3. Know Thyself
Just as important as knowing your reader is to know yourself. Publishing a regular newsletter is a time-intensive process, and many people underestimate the time required to create a first-rate publication. Things get easier once you've developed a rhythm, and have created templates for recurring information or shortcuts for using your publishing tools.
Be sensitive to the risk of burnout. In the first few weeks or months of producing your newsletter, the euphoria of creating something new, and the satisfaction of seeing your subscriber list grow, makes burnout seem like a remote possibility. But after time, the necessary rote repetition of certain housekeeping tasks, as well as the discipline required to produce the newsletter on a regular schedule, will start to wear on you. If you sense burnout coming on, don't fight it-scale back for a while until your normal enthusiasm returns. Publishing a newsletter is a marathon, not a sprint, and you need to learn to pace yourself accordingly.
4. Create Content, Not Advertising
All too often, companies offer "newsletters" that are nothing more than come-ons to visit the corporate Web site. In the days when banner advertising provided a meaningful revenue stream, this strategy made sense: Get the reader to click through so that an ad impression could be served. Newsletters using this "click here for more" approach work to draw traffic to a site in much the same way as a search engine does. But readers have become more sophisticated, and want more.
"Search engines are important ways to get people to your site initially," says Danny Sullivan, editor of the Search Engine Watch Newsletter. "Once they come, you want to ensure they return. An excellent way to do this is via a newsletter. However, if you don't offer decent content in your newsletter, it will become nothing but an annoying promotional email."
Obligatory disclosure: I work for Search Engine Watch, so I'm about as far from unbiased as you can get about the publication. But it's no accident that Sullivan's newsletter reaches more than 170,000 subscribers, thousands of whom also pay an annual premium for a members-only version. Though Search Engine Watch carries ads, it's the content that draws-and keeps-readers.
Sullivan thinks that all too often, companies make the mistake of creating "newsletters" that are nothing more than thinly veiled marketing messages with no meaningful content. "For instance, today I got my regular email from one of the airlines I've flown with. I've been getting this thing for months now, since I registered my frequent flyer account with them online. It never provides me with any useful information-no tips on flying, no decent travel-related news, nothing but a few promotions that I'm never interested in.
"Finally, I'd had enough and unsubscribed. Now this airline no longer has the ability to reach out to me. Had they put just a little more thought and effort into their newsletter, they might have kept that channel open," says Sullivan.
5. Promote, Promote, and Promote Some More!
"It was harder than expected to generate a lot of new signups for our newsletters," says Traffick's Goodman. "We do get a steady flow of them, mainly from our Web site, but at a certain point we had to take more direct action to find subscribers. Most publishers won't be satisfied by the trickle of signups they get."
How do you promote your newsletter? Beyond the obligatory but very viral "please forward this newsletter to a friend" message that should be a part of every issue, one of the best and least expensive ways to promote your newsletter is to use the Web. Submit details of your newsletter to specialized directories like EZine Universe and BestEzines.com. Consider writing guest articles for magazines and Web sites in related subject areas-and include a link to your signup page.
Perhaps the most powerful means of promoting your newsletter on the Web is to publish an online version that includes a Rich Site Summary (RSS) of the contents. Creating RSS data is a simple way to get headlines from your newsletter included with newsfeed providers such as Moreover. When your headlines are picked up by these services, they are automatically served to the hundreds or even thousands of Web sites that offer "news" to their readers.
"RSS is very important for a newsletter like mine, because of the wide variety of subjects I cover," says Tara Calishain, editor of Research Buzz. "If I covered swimming pools, then RSS wouldn't be as necessary, because I'd know my audience and my audience, eventually, would know me. But in one of my newsletters, I might cover a golf resource, a newspaper resource, and a medical resource. Moreover can take those headlines and drop them into the appropriate categories, reaching people that I'd have no way of reaching otherwise (well, not without a lot of expense and effort.) People reading RSS headlines (using AmphetaDesk or whatever) can skim my headlines and jump immediately to the articles that interest them."
And, if they like what they read, they will subscribe to your newsletter with the convenient link you provide at the end of each article.