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Email Newsletters Tips for Bloggers

Yesterday I talked about Why Email Newsletters might be a good companion tool for a blog – today I want to get a bit more practical and talk about how to use them. As I’ve researched the topic I’ve realized that this could be quite a long series of posts in itself but have decided to pull all the tips together here. I will follow this post up tomorrow with one last one with suggestions of tools that you might want to use in putting an email newsletter together.

So in putting together an email newsletter you probably want to consider some of the following:

Define the Purpose of your Newsletter – As with any tool it is important to know what you wish to achieve with it before setting out to use it. I mentioned yesterday that newsletters can have many benefits, some of which you’ll be aiming towards, others of which won’t suit your overall blogging strategy. So sit down and work out what you want to get our of your newsletter. For example you may wish it to:

  • Drive Traffic to your Blog
  • Generate your own Sales or Consulting Leads
  • Generate advertising revenue
  • Be a direct income maker through affiliate programs
  • Generate a subscription revenue (ie charge for the newsletter)
  • Create community among your readers
  • Make announcements about you and your blog
  • Build your personal profile
  • Upsell Readers

Or maybe there is some other objective or a combination of the above. Whatever it is it’s important to define what success means for your email newsletter (nb: your email newsletter strategy should probably emerge from your overall strategy for your blogging).

Use an Opt In – Opt Out system - The last few years have seen the rise of email SPAM or unsolicited email and as a result it has become law in many parts of the world to make any newsletters ‘Opt In’. This means you must ensure that those who receive your emails have signed up to do so personally. Even better than Opt In is ‘double opt in’ which means that after a reader signs up for your newsletter they are sent an email asking them to confirm that they agree to receive it. This means that they themselves must sign up for it. ‘Opt Out’ simple means you need to give your readers a way of unsubscribing from your newsletter. Most newsletter software, scripts and plug-ins these days have these features. NEVER add subscribers to your newsletter list without their permission – you not only run the risk of breaking the law but are likely to put a lot of your readers offside if you do.

Please note that in some parts of the world there are stronger laws than simply having ‘Opt In and Out’ options. John from Synastry has said he’ll be posting more information on these laws in the next few days – I’ll let you know when they go live.

Subscription Page – If you want to develop an email newsletter you’ll have to have some sort of subscription page/form to collect information from subscribers. Here are a few tips to make this page more effective:

  • Make it as easy to subscribe as possible. Don’t make your readers jump through too many hoops to subscribe. Whilst it might be tempting to get loads of information from your readers at this point (name, age, gender, location, star sign, income, favorite food…) all you really need to get is their email address and perhaps a first name if you wish to personalize your emails a little. Ask for too much information and you run the risk of scaring potential readers off.
  • >Make it clear up front what the newsletter is about – There is nothing worse than signing up for one thing and getting another. Tell potential subscribers what type of content they should expect, how they’ll benefit from it, how often they’ll get an email and what you’ll do with their information (a privacy statement is essential in my books). If you’re going to be sending HTML emails tell people this up front also and try to give them an option to receive plain text emails if you can as some people don’t like HTML emails.
  • Position invitations to subscribe strategically on your blog – I put an invitation to subscribe to my newsletter on each page of my blog – in fact I have two of them on many – one is in the footer of each post above comments and the other is a mini form at the top of my sidebar. Think about where you readers look and utilize this space wisely. With first time readers to your blog this may be the one and only chance you get to make them loyal readers so make the most of the opportunity.
  • Offer Incentives for Subscriptions - I haven’t tried this but know of numerous people who’ve used prizes for subscribers to get them to sign up and stay signed up to newsletters. Of course you want them to think the newsletter is more valuable than just the prize – but it might be a good foot in the door.

Writing Email Newsletters - Writing blogs and writing newsletters are similar skills but some of the following tips might be helpful when composing your first few newsletters:

  • Establish a Voice and Personality and stick to it – It’s important to be consistent in your newsletter (and blogging too) as readers become loyal to you when they consistently find quality content in your newsletter. On the flip side they often get frustrated when one week you have one tone and the next week another in your writing. This doesn’t mean you have to be monotonous – just establish a pattern up front. If you want to throw in some curve balls do it right from the start. You might like to identify some segments of your newsletter that you’ll try to use from week to week to help your readers get used to navigating them.
  • Make your content Scannable – this is important with blogs but even more so with emails. Most people don’t read in an in depth way when it comes to reading from a screen – so use lists and formatting techniques to grab the eye of your reader. Use empty space wisely also – you don’t have to fill up every line with loads of text.
  • Get to the Point – People get impatient in online interactions – don’t waste their time with long rambling emails. Get in and out quickly and concisely having said what you need to say.
  • Remind People they’ve subscribed - I have had a newsletter at my Digital Camera Blog for 18 months and in that time I’ve found some people forge they opted in and think I’m spamming them. Sometimes I incorporate a subtle reminder in my intro that they subscribed to my emails and point out that they are free to unsubscribe at any point. I’d rather have happy unsubscribed readers than unhappy subscribed ones.
  • Use your title/Subscription Line wisely – Your title is important (I need to work on mine) – in the same way that it draws people in on your blog the subject of your emails is what often gets your subscribers to open your emails before hitting delete. Don’t be misleading with subject lines (this is actually illegal in some part of the world). Try to be short with your titles also – I’ve read a study recently that said short email subjects get better responses than medium to long ones. Ideally you want a subject line that is informing, inviting and intriguing. Good luck with that :-)
  • Be consistent with Frequency of Newsletters - this can be difficult but if you tell subscribers you’ll email them weekly, email them weekly. You’ll find some complain if you email them less frequently and others if you email them more frequently. Email Newsletter experts recommend that your readers get into a rhythm of getting your newsletters where they could set their clock by them. I’m not quite that consistent but try to stick to a weekly cycle where I send emails early in the week on a weekday.
  • Give subscribers value – People love to get something for nothing – so give them something valuable with your newsletter that no one else gets. Give exclusive tips, information, interviews, prizes, advice etc to your subscribers. I often hold tidbits back from my blogs to give to newsletter subscribers because I want them to know that they are special to me. They’ve gone to the effort of signing up and have given me permission to contact them with information about my blog – so I want to repay them with something of value.
  • Be Transparent - if you’re getting something out of a recommendation in your email (ie if its an ad or an affiliate program) be honest about it.
  • Don’t Hype it Up - So many email newsletters are full of hype – stand out from the crowd by personal, genuine, warm and helpful newsletters. Your subscribers will love you for it.

Track your Results - Some email newsletter software allow you to do this by inserting little bits of code into your email – but even if you don’t have and advanced system you should attempt to track your results by watching your blog’s stats to see what impact your newsletter has. Do you notice a bump in traffic? What times of the day seem to work best? Which links in your email seem to be clicked on most? Track your results as best you can and keep doing what works well and improve what doesn’t.

HTML or Plain Text Newsletters? - Both have their advantages and disadvantages. HTML ones look great and utilize visual tools to help draw your readers eye into your content where as Plain text emails are very basic to look at and difficult to make scannable and visually pleasing. On the flip side HTML newsletters are larger file sizes, they can have email client incompatibility issues and are more likely to be blocked by spam filters. I personally prefer plain text emails as they are simple to use and force me to be brief and smart with my formatting.

I’m certain that the readership of this blog has a great collective knowledge of how to use email newsletters effectively – both from experience of writing and subscribing to them. So share your knowledge, tips, experiences and suggestions of them below in comments so we can all learn.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Duane says:

    Wow. I think you’re walking a very thin line by promoting email newsletters as a way to drive traffic back to your blog. Isn’t the major push right now to sell blogs as an alternative to email newsletters and aleviate all the problems that come with email? I know I’d like to see my company go that way (I run the weekly newsletter, personalized to 2million people, and feel all of that pain on a regular basis).

    * With HTML email you can at least attempt to track opens (some measure is better than none, the marketing department will tell you).

    * Users click on HTML links far more than they ever cut and paste out of text letters.

    * There will always be people that call you spam. Don’t take it personally. Many people think “Report spam” means “Move to trash” or “Unsubscribe.”

    * If it can be measured, it can be tested. Learn quickly to pay attention to which subject lines you use, etc… and how well they do.

    Personally I think a better way to go is drastically improving RSS / syndication acceptance as a whole. The audience for my blog (Shakespeare fans) is not exactly early adopters, for the most part. When I took a poll among those that said they were visiting my blog daily and asked what RSS is, they had no clue and hoped that I would tell them. If I could get them to use a mechanism such as RSS that watches a blog for them automatically and simply tells them when there’s new stuff, I think that I would have a much bigger audience. And, most importantly, it wouldn’t cost me the effort that an email newsletter does.

  2. Darren Rowse says:

    Thanks for the comment Duane,

    You’re right about blogs/rss being the way of the future I think – but I still think there is a place for email and wonder if many are throwing the baby out with the bath water.

  3. The real point is that most email newsletters are illegal in one jurisdiction or another. From a simple email address it’s almost impossible to tell where the recipient lives. Send out a newsletter which has links to prohibited stuff ~ and that could be anything, not just porn ~ and you are in breach of the law. You could be sued or barred from that jurisdiction, and your business closed down. It’s important to know that, where commercial email is concerned, the bar has been raised to a much higher level and, worse, it varies across its length, so you never quite know where you are.

  4. Guy says:

    I have used Constant Contact for my newsletter. Any other suggestions? Free or low cost are best, of course.

  5. Darren — I’m glad to see a pro like you offering up email newsletters as a compliment to a blog. Way too many people see it as an “either / or” proposition and it’s not. They can help each other in so many ways.

  6. Wayne says:

    Great tips and while maybe RSS is the new wave, for some sites a newsletter may still be more effective. Not _everyone_ is subscribing to Feeds yet, take my mother as an example who is in the last few years becoming an avid Internet user but I doubt she has a clue what RSS Feeds are nor how to subscribe to them.

    What I wanted to add to Darren’s recommendations — perhaps as part of “make it clear what it’s about” — is to consider keeping your past newsletters archived within that site. This gives people a chance to view the content and better determine whether they want to receive the content in their inbox, and also increases your indexable web pages and generates additional internal links.

  7. I can attest to the fact that email newsletters are still a relevant marketing tool that builds relationships with clients. My newsletter Positive Perspectives is now read throughout 60 countries and everytime I send it out (monthly) I get new clients and return clients. It is great ROI on time and money. Blogs are another form of “newsletter” and all marketing efforts converge to help create your positiion and visibility in the crowded market place.

  8. David says:

    My 2c..

    I’ve started up a “hybrid” blog / mailing list, at http://www.inspirationaljournal.com – It’s a combination of WordPress and PHPList, which makes for a very powerful system, in both contexts.

    The basic PHPList WordPress integration plugin is here:
    http://www.funkypenguin.co.za/wp-phplist

    Although it hasn’t been live for long, I’ve found that having the blog available in an email format has provided an effective “feedback loop”… blog visitors subscribe to the email (they’re mostly non-technical, and have never heard of RSS), and email-subscribers click through from the email to the blog.

    - David

  9. Ryan McLean says:

    I was running a newsletter on my site quite effectively getting about 1 person to sign up per day. I need to start implementing this again as it does result in a lot of increased traffic to my website

  10. These are all great tips. I personally provide my subscribers with tips, guides, and free products to get them to subscribe.

    I aim for providing people with valuable content to help get them started in internet marketing.

    One thing you did not mention is whether you should outsource your email newsletters, especially if its a 10-20 email campaign.

    What are your thoughts on that?

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