The Best Content Strategy for Your Email Newsletter

April 16, 2012

When you’re building your own business, figuring out how to make money doing what you love, there’s always more to learn. That’s part of the reason why I love working for myself: I have the freedom to choose challenging projects, ones that give me opportunities to learn along the way.

So for the last few months, I’ve been studying email newsletters. I’ve read loads of posts on the subject and subscribed to a ton of free newsletters to see what other people are doing. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion about the best way to go about email marketing, and those opinions don’t always line up.

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Why bother with an email newsletter in the age of blogs and social media? Because if you have someone’s email address, you can go to them rather than waiting for them to come to you.

You can put yourself in their email inbox, where they’re already hanging out, rather than hoping they’ll check their RSS feed or see one of your tweets. Even with all our tech advances, the big online community-builders and sellers will tell you that email is still one of the best ways to reach the people you want to reach… so long as you do a quality job cultivating your list.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I’m still figuring out how to cultivate my list, how to offer value my list wants, how to grow that community in a way that also supports my projects (and helps me make money). SO I’m considering these three different content strategies:

1. Create new content. I’ve leaned toward this from the beginning, because I don’t know why anyone would sign up for a newsletter that didn’t offer NEW content. If the newsletter offers the same information as the blog, why not just read the blog? Like most bloggers, I offer a “subscribe via email” option for my blog posts, so anyone who prefers to read in their inbox is already getting my ideas that way.

This is why I’ve created unique content for my email newsletter since I launched it five months ago. But I have to admit, it takes time to write. It’s basically like writing one extra blog post each week and sending it only to a select group of readers.

Writer Jeff Goins is a good example of someone who offers newsletter content that’s different from his blog — and I always look forward to his newsletter.

2. Reuse blog content. Either copy and paste your blog post and send it to your list, or send a newsletter saying you wrote an interesting post about a certain topic and encouraging readers to click over to the blog to read it in full.

Plenty of writers use this strategy, but I find it totally annoying when I get excited about a blog, subscribe via RSS AND to the newsletter, only to find the exact same content in my inbox that I just read in Google Reader. That means I usually unsubscribe from the newsletter and just read the blog, unless I’m studying that writer’s newsletter tactics.

But as a new friend pointed out to me recently, not everyone looks through their Google Reader as diligently as I do. And if they do read via RSS, then who cares if they unsubscribe from your newsletter? You’re reaching them through the blog. You could save yourself a lot of work by reusing your content.

I tested this theory, by the way, in my newsletter this week. I sent my 350 or so subscribers a note about my post on how I make a living through my writing to see how many of them didn’t catch it when it ran on the blog. Not quite 24 hours after I sent the letter, 37 percent of recipients had opened it (that’s a high open rate for the industry, but I find most of my newsletters have high open rates, likely because readers choose to receive them) and about 40 percent of those openers had clicked the link. Just as importantly, no one unsubscribed. So apparently a lot of them HAD missed the post and maybe even appreciated me letting them know about it.

3. A hybrid of No. 1 and 2. This is the way I’d like to move going forward, offering a core of unique content with teasers to new posts on the blog. That way there’s something for everybody: loyal blog readers will benefit from new content in the newsletter, but anyone who hasn’t read the blog lately will see what’s new here, too.

Which strategy do you think works best? If you have a newsletter, do you write unique content or reuse blog posts? And if you don’t have an email newsletter, might you consider launching one?

Oh, and if you haven’t already signed up for The FREE Traveling Writer Newsletter, now’s my excuse to plug it 🙂 Come join us!

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    19 Replies to “The Best Content Strategy for Your Email Newsletter”

    • Iain Broome says:

      I’ve decided to start a free newsletter too and have been thinking about the same problems/solutions.

      I think perhaps its good to remember the ‘news’ part of the deal, which to me means a) definitely fresh content that’s not available elsewhere (at least not yet), and b) a recap of what’s been going on in the/your world.

      I just described option 3 didn’t I?

    • Excellent advice! I especially loved the slightly-tangential line about finding new challenges to shape your career your way. I had never consciously thought of that aspect of entrepreneurship.

      I agree with the hybrid model. It seems like recent posts would do well in the sidebar, above the fold. Looking forward to following your results (and reading your newsletter)!

    • Kim Palmer says:

      Hi Lexi! My favorite bloggers that write newsletters use the newsletter to send a tease of their latest blog post, which I find very convenient because if I’m interested (and I usually am), then I click through and read the rest of the blog or watch the video… I do visit the blogs independently, but sometimes I forget and the newsletter serves as a nice reminder. But luckily they only send the tease once a week or less, so my inbox doesn’t get overwhelmed.

    • Srinivas says:

      Alexis,

      I’m glad you wrote about this. It’s a subject that needs attention and not many people give the attention it deserves. It’s something that I neglected for far too long. I’ll share something with you that I learned in a recent interview and it’s great for people with smaller lists. Add a personal touch and email people on your list personally. Time consuming? Yes. But the payoff in terms of relationship with your readers is totally worth it. I think you have a really tight knit community of writers from what I can see :)/

    • Dana Sitar says:

      I’m so glad you’re covering this topic lately — I’m revamping my newsletter to try to offer subscribers more value, and it’s tricky to figure out what they’re looking for! My newsletter is a hybrid: I write unique content that includes tips for self-publishing (a similar style to my blog posts, but I have more of a course laid out), and teasers for my blog posts for the past week.

      One thing I’ve noticed is that the click rate for links in the body of the newsletter is higher than for the list of posts at the bottom, so maybe I’ll consider integrating the week’s posts into the body…

    • Very timely post as I am just about to start a newsletter. I’m planning on going with content that is mostly new, for the reasons you state, but I’ll also include some oldies and goodies from my blog.

    • Hi Alexis,
      I write photography eBooks and give them away free for subscribers to my newsletter. I have found that about 2% of the people will unsubscribe as soon as they download the books. When I released my last book, my newsletter subscription rate quadrupled! I also write unique content for each newsletter (often a more personal story from my travels than what I might put on the blog), give away free wallpapers and tip sheets, and then highlight the most popular blog posts and images from the previous month. Right now I am not making any money from my blog, just trying to build an audience so when I have something to sell I have some people to tell about it. It seems to be working so far, but I guess the proof will come when I try to sell something. So maybe another option for you might be to give away free stuff – maybe a free chapter from one of your guides.

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Thanks for this, Anne! I do give away a free mini ebook on where writing meets entrepreneurship. And since I began offering that, my list has certainly grown faster than before. This is an excellent point for anyone reading the comments — give away something QUALITY, and people will sign up!

    • Anne Belov says:

      Hi Alexis,
      I’m just getting ready to launch a newsletter, so this article is just in time for me. Even though I consider myself more artist than writer, everything you discuss in your blog and newsletter has relevance for me. Because I have several separate on-line identities (fine artist, cartoonist, and organizer of a well loved local art show) I think that adding the newsletter, even though it will be a bit more work, will help tie those 3 audiences together.
      By the by, I’ve gotten a few guest post spots from your exchange, as well as participating in Dana Sitar’s Bucket List for Writers launch. Huzzah! (OK, maybe I am starting to consider myself a writer as well as an artist.)
      Be the Bear!

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