Welcome to another installment of Ask The Editor!
This month our topic focuses on newsletters.
Q. I know I should have a signup form for a newsletter, but I really don’t know where to begin. How do I start a newsletter?
A. This can be intimidating for any blogger, but it’s very important to include building a subscriber list in your overall strategy to grow your travel blog and attract a larger audience.
That said, it doesn’t have to be difficult or complex. You can start by simply including your blog posts as your newsletter – similar to an RSS Feed – for those people who prefer an email, or who just aren’t comfortable – or don’t like – using an RSS Feed Reader.
Over time, you may want to transition to a more typical ‘newsletter’ format by including other information, news items, or interesting finds along with your blog posts, which is also not difficult, but it does take more time.
A Few Pros and Cons
To help you decide which newsletter style to adopt initially, a few things you should consider include:
Blog posts only
- Simple to set up and sending happens automatically – once you set it up, you don’t have to mess with it again;
- No cost if you use Feedburner or a provider like MailChimp that is free up to 500 subscribers;
- Harder to keep people engaged, especially if they also use RSS readers or visit your blog regularly, may have low subscribe – or higher unsubscribe – rate;
Typical newsletter with blog posts and additional content
- Greater engagement with subscribers;
- Can offer ‘exclusive’ content not found on your blog, which can stimulate higher subscriptions and lower unsubscribes;
- Most mailing list management providers offer numerous newsletter templates to choose from, making your newsletters more attractive and look more professional;
- Much more time-consuming – you must spend time finding/writing additional content;
- Although you won’t need to know any HTML, you will need to spend time learning how to use the WYSIWYG editor offered by your provider of choice;
- Generally a monthly cost involved unless you use MailChimp or another provider that is free up to 500 subscribers;
Ready to start?
If you choose to go with blog posts only, this can be done very easily using Feedburner (which you may – and should – already be using for your RSS Feed). Google has excellent documentation and tutorials on how to set up and use Feedburner.
Whichever service you choose, adding the form to your sidebar is as easy as copying and pasting a snippet of HTML into a Text Widget that you drag into your sidebar, and some even provide a Widget or Plugin to make that even simpler.
A few things to consider when deciding which service to use for your newsletter: **
- Very simple to set up;
- Free to use no matter how many subscribers you sign up;
- Can specify what time of day your newsletter is sent to subscribers;
- Not ideal if you post daily, since it sends the newsletter whenever you publish a new post – you can specify the time that the newsletter goes out, but not whether it goes weekly, monthly, or every XX number of posts. So if you publish a post daily, it gets sent daily. This can be a turn-off to some people;
- Limited templates to choose from;
- No real tech support beyond Google Groups
MailChimp (a limited service list management provider)
- Very simple to set up;
- Free up to 500 subscribers (monthly cost thereafter based on number of subscribers);
- Like Feedburner, newsletters go out the same day that you publish your blog posts – no other scheduling options;
- Not free after you reach 501 subscribers;
- Some templates but not as many as full service list management providers;
Full service list management providers
This includes services like AWeber (which I use for TWE), iContact, Constant Contact, and many others.
- Much more flexibility with newsletter sending. You can specify time of day, frequency (e.g. daily, weekly, monthly), day of week (if the frequency is weekly) or day of month (if sending monthly);
- Can generally segment your list (using search criteria) to send an email to only some of your subscribers (e.g. if you have premium content to send to paying subscribers);
- Many more templates to choose from;
- Generally excellent tech support (AWeber in particular has a terrific support team, NOT located in India, available by both email and a toll-free number);
- Not free – cost varies, but generally ranges from $20 monthly and up depending on the number of subscribers;
- Slightly more technical set up – not difficult, but a few more steps involved;
To be honest, I really love AWeber, but also use (on a non-profit environmental blog I manage) – and am very impressed with – iContact. Between the two of them, I think iContact has a much simpler, more user-friendly interface to work with – great for beginners and/or the less tech-savvy among us.
~ If you’re creating your newsletter using a WYSIWYG editor (or good old-fashioned HTML) be sure to include a plain-text alternative for those folks who block HTML in their email client;
~ Give your readers something that they will really find valuable so that they look forward to each issue – this will keep your unsubscribe rate low;
~ Don’t send a newsletter more often than weekly (unless it’s just a blog post summary or recap), BUT don’t hesitate to poll your readers to find out if they’d prefer a monthly newsletter (my preference? Monthly. As much as I’d like to be able to keep up more often, I have little spare time, and use my flight time for reading the newsletters I subscribe to);
If you need more specific technical help, feel free to post your question in our Forum – a few of our members are very technically adept and will no doubt offer some good advice!
** All information accurate as of the date of this post – and hopefully Google will update Feedburner with more features and flexibility soon!
Do you offer a newsletter? Share your advice!