Email Newsletters

Digital Marketing Tutorial

Historically, publishing an Email Newsletter (e-Newsletter) was perhaps the single best use of this medium to help retain and stay in touch with your current members/customers, and to eventually convert first-time Web site visitors to “members” (i.e. become, at a minimum, email newsletter recipients).

While it still might be a very good use of email, I do not think email newsletters are the best use of a (very) small business Web site owner’s time, especially with the alternatives now available in the Web 2.0 world. Why? Read on!

What is a TRADITIONAL Email Newsletter?

A traditional email newsletter is a regularly scheduled, consistently formatted (predictable, easy-to-follow format (text-only, HTML or both)), short (2 screens at most) update on the topic(s) covered on your Web site that your site visitors have opted into receiving.

Typically, the email newsletter will have a headline followed by 3-5 “bulleted” topics listed in the order that they are covered in the email, followed by a brief (2-3 sentences) description of each topic including a hyperlink back to the full “story” on your Web site.

Most email newsletters that have a sizable readership (5,000 or more readers) can also get companies to sponsor (advertise in) each edition. A typical ad consists of 5 lines of text (usually 60 characters wide, including spaces) that includes one hyperlink back to the advertiser’s Web site home page or to a special page deeper in the Web site.

The Problem with Email Newsletters

The basic logic for publishing an email newsletter still makes sense, but the delivery mechanism is becoming less and less attractive, especially for the publisher (especially the very small business Web site owner).

First, the process of publishing an email newsletter on a consistent basis is very time consuming. It takes a very disciplined individual to perform this task.

Even though there are a number of online email newsletter services that make the management of the process much easier these days (handling the sign-up including adding the email addresses to the outgoing email list as well as the actual production and distribution of the newsletter – Constant Contact is one of my favorites), it still comes down to generating interesting content on your Web site and turning that content into an even more interesting email newsletter on a very consistent basis.

Email newsletters that still make sense to me are those where the recipients pay an annual fee (subscription) to receive the newsletter. The newsletter contains information that ONLY subscribers will receive (information not also published on a public Web site open to all Web surfers). Also, as mentioned above, those email newsletters that have a large enough readership (5,000 or more subscribers) to attract companies that will pay to sponsor the newsletter.

A Better Alternative for Very Small Businesses – and Why

Blogging Combined with RSS Feeds and Email Alerts

First, I am convinced that a MORE EFFECTIVE use of a (very) small business owner’s time when it comes to working on/with their business Web site is to eliminate efforts like creating and sending a formal email newsletter and BEGIN BLOGGING!

Why Blog?

As every (very) small business owner knows, there are only so many hours in the day. Because of this, you end up with precious few hours left to perform one of the most important Digital Marketing tasks in a successful online marketing effort – adding relevant content to your Web site that will help your Web site visitors become Prospects and then Customers. And this RELEVANT content helps small business owners in another equally important way – it ATTRACTS more Web site visitors to your site who are searching for answers to questions your content helps answer!

To help simplify this process, a (very) small business owner only needs to keep one thought in mind when it comes to his/her Web site: Is my Web site providing the most helpful, most relevant answers to the questions my potential Customers are asking when they search on Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. for my product or service? Remember, your prospects are using search engines to answer a question and/or solve a problem. So for your Web site to be found in that process, it MUST provide the most relevant answers to the questions being asked.

So what’s the most efficient way for a very small business owner to create that content and get it on his/her Web site? Blogging!

Blogging is easy, blogging is fast and blog content gets found, indexed and categorized by search engines just like standard Web site content. I am not going to get into the details of blogging here – for that, please click on the following link to visit my Digital Marketing Tutorial Blogs/Blogging Web page.

Blogging allows a small business owner to quickly add content to his/her Web site via a Web browser and a user name/password. Blogging also allows potential Customers to add their comments to this content. Comments must be monitored for offensive or inappropriate content, but that again is an easy task. The benefits of having a dialogue with potential Customers has many advantages to the Web site owner including the ability to better understand one’s potential Customers AND having someone other than the site owner contributing relevant content to the Web site.

RSS Feeds and Email Alerts

So now you have new, relevant content added to your Web site, but how do you let existing Customers and Prospects know about it? And as importantly, how do you get first-time site visitors to return to your site to (hopefully) become Prospects and then Customers?

Regardless of how the new content was generated, this is the point where a site owner traditionally turns to the classic email newsletter format, and here’s where the second benefit if blogging comes in, RSS feeds with the recent addition of email alerts.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Here’s how Wikipedia defines an RSS feed:

“RSS (abbreviation for Really Simple Syndication) is a family of Web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works—such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video—in a standardized format. An RSS document (which is called a “feed”, “web feed”, or “channel”) includes full or summarized text, plus metadata such as publishing dates and authorship. Web feeds benefit publishers (Dave’s comment: “publishers” are the same as small business Web site owners) by letting them syndicate content automatically. They benefit readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favored websites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place.”

The standard method used to receive and read RSS feeds is to have an RSS reader on your computer and to subscribe to multiple RSS feeds via that reader. This means that Customers still must proactively open their RSS reader, scan thru the feed updates, find yours and open it. In my opinion, this multi-step process has always limited the usefulness of RSS feeds from a Web site owner perspective.

Recently (at least I think it’s recent!) a new twist has been added to the RSS feed process – the ability to sign-up to receive an email alert when a new post has been added to a blog with a direct link to that new post in the email.

Blogs, RSS feeds, email alerts – it all sounds MUCH more complicated than it really is! For blogging, I suggest you start by looking into using WordPress (free product and/or service) and for RSS Feeds/email alerts, I suggest you use FeedBurner (free service). I use WordPress to publish my Digital Marketing Tutorial Blog and FeedBurner to (automatically) produce that blog’s RSS Feeds and email alerts whenever I post (add content) to that blog.

If you are a (very) small business owner, I urge you to check out this alternative to producing a traditional email newsletter – I think you’ll be glad you did!

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