Knowledge Bridge

Global Intelligence for the Digital Transition

Don’t forget email in your content marketing strategy

It has been fashionable, over the past few years, to talk about the death of email as more people turn to social networks to communicate. But email newsletters remain a powerful way for news websites to build a loyal audience.

Email marketing seems so low-tech, but it is enjoying a resurgence because it is inexpensive and, if done well, it works.

In an article on technology news site Wired, highlighting an “email newsletter renaissance”, former Hufftington Post Chief Technical Officer Paul Berry said:

As much as we’re told e-mail isn’t sexy, no one sends more e-mail than Facebook or Twitter, and the reason they do is we’re all on e-mail and it brings you back.

An email marketing success story

Two years ago, the Foundation for New Journalism in Iberoamerica launched a programme to provide technical and commercial skills to the rapidly growing number of news and information start-ups in Latin America. As part of this programme, 10 start-ups were chosen “based on their journalism and ethical standards, and their potential for growth” to take part in an entrepreneurial journalism programme.

The results were impressive leading, on average, to an 80 percent increase in site visits across the start-ups, according to James Breiner, writing for IJNet and News Entrepreneurs.  A Salvadoran sports site was a standout success:

El Salvador FC, a soccer website, increased its total visits by 264 percent to more than 1 million by employing a series of strategies, such as updating news at least 10 times a day, promoting news through email and seeding its news in other blogs and web pages.

Obviously, email was part of a broader strategy of regular updates and a wider social media campaign, for example, successful Facebook campaigns drive about 20 percent of the traffic to the site. But you don’t have to choose between email and social media – an effective digital marketing and engagement campaign can and should use both.

It is also important to point out that simply building audience doesn’t guarantee sustainability; despite its success with increasing traffic, El Salvador FC is not yet profitable. However, as the site works towards the break even point, its email and social media strategy has added audience with low costs, although it is time intensive. El Salvador FC founder and editor Carlos Lopez Vides said:

This type of marketing costs us nothing but does require a big time investment. It recognizes the power of the users to share and recommend the product. We, the editors, have to empower the users to maintain their interest and support.

As Lopez Vides says, email marketing is inexpensive. A study in the UK found that it a fraction of the cost of other marketing methods such as direct mail or telemarketing. It was even cheaper than SMS marketing. The same study found that it also had a higher response rate than direct mail or internet advertising, although lower than direct mail or SMS marketing.

How to create a successful email campaign

Just as with your digital strategy in general, data will be key to the success of your email newsletter marketing efforts, and with the renewed interest in email newsletters as an audience building or marketing tool, we have access to data on best practices even before you start.

Email marketings software company GetResponse analysed 21 m messages sent during the first quarter of 2012 to determine the best open and click through rates and also the highest engagement times. The analysis found (emphasis theirs):

One of the most important conclusions is that sending newsletters during readers’ top engagement times of 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. – 4 p.m. can increase their average open rates and CTR by 6%.

However, they also point out that you need to analyse your own data to make sure you understand how your subscribers behave.

Another factor that can affect open rates is the subject line of your email. Another newsletter service provider, MailChimp, analysed 40m subject lines to see which ones worked best. They even have a tool that will give you a rating of words used in your subject line based on historical response rates. They compared the best performing subject lines, email newsletters that were opened by 60 to 87 percent of recipients, versus the worst performing subject lines, those that were only open one to 14 percent, and they found:

On the “best” side, you’ll notice the subject lines are pretty straightforward. They’re not very “salesy” or “pushy” at all. Heck, some people might even say they’re “boring.” On the “worst” side however, notice how the subject lines read like headlines from advertisements you’d see in the Sunday paper. They might look more “creative,” but their open rates are horrible.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t be creative in your subject lines, but their research found that it was all about expectations. “The best subject lines tell what’s inside,” they said.

Fortunately, email newsletter software such as GetReponse and MailChimp has become increasingly sophisticated, allowing you to do A/B testing. This feature allows you to test the performance of subject lines or delivery times, for example, Mailchimp will send the same email using two subject lines to a small percentage of your list, then automatically sends out the email with the best performing subject line once the trial period has ended.

Marketing your paid content offering

Email registration for newsletters has also been used as part of a paid content revenue strategy, allowing those who register to access premium content on your site.

As digital advertising rates dropped, publishers have used email newsletter signups to gain more information about their users, which they use to deliver more targeted advertising and as part of the marketing strategy for their paid content offerings.

British magazine publisher IPC offered email newsletter subscribers access to ‘certain content’ to entice readers to sign up for newsletters or register with sites, says The Media Briefing. Once IPC has an email address, it works to gain even more data about these users so that they can tailor marketing messages about subscriptions and paid content options.  It is a typical funnel marketing strategy.

Email marketing may seem simple, but successful news organisations and media companies are using it in incredibly sophisticated ways as a means to increase their audience and audience engagement and also as the first step in marketing their paid content offerings. The key is to make sure that you’re taking advantage of all of the tools that modern email marketing software delivers so you can get the best results.

Article by Kevin Anderson

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