Newsletter 101: Conquering Structure

Newsletter 101: Conquering Structure

You have 51 seconds to get to the point.

That’s all the average email gets, according to the Nielsen Norman Group. In those seconds, readers determine the email’s value and decide whether to act.

Clear presentation makes this decision easier. As Dr. Flint McLaughlin of MECLABS says, “Clarity trumps persuasion.”

Don’t try to convince your subscribers – instead, clearly present them with an appealing offer. These four techniques show you how the structure of your email newsletters can provide that clarity and take your readers to the next step.

Make Your Text Scannable

Make Your Text Scannable

Only 19% of newsletters are read, according to the Nielsen study – the rest are scanned. Introductions are skipped and headlines get the most attention.

In an age of 30- second commercials and short Twitter posts, don’t bog readers down with one giant paragraph. Instead, try these techniques:

  • divide your text into sections by subject
  • if your content lends itself to list format, use bullet points
  • for multiple articles, include only the first paragraph of each – link to the rest

There are many more ways to make HTML messages scannable. Plain text can be made scannable by tweaking both design and content.

Position Each Part Properly

Position Each Part Properly

Arrange your best enticements above the fold.

“Above the fold” is the part of a newspaper you see before unfolding it. In email, the “fold” is the point where readers have to scroll down. The job of above-the-fold content is to prompt that scroll-down.‘s tips on how web sites can sell themselves above the fold easily translate to email. See how they might work for you.

Include Links For Credibility

Include Links For Credibility

If you cite statistics, link back to a reputable source. If you mention a company or public figure, link to their web site.

Web developer Jennifer Kyrnin explains how to use links properly in web writing. Larry Masinter puts her ideas into play with some clearly explained examples.

Linking when appropriate has several benefits:

  • your emails earn an extra layer of authority
  • your readers get the extended value of the linked content
  • most important of all – it’s polite

Use a Single Call to Action

Use A Single Call To Action

The most effective emails offer only one call to action:

  • Redeem your coupon
  • Buy this product
  • Take our survey
  • Come get this information

The Erickson Barnett blog explains why this is. That 51-second scan is fast. Readers need to encounter one simple choice: to act or not. Until then additional calls to action clutter and confuse.

Other choices should stay on the landing page. Then readers can encounter them after they’ve decided to click through.

Why Should You Use These Techniques?

When an email has a messy structure and no clear objective, “I have to look at and make sense of this, and that is far too much unsupervised thinking,” says McLaughlin.

These techniques give your reader guidance and make it easy for them to engage. You may also want to use them on your landing page – according to McGlaughlin, after your reader clicks through, you only have about seven seconds to convince them to stay.

How do you use structure to make your emails easy to interact with?



  1. Rennell

    3/10/2010 9:53 am

    You are correct. The most informative and eye catching words must be at the top. make the reader curious and then put some interesting points in the body. Thanks

  2. Mikkel Juhl

    3/10/2010 9:59 am

    This works. It is what you do when you blog too. It is so deadly important to make you content scannable, readers not having the time all the time. Most of your readers will probably be busy people.

    The call to action is important, make it clear what you want them to do, too.

  3. Bryan Quilty

    3/10/2010 10:40 am


    MindComet’s monthly newsletter incorporates most, if not all, of the structure tips you’ve made above. I do think we can scale back the amount of copy / text we include though and make imagery communicate our message. But this can be a double-edged sword since the majority of email clients block images by default.

    I’m curious to hear what your opinion is on our newsletter, The Lowdown:

    By the way, I’m surprised to learn the average time users spend reading each email is 51 seconds. I figured it’d be 10 seconds, at the most. Thanks for the info!

  4. Tammi Putnam

    3/10/2010 2:55 pm

    As always, Aweber is always bringing value to the table. Thank you for sharing your ideas along with real examples.

  5. Joseph D. Shiller

    3/11/2010 12:26 pm

    Does not really seem like brain surgery. Just make sure you have: Branding, Text (clear attractive Offer and call to action), Image(s) and Navigation (relevant links).
    I have also been thinking of what is the optimum screen width? I think the days of the 600 pixel wide sales letter might be fading away. We can fit a lot more above the fold with the wide pages and with the new monitors, you can really stretch out. I do however dislike scrolling left to right, my wrist hurts enough as it is.

  6. AAA

    3/11/2010 12:31 pm

    Thanks for good article. Very useful.

  7. Hansjoerg Niederegger

    3/11/2010 3:47 pm

    Thank you Amanda for sharing your knowledge with us.

    As always great value here on AWeber!


  8. khatir

    3/12/2010 8:42 am

    This works. It is what you do when you blog too. It is so deadly important to make you content scannable, readers not having the time all the time. Most of your readers will probably be busy people.

    The call to action is important, make it clear what you want them to do, too.

  9. Nicholas Klein

    3/12/2010 3:48 pm

    Awesome set of tips, they DO work and you should definitely be focusing on ONE offer per email, make it clear and compelling call to action and your will see an increase in your results… and your profits!

  10. Viv McDonald

    3/14/2010 6:04 pm

    Nice article Amanda, thanks.

    Interesting 51 second stat.
    I think my readers are a little different to the time-poor people of today.

    My readers are older people, most of whom have time on their hands.
    I’ve tried using images where I can to save them a lot of on-screen reading, or directing them to videos.

    But both of those can cause problems too – i’ve had to do a couple of other articles to show them how to allow images, and some people are still on dial up so the video’s hopeless, or these people are on limited plans, so playing a 28mb video isn’t quite right either.

    I always look forward to the Aweber articles, and try to make the time to read them, it’s nice to get help advice and not a huge sales pitch!

  11. martha

    3/15/2010 2:13 am

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge of this.

  12. Kevin Njoroge

    3/16/2010 3:08 am

    Thanks very much aweber guys for your useful information. Keep it up

  13. Amanda Gagnon

    3/16/2010 12:43 pm

    Thank you for the feedback, everyone.

    Viv ~ You’re doing a great job knowing your audience!

    Bryan ~ It looks like The Lowdown does a fantastic job of dividing content into manageable chunks with clear headings. The bold color and graphics help draw the eye down the page, with the biggest draw above the scroll – nice work.

    Joseph ~ For the new wide pages, "above the fold" might become "before the scroll". Subscribers still need to be enticed to move that cursor.
    As for width, with different screen sizes and mobile browsers, I’m not sure there is one answer, but if you find a magic number, let us know!

  14. James Lee

    3/19/2010 11:37 am

    Great Tips. Thanks so much your sharing!

  15. Brian Bijdeveldt

    3/25/2010 4:12 am

    Excellent advice Amanda, and if used, will improve your results. The really critical point for me was to ensure you focus on one call to action. Many times I receive emails that attempt to steer you in multiple (confusing) directions. Love the info…….

  16. aamedya

    5/6/2010 1:46 am

    As always, Aweber is always bringing value to the table. Thank you for sharing your ideas along with real examples.

  17. Richard Santos

    9/30/2010 6:18 pm

    Great article, very useful information…first time here and I’ll be coming back for more…Thanks!

  18. Matthew Lord

    10/23/2010 11:19 pm

    It never ceases to amaze me how much Aweber contributes to their customers. I have been an aweber subscriber for months now and I love it. Great article!