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Post originally published May 2016, updated April 2020.

Email marketing isn’t just for retailers and small businesses. Publishers are now turning to email, and are doing so very successfully.

Many of the unique email marketing strategies are coming from publishers like BuzzFeed, VICE, Reddit, Fashion Magazine, Apartment Therapy, and Rolling Stone. These publishers have embraced email marketing to increase brand awareness, reach subscribers, and promote and sell everything from books and magazines to online subscriptions and ad space.

What’s their secret to success? Read on to discover some of the strategies to help publishers maximize email marketing.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • The role of email marketing in publishing
  • How publishers drive traffic and make money
  • How publishers use email automation
  • Email best practices for publishers
Chapter 1

The role of email marketing in publishing

Before we discuss how publishers are using email marketing, let’s explore why they use it.

Email marketing has become a preferred communication tool for publishers for a variety of reasons. Here are a few of the advantages:

Drives website traffic

Publishers are looking to drive traffic back to their websites so subscribers can research new content, make purchases, or continue their subscription. Emails remind subscribers about the website and provide a direct path for them to stay digitally engaged.

For BuzzFeed, email is consistently one of the top five or six referrers of traffic to the site each month, and it keeps growing. In 2014, traffic from email grew by 20% every month.

Keeps publishers modern

Publishers now need to have a digital presence and a way to reach out to potential subscribers.

Email has allowed classic publishers to connect with a new audience and promote their content through more modern channels.

Email has become so mainstream that approximately 5.5 billion email accounts are in use in 2019. For digital publishers, email marketing has always been the perfect complement to their marketing strategies and provides an easy-to-use communication tool.

Affordable method of communication

Communicating with subscribers doesn’t have to come at a huge cost. For every $1 spent on email marketing, businesses generate approximately $38. With this kind of return on investment, publishers know they can generate brand awareness, increase engagement, and promote and sell products or subscriptions without breaking their marketing budgets.

Engages specific audiences

Publishers cater to a variety of audiences, but each group requires tailored content. Research shows 53% of customers complain that they receive too many irrelevant emails, so publishers can’t send the same message to everyone. Segmenting content crafted for specific niches is the best way to go. Email marketing makes it easy to segment contacts, and it pays to take on this strategy. Marketers have found a 760% increase in email revenue from segmented campaigns.

By setting up a preference center, publishers can ask subscribers what kind of content they want. By using DIY segmenting tools, publishers can divide their pool of contacts by interests and send specific content to each group.

Chapter 2

Email and publishing in the era of GDPR

April 2016 marked a new era of email marketing. The European Union adopted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 2 years later, on May 25, 2018, the new privacy law went into effect. While this regulation mainly applies to members of the EU, it affects them wherever they may store their data, even on a subscriber list in the US.

The GDPR is a regulation that gives subscribers more control over how the party collecting their data uses the information they provide on signup forms.

For you, as a publisher building your list, it means you will have to inform your subscribers how their data is being collected and stored. Most importantly, you will have to get their consent before collecting it.

For more details on GDPR compliance and what it means for you, please see our guide.

Chapter 3

How can a self-published author quickly grow an email list?

 With all the benefits that come from email marketing, as a publisher, you’re probably wondering how you can grow a profitable email list. Here are a few pointers to get you started:

1. Identify your target audience.

Not everyone will love your content. However, if you identify your ideal reader, you will have a list of subscribers that will love your content, leading to high open and engagement rates.

2. Offer them an irresistible “bribe” for their contact details.

You can only do this after identifying your ideal reader and what they need from you.

3. Automate your email marketing.

Use email automation to employ automated welcome emails, provide discount offers, and announce special events that will give customers a reason to join your email list.

4. Ask your tribe to share your content.

Simply ask your subscribers to share your content in your newsletter, and social media profiles and your email list will grow.

Chapter 4

How publishers drive traffic and make money

While email marketing serves many purposes, driving website traffic and generating revenue is at the top of the list for publishers.

Here’s what publishers are doing to accomplish those goals:

Curating the best content

Publishers have found that one of the best ways to engage subscribers and funnel traffic to a website is to give subscribers a sample of their best content. Publishers create a roundup of four or five of the best, most current pieces of content that are on the site and send subscribers a sample.

Here’s an example from Apartment Therapy. In this case, the publisher uses a newsletter style format with an image and a title to entice the subscriber to click. Once subscribers click on a title or image, they can see the full article, which lives on the publisher’s website.

Most publishers send something similar, but each has its unique take. VICE, for example, gives subscribers a list of interesting content with story descriptions. This publisher focuses more on the description than on imagery:

There isn’t a universal format for this kind of email. It’s all about tempting subscribers to visit your website by offering a sample of the content that’s available.
The hope is that subscribers will continue to surf through your website after reading the article about an inspiring athlete or life hacks celebrities swear by.

Embedding ads in emails

Publishers have become savvy with email marketing, and are now embedding ads in their emails. Because email is so easy to track, publishers can tell advertisers exactly who the target market is and the response rates that their emails get.

Take a look at this email example from Fashion Magazine. Notice the Michael Kors ad at the top?

Fashion Magazine can tell Michael Kors what segment the ad will reach, how many subscribers will receive it, what their general interests are, and what kind of response rates are achievable through email with this segment.

The more data that supports an ad spend, the more likely brands are to pull the trigger.

Partner with others

Publishers are embracing partnerships too. They’re not afraid to reach out to other businesses that are producing good content.

Here’s an example from Really Good Emails. The main piece of content promotes a video from the company, but, if you look below it, you’ll see four pieces of content that are created by others.

The publisher knows that subscribers value quality content, and are willing to partner with other brands to provide that information.

The brands featured in this email will likely return the favor and share content from Really Good Emails with their subscribers. These kinds of partnerships can introduce publishers to a whole new audience. Since the email comes from a trusted source, subscribers are more likely to check out the publisher’s website.

Contests and giveaways

A growing number of publishers are hosting social media contests or giveaways to get people talking about their brand, and they’re using email to promote it.

A publisher could give away free copies of a book and promote the giveaway on their Facebook page. They could also send an email to their subscribers encouraging them to enter the giveaway.

Or the publisher could buy social media ads to encourage fans that aren’t already on its contact list to participate. These ads are a great way to grow an email list. Once your contest is in front of new fans, you can ask them to provide their email address to participate.

Either way, publishers are using contests as a smart way to tie social and email marketing together.

Chapter 5

Email marketing best practices for publishers

There are a few keys to success that publishers have uncovered when it comes to email marketing. They’ve quickly become best practices across many industries.

Segmentation through preference centers

Publishers cater to a lot of customers, and each customer has personal likes and dislikes. For email marketing to be effective, publishers must cater to these specific needs.

Contact lists must be segmented. Research shows 58% of revenue generated from emails comes from segmented lists.

What’s the best way for publishers to segment their lists? Most businesses segment by demographics, past purchases, or buying behavior, but publishers tend to benefit most from interest-based segments. By allowing customers to select which content they want to receive based on their interests, response rates will likely increase.

You can set up a preference center that allows subscribers to pick the kind of content that arrives in their inbox.

With a preference center in place, subscribers do the segmenting for you by indicating their preferences.

Personalized content

Publishers take the time to personalize emails to build stronger relationships with their subscribers, and transaction rates for personalized emails are six times higher than those using impersonal emails. Additionally, emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened.

Many people assume personalization means adding a subscriber’s name to the subject line, but there are more ways to personalize an email than that. For example:

  • Add a business name to the email message
  • Add specific locations or addresses to the email
  • Add specific subscriber information, like a t-shirt or shoe size
  • Use images to match a subscriber’s location
  • Send content specific to a subscriber’s interests

While personalization may take a bit of additional time, it’s an important aspect to add to each email. Research shows it’s well worth the time. Personalized emails improve click-through rates by 14% and conversions by 10%.

Publishers using a reputable email service provider like Campaign Monitor should be able to access a multitude of tools to make personalization simple.

A/B testing

Email testing might sound a bit tedious, but it can improve your response rates.
A/B testing, sometimes called split testing, is a way for publishers to test an email’s success on a small group of subscribers before sending it out to the entire segment.

You will choose one thing that you want to test, like a subject line, for example. You send the email to two small groups. Each group gets the same email, but with a different subject line. You then look at your metrics to discover which one is opened more and use the winning subject line when you send the email to the entire segment.

Publishers can test anything from subject lines to layouts and copy.

Tools like Campaign Monitor have several testing features that make testing your email campaigns simple.

Focus on mobile subscribers

Like many email marketers, publishers understand the importance of sending mobile-friendly emails. Research shows 34% of publishers send emails that are optimized for mobile devices, and another 50% are planning to make the change within the next year.

Publishers that work with Campaign Monitor have access to email templates that use a responsive design, which means they look sharp on every device. Plus, publishers can send a test email and see how their email looks in 30+ email clients and devices.

Also, publishers think about their mobile subscribers when they create content. They keep subject lines and messages short and make the call to action a central piece of the email. Here’s a great example of an email that’s mobile-friendly from Fashion Magazine.

Chapter 6

Examples of a high-performing newsletter

As a publisher, you’re probably looking for inspiration from other publishers on how they design their high-performing newsletters. Consider the following examples of high-performing publisher’s newsletters.

The National Geographic

If there’s one thing that makes email marketing for publishers different from other types of email marketing, it’s the way publishers curate stories. And the National Geographic does that well. From heartwarming stories of saving a species from extinction to chilling tales of how the human race is destroying its own home by the irresponsible use of plastic, The National Geographic has a story that interests you.

But covering events that affect our existence here on earth is not the only area where the National Geographic publication excels. They are also masters of newsletter marketing.

Source: Campaign Monitor

This award-winning publication is a household name for one good reason: They know how to sell a story. As a publisher, that’s one tip you need to swipe from The National Geographic. Whatever your story, you can create a newsletter to sell it. So what lessons can we learn from the National Geographic newsletter above?

Here are a few of them:

Your email design should match your brand

Just by looking at their newsletter, you immediately know that it’s coming from The National Geographic. Their brand colors are unmistakable. Whether you are a budding publisher or a renowned one, branding should be a part of your email marketing strategy.

Use images that resonate with your story

When designing your email newsletter, it’s not just about using pictures that make your email look pretty and nice. You will have to ensure that the images you use tell your story, and sell it too.

Don’t forget to point to your social media profiles

Your email newsletter is the perfect platform to drive engagement on your social media profiles. When looking for publisher email newsletter templates, be sure to pick one that has enough real estate for you to market your social media profiles.

2. The New York Times

The New York Times has been around for a very long time. One of the ways The New York Times has managed to keep ahead is through their email marketing strategy. Here are some email marketing tips for publishers that we gleaned from their newsletter:

Source: Campaign Monitor

Get your copy right

When creating your email copy, make sure to use language that relates to your audience. In the case of The New York Times, they use words and language that are at the core of what their readers love the most: reliable and trustworthy news.
By using the right language, your readers are better able to relate and engage with you.

Make your readers feel special

The New York Times has done a great job of making their subscribers feel special by making them a part of an exclusive club. Throughout their newsletter, they keep using the word “exclusive,” a word that has impactful effects on the reader. Two of them are:

  • It drives engagement, as the reader feels they are receiving content exclusive to them
  • It creates a fear-of-missing-out (or FOMO) effect if a reader thinks of unsubscribing
Chapter 7

Wrap up

Publishers are deploying email marketing strategies that are worth watching. By collecting data on subscriber preferences and sending a variety of tailored emails, publishers are using the tools and analytics that email marketing offers to better their brand, reach subscribers, and give their bottom line a healthy boost.
Here are the main points to take away:

  • Email marketing for publishers is a great way to get your story and vision told beyond your usual circle of readers.
  • Best practices like segmentation and email personalization form the core of your marketing strategy.
  • As a publisher, build your brand and let it influence your email template.

Campaign Monitor is fortunate enough to work with some big-name publishers and is always looking to help those in the industry achieve success. And, to help you succeed on your journey, here’s another article on email marketing for publishers we believe you’ll find very helpful.

Publishers love Campaign Monitor. See why publishers like Morning Brew, Girlboss, and Livingly chose Campaign Monitor to build their audiences. Explore the publishers page
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