on FacebookTwitter and Google+.


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Photo Credit: Heidi Cohen 

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