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How I Use Email Newsletters to Drive Traffic and Make Money

Yesterday I shared 6 reasons that I find email newsletters to be a more effective way of driving traffic to and making money from blogs than RSS.

Today I want to show you exactly how I do it.

Firstly a word about technology – I use Aweber to deliver my emails (I talk about why here). However you can use pretty much any email newsletter service (many also choose and highly recommend MailChimp) for the process I outline below as long as it allows you to set up an auto-responder or sequence of emails.

I should also say that the process I’m about to share has evolved over time. It started out very very simple and has slowly developed with time – in fact it continues to develop as I learn more and by no means is where I want to take it…. yet.

Lets start with a visual on how my process looks (click to enlarge) before I explain the elements:

Screen shot 2009-10-29 at 1.24.14 PM.png

Reader Subscribes

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Because email newsletters are such an important part of my site I put a lot of emphasis upon getting this conversion moment with those who come to my site. There are a variety of places around the blog where I attempt to get readers to sign up – some are more subtle than others. Some are anything but subtle including a popup signup box that readers see 20-30 seconds after they arrive on the blog.

The pop-up is set to only show once per visitor (unless they’re blocking cookies) and while it is intrusive and I was very hesitant about adding it – it’s incredibly effective at getting readers to signup.

I switched to using this Pop-Up signup technique just on a year ago and at the time wrote up how it took me from getting 40 confirmed signups a day to 350 over night here. Since that time subscriber numbers have continued to climb – I now get around 500 new confirmed subscribers a day. This adds up to around 180,000 a year which is exciting growth. It does annoy a handful of readers (I get an email or two per month) but for the payoff it’s something I’ve decided to continue with.

Welcome Email

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When someone signs up and then confirms their subscription by clicking a link in an email they’re then sent (double opt in is required by law) the new subscriber is immediately sent a welcome email. This email is all about making them feel good about subscribing and giving them a quick introduction to the site.

I’m presuming that most people who sign up for the newsletter are new to the site so it’s a great opportunity to introduce myself, show them around and help get their expectations right about the site.

This welcome email has a site logo, my picture, some links to key parts of the site like the forum, some suggested reading for catching up on key posts in our archives (I send them to a few ‘sneeze pages‘ that send them deep within the archives and get them viewing multiple pages) and shares what the subscriber will receive in the coming weeks in terms of future emails.

The email also asks people to add the email address that emails are sent from to their white list/contact list to help ensure emails are delivered.

It’s written in a personal and friendly style and seems to connect as I get a lot of replies to this email from new subscribers thanking me for the personal welcome.

Weekly Updates

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As you’ll see from the chart above – weekly updates are what readers get the most. They’re largely updates on what has happened on the blog/forums in the past week.

You can see one of my more recent ones here (although it loses some of the formatting in the web version) where you can see that these emails have a bit of a structure. I usually have the following sections in these weekly updates:

  • Welcome: usually just a sentence that intros the week. If there’s something important I’ll often highlight it here. Sometimes I’ll also do a quick update on something cool that happened on the site during the week (record day of traffic, milestone in terms of subscribers, a mention in the press – this kind of update seems to build morale/momentum among readers)
  • Quick Links: here I share the weekly assignment, any discussion oriented posts/polls, any competition announcements and occasionally a ‘featured post’ that I want to especially push traffic to etc
  • Tips Tutorials and Techniques: new blog posts of a more general nature
  • Recommended Resource: in this case it’s an affiliate promotion (a great product) but occasionally I swap this section to be a ‘message from our sponsors’ and have it as a sold ad position.
  • Post Production Tips: updates from this section/category of the blog
  • New Gear, Tips and Reviews: again, updates from this section of the blog
  • Hot Forum Threads: a bit of a summary of key threads happening in the forum
  • Reader Images: Being a photography site visuals are important and the images get clicked on a lot. They also give readers some incentive to post images in the forums as they could get featured in this newsletter that goes out to over 200,000 people..

I do mix things up a bit. Some weeks I’ll run a little promotion of our Twitter of Facebook accounts, other weeks I might throw in some older posts form the archives that people may not have seen and sometimes I’ll run a promotion encouraging readers to forward the email onto a friend. Really anything can go in these emails as long as they’re on topic and useful

The main goals of these weekly updates are to:

  • Drive traffic to the site
  • Build Community, reinforce brand with readers
  • Make money through the promotions

Readers love these newsletters because while they’re largely links to the site the links are all content rich and useful resources. I title these emails ‘Photography Tips for Your Weekend’ and that’s how many of our readers use them – as a spring board into their weekend with their cameras.

Note: these emails are manually put together. They take me an hour or two a week to do. There are tools that will send out automated update emails (Aweber has one) but I prefer to do it manually to ensure that the emails are tailored for maximum impact and usefulness.

Themed Updates

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I’ve written about this concept once before here on ProBlogger in a post titled How 24 Hours of Work Will Send Millions of Readers to My Blog.

The idea really came about when I realised that the majority of my blogs thousands of pages of content was going largely unseen by new readers to my blog. While I would occasionally link back to key posts most of my archives don’t get a lot of traffic.

These ‘themed updates’ are all about sending readers back to old but useful content around a single theme. Here’s how they work.

I use the ‘auto responder‘ or ‘followup’ feature of Aweber to set up these emails (Mailchimp also has an auto responder service). This means that they go out at pre-determined intervals to readers a certain number of days after their last scheduled email.

The first email in the sequence is the ‘welcome email’ that I mentioned above. 8 Days after that email goes out the subscriber receives the first ‘themed’ email. The topic is ‘portraits’ and is a newsletter that contains a short intro to the topic and then some links back to some of our most useful portrait photography tips. It also has a few recommendations of good books on portraiture (with affiliate links).

30 days after this portraits email they get another themed email (remember they’re getting weekly updates in between). This email is about ‘exposure’ (pictured right – click to enlarge) and contains links to some of our best posts on subjects like Aperture, Shutter Speed etc. It also contains a couple of recommendations to good books on the topic (with affiliate links to Amazon).

30 days later they get an email on composition (same format as above with links to archive posts and books). 30 days later they get another themed email.

The main goals of these themed updates are to:

  • Drive traffic to the site – particularly older posts
  • Make money through the affiliate links – while they’re not big ticket items they do convert

These emails do take some time to set up but once they’re set up they become automated and go out every day without me ever having to think about them. With 500 people signing up for my newsletter every day I know that 500 people are getting each of these emails on a daily basis. I have 6 of these emails set up in a sequence at present and add more to the list every now and again so I know 3000 people in total get them each day of the week – forever.

Promotions

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Screen shot 2009-10-29 at 3.05.59 PM.pngThis is the most recent addition to my sequence of emails and I’m still perfecting their use but the signs are very promising already.

I use the auto-responder sequence mentioned above to deliver these (they’re going to go out every month or two) and the content of these emails is to highlight a resource or product that I recommend to readers.

The products are affiliate products that I take a commission from any sale of. We disclose that relationship in the email and get a lot of positive feedback on the disclosure from readers.

The key with these promotional emails is to choose products that you genuinely recommend. The reason for this is that at any point subscribers can leave your list – if you push too hard or recommend dodgy products they can leave (with a bade taste in their mouth).

It can be hard to find quality products – I’ve found there to be a lot of junky products in my niche for example – but when I recently found a product that I believed in (123 digital imaging) I knew I had my first product to add to the sequence.

I only sent this first promotion email 17 days ago so it’s yet to go out to everyone on the list but it’s generated 500 or so sales and will continue to sell as long as the product is on the market as it goes to another 500 people every day. In many ways it’s become a nice little passive income with a few sales every day being generated.

When we release our first ebook in the coming weeks it will also be added to the sequence of emails in a similar way.

The main goals of these promotional updates are to:

  • Make money through the affiliate links – the money these earn starts with a bang when you send it out to the bulk of your list on the first day but after that it becomes a steady trickle. The cool thing about it is that once you have a few of these set up in your sequence you can be having a number of affiliate promotions paying off each day.

Summing Up

All in all I find that the above mix of emails that we send out to our list gets very positive results. I work hard to keep them a ‘win/win’ for both our readers to get useful and relevant information but for me/the site to generate income. So far I think I’ve got the balance right – I regularly get emails from readers saying thanks for the newsletter and if I’m even an hour or two late sending it get people emailing to ask where it is. On a revenue front it’s increasingly profitable – between the sales of products and the ad revenue increases from the increased traffic it certainly has become a central part of my income stream to have this email list.

With the cycle as it is readers do occasionally get 2 emails in a week – however it’s never more than that and on most weeks it is just the one weekly email. I make it clear when they signup that it’s at least weekly to get this expectation right as I don’t want them feeling duped into signing up.

I also use Aweber’s scheduling feature for the auto responder emails which allows you to specify what days of the week they can go out. I schedule the sequenced emails (the themed and promotional ones) so that they never go out on a Thursday or Friday (the same day as the weekly ones).

Lastly I generally focus my efforts with this list on HTML emails. Aweber does give you the ability to send out a text email as well for those subscribers whose email system doesn’t allow HTML. For the text version I usually just send out a short email that links to a HTML version of the email. I did use to send out a full plain text email for these people but found that when I switched to a shorter email linking to the HTML version that most readers clicked through and appreciated seeing the images (this might be particular to my niche).

So that’s how I’ve set up my email newsletters on DPS. It takes a fair bit of work to get some of it set up but as I mentioned in yesterdays post – the pay off has been great and continues to grow as we recruit new subscribers to the list.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Comments
  1. This is really fantastic information. I’ll be sure to share with my audience which consists mainly of small business and entrepreneurs that are looking to do their own marketing, PR and emails. I think there are so many confusions with email newsletters and this is a great way to answer some big questions.

    John Sternal
    @sternalpr

  2. I love the theme updated – thanks for sharing that advice.

    I’ve recently stopped my pop-over box and installed the Ultimate Footer Ad pop-up.

    I’m currently checking the stats and seeing if there is any difference. I’ll know in a few weeks.

    Andrew

  3. Cheers man! I love your post.. I too offer newsletter on my site… it benefits me a lot..

  4. Hey Darren,

    Great post, have you ever done split testing on your newsletters to see what gives better results.. Would LOVE to chat to you one day about your newsletters, if you ever get a free chance :)

    Matt

  5. Darren – This post alone is a prime example of why I read your blog every single day. What a huge source of information in this one post on how to run email successfully with a blog. Thank you so much.

  6. Thank you so much for posting this. This is such a well detailed post and you’ve given some really simple applicable tips for all of us. For the last several months I’ve obsesed over my RSS counts and didn’t even realize how much more money I could drive by focusing my efforts on my email newsletter. I have neglected a bit to focus more on my blog, but your posts this week have inspired me to work on my strategy.

  7. I love having this information, but there’s just no way my blog is ready for this. I mean, I have 24 subscribers right now! I’m not even a premier expert in my field yet. It will take time.

    Still, it’s great information and I appreciate it. I can build on it in the future.

  8. Aweber has a lot of advanced features, but if you’re interested in avoiding their higher cost FeedmailPro.com works quite well also. It allows you to do special promotions and emails which aren’t related to a particular blog post.

    Brian

  9. Thanks for introducing your newsletter-routine to us. I was planning to start a newsletter soon and found your advice very useful – as always.

    One question that came to mind is, how you go about digging out promotional products. In my section (food) I often find interesting shops and products I’d like to introduce to my readers but they aren’t associated to any affiliate programm nor have their own. What to do? Could it be worthwile to start one’s own food-affiliate network among the site users (many of them producers or sellers)?

    In case you’ve covered this topic before, I’d aprecciate a short notice (@multikulinaria) linking me there. Thank you!

  10. Thank you Darren for a wonderful share! My subscription to your blog is definitely one of the most valuable to me. Your content always seems so “on target” to the questions that are swirling in my mind.

    Cheers,

    Grant

  11. Hey Darren,

    By providing irresistible, valuable, and free content in the most private digital setting for a reader (their email inbox), you establish the strongest, most personal connection with them.

    And by promoting products in a way that’s not “selling” so much as recommending–like you would to a friend–you gain trust – and sales.

    It’s all about giving 10x as much as you take, providing insanely remarkable value, and genuinely marketing (no-hype and completely option) products that effectively solves people’s problems.

    Thanks for sharing how you effectively use email to drive traffic and make money. Very useful and informative, and this article also acts as a kick-in-the-butt to get me to ramp up my email newsletter :)

    Best,
    Oleg

  12. Thank you for the great tips Darren.

    From what I observe, most of the bloggers out there simply use the newsletter software to send latest blog post.

    However, it should be used to help us to promote our blog further for example by showing the best elements or posts of our blog in the welcome page and have the capability which let our subscribers to promote to their friend.

    Bloggers should also use it to promote their product and communicate to to the subscribers more often as compared to those who are not subscribing.

    Through this, our subscribers will feel closer to our site and this will bring great reputation to us and our site.

  13. Nice post, Darren
    Yes, Emails are a great way to build relationships and loyalty.
    It is one of the most effective channel to generate conversions, it can be targeted and allows active communication with readers building trust.

  14. Everyone raves about Aweber! Emails still rule and to prevent the time-intensive manual process, an email service is a must-have.

  15. Wow, I honestly used to think email newsletters were totally pointless, but after reading this post, I’ve realized their awesome benefits. I love the idea of the “themed update” — great way to introduce new readers to great posts from the archives.

    Thanks so much for all the details in this post!

  16. Darren,

    Great post – very helpful. I have an email newsletter that goes out once a month that I call the “back stage pass”. It’s content that only goes out to email subscribers and it’s been a great incentive for new subscribers.

    After reading this, I think I’ll add a second cycle of Themed updates to my subscribers.

    Thanks!

    John

  17. Hey Darren!

    Thanks so much for this post. I am in the process of beginning a newsletter, so this is very valuable information!!

    I do have a similar question as @multikulinaria from above…digging out resouces…you must get product to check out before you promote…do you just contact the vendor directly and establish an interest in marketing their product?

    If you have written on this before, I would love to read about it!! (@stugray)

    Thanks again!!

  18. Email is fast, I like to learn about it first, before it is on every rss feed, so sending the information, even if you’re posting it simultaneously on your blog will get it to me faster. Everyone (well, that’s a generalization) has email on their phone and you’re checking it constantly. Your phone vibrates to alert you of a new email while you’re driving down the road, or while you’re hanging out with friends–It’s immediate, and the new information is right there and easily accessible to you.

  19. Aweber owes you something. I was just about to cancel my membership until I read this. I guess I’ll let them give me another chance. I’ve been derelict in properly using their service.

    Much thanks for your generosity in providing such remarkable content.

    -Dan

  20. Darren

    Great tips. Love the idea of using themed updates on a monthly frequency. Thank you so much!

    Do you use your own templates to create these updates or do you use one of the canned templates on Aweber?

    BTW, I use Aweber too. But I have difficulty using their templates and I am not technical enough to make my own! Do you have any suggestions?

    Thanks!

  21. Another great article by “greatbloggerman” ) Thanks

  22. Great information Darren. Thank you for the visual as well as an explanation of the process.

  23. Wow. I’ve been trying to figure out this whole email-subscription-thing lately. But the problem was, I didn’t have really good idea on what to send every day/week. Your approach makes real sense. Thanks.

  24. There’s a nice rule about choosing the right product to recommend:

    “If you wouldn’t recommend it to your mother then don’t promote it at all.”

    Sorry… can’t remember who said that.

  25. is FeedBurner capable all of the criteria here . . . ?

  26. Thanks for sharing this complete knowledge. Email is powerful tool for making money online indeed.

  27. It is amazing how the world downs email marketing.

    I am so glad you are one of the few “gurus” who are actually honest and tell us the truth.

    I can’t read another one of those “Email is dead” posts.

  28. Great description of an effective newsletter cycle!

    However, I have to point out one thing. Double opt-in is NOT required by law. Many people believe this, but it’s not true.

    You do have to be able to show that someone specifically requested what you’re sending, but that doesn’t mean you have to require double opt-in.

  29. I have started a my newsletter because your advice.

  30. I’ve currently have only like 1 subscribers to my blog only! So, what’s the best way to drive traffic?

  31. @twintoddlersdad you can always design it in photoshop and get it converted to HTML email newsletter by psd to markup conversion service provider like http://xhtmlcandy.com/

  32. Nice one – I agree it’s hard to keep track of where the rates are coming from , but it’s great going along for the ride – like you say the most important thing is to keep writing quality stuff – just like this piece

  33. Great article Darren.I got a lot of inspiration from here.I will work hard to increase my subscribers

  34. Great post man…..i liked the way you structured the post…
    This post is really helpful…thanks darren bro

    http://entrancecorner.com/

  35. Hi Darren,

    Thanks for revealing your own emailing strategy. I haven’t started an email campaign yet, as I’m still in the process of conceptualizing the campaign itself. Glad to see your post. Basically, I want to have a program that won’t look like a business although it aims for revenue returns. I thought it sounds ambitious but I guess it isn’t after all. Love your layout of the newsletter schedule, I had a good impression on it, as it has this purpose of helping and guiding readers and not only sell or promote.

  36. This is really a nice strategy to increase traffic.

  37. This is fantastic advice. I have really been struggling on the list building aspect of my portfolio.

    I have tried many different formulas and just had zero success in terms of converting opt-ins (hard enough to get good leads anyway!).

    I will give this a go.

    Cheers!

  38. Thanks for the comprehensive explanation on using email newsletters to drive traffic and make money.

  39. Incredibly insightful and helpful article! I recently abandoned my email subscription service because I wasn’t getting the results I wanted and was (I felt) wasting money, so I figured just having feedburner emails would be enough even though I know better. I see that I need to rethink that from your post. Maybe I’ll give Aweber a try. Thank you for everything that you share.

  40. I love this example because a lot of time people have a hard time knowing when if they are sending to many promotions to their newsletter. In all of my newsletter, I try provides lots of content to my readers and very little promotion. I feel that if I can first establish a relationship with them, then they will build up a certain level of trust with me then it will be easier for me to recommend them products and services

  41. Hey Darren,

    By providing irresistible, valuable, and free content in the most private digital setting for a reader (their email inbox), you establish the strongest, most personal connection with them.

    And by promoting products in a way that’s not “selling” so much as recommending–like you would to a friend–you gain trust – and sales.

    It’s all about giving 10x as much as you take, providing insanely remarkable value, and genuinely marketing (no-hype and completely option) products that effectively solves people’s problems.

    Thanks for sharing how you effectively use email to drive traffic and make money. Very useful and informative, and this article also acts as a kick-in-the-butt to get me to ramp up my email newsletter :)

    Best,
    Oleg

  42. Which day do you send your newsletter out and does it matter which day you send them out?

  43. Useful info, as always, thanks. I’m thinking of testing the waters with an “occasional” newsletter, see how it flies.

  44. Awesome post!

    Currently doing the Teaching Sells course with Brian & Sonia and have just signed up with Constantcontact to start my first newsletter. I can’t thank you enough Darren as it was your book ProBlogger Secretes that got me started on this journey back in June this year. Now I’m hope to launch my first ILE in Spring next year and its all thanks to you.
    Best as always
    Duncan

  45. Ugh. Another thing to add to the “to do” list. ;)

  46. Hats off to you man. You really think out of the box. I know now how you make money. I would really appreciate if you could provide a tutorial on how to use a newsletter on blog. specially wordpress.

  47. I do not think that any other blogger taught this topic in such fabulous way.

    Darren this is the reason because of which we always get factory fresh thoughts from you.

    Two thumbs up for you. :)

  48. Thanks Darren for this nice article on newsletter .Actually as you write this article I am about to create my own newsletter for the first time and then send it soon.
    Just for those who could not afford huge amount for newsletter making .Here is a site that can be cheaper if you have less than 1000 subscribers .check this out .
    http://www.yourmailinglistprovider.com
    Please for all new comers try this website too build your own newsletter and its very easy too .
    Regards
    Sudeep

  49. NIce information. I do use autoresponder but I don’t give much attention on how to optimize it. I thought using a good template for sending an email can give big impact to us which means branding ourselves. I’m wondering how much it effect readers attention.

  50. I have started reading more of your posts and find that I have been missing out on quite a lot of knolwedge. I will continue to fine tune my blog and use email. Thanks for the input.I read more emails than anything and should have known it converts into sales from affilliate links.