AWeber Founder Tom Kulzer Shares 6 Ways to Keep Your Email Subscribers Happy

Tom Kulzer founded AWeber in 1998 when he decided to take a year off from college. He was selling wireless modems as a side-job and created an autoresponder follow up series as part of the sales process. Once he found out people were interested in his autoresponder series, he never went back to school. As he says on his LinkedIn profile, his goal was “to help small businesses around the world more effectively communicate and build relationships with customers and prospects using permission-based email marketing.”

Since then, Tom has grown AWeber from a bootstrap startup to a well-known name in the marketing world with 120,000 paying customers all over the globe.

It’s fair to say that Tom is an email expert, so I asked him to share his top tips on getting your emails opened and read. Tom will be expanding on these tips—and giving a broader view of how to build, engage and maintain an email list—during his presentation at CONVERTED.

1. Write your emails to one person

“You have to remember it comes down to the people at the other end of those emails,” says Tom. Wherever they happen to be, they are getting their message and it has to fit contextually within their lives, and be relevant and be engaging.”

Your email list may be tiny, or it may be huge, but ultimately, your success depends on individual people opening and reading your email. So instead of writing your email as though you’re speaking to your entire email list, write it to a single person.

This can be as simple as the difference between:

“Right now, everyone receiving this email can get 50% off Acme Hair Gel until next Thursday. Use the coupon code below”


“Right now, you can save 50% on your next purchase of Acme Hair Gel when you use the coupon code below.”


2. Keep your promises to your subscribers

Once you have someone’s email address, you have made an agreement with that person. When you change the agreement, you risk losing that person’s trust.

For instance, how often have you signed up for what purports to be a weekly or monthly newsletter, just to get bombarded by daily emails instead? Unfortunately, a lot of marketers use an opt-in as a license to send as many emails as possible, instead of respecting the choice that a subscriber made when he or she gave an email address.

Tom points out that not only can this behavior result in a lot of people unsubscribing from your list, it can also give you a bad reputation with email services which can prevent your emails from ever reaching your subscribers’ inboxes.

Another example: You offer tips to improve a reader’s golf game, but only send “special offers” on the latest golf clubs or the “exclusive opportunity” to go play at certain golf courses. When you do this, the content you’re sending is no longer relevant or engaging to the people you’re sending it to. If your audience isn’t engaged, they’re not going to open your emails, which means you’re not going to get the sales you’re hoping for.

Instead, when you say you’re going to send emails on a certain schedule, stick to it. Even better, give subscribers options. Let them choose to receive emails every day or one weekly post, or select which topics they want to receive emails about. You can depart from this every so often for major announcements or occasional promotions, but there should be few surprises in terms of content or frequency.

Because people are expecting these emails, they’re more likely to open them. And that means more pageviews, more comments, and more social media shares.

The bottom line: when someone entrusts you with their email address, use it wisely and everyone will benefit.

3. Make your email messages mobile friendly and mobile responsive

When email was first introduced, everyone read it on their desktops. These days, you’re just as likely to check your email on your phone or tablet as you are on a laptop or desktop. As a marketer, you must be conscious of how your emails will look on all screen sizes.

A lot of companies now send HTML formatted emails, which display backgrounds, images, specific fonts, and other design features when you open the email. If you’re doing this, you also need to make sure your design is mobile friendly and mobile responsive.

What’s the difference?

  • Mobile friendly, also referred to as scalable, means that an email will look the same on any size screen, but will scale down to fit the screen size it’s being displayed on.
  • Mobile responsive means that, like a website, an email will respond to whatever device it’s being displayed on through the use of media queries, a CSS3 rule that includes a block of CSS properties if a certain condition is true. A media query can cause different elements change their relative sizes, or appear in a different order on the page.

Your email service provider (ESP) should have email templates that accomplish at least one of these functions, if not both. (For instance, Tom mentioned that AWeber’s templates are mobile responsive, but if a device doesn’t accept media queries, they automatically revert to mobile-friendly.)

If you would prefer not to send HTML-formatted emails, your ESP should also allow you to send plain text emails, which simply display text and a link. You can add formatting to your plain text emails, including making certain words bold or italicized and using HTML to make a link appear as a word or string of words, instead of displaying the URL of a website. Be aware that doing this can make an email hard to read on some screens, so you need to email yourself to see what your text will look like on different screen sizes.

4. Write an engaging subject line

This may seem obvious, but as Tom points out, “If your subject line isn’t interesting in a way that makes it immediately clear what you are going to learn, how that is valuable and why you should take action right now, then it’s probably going to get dropped and looked at later, maybe, if you’re lucky.”

So how do you write an engaging subject line? Tom recommends looking at it from your reader’s point of view and asking, “What’s in it for me?” Are you offering value to your customers upfront? Are you making it worth their time to stop and read your email? Answering these questions can be a good way to evaluate any subject line.

For instance, compare these two subject lines:

  • 8 Crazy-Enough-to-Work Marketing Tactics
  • 8 Tips to Improve Your Marketing

The first one grabs my attention and makes me think there might be something inside that I haven’t learned yet. The second one makes me think it will be the same stuff I’ve read over and over again, and probably isn’t worth my time.

Tom also recommends keeping your subject lines short, between five and 10 words, and getting to the point right away to make sure your message comes across clearly.

Something to avoid is tricking your readers. I’m sure you’ve seen the subject lines that say something like “Re: Your recent question” or “Re: Last Chance on This Special Offer.” These are designed to make readers think they’ve responded to an email and are receiving a response in return. If you try tricks like this, you might get a good open rate on that particular email, but what about every email after that?

In regards to these tactics, Tom says, “Nobody likes to be tricked and everybody can see through those things. You’re basically burning the trust that you might have had with those folks.”

5. Take advantage of the preheader text

The preheader text is that little snippet that shows up in your preview pane, or just after the subject line, depending on which program you use to view your email. If nothing is specified, this preview shows the first line of your email or boilerplate text supplied by your ESP.

Gmail Preheader Text
The Gmail message display with preheader text

Tom recommends taking advantage of this very valuable space to give your readers more information about what they will find if they open this email. Think about it as an extension of your subject line, or as your subheadline. This is an additional opportunity to persuade your readers that this email is worth opening.

So, as with subject lines, make your preheader text engaging and useful while answering the question your reader is asking: “What’s in it for me?”

Most ESPs have a section in their templates where you can enter the preheader text you want your subscribers to see. If you can’t, carefully consider the first line of your email, since this will automatically appear as the preview in your subscribers’ inboxes.

Because every email program displays preheader text differently, and because users can set the length of preheader text they see, Tom says to be sure to put the important information at the beginning of the sentence. It’s also worth the time to test your messages in a few email programs to see how much preheader text will show up on your reader’s screen.

6. Be a real person


As funny as this sounds, many marketers send all of their emails from a “do not reply” email address. This cuts off communication between you and your readers and makes them feel like they’re going to have to jump through a bunch of hoops if they want to ask questions or need help with your product.

It also signals to email services that this email isn’t as important as the ones that can be responded to, so your email may end up sorted into a place it will never be found, even if it’s not the spam folder. You want your emails to be as important (to your readers and to the email services) as an email from a close friend. So use an email address that your readers can respond to.

It doesn’t have to be your personal email address, though that can certainly make people feel like they have a direct relationship to you. It can be something as simple as “,” but make sure there’s a person on the other end who will respond in a timely manner to honor the relationship you’ve promised.

When your readers receive a response to those emails, make sure there is a real person’s name attached to that email. This is something AWeber puts into practice regularly.

“Here at AWeber, everything that we do comes from a person,” says Tom. “The email address may be “help@AWeber,” but every single thing that we do is coming from a specific team member. Everything is always signed with a particular person’s name. We even put a little headshot of every single person that sends out from here.”

Putting these personal touches on responses lets your readers know that your company cares about them as members of your community, and can make them more inclined to purchase from you now or in the future.

How do you keep your email subscribers happy and engaged?

Do you have techniques you recommend for building a good relationship with your email subscribers? Tell us about them in the comments section.