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Email marketing isn’t just for retailers and small businesses, publishers are turning to email – and frankly – they’re crushing it.

Many of the most 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? To answer that, Campaign Monitor has created this guide 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

Ok, publishers, roll up your digital sleeves and get ready to learn how to kick email marketing into high gear.

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 that publishers love:


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% on a monthly basis.


Keeps publishers modern

The game has changed for traditional publishers who once relied on bookstores and newspaper stands to sell products. Now, publishers need to have a digital presence and a way to reach out to potential subscribers.

That’s where email marketing comes in. Email has allowed classic publishers to connect with a new audience and promote their content through more modern channels.

That’s not to say that email marketing isn’t important to publishers that were born online, like VICE. Email has become so mainstream that 4.9 billion email accounts will exist by the end of 2017. 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. To be effective, each group requires tailored content. Research shows 56% of subscribers will opt out of your email list because of irrelevant content. In other words, publishers can’t send the same message to everyone, segmenting content that’s crafted for specific niches is the best way to go. Fortunately, email marketing makes it easy to segment contacts. And it pays, in fact, 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’re interested in. By using DIY segmenting tools, publishers can divide their pool of contacts by interests and send specific content to each group. (We’ll have more on this later.)

How publishers are driving traffic and making money

While email marketing serves many purposes, driving website traffic and making money definitely top 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’re taken to the full article, which lives on the publisher’s website.



Most publishers send something similar, but each has their own 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. Take a look at the snapshot below.



There isn’t a one-size-fits-all 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.

Of course, the hope is that subscribers will continue to surf through your website after reading the can’t-resist 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 publisher, 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 typically achieved through email with this segment.

To an advertiser, this information is golden. 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 and share the love.

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.

In addition, the brands that are 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

Nothing gets people excited like the chance to win free stuff. It’s ingrained in our DNA, and publishers know it.

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. This is 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.

How publishers can use email automation

Email automation is designed to make marketing more efficient, which explains why 49% of companies are using it. By creating emails ahead of time and scheduling them in advance, publishers aren’t tied to their laptops 24/7 to power their email marketing.

Here’s how publishers are using email automation to thrive:


Welcome emails

As soon as a new subscriber signs up for an email list, publishers send a welcome email within 48 hours. Research shows that’s when subscribers are the most engaged, and yet 41% of brands miss this window of time.

Email automation is key here. Publishers set up a triggered email, so as soon as a new subscriber is added to a list, a welcome email is automatically sent to the potential customer.

A welcome email should have:

  • A relevant subject line that signifies a new relationship
  • A friendly greeting as the opening line of the email message
  • A mention of email frequency
  • A call to action that leads subscribers to your website

Here’s a welcome email from BuzzFeed, for its Parents newsletter.


Drip campaigns

Publishers can also create drip campaigns, which are a series of automated emails that are sent on a specific schedule and serve a specific purpose. The courses that are mentioned above are technically drip campaigns, but they aren’t what typically comes to mind when drip campaigns are discussed.

When a publisher is about to release the latest book in a hot series, a drip campaign can get subscribers excited and ready to buy. The first email in the series might reveal the release date, the second email might provide an excerpt of the book or reviews from first-time readers, and the third and final email enables subscribers to order the book.

The emails could be set to “drip” at certain intervals, maybe once a week. Or, the emails can “drip” based on a subscriber’s action. If a subscriber opens the first email, for example, they receive the second email a day later.

Email automation provides a lot of options for drip campaigns, and publishers using Campaign Monitor have access to tools and analytics that make it a simple and effective process.

Offering brand-specific courses

Publishers are offering unique “courses” to subscribers. For instance, Apartment Therapy, offers cooking classes. Each week subscribers are emailed a new recipe and instructions to make the top-notch meal.

BuzzFeed offers a four-week “Get Fit” class to subscribers. Every week, an email with a new workout routine hits a subscriber’s inbox. Check out this example.

These courses give publishers increased brand exposure, but beyond that, they give subscribers something of value. Every email marketer strives for that. These courses provide a unique series of content that subscribers find useful, and that’s a great way to build relationships.

Publishers can use email automation to schedule these “courses” to arrive every Tuesday, for example, at 10am. The ability to schedule these emails ahead of time provides a consistent delivery schedule and keeps subscribers engaged in a way that doesn’t require a publisher to manually pull the trigger on individual emails each week.

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 that others can learn from.


Segmentation through preference centers

Publishers cater to a lot of customers, and each has their own likes and dislikes. For email marketing to be effective, publishers must cater to these specific needs. In other words, publishers can’t create an email and send it to everyone on their list. One size fits all emails don’t fit the bill.

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.

Now, you can create content specific to each category. It ensures that subscribers receive relevant emails that they care about.

Personalized content

When you mail a birthday card to a friend or an anniversary card to your parents, you take the time to find a card that’s just right and probably write a personalized message inside. Why? Because you want the card to make a connection.

Email content is similar. Publishers take the time to personalize emails to build stronger relationships with their subscribers. If that doesn’t sell you on personalization, try this: Transaction rates for personalized emails are six times higher than those without. And, 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. Take a look:

  • Add a business name to the email message
  • Add specific locations or addresses to the email
  • Add specific subscriber information like 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 whole host of tools to make personalization simple.

A/B testing

Email testing might sound a bit tedious, but it can really 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.

Essentially, you pick one thing that you want to test. Let’s say the subject line. You send the email to two small groups. Each group gets the same email, but with a different subject line. You 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. Just about every component of an email can be tested.

Campaign Monitor has several testing features that make testing your email campaigns a breeze.


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 move within the next year.

Publishers that work with Campaign Monitor have access to email templates that are responsively designed, 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.

In addition, 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.


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.

Campaign Monitor is fortunate enough to work with some big name publishers and is always looking to help those in the industry achieve success.

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