Behind the Screens: Lessons from 85 Weeks of the Forte Labs Newsletter

Behind the Screens: Lessons from 85 Weeks of the Forte Labs Newsletter

Email Marketing
Publish Date
Sep 17, 2023
The very first Forte Labs newsletter I wrote in February 2022 reached 53,000 people. Last Tuesday’s edition went out to an incredible 114,000 subscribers 🥳
Between these two dates lie 85 weeks of data that can help us understand what’s working in email marketing and what isn’t. I’ll also share how I’ve approached improving the newsletter and the three things that allow me to create it in only 1.5 hours every week.

How Is the Newsletter Doing?

With a steadily growing audience, I was able to beat the 2022 average open rate by 2% in 2023 (yes!). However, the click rate dropped and the number of unsubscribes increased.
Looking at benchmarks from Campaign Monitor, I feel pretty good about our numbers, considering that the average open rate across all industries is just 21.5% and the average click rate 2.3%.
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While open and click rates are standard indicators of an email’s success, there’s another measure that can tell you if your newsletter is meeting its goal. And that’s replies.
Getting (hopefully positive) reactions from your readers means your content is doing its job.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the number of replies for each of our newsletters. But we’re working on setting up this measure.

Which Subject Lines Led to the Most Opens?

Let’s take a look at the ten most successful newsletter subject lines in the last two years:
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I wish we could clearly identify the type of subject line or length that works best reliably – but I don’t think we can.
Some long ones performed well, and a few very short ones, and everything in the middle. Five of the most successful subject lines start with the word “how.” But “how” also appeared three times in the bottom ten.
So when it comes to crafting subject lines, I’ll continue to follow my two rules of thumb:
  1. Create intrigue in the subject line
  1. Always follow it up with a preview text that provides more reasons for opening the email
(Btw, the “From” name of the newsletter which can also influence the open rate stayed the same during this timeframe.)

What Shaped the Structure and Content of the Newsletter?

I surveyed our newsletter subscribers twice, at the beginning of 2022 and 2023, asking them two simple questions:
  • What do you want to see MORE of in the newsletter?
  • What do you want to see LESS of in the newsletter?
400 responses in total helped me refine the structure and content of the newsletter. I’m sharing the survey results below since many of them are universally applicable.
Here’s what our subscribers wanted to see more of…
  1. Practical tips and actionable steps on building a Second Brain and using note-taking apps.
  1. Examples and case studies of Second Brains from experienced users, including dives into the structure and reasoning behind them.
  1. Insights and tips on productivity, including how to optimize learning and implement methodologies such as PARA.
  1. Content focused on AI and new technology breakthroughs, including how to leverage these advancements for increased productivity.
  1. Reviews and tutorials on various apps and software to use with BASB.
And this is what our subscribers want to see less of…
  1. Advertisements
  1. Content with too much fluff
  1. Repetitive content
  1. Any content that feels like "more info to add to the never-ending list."

How We Keep Our Email List “Clean”

“An engaged list is more important than a large list.” – ConvertKit
I couldn’t agree more. Even though I get excited by our subscriber number climbing higher and higher, I also know that this doesn’t mean anything if our subscribers are ghosting our emails.
That’s why we perform an annual list cleaning by, first, sending a short re-engagement sequence to all cold subscribers, and then deleting anyone who doesn’t decide to stay subscribed.
Here’s what this looked like in numbers:

Feb. 2022:

  • 15,517 cold subscribers receive re-engagement sequence
  • 1,235 decided to stay subscribed
  • 13,828 cold subscribers deleted

Feb. 2023:

  • 14,819 cold subscribers receive re-engagement sequence
  • 527 subscribers decided to stay subscribed
  • 13,843 cold subscribers deleted
ConvertKit has a great guide on cleaning your email list and recently implemented a way to do this automatically.

How I Write Our Weekly Newsletter in 1.5 Hours

Writing the newsletter has become an ingrained workflow that I follow every week:
  • Thursday: I roughly outline the topics of the next newsletter and share it with the team for feedback
  • Friday: I draft the newsletter and send it to Tiago for last revisions
  • Monday: I finalize, test, and schedule the newsletter
  • Tuesday: The newsletter goes out at 9 am ET
All of the above takes about 1.5 hours per week. Here are the three things that allow me to condense this newsletter production time.

1. Follow a Consistent Structure

When I started in 2022, I introduced a new format to the newsletter (based on the survey results above) that I’m replicating every week. In 2023, I updated the format slightly.
Now, every newsletter follows the same structure:
  • Intro: important updates and event invites
  • BASB 101: a short mindset shift or actionable tip
  • Latest blog post or video: Tiago’s most recent essay or video from our YouTube channel
  • BASB in Action: examples and case studies from us or other creators
  • Sponsor/Recommendation: sponsored content or book/tool recommendations

2. Plan As You Go

When I sit down on Friday to write the newsletter, 80% of the work has already been done.
During the week, I’ve added content elements to my newsletter planning doc in our project management tool ClickUp. One look, and I know what this newsletter is going to be about.

3. “Borrow” the Copy

I hardly write anything from scratch. If we’re promoting an event, I’ll take copy from the landing page. For a video, I’ll borrow text from the YouTube description. For a blog post, I’ll grab some of the first paragraphs. There’s always pre-existing copy that I can borrow.
Want to see the final product? Check out the latest newsletter at and subscribe to get the next one in your inbox: