The fitness of an individual bacterial cell is highly dependent upon temporally tuning gene expression levels when subjected to different environmental cues. Kinetic regulation of transcription initiation is a key step in modulating the levels of transcribed genes to promote bacterial survival. The initiation phase encompasses the binding of RNA polymerase (RNAP) to promoter DNA and a series of coupled protein-DNA conformational changes prior to entry into processive elongation. The time required to complete the initiation phase can vary by orders of magnitude and is ultimately dictated by the DNA sequence of the promoter. In this review, we aim to provide the required background to understand how promoter sequence motifs may affect initiation kinetics during promoter recognition and binding, subsequent conformational changes which lead to DNA opening around the transcription start site, and promoter escape. By calculating the steady-state flux of RNA production as a function of these effects, we illustrate that the presence/absence of a consensus promoter motif cannot be used in isolation to make conclusions regarding promoter strength. Instead, the entire series of linked, sequence-dependent structural transitions must be considered holistically. Finally, we describe how individual transcription factors take advantage of the broad distribution of sequence-dependent basal kinetics to either increase or decrease RNA flux.