Larry Chase's Web Digest For Marketers

Top 12 Best Practices for Publishing an Email Newsletter

I've been publishing Web Digest For Marketers since April 1995. It was the first email newsletter to cover Internet Marketing. An experience curve of 11 years must result in seeing what works over time, and what doesn't.

Here is the inside track on what to pay attention to when publishing your email newsletter, and what to stay away from.

#1: What's Your Agenda? Before your content, before your subscriber acquisition strategy, you must think long and hard about who your target audience is and what your agenda is with them. Is this a customer retention strategy for your existing clients? Is it a thought leadership gambit? Or is your newsletter designed to generate sales?

#2. What can you give them that they don't already have? The trouble with most email newsletters nowadays is they blur together. Very few distinguish themselves. Look at what's already out there and resolve not to reinvent the wheel. Do something fresh. If your core business isn't publishing, you would do well to hire an outsider to help you ascertain what information you have that the rest of the world wants to know about.

You may be best served by acquiring content from outside sources. If so, make sure it isn't the "same old, same old" content that your target audience already sees somewhere else.

#3. Shop Around for an Email Service Bureau: Make sure they are solvent. Price is not the determining factor here. Yes, I know everyone thinks this is a commoditized service, but I don't care. What good is it if you get the best price and the bureau goes out of business or lays off much or all of its tech support staff? Which brings me to another point.

Before signing on with an email service provider, get at least three recommendations from that bureau. Remember, they're going to give you referrals that give glowing reports. So do try to locate some users or former users who will give it to you straight. Also keep in mind the email service bureau business is fraught with complexity, with more being added all the time due to authentication systems coming online. The point is, be tough-minded, but be reasonable. Put calls into their tech support lines to see how responsive they are. If you're paying $9.95 a month to send one million emails out, don't be shocked if there's no tech support on Sunday evening.

#4. Pay Attention to Reputation: It's imperative you protect your domain name reputation. Publish your SPF records and look into a reputation service like Habeas. Such a service is quite likely to increase your email deliverability, open rates, clickthrough rates and so on.

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#5. Develop a Subscriber Acquisition Strategy: You need one. Why? Because people unsubscribe from email newsletters at the drop of a hat. People leave their jobs and change their email addresses, too. So unless you have a plan for getting new subscribers, you'll find the size of your list shrinking before too long. The average churn rate nowadays can easily be higher than 30%. Hereunder are a few sub-tips for boosting your subscriber registration numbers.

  1. Put your subscription box near the top of your home page. Seems obvious, right? But then why do so many miss this one?
  2. Offer a juicy incentive. Over 20,000 people have downloaded my "Essential Search Engine Resource Guide." This guide also gets passed along and serves as my emissary, which causes more people to subscribe.
  3. Only ask for the email address at first. If you want more information about your subscribers, offer additional incentives within the newsletter down the road. Remember, each additional piece of information you ask for up front severely cuts down on your acquisition rate. On the other hand, some newsletter publishers will ignore this sub-tip, since more information makes for a more qualified list.
  4. Display your privacy policy clearly and prominently. This is one of the most popular links on my site, along with the next one...
  5. Display a sample issue. People like to see what they're signing up for before they hand over their email address. I do. Don't you?

#6. Subject Lines Are Critical: Everyone is trying to get their inboxes down to whatever magic number makes them comfortable. Your subject line needs to stop the reader from the repetitive motion of hitting that delete key that gets them to that very short-term goal. Keep you subject lines short.

Many people (specifically in B2B) are using the Internet to find something out or learn how to do something. No wonder I see "How to" subject headers blow the doors off response rates. Real news works, too. The more specific, the better. In short, tell me something I don't already know. Don't try to fill me up with a bunch of self-serving corporate pap.

#7. Look & Feel: Make it easy for the reader to skim your newsletter. Let's face it, most people skim email. If they really do slow down and read your newsletter, good for you. But assume your readers are pressed for time every bit as much as you are. The more control you give them, the more they'll appreciate it, whether consciously or unconsciously. My Web Digest For Marketers is designed in short info chunks. You can helicopter around to your heart's content without losing continuity. People love that control. If you force the reader into clicking too many times or filling out too many forms to get at what he or she wants, you will be dropped like a hot potato. It's similar to being routed around and around on one of those annoying phone systems.

#8. Read Your Newsletter Out Loud: Sounds silly, right? But unless you're comfortable actually speaking the words you write, your newsletter "voice" will come across as phony. In fact, try to have your newsletter come from somebody in your organization, instead of just your company name. Look, the Internet is a pretty impersonal place. One good way to get above this intense clutter is to be human, and to talk like one.

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#9. Get Feedback: Over the past 11 years I've met hundreds if not thousands of readers of Web Digest For Marketers. I know many have "Larry Chase" folders where they keep past issues. Some call the folder "Web Digest". Many print out each issue. Some use it as a tip sheet for their sales people.

Some of my best Special Focus Issues come from the answers I get when I ask "What topic would you like to see Web Digest devote an entire issue to?" If you want to answer that question right now, go to www.wdfm.com/contactlarry.htm

#10. Co-Registration Partners: In some cases, it makes sense for you to have arrangements with other newsletters that offer a subscription to your newsletter on their site and you reciprocate by doing likewise. This sometimes means working with your competition in a type of "co-opitition deal. So be it. It can double or triple your subscription rate.

#11. Selling Ads in Your Newsletter: If your aim is to establish a media property for the purpose of generating ad revenue, you will need to amass typically at least tens of thousands of subscribers in a very specific niche. You'll need to offer a unique selling proposition to prospective advertisers as to why they should consider advertising in your newsletter. Since Web Digest For Marketers has been around for 11 years, it has amassed over 15,000 inbound links to its home page. This is the source for thousands of new subscribers. Advertisers like to see this because they know that "hotliners" (new subscribers that are less than 30 days old) have a high propensity to reacting to ads and clicking through. I also tend to charge a little less than competitors, which means the cost per lead is typically lower for advertisers. This in turn results in most advertisers returning over and over again, year after year. This also means I need to spend less time finding new advertisers.

#12. Keep It Fresh: Each year, I usually introduce something new. Here's an example. Time was when an issue of Web Digest contained the latest and greatest marketing websites that we found for you that week. In house, we called those issues, "Surf 'n' Turf." But now each issue is focused on one thing and one thing only. It may be PPC, or Email Deliverability, or SEO, or Increasing Response Rates, et al. Both advertisers and readers alike love this editorial approach.

Summation: The Internet is not one medium. It's a bundle of media. Email newsletters are one strand in that bundle. They're an extraordinarily cost-effective way of disseminating information because just about anybody you want to reach now has an email inbox.

When done right, publishing an email newsletter is, IMHO, absolutely one of the most efficient allocations of your online media budget. The trick is to do it right. If you need help doing it right, get in touch with me and I'll work with you on a consulting basis to get your newsletter launched on a solid and profitable trajectory.

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See Larry Chase's speaking topics

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