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Introduction

Newsletters provide great engagement rates and are a good way to keep in constant communication with subscribers. That’s why a growing number of publishers are using their newsletters as a primary way to generate additional revenue.

Despite the obvious benefits of newsletters, it can be challenging to create messages that get results. If you’re sending out an email newsletter—and 66% of marketers say that’s the primary purpose of their contact list—you know how hard it is to keep your readers engaged and coming back for more.

With 269 billion emails being sent every day (a lot of which is spam), it is becoming increasingly difficult to cut through the noise and provide your audience with a unique experience that keeps them coming back for more. So what steps can you take to make sure you’re giving your readers what they want?

In this guide, you’ll learn how you can create loyal readers by turning your newsletter into a daily habit. We’ll share what we know about today’s email marketing landscape, discuss the difference between curation and automation strategies, provide tips for monetizing your newsletter, and offer deliverability tips to make sure your emails hit inboxes.

Chapter 1:

Today’s email landscape for publishers and readers

When it comes to sending out emails, publishers have to balance quality and quantity. The two aren’t necessarily exclusive, but usually, there are only so many resources available to create email messages. And if you want to send out newsletters every day, time is of the essence.

Years ago, there was a lot of buzz about how to acquire more subscribers. Publishers jockeyed to create bigger and bigger email lists, reasoning that more subscribers meant more engagement. Plus, these numbers were impressive to advertisers.

However, the tide has changed. Publishers are increasingly focusing on retention and engagement. They’re funneling resources, spending, and strategy to keep readers engaged—and it’s working.

Publishers that increased their spending on retention in the last 1-3 years have a 3x higher likelihood of increasing their market share and revenues compared to those who focused only on acquisition.

The savviest publishers have over 25 unique email products driving engagement with readers. These email products cultivate engagement and loyalty through:

  • “Challenges” that deliver more value and increase daily engagement with readers
  • Time-based “microseries” piggybacking on hot topics to keep content fresh and drive frequent readership
  • Sponsored content or relevant advertising in programs that seriously increases revenue from newsletters.

Examples of different engagement emails.


Where newsletters fit in

There is a multitude of ways to engage subscribers, which is why publishers are creating clever challenges and micro-series that keep readers hooked. But at the heart of any publisher’s email marketing program are newsletters.

Most publishers have a wide range of newsletters covering different topics. For example, The New York Times has over 30 email newsletters, with around a 70% open rate, and brand-new newsletters dedicated to unique audiences like college students and runners.

However, some like Morning Brew or Scott’s Cheap Flights have built their businesses on one newsletter that goes out to everyone.

Morning Brew Email Newsletter signup form.

There are many strategic approaches that today’s publishers employ to create newsletters that retain loyal readers. As a consequence, there are many beloved daily newsletters that subscribers can’t imagine giving up.


What publishers and readers want from newsletters

Marketers and subscribers like newsletters, as both parties stand to gain a lot of value. Marketers like to have a consistent, loyal audience that’s responsive to promotions and sponsorships, while readers enjoy the convenience of having relevant information they care about delivered straight to their inboxes.

 What marketers are looking to get out of an email newsletter: ROI/conversions, Open rates and click-through rates, Improved customer engagement and communication, Low opt-out numbers, Large audience reach What subscribers are looking to get out of an email newsletter: Relevance to their personal interests, Discounts/updates, Something visually appealing, Reliable content that keeps them informed

Chapter 2:

Curation vs. Automation

More and more publishers are realizing that their voice and the insights they deliver to their readers is what differentiates them from any other publisher. After all, readers can get the same news from multiple sources. It’s the voice and perspective that sets you apart.

When it comes to email newsletters, publishers generally go in one of two directions: they curate or they automate.

Graphic- The Great Divide, Curation vs. Automation


Publishers in the curation category
intentionally curate the voice of the brand to provide meaningful content and a thoughtful narrative to the audience. This results in newsletters that are more personal and differentiated with controlled quality. For example, BuzzFeed curates different newsletters based on subscriber interests. Their team curates a customized DIY newsletter based on what they believe subscribers will like.

Buzzfeed email newsletter.


Publishers in the automation category
programmatically recommend the right content to a reader based on their previous engagement and preference. Automation frees up resources and is very scalable, but there’s a risk of sending out the wrong content. For example, Refinery29 asks subscribers for their location at sign up so they can automatically send localized newsletters.

Refinery 29 newsletter signup form.

For today’s publishers, curation is the way to go. It allows you to differentiate your voice, increasing engagement and offering more opportunities to monetize content and email. Curation is your opportunity to cultivate a valuable perspective that your audience responds to and engages with.


Considering data privacy

Today’s publishers also need to consider data privacy, and curation offers publishers the opportunity to share their perspective without using sensitive data to take advantage of subscribers. New regulations, like the GDPR, make the automated approach more challenging because it relies so heavily on customer data.

Chapter 3:

Monetizing your newsletters

Because newsletters are such an effective way to reach your audience, today’s publishers are finding clever ways to monetize them. A growing number of publishers are taking advantage of their newsletters’ reach to bring in more revenue. Yep—revenue for publishers comes from more than banner ads on a site.

More and more publishers are positioning their newsletter as an asset to advertisers. They’re enticing advertisers with opportunities via email and using email newsletter metrics and engagement rates as a way to show off value. For example, publishers are now sharing:

  • Number of subscribers
  • Abilities to target relevant subscribers
  • Open rates
  • Click-through rates
  • Number of different newsletters and lists

Many media companies and publishers are using LiveIntent to sell email ad spots to advertisers.

Rather than hard-coding an ad directly into emails, LiveIntent offers media companies and publishers the ability to personalize ads based on demographic data. One subscriber might get an ad from Gap, whereas another might get one from Harry’s.

Example of email with a personalized ad.

Here are some additional ideas for monetizing email newsletters.


Developing “challenges”

Your readers come to you with various goals: They want to get fit, stay up to date about politics, find new products, or improve the design of their home. To accommodate and engage these readers, you can create challenges that help them meet their goals.

For example, a publisher might encourage readers to sign up for a challenge that will help them eat healthier over the course of 8 weeks. Once per week, the subscriber will receive an email that helps them keep up with the challenge. For example, in the instance of eating healthier, the challenge might include the following emails:

  • Week 1: Principles of Mindful Eating
  • Week 2: Meal Planning for Success
  • Week 3: Apps and Tech to Make Life Easier
  • Week 4: Cooking Healthier Than Ever
  • Week 5: Understanding Protein’s Place
  • Week 6: Incorporating Activity and Exercise
  • Week 7: Snacking Smart
  • Week 8: Maintaining a Healthy Eating Lifestyle

Example of workout challenge email.

To monetize these challenges, you can co-brand them with a partner. For example, a healthy eating challenge could be part of partnered series with a calorie-counting and meal tracking app. You can also infuse challenge emails with sponsored content. For the email on snacking smart, you might include sponsored content from a company that sends out weekly snack boxes, for instance.


Launch time-based “micro-series”

Rather than sending out newsletters daily or weekly, consider launching a time-based “micro-series.” These time-based micro-series put together content that is sent at an expected interval. They’re usually educational—many publishers put together mini-courses and send them out as a micro-series.


Infuse sponsored content or relevant ads

To generate additional revenue, you can also include sponsored content in your newsletter. Sponsored content looks and feels like any other article on your site, but it has a sales component to it.

Take a look at the Apartment Therapy newsletter below. The article in the red box, “Summer Makeup Capsule: The Only 9 Products You’ll Need All Season,” is sponsored content.

Example of email containing sponsored content.

When readers click on it, the article provides readers some great tips, just like other Apartment Therapy articles do, but this one provides links to each product in hopes of readers making a purchase. If readers do make a purchase, Apartment Therapy makes a commission.

 

Chapter 4:

How to increase deliverability

Email is an incredibly powerful way for publishers to reach readers. However, your emails don’t amount to anything if they don’t make it into inboxes.

That’s why you need to focus on deliverability. Email deliverability is how you measure the success of your emails reaching the inbox without bouncing or being marked as spam. If you have issues with high bounces, flagging spam filters or low engagement, you may have email deliverability issues.

Email opens, clicks and spam complaints all contribute to how likely your emails are to wind up in spam folders. If you’re sending emails to an audience who is unengaged—maybe even one where people report your emails as spam—then you’re not going to see the high deliverability rates you need to be successful.

Understanding what affects deliverability

Many assume that their email list is somewhat stagnant. Yes, they may make efforts to grow their list and have systems in place to keep subscribers coming. However, they don’t do much to manage their lists once subscribers have joined.

But in order for publishers to be successful with newsletters, your email lists need to be clean with an engaged set of readers. You should have high engagement and deliverability rates, and be willing to say goodbye to subscribers who don’t open your emails.

The biggest deliverability offenders: unengaged/ not clean email list. Poor domain reputation. Sharing and IP address.

Ultimately, you want to make sure your emails reach the people who want to receive them. Here are some deliverability tips to make sure your emails hit the inbox.

Ways to increase deliverability

 

Prioritize quality over quantity of subscribers

It’s better to have a smaller list of highly engaged readers than a much larger list of subscribers that aren’t interested in opening your emails or expressing interest in your products/services. In fact, when we surveyed SMBs, we learned that 66% want to increase list quality, viewing it as more important than increasing conversion rates and email list size.

In general, publishers are prioritizing quality over quality. They’re looking to metrics that show high engagement (open rates, click-through rates, revenue generated, and social shares) rather than metrics that don’t (subscriber count, growth of list, unsubscribes).

Many publishers look at their current email list and wonder whether it needs improvement. Here are some indicators that you have a healthy, high-quality email list:

  • Open and click-through rates are stable or increasing
  • You have the ability to segment your list and personalize messaging
  • Email campaigns can be tied directly to ROI
  • List decay is stable or decreasing

There may be room for improvement if your email list lacks any of these items.

Create campaigns for active management and re-engagement

You want to make sure that you are actively managing your list(s) of subscribers. They may have opted in 6 months ago, and it might have even been a double opt-in, but if they stopped opening 3 months ago, should you still have them as an active recipient of your emails? There are a couple of different approaches you can take with this scenario.

First, try sending a re-engagement campaign. Show your audience that you value them as a reader and want to ensure that they are interested in what you are sending them. Highlight the great content you are sending them and the frequency of the emails you will be sending them. And encourage them to take action to stay on your list.

Second, if they remain unengaged, remove them. The idea of shrinking your contact list sounds scary, but it’s the best course of action. Subscribers have expressed a lack of interest in what you are sending, and you don’t want to spend time and resources reaching out to people that don’t want to listen. It’s best to just let them go.

Through a strategic re-engagement campaign, Morning Brew was able to remove 100,000 inactive users, increasing their aggregate open rates, improving deliverability, and helping their mailbox rankings.

Morning Brew Re-Engagement Email Example

Opt for a dedicated IP

This one requires working with your IT team to make sure that you have a dedicated IP for sending email addresses. Adding some records to your Domain Name Server (for example: Hover, GoDaddy, or another hosting service) confirms that your business owns the domain the emails come from. A registered, dedicated IP increases deliverability.

When using Campaign Monitor, your campaigns will be sent from one of the generic domains we maintain (such as cmail1.com or cmail2.com) by default. However, there is a setting in your account you can enable that will allow you to send your campaigns from your own domain name (i.e. yourbusiness.com).

When you do this, you send strong signals to email providers like Gmail and Outlook that you are a legitimate business sending legitimate email campaigns, as spammers generally don’t take the time and effort to go through this process.

 

Ask subscribers to add you to your address book

If subscribers have your email address as a contact in your address book, then your emails will certainly reach their inbox. To get in your subscribers’ address books, simply ask to be put there. This technique is underutilized and very effective is to ask your recipient to add you to their address book or list of contacts

Similar to a double opt-in, this requires an extra step but shows an increased level of interest/engagement. Ultimately, being marked or recorded as a contact guarantees that your email will always land in the inbox.

 

Create custom asks based on email client

Some email clients, most notably Gmail, filter messages automatically for users. That’s why so many messages end up under the “Promotions” or “Social” tab rather than landing directly in an inbox.

To cope with this, many businesses ask new subscribers to simply drag new messages from one tab to another, ensuring that the messages land directly in the inbox. They also encourage subscribers to reply to emails. By doing so, future emails are less likely to wind up getting filtered out of the primary inbox.

Use double opt-in to ensure engagement

While single opt-in is easier and requires fewer steps for a person to subscribe, your ultimate objective should be quality vs. quantity. What good does it do to have a list of 1M+ subscribers if you have an unengaged audience that doesn’t open your emails or click through them?

Double opt-in helps solve this and addresses potential future issues:

 

  • By having a more engaged audience from the get-go, your email is far less likely to get marked as spam based on user engagement.
  • ISPs like Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail evaluate hundreds of factors to determine what gets sent your spam folder, and historical engagement from specific senders weighs into this heavily.
  • Build your sender reputation by continually providing relevant content to a more engaged audience.

 

Chapter 5

Wrap Up

It’s no secret that newsletters are beloved by publishers and the consumers who receive them. When a newsletter is filled to the brim with relevant content, it’s impossible for a subscriber to resist.

As a publisher, your goal is to cultivate as many loyal email readers as possible. These readers are your biggest fans—they generate more revenue, tell their friends about you, and ultimately make your publishing company successful.  

Using newsletters to deliver more thoughtful and personalized content to your readers will increase your engagement and enable you to drive more revenue from email.

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