Over the course of the Reader Revenue Accelerator’s second session in Berlin, the 14 participating publishers repeatedly returned to newsletters as a key way to drive digital subscriptions.

A shared conclusion was that email is a great medium for testing.

“There’s an important lesson in testing: Keep it simple. When you’re thinking of what to test, think of the simple things you can implement immediately and see results off the bat,” said program director Yasmin Namini, an independent digital media consultant and former chief consumer officer at The New York Times.

Try a variety of tests, measure them, and make data-informed changes quickly, Namini said. You’ll end up with a newsletter optimized to convert readers into subscribers.

Here are 10 email test ideas that publishers discussed at the Accelerator session.

  1. Experiment with where you ask readers to sign up for your newsletter.
    Consider all the places your website can encourage readers to sign up for a newsletter. At the bottom of articles, in the top navigation bar, and on your homepage are good starting points. Measure which placements drive the highest conversion rates.
  2. How can you make it easier for readers to subscribe to your newsletter? 
    Should clicking your call-to-action button pull up a form or can one click get readers signed up? Should readers enter their email address right within a field embedded in the call to action or would they sign up for more newsletters if they’re taken to a separate sign-up page? Know your conversion rates and test new ideas to keep your newsletter list growing.
  3. Find the right time of day for your content. 
    What time is best to email readers your hard news? Your long-form reads? Your lifestyle content? Each newsletter will likely have its own optimal time.
  4. Which newsletter format fits your goals? 
    When considering a new newsletter product, what’s the format that aligns best with your goals? Do you want readers to dive deep and thus focus on a curated or written-out newsletter with the day’s stories? Or do you want readers to come to your site and thus focus on a list of story headlines and teasers? You can test approaches to your format and improve different facets of any approach.
  5. A/B test subject lines. 
    With every newsletter, A/B test the subject lines. In other words, send small groups of your subscribers separate subject lines and then send a larger group the subject line that generates the highest open rate. Play with your subject line’s length and its message. See if piquing curiosity or providing straightforward information upfront resonates better with your readers.
  6. Find the marketing channels that work best for you. 
    There are so many ways to market your newsletters: Facebook Ads, one-time emails, your publication’s homepage. Discover which best drives subscriptions for your business and results in loyal readers of your newsletter.
  7. Place calls to action within a newsletter. 
    Your newsletter should always include a call to action. But what main action do you want readers to take in your newsletters? Test several different call-to-actions and different buttons or text to see how readers react.
  8. Mix up your newsletters’ authors. 
    Test who your newsletters come from. Your columnists or editors could be the “sender” for some emails, for instance. Or your emails could come from your publication at large.
  9. Mix up your newsletters’ voice. 
    Experiment with different voices for your different newsletters. The options abound: Comedic, serious, factual, first-person from a columnist or editor. Hone in on which voice pairs best with which type of newsletter. Perhaps your morning news briefing newsletter is factual and serious, for instance, while your weekend lifestyle newsletter is more comedic.
  10. Test media use. 
    Consider what types of images — if any — work best in your emails. You could use designed and branded assets, images, illustrations, even GIFs.

The Accelerator Program

The Facebook Journalism Project’s Accelerator Program helps news publishers build sustainable businesses. Funded and organized by the Facebook Journalism Project (FJP), each Accelerator includes a three-month period of hands-on workshops led by news industry veterans, grants administered by non-profit journalism organizations, and regular reports on best business practices. The Accelerator’s executive director is Tim Griggs, an independent consultant/advisor and former New York Times and Texas Tribune executive.

For monthly updates on the Accelerator Program, sign up for the FJP newsletter.