How your email newsletter drives paid subscription revenue

Step Two of the Subscription Accelerator™ Framework

Is your email newsletter your #2 source of subscription revenue?

Today we will cover the importance of your email newsletter. It is the number two step in the Subscription Accelerator™ framework. 

Please note this is a lightly edited transcript from the following video:

Opportunities

The first thing I want to talk about are the opportunities of your email newsletter. If you look at the research, you’ll see the data shows that for every email address that you add to your newsletter, you’ll have a 10X better chance of that person pays for a subscription. 

Now, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a farming approach where your newsletter is sent over time, drives readers back to your website articles, which triggers subscription messages from your paywall. Your newsletter keeps these casual readers interested in your content. When they have seen multiple subscription messages over weeks and months, the chances of finally paying for access steadily increases.

Email is the number one direct marketing tool in the digital world. Almost everyone has it. it’s more powerful than social media, it’s more powerful than any other digital sales tool, and you get to own your email list.

You can also get advertisers to pay to be associated with your publication and the bigger your list grows, the more sponsors you attract. And the larger your list, the more you can charge for sponsorships.

Will my traffic drop with a paywall? 

Generally, with metered paywalls, as long as you’re metering at least one article per month to the public Google will index and rank all your content. Any single article can also be shared in social media to thousands of different readers. It’s only when the individual reader starts to comb through your content that the meter counts article views and then pops a subscription message and says, “Hey, you have to pay for full access.”

Your newsletter should be sending people back regularly to your website articles and, in the long term, that drives visitor traffic. Since you are limiting casual visitors’ views, in the beginning of your paywall implementation, you may see visitor traffic drop. Once your email list grows enough to compensate for the loss of casual page views, your pageviews will start accelerating with your more engaged readers. 

Many publishers we work with that are doing a good job promoting their content, and then start up a free registration, tend to see an email acquisition rate increase of 20% per month. That creates significant email list growth of your best future subscribers.

Your paid newsletter

There are opportunities for your newsletter as a paid product. 

A premium newsletter can be different things. It can be time based. iPolitics in Canada, a political news publisher, sells a premium access newsletter along with a subscription. If you pay you get their Morning Brief early in the morning. Free newsletter subscribers get the newsletter later in the day. That’s a pretty big benefit. Time is very important to us, especially when it comes to news. 

The other premium newsletter benefit is a full text email. When we were working with iPolitics, one of the comments that they made was that as people are getting ready in the morning, they want to get an email that has all their article text in it so they wouldn’t have to click and login anywhere. Free newsletter subscribers only get excerpts of the articles.

If you’re a news publisher, one of the things that’s becoming clear is breaking news is alos a valuable subscription tool for you. Covering breaking news is a tipping point for a paid subscriber.

Magazine newsletter design approach

Take a look at smallboatsmonthly.com, which is doing a great job with their newsletters and paid subscriptions. They have started two in-between emails along with their monthly magazine issues. They have beautiful photos and they only have two or three related articles from the archives. So as an example (see below), their topic is Georgian Bay and they have two archive articles about it. Simple and effective.

So this gives Small Boats the room for nice pictures, more excerpt text, and a button to continue reading. They send people back to their site to use up the reader’s free articles, and trigger the subscription messages.

Their newsletter also has a dedicated area below the articles that promotes subscriptions. You get more details in terms of what you get with the subscription and the big subscribe button (long text buttons outperform standard links).

At the very bottom, Small Boats has their sponsors promoted. 

This is great for publishers that publish less frequently. You get to highlight your archive, and remind people that you exist. This allows you to remain top of mind more frequently. You don’t have to create all new content. You can repurpose existing content and keep your subscribers happy by providing easy extra value.

Your news email design

What should your local, regional, or industry newsletter look like? The short answer is you should send the titles and excerpts of your articles to your readership. That’s it. 

The idea is for readers to click on the article links in your newsletter and go back to your website and use up any free articles they have remaining to trigger the prompt to pay for full access. 

Another question that we get is, should I use images in the newsletter? There’s debate over whether to use images or not. Again, simplistically, if you are a magazine publisher, like Small Boats magazine, yes absolutely. Beautiful images are part of your brand. 

If you’re a news publisher, I would argue to not worry too much about including images. My favorite newsletters are ones that come in and I can scan very quickly and I don’t get interrupted. Quartz does a good job with that. Even the New York Times just publishes the headlines with a small excerpt, and they sprinkle some images in only for their longer-form content.

Share other published news

You produce your own news, but there’s a lot of news happening on social and listservs, and forums, Facebook groups, college blogs, there’s a lot out there.  Our local Daybreak newsletter is taking what they think is the most important news and assembling it into one daily summary of what’s going on in the area. Daybreak.news is a startup just over a year old and they already surpassed 10,000 subscribers in a lower population area.

Your email subject line

The subject line is critical, especially if it’s an email that goes out every day because you want to entice people to open it. A good way to write them is to add some highlights of what’s in the newsletter so that you can draw readers in. You don’t want to have the same exact subject line every single time. Putting your brand at the beginning, so people know what it is, and then a couple of key topics that are covered in that particular email is a good way to handle the subject line.

Example: If I were to write like a morning brief for our little town of Grantham, New Hampshire, I’d probably title it “Grantham Star: School board meeting and soccer finals”. This lets you know who it’s from and what’s coming in that newsletter… it’s the teaser to keep reading. 

Track your newsletter’s performance with UTM codes

What is a UTM code? UTM code is link from your newsletter to an article on your website and it has tracking information in it. The way it works is if somebody clicks a link to your article to go to your website, Google analytics can see that this click came from a specific link in your newsletter. You can then see exactly how your newsletter is performing. If you have multiple subscribe links and buttons, you can see which ones are performing the best.

You can also automate UTMs if you use something like Mailchimp. If you’re using a different service that doesn’t have the auto tracking enabled you can create your UTM codes here. And don’t forget to put the UTM codes on the images if they are clickable to the article (which they should be).

Promote your subscribe link

Your newsletters get passed around to friends. Make sure you have a subscribe link somewhere near the bottom. Oftentimes email newsletters are viral. So I might get one and I’ll send it to a friend and say, “Oh, hey you got to read this article.” My friend might not be a subscriber.

Should I automate the creation of my newsletter?

Most publishers are manually creating and sending their newsletters. Some, however, are automating their news through something called RSS-to-email. Mailchimp does this really well. If you’re strapped for time and you just want to set it and forget it and have something go out then RSS-to-email is your ticket. 

So what is RSS to email actually? Mailchimp (as an example) scans your website every day and looks for new articles on the site. If it sees new articles through RSS, it actually pulls the text and images into your email template. You then schedule your send times/dates. Ex: you might “send your newsletter at 7:00 AM every day.”

If you’re a magazine publisher and you’re going to be picky about your brand and imagery, then build your newsletter by hand and push those newsletters out manually. 

If you’re a news publisher, I think that’s your best use case for RSS-to-email, because now you can set a format that’s really simple (titles and excerpts) and get it out automatically. 

It saves you a ton of work and you can update the template anytime to manage sponsors and other updates.

Grow your paid subscriptions

If this was helpful and you are interested in learning more about growing paid subscriptions for your publication, grab our free Subscription Accelerator™ guide here.

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