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How I Use Email Newsletters to Drive Traffic and Make Money

Yesterday I shared 6 reasons that I find email newsletters to be a more effective way of driving traffic to and making money from blogs than RSS.

Today I want to show you exactly how I do it.

Firstly a word about technology – I use Aweber to deliver my emails (I talk about why here). However you can use pretty much any email newsletter service (many also choose and highly recommend MailChimp) for the process I outline below as long as it allows you to set up an auto-responder or sequence of emails.

I should also say that the process I’m about to share has evolved over time. It started out very very simple and has slowly developed with time – in fact it continues to develop as I learn more and by no means is where I want to take it…. yet.

Lets start with a visual on how my process looks (click to enlarge) before I explain the elements:

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Reader Subscribes

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Because email newsletters are such an important part of my site I put a lot of emphasis upon getting this conversion moment with those who come to my site. There are a variety of places around the blog where I attempt to get readers to sign up – some are more subtle than others. Some are anything but subtle including a popup signup box that readers see 20-30 seconds after they arrive on the blog.

The pop-up is set to only show once per visitor (unless they’re blocking cookies) and while it is intrusive and I was very hesitant about adding it – it’s incredibly effective at getting readers to signup.

I switched to using this Pop-Up signup technique just on a year ago and at the time wrote up how it took me from getting 40 confirmed signups a day to 350 over night here. Since that time subscriber numbers have continued to climb – I now get around 500 new confirmed subscribers a day. This adds up to around 180,000 a year which is exciting growth. It does annoy a handful of readers (I get an email or two per month) but for the payoff it’s something I’ve decided to continue with.

Welcome Email

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When someone signs up and then confirms their subscription by clicking a link in an email they’re then sent (double opt in is required by law) the new subscriber is immediately sent a welcome email. This email is all about making them feel good about subscribing and giving them a quick introduction to the site.

I’m presuming that most people who sign up for the newsletter are new to the site so it’s a great opportunity to introduce myself, show them around and help get their expectations right about the site.

This welcome email has a site logo, my picture, some links to key parts of the site like the forum, some suggested reading for catching up on key posts in our archives (I send them to a few ‘sneeze pages‘ that send them deep within the archives and get them viewing multiple pages) and shares what the subscriber will receive in the coming weeks in terms of future emails.

The email also asks people to add the email address that emails are sent from to their white list/contact list to help ensure emails are delivered.

It’s written in a personal and friendly style and seems to connect as I get a lot of replies to this email from new subscribers thanking me for the personal welcome.

Weekly Updates

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As you’ll see from the chart above – weekly updates are what readers get the most. They’re largely updates on what has happened on the blog/forums in the past week.

You can see one of my more recent ones here (although it loses some of the formatting in the web version) where you can see that these emails have a bit of a structure. I usually have the following sections in these weekly updates:

  • Welcome: usually just a sentence that intros the week. If there’s something important I’ll often highlight it here. Sometimes I’ll also do a quick update on something cool that happened on the site during the week (record day of traffic, milestone in terms of subscribers, a mention in the press – this kind of update seems to build morale/momentum among readers)
  • Quick Links: here I share the weekly assignment, any discussion oriented posts/polls, any competition announcements and occasionally a ‘featured post’ that I want to especially push traffic to etc
  • Tips Tutorials and Techniques: new blog posts of a more general nature
  • Recommended Resource: in this case it’s an affiliate promotion (a great product) but occasionally I swap this section to be a ‘message from our sponsors’ and have it as a sold ad position.
  • Post Production Tips: updates from this section/category of the blog
  • New Gear, Tips and Reviews: again, updates from this section of the blog
  • Hot Forum Threads: a bit of a summary of key threads happening in the forum
  • Reader Images: Being a photography site visuals are important and the images get clicked on a lot. They also give readers some incentive to post images in the forums as they could get featured in this newsletter that goes out to over 200,000 people..

I do mix things up a bit. Some weeks I’ll run a little promotion of our Twitter of Facebook accounts, other weeks I might throw in some older posts form the archives that people may not have seen and sometimes I’ll run a promotion encouraging readers to forward the email onto a friend. Really anything can go in these emails as long as they’re on topic and useful

The main goals of these weekly updates are to:

  • Drive traffic to the site
  • Build Community, reinforce brand with readers
  • Make money through the promotions

Readers love these newsletters because while they’re largely links to the site the links are all content rich and useful resources. I title these emails ‘Photography Tips for Your Weekend’ and that’s how many of our readers use them – as a spring board into their weekend with their cameras.

Note: these emails are manually put together. They take me an hour or two a week to do. There are tools that will send out automated update emails (Aweber has one) but I prefer to do it manually to ensure that the emails are tailored for maximum impact and usefulness.

Themed Updates

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I’ve written about this concept once before here on ProBlogger in a post titled How 24 Hours of Work Will Send Millions of Readers to My Blog.

The idea really came about when I realised that the majority of my blogs thousands of pages of content was going largely unseen by new readers to my blog. While I would occasionally link back to key posts most of my archives don’t get a lot of traffic.

These ‘themed updates’ are all about sending readers back to old but useful content around a single theme. Here’s how they work.

I use the ‘auto responder‘ or ‘followup’ feature of Aweber to set up these emails (Mailchimp also has an auto responder service). This means that they go out at pre-determined intervals to readers a certain number of days after their last scheduled email.

The first email in the sequence is the ‘welcome email’ that I mentioned above. 8 Days after that email goes out the subscriber receives the first ‘themed’ email. The topic is ‘portraits’ and is a newsletter that contains a short intro to the topic and then some links back to some of our most useful portrait photography tips. It also has a few recommendations of good books on portraiture (with affiliate links).

30 days after this portraits email they get another themed email (remember they’re getting weekly updates in between). This email is about ‘exposure’ (pictured right – click to enlarge) and contains links to some of our best posts on subjects like Aperture, Shutter Speed etc. It also contains a couple of recommendations to good books on the topic (with affiliate links to Amazon).

30 days later they get an email on composition (same format as above with links to archive posts and books). 30 days later they get another themed email.

The main goals of these themed updates are to:

  • Drive traffic to the site – particularly older posts
  • Make money through the affiliate links – while they’re not big ticket items they do convert

These emails do take some time to set up but once they’re set up they become automated and go out every day without me ever having to think about them. With 500 people signing up for my newsletter every day I know that 500 people are getting each of these emails on a daily basis. I have 6 of these emails set up in a sequence at present and add more to the list every now and again so I know 3000 people in total get them each day of the week – forever.

Promotions

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Screen shot 2009-10-29 at 3.05.59 PM.pngThis is the most recent addition to my sequence of emails and I’m still perfecting their use but the signs are very promising already.

I use the auto-responder sequence mentioned above to deliver these (they’re going to go out every month or two) and the content of these emails is to highlight a resource or product that I recommend to readers.

The products are affiliate products that I take a commission from any sale of. We disclose that relationship in the email and get a lot of positive feedback on the disclosure from readers.

The key with these promotional emails is to choose products that you genuinely recommend. The reason for this is that at any point subscribers can leave your list – if you push too hard or recommend dodgy products they can leave (with a bade taste in their mouth).

It can be hard to find quality products – I’ve found there to be a lot of junky products in my niche for example – but when I recently found a product that I believed in (123 digital imaging) I knew I had my first product to add to the sequence.

I only sent this first promotion email 17 days ago so it’s yet to go out to everyone on the list but it’s generated 500 or so sales and will continue to sell as long as the product is on the market as it goes to another 500 people every day. In many ways it’s become a nice little passive income with a few sales every day being generated.

When we release our first ebook in the coming weeks it will also be added to the sequence of emails in a similar way.

The main goals of these promotional updates are to:

  • Make money through the affiliate links – the money these earn starts with a bang when you send it out to the bulk of your list on the first day but after that it becomes a steady trickle. The cool thing about it is that once you have a few of these set up in your sequence you can be having a number of affiliate promotions paying off each day.

Summing Up

All in all I find that the above mix of emails that we send out to our list gets very positive results. I work hard to keep them a ‘win/win’ for both our readers to get useful and relevant information but for me/the site to generate income. So far I think I’ve got the balance right – I regularly get emails from readers saying thanks for the newsletter and if I’m even an hour or two late sending it get people emailing to ask where it is. On a revenue front it’s increasingly profitable – between the sales of products and the ad revenue increases from the increased traffic it certainly has become a central part of my income stream to have this email list.

With the cycle as it is readers do occasionally get 2 emails in a week – however it’s never more than that and on most weeks it is just the one weekly email. I make it clear when they signup that it’s at least weekly to get this expectation right as I don’t want them feeling duped into signing up.

I also use Aweber’s scheduling feature for the auto responder emails which allows you to specify what days of the week they can go out. I schedule the sequenced emails (the themed and promotional ones) so that they never go out on a Thursday or Friday (the same day as the weekly ones).

Lastly I generally focus my efforts with this list on HTML emails. Aweber does give you the ability to send out a text email as well for those subscribers whose email system doesn’t allow HTML. For the text version I usually just send out a short email that links to a HTML version of the email. I did use to send out a full plain text email for these people but found that when I switched to a shorter email linking to the HTML version that most readers clicked through and appreciated seeing the images (this might be particular to my niche).

So that’s how I’ve set up my email newsletters on DPS. It takes a fair bit of work to get some of it set up but as I mentioned in yesterdays post – the pay off has been great and continues to grow as we recruit new subscribers to the list.

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. Idana says:

    Awesome post, I appreciate informational posts like this. Something else you might be interested in: how about some quick cash filling a few surveys? Up to 160$ per HOUR. Try it, trust me, you’ll love it. It’s on TheBuzzTrend dot com (replace dot with .)

  2. dr aletta says:

    Can’t even say how helpful this and other posts on Problogger have been for me. Just set up email subscriber widget, something I tried to do many times and couldn’t get right. Thanks so much. I’m glad I’m following you on Twitter!

  3. Kalena says:

    Super timely post for me Darren as we are looking at how to better leverage our email newsletters. Have been using AWeber for over a year but finding their HTML newsletter template extremely frustrating. Might take a leaf out of your book and hand code our own template to make things easier. Thanks for generously sharing your tactics here. Hope to catch up with you again at SMX Sydney 2010

  4. Casey says:

    @Brian Armstrong – Thanks for the tip on Feedmail Pro. Great to experiment with something for free at the beginning.

  5. Absolutely brilliant post – Really what I need at this time to try and drive additional work from my contacts list – Very good timing as I have some time this autumn to implement this.
    thanks
    Tim
    http://www.driverphotography.co.uk

  6. great tips i really enjoy reading it.I know now how you make money
    is really a nice strategy to increase traffic.

    Network Marketing

  7. Farouk says:

    nice post Darren, i really want to focus more on email marketing since i am 80% dependent on search engines!!

  8. Rhonda Hess says:

    The themed posts and promotion autoresponders are something I’ve never thought of. I can see how this builds links, connection, value and sales all at once. Thank you, Darren

  9. Wow, you have huge list of followers. This is my second comment and boy .. I like all the information you’re posting, very precise. I think I will be expecting always for a great post now that I followed you on twitter. I’ve been doing email campaign and never thought I can do more with it. Thanks again.

  10. Ronblogger says:

    Sending out weekly newletters is really effective on updating your readers on what’s happening on your site and your future plans ahead.People really love to be updated.

  11. MattMarketer says:

    Hey this is a great article! We are discussing this in my class today. Champlain College’s MKT 250 with Elaine Young. see our discussion on twitter hashtag #mkt250

  12. Thank you for sharing this information. We were having difficulties with our newsletter section of our business, and could not find a could flow that will effective and drive traffic and increase profits. We will be leveraging off this post to build our newsletter business plan. Thanks.

  13. money online says:

    thank you, step by step in building visitor traffic is very interesting, very clear, showing efficacy strategy email

  14. Absolutely the best piece of advice that you gave, not to discount any of the other steps, is to TEST. Gosh how many of the “gurus” over the last year have had problems with their launches etc. and blamed it on “melt down” of their server, when the real answer was there was a glitch in their order process.That has to be the number one way to direct a customers confidence to the delete button.If I could add, it is almost as important to offer a “freebie” that honestly has value.Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  15. Priya says:

    Absolutely the best advice that I have got today not to discount any of the other steps, is to TEST. I will surely try it thanks

    Priya
    http://fromhomeworkers.com/entrepreneurs.shtml

  16. tips says:

    Another great article by great bloggerman Thanks

  17. Paul says:

    Darren,

    “For the text version I usually just send out a short email that links to a HTML version of the email.”

    How do you do this?

    Regards

    Paul

    • Darren Rowse says:

      Paul – the text version just says ‘to see this week’s newsletter go to http://www…..’ – Aweber gives you a link for each broadcast you send where the email can be seen in it’s html – I link to that.

  18. Arfan Rashid says:

    greate POST, but where we can find that how to create, use and manage newslatters for traffic?

  19. Paul says:

    Darren,

    Forgive me for labouring the point but could you tell me where I find the link?

    I’ve spoken to Aweber who unfortunately were unable to help me, they said the facility wasn’t available.

  20. Daniel says:

    Have you seen http://www.nouri.sh ? It allows you to send upto 1000 emails free of charge! -A powerful way to turn your RSS feeds into attractive newsletters. It has several advantages over Aweber, certainly worth checking out.

  21. Blog Profits says:

    This one’s good, but for blogs that already has traffic. I know some other way to get hundreds of emails everyday, kind of very tricky, but these emails are surely emails of people who purchase different items daily. So if you want to sell something their emails are very profitable hehe. If you wanna know about how I do this trick, visit me guys. Problogger, you are my idol. hehehe really great. Love your blog, it’s a dream to have a blog as huge as this. Almost perfect.

  22. seo firm says:

    I admire the time and effort you put into your blog. I wish I had the same drive :)

  23. Make Money says:

    Thank you Darren Rowse for a great share! I think you are so kind for giving so much of great value information of making money online,. This kind of information may cost much in other place!

  24. Jason Wong says:

    Thank you so much for posting this.This is such a well detailed post and you’ve given some really simple applicable tips for all of us. But there’s just no way my blog is ready for this. I mean, I have 24 subscribers right now! I’m not even a premier expert in my field yet. It will take time.Progiftstore.com

  25. Newsletters and lists are one aspect i myself am still slacking, i know it’s important since a good list can be powerful. Good Post! G.

  26. Dave says:

    Thank-you for this post.

    This is definitely the best post I have read on this site, and that is saying a lot.

    Wow!

  27. Freddie says:

    I know I need to implement this more across my sites – a question – have there been any areas you (or anyone reading) has not had success with email newsletters? (I am looking more at an area where the newsletter failed in its goal due to the industry/subject, not lack of quality in content/writing/overspamming) Thanks