Yesterday I announced the re-launch of the ProBlogger Newsletter (there have been 500+ new subscribers added to the list from last time bringing it to a total of around 16,000 – the first newsletter will come out next week) and since doing so I’ve had a number of questions about why I use newsletters, ‘how’ I deliver newsletter (AWeber), why I’ve chosen the tool that I have and why I have chosen a service that isn’t free.
Rather that responding to each person individually I thought it’d make a useful post for others considering adding a newsletter to their blog.
Why Do I Use Newsletters?
This is a common question and one that understandably puzzles some bloggers. Afterall – we’re all told that RSS is the best technology and email is dying…. or is it?
Back in 2005 I wrote a post titled Why Email Newsletters Can Improve Your Blog – I don’t tend to link back to posts that are three years old but my reasons for starting to use newsletters are still valid today:
- Increased Readership
- Promotion of Posts
- Build Community
- Improve Your Blog
- Drive Sales
- Email is familiar and Easy to Use
All I’ll really add to the list is that on the days that I send out my photography newsletters my blog comes alive with extra visitors, many more comments than normal, participation in polls, ad performance, affiliate sales and more.
If I happen to miss sending an email one week (or I’m late) the activity is not there and I get emails from readers asking where it is.
Which Tool Do I Use?
Let me start with the easy question – which tool do I use?
I’ve been using AWeber to deliver my photography newsletters since last year.
Regular readers know my painful story of having to switch from a free newsletter service to AWeber so I won’t rehash it all here (you can read the full version here) – but the long and short of it is that I invested a lot of time and energy into building my newsletter list up over years with a free service only to find that it became unreliable and ended up suspending it’s service – leaving me with no way to get my newsletters out. At this time I began to investigate other services and after the recommendation of many friends and readers decided to switch to a paid service.
In addition to being convinced by the recommendation of others it was the feature list that attracted me to AWeber. Since signing up they’ve upgraded their service and feature list a couple of times – it’s always a good sign to see a company improving and developing.
Some of the features that I enjoy:
Unlimited lists in the one account – some providers charge per list. So I have a photography list (two actually) and a problogger list.
Unlimited emails – some services charge per email that you send. I can send as many as I want each month to as many lists as I want.
Autoresponders – put together a sequence of emails that you want to send readers so that when they sign up for a mini course they get them sent out in an order and timing that you choose. For example on my photography site I’m going to put together a 10 part free mini-course on the basics of photography that will get sent out to readers once a week over 10 weeks. It’s a great way to connect people into your course and add value for readers.
Deliverability – this was a big one for me. Using my last free service I was getting very high numbers of bounced emails and emails being labeled as spam. It wasn’t unusual to see 20-30% of my emails not even getting delivered. My last 5 emails with AWeber had between 0.1 and 2.6% of emails undelivered. This means literally thousands of readers are getting emails that previously didn’t.
Text and HTML Emails – I like to send HTML emails to my photography readers as they are a very visual bunch. AWeber just added 27 new templates to the ones they already had. As someone who is not very design capable these save me a lot of time and I’ve had a lot of great feedback from readers. For those readers who can’t get HTML emails there is the option to send a text version too.
Analytics – AWeber has more ways to track the activity of your subscribers use of your newsletter than I’d ever experienced before. Not only can you track which links in your newsletter get clicked (very very handy) it allows you to
- split test different versions of your newsletter to see which works best
- to see how different web forms on your blog perform
- to track what time of day readers open emails and click links
- to send emails only to certain subscribers (based upon what they’ve clicked previously)
- to track where on your website readers are going after they click on a link
The list goes on…. and on….
In fact there are so many ways of tracking readers and testing how your emails convert that it takes time to apply them all.
Blog Newsletters – I’ve actually not used this feature yet but it is handy to know that it is there. It allows you to turn your RSS feed into a newsletter. While you can do this with Feedburner (the service I currently use) AWeber gives a lot more control – it allows you to send these updates not only daily but weekly, monthly etc and to have more control over how they look.
Customer Service – Even before I switched to AWeber I was impressed with the support that they offered. They helped me transfer my previous lists across (it was a bit of a process and they do have to have some safeguards in place to stop Spammers using their system – but we got there) and have answered every question I’ve had of them – usually within hours. They have a live customer support instant messaging service which operates most hours which is very helpful.
Free Trial – There are a lot more features that I’ve not mentioned (and to be honest have not even discovered or tested yet) – but you can test them all for yourself. AWeber offers a free month long trial so you can play with them all to your heart’s content. This is how I got a feel for AWeber before signing up.
Why a Paid Service?
I asked this question of my friends who used AWeber and other paid newsletter services for a long time. There are so many free tools out there available to bloggers that I totally understand why we’re wired to ask it – however for me it came down to this:
- Newsletters are a Core part of my business as a blogger. They’ve become so valuable that I cannot afford not to have them.
- I cannot afford to have a service that disappears at some point or becomes unreliable in it’s uptime.
- I cannot afford to have a service that doesn’t deliver a high rate of email.
- I wanted a service that I could email and say ‘I’m paying for this – so fix it’.
- I wanted a service that had high standards and that didn’t get taken over my spammers (one of the reasons my last service became unreliable).
For me this meant I went with AWeber. I can understand why others choose not to pay for a service or go with other options – but for me the arguments and my previous experience said it all.
As mentioned above – Aweber’s model is not to charge per email or per list that you have – but it’s based more upon subscriber numbers. For me this made sense. I wanted the flexibility to send as many emails as I want to my multiple lists. I have also found that as my subscribers grow in number that the list becomes more profitable for me – so I can justify the extra expense when I jump up a price bracket.
Have Your Say?
AWeber will not be for everyone. Some have had good experiences of free services, others have chosen different ones and for others a newsletter is not something that they choose to use. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the topic of newsletters as an extra feature on your blog.
Do you do them? What service do you use?
UPDATE: Also check out Get Response – many bloggers I talk to have had great things to say about this service. They’ve got a similar feature set to Aweber and some great new features.