Designing the First Screen of an Email Newsletter

How to control what your readers see when they first open your email newsletter

The first screen of your email newsletter, which includes the preview pane, is another part of your email newsletter’s prime real estate. Preview pane best practices aren’t covered here, but you can follow the link to read them.

Your “first screen” should include an opening paragraph that draws people into the issue with reasons why they should take a minute and read it right now.

Especially when your newsletter is B2C, it should come from a real person or real people; it should not appear to be automatically generated with no human intervention.

There should also be a table of contents that is specific to this issue:

BAD: Top Story
GOOD: Top Story: Interview with Tyler Thomas, President of XYZ Publishing

BAD: Case Study
GOOD: Case Study: How ABC Publications Increased Online Revenue by 50%

BAD: Special Offer
GOOD: Special Offer: Save $100 on our Email Marketing Report

The table of contents should include links so that the reader can “jump” directly to the item in the newsletter or to the website with the full story.

Download a FREE copy of Best Email Subject Lines for Selling Premium Subscriptions and Memberships and discover an extensive list of email subject line frameworks that are consistently proven to sell and boost revenue for publishers.

When designing what users will see first in your email newsletter, make sure that you follow these four simple rules:

  • The email newsletter includes an engaging opening paragraph specific to this issue.
  • The email newsletter comes from a “real person” or group.
  • The email newsletter includes a table of contents specific to this issue (best if you have a tip with multiple stories).
  • The email newsletter table of contents includes links, either to each item in the email newsletter or to the full text on a website.

By the way, this is just one chapter in our new 10 Email Design Best Practices white paper, written by Don Nicholas and email marketing expert Jeanne Jennings.

Mequoda Daily subscribers need only to log in to get access to the report. If you don’t already have a free account with us, you can sign up to download here. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll have access to the rest of our free white papers too!

    Aneel T.


    I’ll keep that in mind. In some of our single sponsored enewsletter that might make sense however for the enewsletters with multiple sponsors (who sponsor various sections) my fear is that our click through on some ads might go down because people are skipping sections & section ads to go “their immediate interest”.

    It is worth testing though so I’ll try to tee that up.


    Amanda M.

    Hi Aneel,

    We’re talking usability here, but if you’re concerned about ad exposure, try putting ads next to the TOC (or in it) just in case. I think that’s how I’ve seen People Magazine Daily do it. You could try it without links to and see if it makes a difference in your conversions.

    Having a table of contents, in general, gives the reader a REASON to scroll down through your email and see your ads.

    So, if you didn’t get them with the subject line, your second chance is to capture their attention with a quick “what’s in this issue” TOC.

    Try a/b testing it with your list, we’ve heard our publisher friends who have tried it that their open and conversion rates have only increased, never gone down. I’ll check with Jeanne to see if she has any specific examples. 🙂

    – Amanda


    Is it really better to use a TOC on email? The impression I have is, its better not to have a TOC so a user could open email and scroll through the email that way he/she sees (or clicks) into the ads as well. If you have shortcuts to get to the appropriate articles the reader may not be exposed to ads.

    Do you have any metrics or stats to show whats better?

    Aneel Tejwaney


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