Bad Email is Dead: 5 Mistakes That Make Your Email Newsletter Unreadable

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About This Episode

If email is “dead,” as many gurus say, why does the New York Times currently offer 103 different newsletters? And why did Intuit buy Mailchimp for $12 billion last year? The truth is that email newsletters are growing more popular today because they provide signal among all the noise in our busy lives. But let’s face it…a lot of real estate newsletters are unreadable. This week on The Walkthrough™, host Matt McGee shares five mistakes you can fix to make your newsletter something your database wants to read.

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Links and Show Notes

Full Transcript

(SPEAKER: Matt McGee, Host)

Have you heard the news? Email is dead.

[sound effect: funeral organ]

Nobody opens their emails. Nobody reads their emails. Nobody likes email, especially millennials and young people. If you wanna do business with them, you better slide into their DMs. In case it’s not obvious, I’m kidding. Look, I’ve been working in digital marketing for 25 years now. If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “email is dead” or “SEO is dead” or “blogging is dead” or something is dead, I could have retired a long time ago.

Email is not dead. What’s dead is bad email and bad newsletters, and there are way too many of them in real estate. Today, we’re gonna start fixing that. We’re gonna talk about five mistakes that are making your newsletter unreadable and how to fix them. This is The Walkthrough™.


Matt: Hey, there. How are you? My name’s Matt McGee. Welcome to The Walkthrough™. This is a weekly podcast. We have new episodes come out every Monday. This is the show where you’ll learn what’s working right now from the best real estate agents and industry experts in the country. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. We’re here to explore how great agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable.

Last November, a guy named Dave Pell wrote an article in The Atlantic about email. He called email newsletters “The Internet’s Unkillable App.” In the article, he points out that newsletters are growing more popular because our lives are busier and noisier. A good newsletter provides signal among all the noise around us.

Can I be frank with you for just a second? I get a lot of real estate agent newsletters, and there’s not a lot of signal there. They’re mostly just more noise.

Now, I don’t wanna embarrass anyone, so no names, but let me recap one of the newsletters I recently received for you. It starts with an ad for an upcoming open house. Then there’s another ad for another open house. Then there’s a bit about how the agent just completed some kind of training class or certification. Then there’s an announcement of an agent joining the team. Then there’s ads for two new listings, and then it goes on and on like that until the end.

The whole thing is one big advertisement. It’s just noise. And that’s pretty common for the real estate newsletters I see. I’m a big believer in email, and especially in newsletters. If you can get into someone’s inbox, avoid being marked as spam, and send them things they want to read, that’s pure gold. If they open and read your newsletter, they’re probably gonna open and read your other emails too.

I believe in this so much that launching a monthly newsletter was a big, big priority back in 2017 when I started working full-time as my wife’s marketing guy. Now, shhh, don’t tell anyone, but I write about 60% of her newsletter. She writes the rest of it. We have about 1,500 subscribers these days. Our open rate is between 40% and 50%. Now, depending upon what source you look at, the real estate industry averages about a 20% to 25% open rate.

Our typical unsubscribe rate is about 0.3%. That seems to align with the industry benchmarks. So I think we’re doing pretty well overall with our newsletter. Of course, always looking to get better. I have some pretty strong ideas about what a real estate email newsletter should look like. And in true, stand-out-from-the-crowd fashion, my ideas aren’t always in line with what the email gurus will tell you.

I’m gonna share some of those ideas today. My goal is that you’ll be ready to turn your newsletter into something that helps with know, like, and trust. Something that makes your nurture campaigns more successful because people want to get emails from you. How great would that be? Something that people see as a signal among all the noise.

At the end of the show, of course, we’ll do takeaways, but I’m also gonna share three newsletters with you that I highly recommend you read. None of them are real estate newsletters, but each one is an example of signal, not noise. And I think two of them will even make you a better marketer. So, without further ado, here are five mistakes that make your email newsletter unreadable and how to fix them.


Matt: Here’s the number one mistake that I see in your newsletter. Your content is too selfish. “What does that mean, McGee? Selfish content?” Well, here are two ways content can be selfish. Number one, it’s too much about your business, too little about your readers and your community. Number two, it’s too much sales and marketing, too little value for the reader.

Think about the example I just mentioned a moment ago. It was almost entirely ads for open houses, new listings, and so forth. There was nothing in there that benefited me as a reader.

Let’s fix that. Here’s a formula for making sure your newsletter isn’t selfish: 80% value, 20% marketing, 80% them, 20% you. Now, what do I mean by value? Well, have a section in every newsletter where you share market stats so your readers become smart buyers or sellers. Have a section where you offer real estate tips. Something about decluttering, staging. What to look for when touring homes. Have content that talks about what’s happening around town, upcoming fundraisers, new restaurants that are opening. That’s always popular. Stuff like that. What’s cool is content like that gives value to your reader, and it positions you as an expert they can trust. You can put your new listing in there or your next open house, just make sure that stuff is only 20% of the newsletter– 80% value, 20% marketing.

Mistake number two is related to that same concept. Not enough personality, not enough you. Now, I can already hear you. Wait a second, Matt. Didn’t you just say mistake number one was too much about me? Well, no, mistake number one was too much about your business, your listings, your open houses. Yawn. What I’m saying here is that too many newsletters sound like they could be written by anyone.

I’ve seen agents ask on Facebook, “I’m looking for a service so I can outsource my newsletter, and put it on autopilot.” No, the world doesn’t need another generic real estate newsletter. Your newsletter should sound like it could only come from you. It needs your personality so that readers can connect with you. So maybe, you start or end each newsletter with a personal story. Something that readers will find relatable. Maybe you just dropped off your youngest child at college. Maybe you just did your own home renovation project, and you tell them what it was like, right? Something that’s relatable. Make sure your newsletter has some personality in it. Your personality.

The third mistake I see in a lot of newsletters is too many calls to action. The email gurus would fight me on this one, I think. Calls to action are a super important part of email marketing, but I’m distinguishing here between email marketing and an email newsletter. I think they’re different.

What I’m talking about here is this thing where agents send out a newsletter. They’re trying to add value–I get it. But the sole purpose seems to be to drive traffic to your website. You just want more clicks. So it’s like, “Here are three tips about staging your home for a quick sale, but you have to click to read the article on my blog. That way, I can retarget you later on Facebook.” No, put the value right in the newsletter. Don’t, constantly, make people go somewhere else to get the value. Make the newsletter, itself, a thing of value, not just a tool for promoting the value on your blog or website.

I’ve been talking mainly about your content so far, but mistake number four is about design. Make sure your newsletter looks good on phones. If you’re using something like Mailchimp or maybe Constant Contact, your newsletter is probably mobile-friendly by default. You probably don’t have to do anything special. If you’re using a content platform or your CRM, or something else to build your newsletter, you might need some help there. So, be sure to double-check how it looks on phones.

Speaking of design, you want readers to have a familiar experience every time they read your newsletter. It should be comfortable. It should follow a consistent structure. If you’re gonna include market stats, put them in the same spot each newsletter. If you’re gonna advertise your latest listing, put it in the same spot each newsletter. A consistent structure helps readers get through to the end of the newsletter. Think about your favorite TV shows or even your favorite podcasts. Hint, hint. I bet they follow a consistent format every show.

One more thing on design. Keep in mind that many readers are gonna just scan your newsletter. So, make sure you have titles for each section. Make sure your paragraphs aren’t super long. You want your newsletter to be as easy to read as possible.

And finally, I’m gonna contradict myself a bit here because mistake number five is not experimenting and testing. For example, you just heard me say if you’re gonna advertise your latest listing, put it in the same spot in every newsletter, but you should also test that. So, let’s say you have a photo of the home, a paragraph of text, and then a link to see the listing on your website. All right. Test how much engagement you get when you show the home early in your newsletter versus late in your newsletter. Do you get more clicks or less clicks?

Test your subject lines, by the way. Experiment to see what kind of subject lines get the most opens. Sure, all this testing and experimenting is a little more effort, it takes a little more time, but the rewards can be great. Figure out what works for you and your audience, and double down on that stuff.


Matt: Bottom line, email is not dead. Bad email is dead. Bad newsletters are dead. Let’s start sending email newsletters that readers love. Let’s turn your newsletter into signal, not noise.

I promised to share with you three newsletters that I love. So, let me do that now, and then we’ll do today’s takeaways.

Newsletter number one that I recommend is Ann Handley’s. It’s called Total Annarchy. As in her name, Annarchy. She publishes every two weeks. It’s got writing tips, marketing ideas, and Ann’s wonderful personality. Read it for a month or two, and I promise you’ll be a better writer and marketer.

Newsletter number two that I recommend, and I’m not sure if I get the name right here, Katelyn Bourgoin’s, Why We Buy. Every week, Katelyn unpacks some aspect of consumer psychology. The focus is sometimes on physical product purchases, but so much of what she writes also applies to service-based businesses like real estate. If you’ve heard me talk on this show about things like the pratfall effect or the endowment effect, I probably learned about it in Katelyn’s newsletter. So, read that for a month or two, and I promise you will understand buyers and sellers better.

And then, the third newsletter I recommend is The Curiosity Chronicle by Sahil Bloom. He sends it out twice a week. One is a deep dive on some interesting topic. The second email is a collection of great and interesting quotes and content that Sahil found during the week. Sahil’s newsletter always teaches me something new and always makes me think. So, give those three newsletters a try. I’ll link to each one in today’s show notes.

All right. Takeaways for this week, episode 93 with me. Let me recap those five mistakes that make your email newsletter unreadable.

Mistake number one, the content is too selfish. It’s too promotional. Too much marketing. That’s unreadable. Instead, make your content at least 80% about giving value to the reader and no more than 20% promotional. You heard me share some ideas for the kinds of content that give value to readers. Things like advice for buyers and sellers, market stats, community news, and more.

Mistake number two, the content is too boring. Your newsletter needs some personality. It needs your personality. Don’t outsource it. Share some personal news, personal stories, stuff that readers will relate to. That’s how you make real connections. That’s how people start to know, like, and trust you.

Mistake number three, the newsletter has too many calls to action. What I mean here is that the valuable content should be in the newsletter itself. I shouldn’t need to constantly click through to your blog or website to get those three tips for staging my home on a budget.

Mistake number four, your newsletter’s design makes it hard to read. For starters, it has to look good on phones. Beyond that, you wanna have a consistent structure each time. And remember, many people are gonna scan and scroll. So, make sure they can easily find the valuable content.

And then, mistake number five, you’re not testing and experimenting. Try out different types of subject lines. Test how much engagement you get on different types of content. Figure out what your readers like, and double down on it. When you give readers more of what they like, they’re more likely to read each newsletter. And those are your takeaways this week.

All right. Shorter episode this week. Just me chatting. I would love your feedback on what you heard today, or maybe you have some questions. If so, there’s a couple of different ways you can get in touch. You can send an email, love to get your emails. It’s walkthrough[at] You can also leave a voicemail, or send me a text. The number to use is 415-322-3328. Or find me in our Facebook mastermind group. Go to Facebook, do a search for HomeLight Walkthrough™, and the group should be the first thing that comes up.

All right. That’s all for this week. Hey, thanks so much for listening. If you get a moment, could I ask a quick favor? Please rate and review The Walkthrough™ on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. While you’re there, hit that follow button so that you get all of our future shows automatically.

All right. My name’s Matt McGee, and you’ve been listening to The Walkthrough™. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. We’re here to explore how great agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable. Go out and sell some homes. I’ll talk to you again next week. Bye-bye.


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