Photo by Daria Nepriakhina 🇺🇦 / Unsplash

Grabbing a newsletter reader’s attention

How do you get them to stop triaging and start reading?

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

While tidying up my laptop, I just came across this video I took of a Quartz email that arrived a month ago:


Why did I find this memorable enough to screen record it? Well, people obsess a lot about open rates, but they are really just the web hits of the newsletter analytics game. Hits in web analytics mark interest in the ides of teh article, not any sense of delivery of value against that interest. One of the challenges on the web is about turning that hit into a read — and in a newsletter, it's about turning an open into a read.

Given that most people are, in essence, triaging when. they go through their email — “delete, delete, ugh, need to act on this, quick reply, delete…” — you need to persuade them to switch from triage to read mode. And what you do with the hero image, with the headline, with the newsletter intro all contribute to that process.

This Quartz newsletter did a great job of that just by coming at the visual idea laterally, rather than trying to give me a literal intepretation of social security numbers,  and by giving me something I rarely see in my inbox: animation. So yes, it’s a trick, an attention hack if you like, and one that won't work for everyone.

But the underlying point, that you need to deliver a great experience right at the start of the newsletter, just after they've opened it, remains crucial. Go and look at your newsletters. How well do they deliver on that?


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.