How to Build, Distribute and Even Monetize your Ezine
Internet marketers repeat this as mantra: It’s all in the list. It’s all in the list.
You’ve heard that before, right? They’ve been saying it since the days of (snail)mail order. The list they refer to is your treasured ezine mailing list, the one to which you send your newsletter or latest posts every month.
Everyone is developing one these days. Just throw your content into a Mailchimp template, make it look pretty, put a sign-up box on your blog and voila, instant list.
Perhaps. But will that initial avalanche of subscribers be useful in any way? What happens after all your friends and family have signed up? Will your list perform and convert?
These days most bloggers either have or want to have an email list but many don’t quite know how to go about creating one – or aren’t even quite sure why they should have one in the first place. “Because I should” is rarely a good enough reason.
I started my list 67 ezine (newsletter, if you prefer) issues ago and it’s still going strong. I monetize my list, sell products through it, make friends with my subscribers, use it to research new content and gauge what my readers want. It has been growing steadily at an average of ten subscribers a week for… 67 months.
Here’s a step-by-step explanation of how I built my list, what I learned along the way, why it’s my single most important marketing tool, and how I think you can get the most out of your efforts.
1) Taking the very first step
Some people denigrate email, especially now that social media has taken over such a large part of our lives and email is suffering from spam and segmentation (like what Gmail recently did to us).
No, email isn’t perfect. Nor is it obsolete.
Here’s why email marketing – the art or science of selling via email – is alive and well:
- Email is still the most widespread ‘permission-based’ communication tool around. When someone gives you their email address they’re actually giving you permission to write to them and sell them things.
- Email is personal. You are writing directly to Dear Mildred or Mike. Even if your ezine is of the ‘Dear Subscriber’ kind, readers often press the Reply button and you get a conversation going. People tell me things in emails they’d never post on social media, so it’s far more intimate.
- Email is direct: no intermediaries, no platform, no inane comments. A direct communication from A to B. Simple, pure, direct.
- You can send short bursts when something important happens. You don’t always have to wait until your ezine comes out. You can alert your readers to a free book download day or a contest – something that benefits them and that they want to hear about (unlike your social media tribe).
- You can delve into topics in depth. You might touch upon something in a blog post but more detail might alienate casual visitors. Your ezine subscribers are loyal – they might want to know more.
- Despite the switch to social media, people still use email, especially in business. According to Compete PRO, email is the second most popular source of traffic when it comes to shopping. Only Search Engines beat it. According to iContact, 83% of all small or medium-sized business owners see email as a cornerstone of their marketing efforts. If you’re a blogger seeking to monetize, you are a small business.
Email is not only alive and kicking, but it’s thriving. Dismiss it at your peril. Are you convinced? Yes? Then you need to…
2) Decide why you want an ezine and establish your goals
This is an essential question because you need a content strategy. There are many reasons to build an ezine. Which one(s) is yours?
- Attract more readers to your site or blog
- Build a community and make friends
- Get to know your readers’ needs better
- Make money
- Look good
- ‘Just feel like it’…
There is no correct answer but each one influences your content differently. If you want to look good, you may spend a lot of time on the aesthetics of your ezine but maybe wouldn’t dream of sneaking in a sales message. If you’re monetizing, you might focus exclusively on products and sales rather than communication and conversation (although if you don’t converse, in my experience, you don’t sell as much).
My own goals are twofold and simple. First, I want to build relationships with my readers and second, I want to monetize. That tells me that 1) I will need good, trustworthy, attractive content to keep my readers happy, and 2) I will have to sell something.
Both of these goals require me to attract subscribers.
How do I get people to sign up, and to stay signed up? Once I’ve twisted the arms of all my friends and family, I’m going to have to figure out…
3) How to entice new subscribers
A common thought process might run something like this: Why should I subscribe to your ezine? My Inbox is crowded enough already. You’re just going to spam me. You want to send me your new posts? I can just read those on your blog or on feed.ly, right?
Common arguments, and sensible enough.
What if I gave you something you want or need and can’t really get any other way?
My ezine provides readers with two things.
First, I give readers exclusive content they can’t find anywhere else on my site or blog. In other words, I write about new things they, and only they, receive.
Second, and most important for me, I give them an incentive. In my case it’s a printable packing list but it can be anything relevant to your readers’ needs – a white paper, a report, anything at all. Just keep it relevant to your readers. A great example is Gary Arndt’s free color photography book.
I’ve seen the idea of an incentive denigrated as tasteless or pushy. Perhaps. But I have my numbers, and incentives probably account for 80-90% of my new subscriber sign-ups. Even if someone signs up just to get the packing list, they often stay because they like what they discover.
You don’t need to do it this way. Some ezines don’t offer any incentive at all and do well. It’s up to you to try different things and find what works for you. I just believe that however well you’re doing, a good incentive will bump up your subscriptions.
Now back to the incentive. There are three basic ways to get an incentive: you borrow one, buy one, or create one.
In my early ezine days, I found a report on travel writing written by Australian writer Helen Leggett. I asked for her permission to disseminate it and as I didn’t have my own product, hers worked beautifully for me for years.
Eventually I created my own incentive, and that printable packing list has been delivering new subscribers to my Inbox for over four years (come to think of it, it’s probably due for a refresh). You may already have something to give away – a report is great, but so is access to a private training session, or membership site, or special question-and-answer session just with you, the expert.
If you can afford it you can always buy something or pay someone to write/design it for you. You may have a specific product you want to offer your readers for free – an app, for example, or a branded money belt or whatever. Any of these is a great sign-up gift.
Whether you choose to borrow, create or buy an incentive, make it relevant, make it unique, and make it desirable.
A report on how to sell real estate in Florida won’t make your backpacking readers feel warm and fuzzy.
Once you’re clear about your goals and motivation and you’ve identified an incentive to help attract readers, it’s time to…
4) Build your ezine
What should you include?
Here are just a few possibilities – I’m sure you can think of a dozen more:
- An unpublished blog post
- An inspirational story
- Guest posts or – yikes – sponsored posts
- Tips and advice
- A collection of your latest posts or someone else’s
- A personal update about where you’re going…
It’s up to you.
My ezine has several sections, including my own new and exclusive content, links to new posts or pages on my site, links out to other blog posts of interest, book reviews, a cause of the month… It just keeps getting longer.
No topic in mind? Whatever you think of Google, you can put their ‘related searches’ at the bottom of the page to good use.
A few things you must have in your ezine:
a) A link back to your blog or site, even if it’s a small link at the bottom. You don’t want to miss out on all that traffic, do you?
b) The ability to share your ezine on social media.
c) Ask your readers to Tell a Friend (this can be a simple email link) if they’ve enjoyed reading you. Many of my new subscribers are referrals from others.
What matters is providing something your readers will look forward to and will want to share with their own friends. Speaking of which…
5) How often should you send out your ezine?
Do not underestimate the amount of work involved if you want to develop something original. I’ve seen many ezines start as weeklies, fall into a bimonthy pattern, only to slide to a rattling halt as a sort-of-monthly-when-I-have-time frequency. That’s not professional, and your readers will notice the irregularity. So think hard about the amount of work you’re willing to put into it.
Ask yourself: how often would you like to receive this ezine?
I’ve been running my ezine for 67 months so I’m used to the format and could almost do it in my sleep. It still takes me at least 12 hours a month to prepare it it.
I’ll soon be switching my frequency to twice a month – but I’m cutting the content as a compromise.
If you’re not sure, start with a monthly. You can always increase the frequency – and that looks a lot better than decreasing it because you have too much work.
6) What should it look like?
This is where you can let your creativity take over. Just don’t be fooled into thinking that design is the most important factor. Certainly your readers will appreciate a lovely design – but they don’t know that when they subscribe.
My ezine is plain, no frills, no photos, and utterly boring visually but that hasn’t stopped readers from subscribing or sticking with me.
Either they’re too lazy to cancel, or they actually like what they read and don’t care about how it looks. That said, even I’m bored with the look so it’s getting a remake. Who knows – my subscriptions might triple as a result!
Designing your newsletter is as easy or as hard as you make it. If you are a code magician, go right ahead and create the look by using your own HTML and CSS from scratch.
Most of us, however, will go the easy route and adapt one of the many templates provided free of charge by autoresponder services like AWeber, Mailchimp or Get Response (the templates are free once you sign up to one of the services).
Before you set your heart on a template though, make sure you decide…
7) Which autoresponder to use?
The three I mentioned are the most popular and easiest to use, but there are others.
Many travel bloggers use Mailchimp because it’s simple and has great templates but also because it’s free up to 2,000 subscribers a month. AWeber has a $1/month almost-free trial, and you might pick up a special elsewhere.
Beware the freebie though: once your list grows, your payments will too. If you do everything correctly, there’s no reason for your list not to skyrocket so calculate that cost too before you make your decision. You can always switch services later but it’s complicated and you’ll lose readers along the way.
I’m in the process of switching from another service to AWeber and it’s something I wish I didn’t have to do.
You’ll need to set up a few things before you’re good to go:
- The ezine template (and don’t forget the unsubscribe button!)
- The ezine itself – the content (and if I were you I’d prepare a couple in advance)
- The Thank You page (which readers get as soon as they subscribe) – this may be where you provide a link to download your incentive
- The Welcome page (which does exactly what it says: welcomes your new subscriber, and tells him/her what they’re getting, how often, and why)
Before you send out your first issue, make sure you test it with friends and on every browser and platform. You don’t want any last-minute surprises.
Every single item will have to be ready before you launch your ezine because your next step is…
8) How to get the sign-up
Everything is ready: bring on the wild hordes!
All autoresponders provide sign-up boxes you can place on your blog or site. You’ll need these to build your list because that’s how you capture email addresses.
Where do you put the boxes?
My advice is: everywhere you can. Here’s where I place mine:
- On every page, above the fold, on both my website and my blog.
- My site’s homepage has three sign-up boxes, surrounded by genuine testimonials from happy readers.
- I have a landing page dedicated to ‘selling’ my ezine that tells readers what they’re going to get – and what they won’t get – if they subscribe.
- I also include my landing page link in my email signature. Why miss an opportunity to gain a subscriber?
- I have a tab to my (soon-to-be-revamped) landing page on my Facebook page.
Whenever you can, link to your landing page. Capture that email address before the reader happily clicks away from your blog or site.
Once your sign-up boxes are up, you’ll start gathering emails (this is done automatically within your autoresponder) and you’ll have to take the leap.
You may have to do a bit of tweaking the first few issues but once you’re satisfied with your ezine, your list is growing and your readers seem happy, you may start wondering…
9) But how do I make money?
It won’t be immediate. And you may not become filthy rich (I didn’t). But if you build your ezine carefully you’ll be attracting a growing readership which will earn you money, possibly very decent money, in a number of ways.
- Advertising. You can sell ads, just as you would on your blog. If you have a high circulation, advertisers will come knocking. You can charge per issue, which will increase your revenue significantly.
- Sponsorship. You can find a sponsor for a single issue or a series of issues. One may come along uninvited, but you’ll most likely have to go find one. The higher your readership, the easier this will be.
- Affiliate sales. Of course! I make decent money selling other people’s products, especially books. I look actively for good affiliate programs and sign up when I think the product they sell may be of interest to my readers. For example, I do very well with two books by fellow bloggers on distinct areas of travel – because they are extremely relevant to my readership.
- Product sales. I sell my own book in every single issue and if I write another or if I develop a new product, my ezine will undoubtedly be at the heart of my sales strategy.
You can sell pretty much anything relevant through a good ezine with a loyal following. What sells best is what your readers need the most.
After your ezine has been growing for a while, consider surveying your readers to find out what they want. I’m developing several information products I hope will sell well because I’ve asked my readers to tell me what they want (although you never know and I’ve been unpleasantly surprised before).
A survey has the added advantage of providing you with a snapshot of who your readers are. You might be surprised. I was.
My ezine helps me connect with my readers in a more intimate way than I can through blog comments or even on social media. Some readers have followed me for years, and some I’ve actually met and they have become friends, a community of sorts or, as it’s popular to call them now, a tribe. This is a crucial component of online marketing success.
If I have things to sell, my ezine is where I do it. I provide great content to my readers, as well as the opportunity to purchase things I personally recommend. They trust my recommendations because I don’t lie to them or sell them things I haven’t tried. It’s a win-win.
One last stat: when it comes to advertising and affiliate sales, I earn at least twice as much from my ezine as I do from my website and blog. If you’re good at business (I am not), you could probably earn much more.
It’s all in the list.
Leyla Giray Alyanak is a former foreign correspondent with a passion for travel and improving people’s lives in developing countries. At 43 she made a major decision to reinvent herself and travel the world solo for six months. She was gone more than three years. Leyla now works for an international development agency in Geneva and she blogs at Women on the Road.
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