Create Content That Readers Trust

What do you think it would take to have an open rate of 40 percent? Maybe you’d need to do lots of A/B testing? Perhaps you’d do careful list segmentation, making sure that you’re only sending messages to the most appropriate audiences. Maybe you’d look closely at your subject lines and your address lines, using phrases that are most likely to create curiosity and pull readers in.

Or maybe you’d just create great content, build a relationship with your subscribers and make sure that they know you’re going to be sending them something worth opening.

That’s the approach taken by illustrator Hugh MacLeod. Writing on his blog, he highly recommends that businesses do “the newsletter thing”:

“more than Twit­ter, Face­book or Goo­gle+, these are the peo­ple who REALLY WANT to sup­port your busi­ness, who REALLY CARE about your brand, who really want to inte­ract with it,” he says.

It works for MacLeod, whose emails are read by more than four in ten of his subscribers.

The reason that his email newsletter is so successful is pretty clear. Reach the site and you’re given a pop-up that invites you to leave an email address. In return, you’re offered four rewards: a daily cartoon; exclusive cartoons to share with friends; discounts; and a chance to be famous.

It’s the first two that really do the trick. Subscribers are signing up because they’re going to receive interesting content for free: they’re going to receive a “daily cartoon to brighten their day.”

Macleod could have put those illustrations on his blog for anyone to enjoy. But he puts other content there. This is additional, exclusive content that’s only available to people who have opted in to receive his emails. And it’s only going to be seen by people who enjoy his work.

Those illustrations are delivered every morning, five days a week. They take just a second to look at, enough time to absorb the joke or think about the quote and admire the artwork. He makes few demands of his subscribers and gives them something to smile about for a few minutes at the start of each day.

The Value of Trust
Macleod doesn’t tell us what that 40 percent open rate is worth in dollars. He doesn’t tell us his conversion rate when he intersperses his drawings with discounts and special offers. But that high open rate isn’t just a measure of the interestingness of his content; it’s also a measure of the degree of trust that his readers have in his messages. They open them because they know they’re going to enjoy what they find.

You could spend a lot of time testing your email copy and experimenting with your subject lines. And you should — especially for your sales copy. But the most important action you can take to raise your open rates is to send content that your readers will look forward to receiving and enjoy reading. When they trust your content, they’ll trust your business too.