List Building for Bloggers: The Movie!

First the book, now the movie! Or, strictly speaking, movies, because I had to split the video of my recent session at Blog World NY into 4 uploads to keep the moving parts at YouTube happy (less than 15 minutes per video).

If you like, you can watch the videos and keep pace with the slides posted on SlideShare (linked to here). Although not the official conference recording the sound and the video itself came across really well, given I had to rely on an audience member for the camerawork! So enjoy — and if you make it through to the fourth video you’ll see how well I can hurl a t-shirt too (it was a *big* room!).

Finally, don’t forget you can buy the book of the movie here at www.listbuildingforbloggers.com

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

One Blog, Many Lists, Much Success

How to Increase Engagement with a Multi-List Strategy for Your Blog

In this issue of List Building for Bloggers you will learn:

  • How multiple lists can help you attract and retain subscribers;
  • The benefits of multiple delivery schedules;
  • Content focus;
  • A quick “how-to” for FeedBlitz users.

[This is the twelfth article in the List Building for Bloggers series – Click here to read all the recent #LBB posts]

Multiple lists from a single blog?  You bet! It’s a great idea, and if you’re using automation to send your mailings it won’t cost you any more time and effort to manage once you’re set up.

There are two core ways you can use multiple lists to increase engagement in your readership. These ways are:

  • Different mailing schedules;
  • Focused content.

Both will help you grow your and retain your audience, but they address different needs.

Multiple Mailing Schedules

When and how often to mail your readership can be the source of much angst in the email marketing community. Many people spend (and maybe waste) a lot of time and energy trying to find the right date and time to send out a blast to get the best results.

For content marketers (i.e. us, bloggers), I say that the best approach is not to get down to this level of detail. There are much more important and valuable things that you can do with your blog and your time. You will be more productive creating great content on your blog, building your community, doing some SEO, guest posting etc. rather than spending hours in reports worrying whether it’s better to mail out Tuesdays at 10am or Friday evenings after work. Focus instead on getting better results from your mailings by writing better headlines, compelling calls to actions, or adding an autoresponder.

That said, though, what you can do (and should definitely consider) is have your subscribers tell you how often they want to be emailed. That way your mailing schedule best matches their expectations and you’re more likely to keep them for longer. Corollary: you’re also much less likely to lose them because they feel swamped by too many emails from your blog or updates that are too slow.

This is where having multiple lists, each with a different delivery schedule, comes in really handy. You can offer a “Fast” subscription, which sends out a mail every time you post. For some people that will be great. For others, though, this will be way too much information and aggravating. Enter the next list, powered by the same blog: A daily digest.  Same content, just delivered once a day.  You might even offer a weekly wrap as well for those who want to stay in touch but for whom even a daily missive would be burdensome. You could perhaps adjust the slower lists to use abridged content if you typically have a lot of posts each week, just to keep the email down to a reasonable size.

All you have to do is offer the subscriber the choice at sign up time. They self-select into the appropriate list and they’re done. They get what they want when they want it; you get happy subscribers who don’t become frustrated by too many updates, or news that isn’t timely enough for them.

Focused Content

The other core use of multiple lists is to focus the content so that every mailing is relevant to the subscribers. Most blogging systems these days will offer category pages, where all the posts sharing the same category or tag can be viewed at once; it’s great for search and its great for visitors to see all the related posts in a single place.

You can do the same with your mailing lists too. For example, Elise at Simply Recipes has a “recipes only” email list accessible here, as opposed to her main list which is all the posts – not just recipes – on her food blog. Like Elise, you can offer focused content based on what your readers want. There may be fewer updates going out to a more focused list, but you’ll get better engagement with its subscribers with each mailing.

On the other end of the spectrum, Money Saving Mom has over a hundred lists. The site uses both content and scheduling differences. They’re all powered by the same blog, but she gives her visitors a lot of choice in terms of choosing when they want an update and what they want to get. Result? Stellar list growth. See her subscription form page here; it’s really quite the marvel.

Best Practice in Action

Since I’m drawing attention to Money Saving Mom, her site uses a combination of techniques to grow her mailing lists. It’s a fantastic example of how to quickly fire up subscriber acquisition. Use it as inspiration for your list growth, no matter what field you’re working in or how large (or small) your lists are now.

Let’s take a look:

  • There’s a financial incentive (sweepstakes) above the main banner for the main mailing list;
  • “Subscribe for free updates” call to action in the right side bar for a menu of all lists;
  • Autoresponders and custom landing pages driving traffic back to the site.

Dynamic and User Generated Lists

The challenge with offering different content lists have one disadvantage: They require you, the blogger, to know (or to make intelligent decisions about) the different content you should be offering. Sometimes that’s hard to do, and as your site grows you may forget to update the mailing lists to include your new posts. What to do?

Well, with luck, your email service has an API that you can use to let the users create their own lists on the fly. You can then, with a little back end or client side scripting, have the subscription form on any one page offer an automatic subscription to that page’s tags. You can do the same for search functions too. That way you can ensure that the content is always relevant – the subscriber picked it themselves!

For FeedBlitz Users

FeedBlitz makes creating additional mailing lists from a single source easy, so if you’re also a FeedBlitz user read on to see how to set up multiple lists for your blog in just a few steps.

The easiest way to create multiple mailing lists is to start with your main list that you’re happy with. Then go to Newsletters - Settings - Advanced Template Editor and make that template your Master Template. That means that all other lists you then make will use the same design as your main list by default, which gives you great brand consistency and saves a whole boat-load of time.

Then clone the list via Newsletters - Settings - Clone. It creates a copy of the list and its settings, but does not copy subscribers. If you’re creating a new delivery schedule, pick the new schedule you want as part of the cloning process. It’s that easy.

If you want to create focused content specific lists, again clone the mailing. Then go to Newsletters - Settings - Content Settings for your new clone, and either:

a) Add tag filters to include / exclude categories from the mailing; or

b) Change the article source URL to be the category RSS feed for the content.

Don’t forget to change the title of the mailing to match the content, and you’re done.

If you want to get all techie and use the API, head over here to the Knowledge Base for the documentation - you need to use the publisher ID parameter to link the subscription to your account.

Finally, freshly minted mailing lists in hand, you need to update your forms to offer your new alternatives. Since most sites are not offering hundreds of different choices, FeedBlitz can create a form for you that automatically updates itself as you add new lists. Go to Newsletters - Forms - Subscription Forms and, from the right hand side of options, choose “all public” as the lists to include. Update your site with the code and that’s that. (If you want to exclude a list from the automatic form, mark it as private at Newsletters – Settings – Content Settings – The Basics).

Next Up

More advanced topics: Segmentation, personalization and custom fields.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you’re a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or “Like” on Facebook using the buttons below. Don’t forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

From Fan to Sp*m and Anti-Social Networking

The Right Way and the Wrong Way to Integrate Social Media Messaging and Email Marketing

Or, to paraphrase the mathematician played by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, “just because you could doesn’t mean you should.”

In this issue of List Building for Bloggers you will learn:

  • The Wrong Way to integrate social media contacts
  • The Right Way to integrate social media data with your blog’s email marketing

Yup: This one is that black and white.

[This is the tenth article in the List Building for Bloggers series – Click here to read all the #LBB posts]

Integrating Social Media Messaging and Email: The Wrong Way

Permission and relevance are the keys to successful list building, with timeliness following closely behind.

Permission though, needs to be explicitly granted. I’ve covered this before in previous List Building for Bloggers posts. I emphasize it frequently because it is essential to your success as a blogger in building your list and getting your message delivered.

Social networks, increasingly used for commercial purposes, rely on email and other messaging to inform you of updates. They also can enable you to email your contacts / friends / fans / followers – and with that functionality comes the very strong temptation to cross the permission line. The social networks, after all, want you to connect with your contacts, and they have features that exist for expressly this purpose.

So let’s take your friends on Facebook. One of the things you’re probably able to see is your friend’s email addresses, unless they’ve been very restrictive in their privacy settings. So you can, in theory, harvest these addresses and add them to your mailing list. Because they’re your friends, it’s OK, right?

Wrong.

Just because someone has made you a friend doesn’t mean you have permission to add them to your list. A social media site isn’t a personal CRM (custom relationship management) database. Sure, mail them relevant social stuff -and encourage them to join your list - but use the social network itself to do the messaging. Anything that even smells of mass mailing outside of the network itself is spam, plain and simple.

Similarly with your fans – some may allow you (either by design or sloppy privacy settings) to see their email addresses. Again, don’t add these addresses to your mailing list. Even if they’ve become a fan of your business Page on Facebook, it is not permission to import them into your list. Pressing “like” for a page is nothing more than an electronic congratulatory pat on the back; don’t misinterpret it as a carte blanche to deluge them with email. You should do that with status updates and wall posts instead, which is the right way to keep them informed.

Another path to abuse with Facebook is the event. As others have noticed, messages from Facebook itself have excellent deliverability. If you can “hijack” that then you’re pretty sure your message is going to be read. The unethical have started to do this and I’ve seen training videos online on how to do it. Ugh.

By all means create legitimate events that are relevant to your Fans and promote them. Don’t fake it, and don’t (ab)use Fans from Page A to promote the unrelated business from Page B. Keep your messaging to what’s relevant.

Facebook also allows you to import addresses into events, up to 5,000 at a time. If you’re not already a fan, Facebook invites you to become one. I personally find this distasteful. Yes, I agreed to be on your list. But I don’t want to be a Fan of your Page. If I did, I’d have become a fan already, see? Trying to force me into it? Not cool.

If you want to promote your event to your mailing list, use your mailing list! And by all means have a call to action in your mailing to “Visit us on Facebook” to make it easy for subscribers to like the page. Link to the event on Facebook. But trying to coerce me into becoming a fan via import? From my perspective, it will have the opposite effect. I’ll be off your list ASAP, nor will I attend your event or like you page. It boils down to respect for your audience – if you don’t respect me and the permission I gave you, I’m out of here.

Same with LinkedIn. Agreeing to share professional contact information is not permission to add the contact to your mailing list. Don’t mass mail your LinkedIn contacts via your list – don’t add them to your list at all! But you can (and should) list your subscription page on your LinkedIn profile, and occasionally set your network update to invite your contacts to join the list. Just don’t overdo it.

Integrating Social Media and Email: The Right Way

Is all lost? Not at all. There are plenty of ways you can do this right.

You can use social network features to communicate properly, respectfully, with your network (and with those outside it) using those networks. We all know the rules of the road on each platform. Follow them and market / sell / promote away! Good luck! It’s worth it! You can (and should) use social media to encourage new subscriptions (read the earlier posts in this series!).

You can also use social networks to find out more about email addresses that you have properly acquired.

Let’s say I add myself – phil@feedblitz.com – to your mailing list. You don’t know too much about me. But if you can find my email address in your contacts at LinkedIn, or as a Facebook friend, you would know that I am male, my full name and other personal information. It is OK to grab that data – I have voluntarily made it available to you or to the world – and you can append it to your mailing list. Now you can personalize your mailings to me using my name. I’d probably like that. I’d much rather be greeted as “Dear Phil” than “Dear Customer.”

Why is this OK? Because the email address (and my permission to use it) came first. You’re backfilling with other data you also have permission to access. In other words, you’re not adding me to your mailing list; you’re just finding out more about me. No permissions about my mailing preferences have changed or been assumed or implied.

So you can use social networks and other public data to find out more about your list if you want to put the effort in. That’s OK, as long as you get explicit permission to mail first.

You should not start with demographic data (e.g. a name) and then find an email address and add it to your list. That’s spamming.

Or, let’s say Joe@MegaCorp.com was on your list, properly permissioned. You find out from Facebook that Joe has left MegaCorp and is now at AcmeWidgets. Should you update your email list to Joe@AcmeWidgets.com? No. You don’t have his permission unless you’ve heard from him that it’s OK to update your list.

What you should do instead is send him a message via Facebook and say “congrats on the new gig, may we update our mailing list with your new address?” It’s perfectly OK for you to solicit permission within the context of the social network as long as you’re being respectful and following the rules of the road.

Let’s say Joe says “Don’t add me to your list, I’m in a different area now, but feel free to contact my replacement, Mary@MegaCorp.com” you cannot add Mary to your mailing list. She needs to give you her permission to do that; a third party (Joe) cannot. So fire up the phones or a personal email to Mary, introduce yourself and start from there. You can’t assume implied permission simply because Mary replaced Joe functionally.

Next Up

How to find and avoid the traps for the unwary that can prevent your emails from getting through.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you’re a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or “Like” on Facebook using the buttons below. Don’t forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

List Building for Bloggers – The Story So Far

As the first post in the List Building for Bloggers series in 2011 I thought I’d take a moment to step back and review the series to date.  In case you missed them, here they are in order (click the title to view the original article):

  1. Why Aren’t Email Lists Extinct in the Age of Social Media?
  2. Lists, Email Marketing and your Blog
  3. Five Key Steps to Grow Your Mailing List
  4. Growing Your List: Accelerating Subscriber Growth
  5. Growing Your List: Improving Engagement
  6. Are You Getting to the Inbox and Avoiding the Spam Trap?
  7. Mailing List Underperforming? Optimize it with these Tips!
  8. Autoresponders: What, Why and How

If you want to look at it another way, you can think of these posts answering the following questions:

  • Why bother?
  • What are the basics?
  • How can I improve quickly?
  • How do I get more subscribers?
  • How can I build engagement?
  • How do I avoid the junk folder?
  • What should I do differently?
  • How can I build automatic sales?

If you’ve taken the time to read all of these then you should have a pretty good idea of how to make your email marketing work harder for you. The trick, of course, is to put the advice into practice so check out the action items in each article in case you missed anything.

Talking of action items, I’m going to suggest that you make this your sole email marketing and list building action item for this week: Commit to reviewing ONE article and putting it completely, 100%, TOTALLY into practice within the next seven days. OK? Just one – I don’t want you burning out or anything!

Next week? Back to our regularly scheduled emailing and social media integration goodness.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you’re a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or “Like” on Facebook using the buttons below. Don’t forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

Are You Getting to the Inbox and Avoiding the Spam Trap?

Learn how to avoid being labeled a spammer,  plus tips and tricks on ensuring your mail is delivered to the inbox.

[This is the sixth article in the List Building for Bloggers #LBB series]

In this article you will learn about:

  • What is spam
  • What it takes to be labeled a spammer
  • What happens if you are labeled a spammer
  • Getting to the Inbox every time
    • Permission
    • Respect
    • Relevance
    • Compliance
  • Improving the odds
    • White listing
    • Proactive subscriber management

What is Spam?

Spam. We all hate it. It is frustrating and wastes everybody’s time. As a result, the technologies that have evolved to try and stop spam from getting to the inbox are imperfect, causing desired emails to be misrouted to junk or simply deleted altogether.

As bloggers using trusted services and valuing our subscribers – they’re not just a “list” to be “blasted” – we know that our emails should reach the inbox. But sometimes they don’t, and this post is my attempt to help you understand why and how you can influence inbox placement.

What Happens if you are Labeled a Spammer?

The good news is that one person screaming “spam” when you mail them won’t affect anything. But the ISPs take note. If many people start screaming “spam,” however, or you do other bad things (like persistently sending email to deleted accounts), then your email will be routed to junk, or your email might not even be accepted by the recipient’s email servers at all. All of the recipient’s on that domain or domains will go dark for you. You might even be black listed, and it takes just one black list entry on a major black list provider to effectively shut down your entire list.

So avoiding being called a spammer is very, very important.

What does it Take to be Labeled a Spammer?

Now you can’t stop complaints. People are lazy – they will hit spam sometimes instead of clicking unsubscribe. People are also error-prone – they might have your email selected when they click “spam” when they meant to flag the email just above it.

So the question is: What does it take to be labeled a spammer? For complaints, industry norms say well managed lists should well be under 0.3%. AOL takes notice at complaint rates over 0.1%. If your mailings consistently generate complaint rates greater than one in a thousand, you risk being labeled a spammer. This is why list quality is so very important.

Email service providers (ESPs) like FeedBlitz also monitor your complaint rates to ensure greatest deliverability. For example, FeedBlitz can and does automatically shut down any list that exceeds conservative industry norms for complaint rates for any single mailing – we’re that zealous about ensuing the best deliverability for our clients. So keeping complaint rates (i.e. people clicking “spam” in their email app) down is essential to getting your word into the subscriber’s inbox.

Getting to the Inbox Every Time

The keys to consistently landing in the inbox are pretty basic:
  1. You must have the recipient’s permission to mail them
  2. You must treat that permission with respect
  3. Your mailings must be relevant
  4. Your mailings must comply with ISP best practice and technical rules
Just because the keys are basic, though, doesn’t mean they are necessarily easy. And failing on any one of these will quickly get your emails routed to junk and dramatically increase the risk of your being labeled a spammer.

On the other hand, do all of these and your email will land in the inbox pretty much all the time.

It’s important to note one item that is not on this list: Legality.

While your emails should be legal (i.e. in the US, they should be CAN-SPAM compliant), simply being legal is not nearly enough (think about it – the law isn’t called CANT-SPAM). It’s also the case that many emails sent by reputable providers are, unfortunately, not compliant with CAN-SPAM, and will nonetheless make it to your inbox. Here’s an example from hot hyper-local news site patch.com, funded by AOL no less, and AOL has very stringent email policies. And yet, this:

It violates CAN-SPAM because there is no physical address to send written unsubscribe requests.

So even the big guys can make mistakes. Not that that excuses you, but it goes to show that compliance with the law is fundamentally irrelevant in determining whether or not an email is going to make it to the recipient’s inbox. Compliance is still required to avoid legal jeopardy of course.  

Who Decides What is Spam?

Not you.

Got that?

I’ll say it again. Not you.

Ultimately, only the recipient of your emails gets to decide whether your email is spam or not. That said, however, the ISPs (internet service providers) also get in on the act. When enough of their customers declare your email to be spam (and also for other reasons; I’ll get to them later), they will decide that what you are sending is spam before it ever reaches the subscriber. Your email may not even make it onto their networks, let alone the recipient’s junk folder, and less likely their inbox.

To get to where you want your email to go, you have to get past various ISP filters, servers, blacklists and filtering technologies. And then you have to get through the recipient’s personal email app’s settings, filters and local security tools. It’s quite the gauntlet your blog’s message has to run through.

Most importantly, it does not matter AT ALL that you believe that you have permission to email the recipient and you believe that your message is not spam. Spam is the recipient’s call only.

So let’s look at the four keys to avoiding the spam trap and how you as a blogger can succeed with your mailings. 

You Must Have the Recipient’s Permission to Email Them.

Always use confirmed dual opt in for new registrations where a recipient must click a link in an email to activate a subscription. Do not settle for less if you want to lower your risk of being junked.

Do not buy or rent lists. Permission must be granted to you directly and explicitly. Bought or rented lists often contain “spam trap” addresses which are, basically, fake addresses that have never been used by a real human being but are visible on the web to be “discovered” by spam bots. Mailing a trap proves that you have not got permission (because that address could never have given you permission) and that you’ve bought the list from a spambot source, which marks you out as a spammer by definition. Don’t take that risk with your blog.

Do not add subscribers to a list they didn’t sign up for. So if a subscriber signed up for your world-leading blog on widgets, don’t add them to your list about fine French wine simply because that’s what your other blog is about. You don’t have permission to mail them about your taste in claret.

Tip: Stay on topic and always, always use confirmed dual opt in. 

You Must Treat Permission with Respect

When someone grants you permission to email them, they are effectively inviting you into their inbox. So be a good guest; don’t abuse the privilege and their attention.

For bloggers this is fairly easy to do; as long as we’re mailing posts out. Our subscribers know how often we post and therefore how often they should expect to get a mail from us (although it absolutely helps to tell them that they should expect to hear from you once a day or weekly or whatever is appropriate for you).

When you deviate from the norm – by increasing your mailing frequency, for example – then you risk upsetting your readers. The more upset they become, the more likely they’re going to complain (i.e. hit the spam button). This is also true if you start blasting them with less relevant content, so be careful with, say, dedicated sponsor mailings. If you do up your mailing rate, offer a “slower” alternative for those who feel overwhelmed, such as a weekly summary.

There is also great risk in mailing too little. If you start to collect subscribers for your blog, offer or whatever, but don’t start mailing them until weeks or months later, they will likely have forgotten they signed up or simply lost interest in the interim. Result: spam complaints. So if you don’t plan on mailing people for a while once they sign up, send an autoresponder and set their expectations. If you can, send a brief weekly update, even if it’s a variation on “hey, we’re making great progress, you’ll hear from us as soon as we’re ready.” It keeps you in their mind and doesn’t waste the attention and permission they granted you when they were excited enough to join your list.

Tip: Stay in front of your audience regularly.

Tip: Use guest posts if you can’t fill the content yourself at the expected rate. 

Your Mailings must be Relevant

Permission and relevance are key to email list building success. Both are necessary; having only one is not enough.

So your emails must be relevant; again for bloggers that’s easy to do since we write about our passions. But if your blog changes course and goes from, say, widgets to French wine, by changing topic you’ve effectively transitioned them to a new list. You don’t have permission for that topic and so spam complaints will rise. This doesn’t mean that you can’t go off-topic for a post or two at times; after all, a blogger’s audience likes the blogger and is by definition interested in what she has to say. But say your piece and then return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Now there is some debate in some aspects of the email marketing industry about whether relevance trumps permission. And in the case of a personal email which you craft by hand to a specific individual addressing a specific need, I’d say ok, yes. As long as you’re timely, relevant and are responding to the recipient’s articulated need, then you can mail them. But it has to be a personal email from your email app, and not a bulk email or mail merge or similar – even if that mail merge runs through your desktop email software. It’s much like the approach I promote here, here and here for using Twitter to deliver real-time sales and customer service. And I think that’s OK.

But for bulk emailing – where you send email to multiple subscribers at once, automated or otherwise – the answer is emphatically NO. You MUST have permission to deliver automated mailings from a blog (or any other source) to a list.

Tip: By all means detour – it can keep things interesting – but be quick about it. 

Your Mailings must Comply with ISP Best Practice and Technical Rules

Without going into too much technical detail here, the major ISPs (in most markets the cable, phone and satellite providers) and the major email account providers (e.g. gmail, hotmail, yahoo) all have very similar technical rules about bulk email (which is what you’re sending as you build your blog’s list).

ISPs track reputation, spam traps, sending behavior (e.g. persistently emailing accounts that bounce), complaint rates, email structure, black lists and more to determine whether your email should even be allowed onto their networks, and then whether the mail should be sent to junk or the inbox. If some of these terms are unclear, revisit the “terms and terminology” section on the second article in the List Building for Bloggers series “Lists, Email Marketing and your Blog” here http://www.feedblitz.com/2010/11/lists-email-marketing-and-your-blog-lbb.html

How you send email from your blog to your subscribers can greatly affect how your emails are treated by the receiving ISP networks. In order of increasing risk (i.e. best to worst):

  • Best: Use a reputable third party email service provider (ESP), such as FeedBlitz (of course!)
  • Maybe: Using your own dedicated email server
  • Worst: Using a shared email server or an email server on a shared web host
Reputable email service providers (ESPs) are the best solution unless you are a simply massive corporation with excess IT resources. Why? Because we structure the emails properly (e.g. adding authentication, text alternatives); we use a small number of high reputation IP addresses to send mail (using things like feedback loops and whitelisting to maintain that reputation); and we manage the lists in our charge properly (e.g. tracking metrics, logging subscriber activity, bounce rates and legal compliance) to comply with ISP policies. It’s best practice, and best practice gives the best results. Bloggers are typically not large corporations wth money to spare, so outsourcing to a dedicated expert service is absolutely the way to go.

For a dedicated email server on your own domain you can probably get access to feedback loop data as long as you own the public IP or the domain it’s on. So you can – with a lot of effort – get some of the quality data that ESPs do. Of course, you have to use that data, and have someone or something manage your lists and processes. Most bloggers don’t have the time or technical skills necessary, and failure to keep up can get your messages sent to the penalty box. Also, if you do get into trouble, it’s really hard to get out without an ESP’s resources to help. If you’re an email guru (or have one on staff) you can take this path. Since you’re a blogger, though, you aren’t and you don’t. Once your list gets to be any reasonable size this option gets to be a lot of work very quickly.

Email sent from a shared web server (or a shared email server) carries great risk. For starters, you can’t get at the quality or feedback loop data from the ISPs: It’s like driving in the dark wearing sunglasses with your eyes closed. As touched on in an earlier LBB post, just one badly behaved (or virus-infected) app using that web or email server will trash that machine’s reputation and get all your email blocked. You also risk incurring the wrath of your hosting service, which risks having your site taken down. Don’t do it.

Tip: Use a reputable provider for your bulk mailing, blog-driven or otherwise. 

Content Filtering

If your email has been accepted by the ISP and is coming from a reputable source your message is really likely to end up in the inbox no matter what you write about. Reputation and trust trump the content filters the vast majority of the time.

That said, some links or behaviors can be picked up by content filters and skew your otherwise bon mots into junk despite everything. If that happens, figure out why (your email provider should be able to help you with this, but you may have to pay for the privilege).

In my experience, the only content that will consistently override a reputation filter is when there is a link in the mail to a site the receiving ISP feels can’t be trusted. So, for example, if you’re linking to a known source of stolen audio files (or a site that looks like it might be), expect to be junked. If you’re on a shared server and another site on that server is hosting “bad” content, expect to be junked. If you’re hosting “bad” content, well…. you get the idea.

True story. We (FeedBlitz) had a client whose emails were being consistently routed to an ISP’s junk folder despite our being on that ISP’s white list. It turned out to be the fault of one link in one part of the mail. It was a legitimate link, but the domain’s URL just fell the wrong side of the “this link looks spammy” filter it was enough to route the mail to junk.

Remember that the ISPs are doing this to prevent malware running on otherwise trusted sources from getting spam to their users. It’s their job. If it happens to you engage you’re your email service provider to find out why, and (crucial, this) for crying out loud take their advice. When you find the root cause it’s usually a simple matter for a blogger to overcome it, which it was in this case.

Tip: Worry less about content, more about reputation, relevance and permission.  

Avoiding the Spam Trap

So, let’s review. Permission, respect, relevance, compliance are key. You’re a blogger and are putting all of these into practice. Can you do more? You bet! Two key areas are:
  • White listing
  • Proactive subscriber management

Whitelisting

The #1 thing you can ask your subscribers to do is have them white list you when they subscribe. This not only guarantees that the email will get to their inbox if the mail is accepted for delivery by their service, it can also positively influence the ISP’s global filters.

When you ask your subscriber to add you to their white list they may have to remember there are two locations where they should update their white lists: 

On their email service’s / ISP’s web mail portal.

Why: It ensures that the ISP knows the email is solicited and should go to your inbox at the ISP.

On their email app’s white list

Why: If the email is downloaded from the subscriber’s inbox at their email service to a dedicated email app (e.g. Outlook, Apple Mail, Entourage) then the email app will apply its filters too, (i.e. after the email service’s filters). Whitelisting here will ensure the proper routing of your mail to the inbox in the app once it gets there.
Your subscriber should add your and your service’s email addresses to both white lists for the best results. 

Proactive List Management

Your email service will manage your subscribers as best it can, filtering out bounces and complaints. But you can help pre-empt complaints by proactively managing your list too. Some subscribers won’t hit unsubscribe or complain at first – they will reply to your mailing and say “remove” or “unsubscribe.” As and when you get that email, go to the list and remove the subscriber. If you don’t and your blog’s mailing system reaches out to them again that subscriber is likely to complain. So help yourself by acting promptly to remove folks who don’t want your mailings from your list if they contact you directly. 

Next Up

Tips on optimizing your mailings for better response rates.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you’re a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or “Like” on Facebook using the buttons below. Don’t forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

Growing Your List: Improving Engagement

Make your blog’s mailing list more effective with this entry in the “List Building for Bloggers” series. See all the LBB posts here.

In this article you will learn about:

  • Quality vs. quantity.
  • Measuring engagement.
  • The human and technical factors that affect engagement.
  • The role of branding.
  • Subject lines.
  • Focusing your list.
  • Custom fields, segmentation and personalization.

As always, there’s a set of action items at the end you can apply now to improve your next mailing’s effectiveness.

Quality and Quantity

In the prior article, while I focused on increasing your list’s subscriber count (quantity), I also wrote that quality beats quantity any day. It’s absolutely true – if your list has a bajillion subscribers but only your Mom reads what you send, what’s the point? All the extra readers don’t matter.
In other words, quality counts. And really what matters is engagement – how many readers are opening your mailings and, more importantly, how many are doing something you want them to based on that mailing.

Measuring Engagement

The basic metrics to use here are the open rate and the click through rate. While any one mailing will vary from the next, the overall trend over several mailings for these metrics should be flat or rising (flat is OK if you’re growing your list’s volume). If your engagement rate trends start to fall, try to figure out why and take corrective action. Bear in mind that some metrics may appear to be low, such as click through rate, if you send full posts. It is the trend that matters the most, not the absolute value.

The Human Factor

What you want your list to do is be engaged with you and your content, whether that content is editorial (most blog posts) or some kind of sales pitch (the dreaded “email blast”). The key content driver for engagement is relevance – writing to your list with what they expect to hear from you.

But there are also human factors – as described in a CopyBlogger post only this week – that can really help you drive engagement up.

In particular:

  1. Have a call to action – Tell them what you want them to do (but don’t have 10 actions – just one, clearly articulated, is a Good Thing).
  2. Be direct – Tell them (as opposed to asking them) what you want them to do.

Even if it’s just “Retweet this!” you should ask for the reader to engage. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

The other thing to bear in mind is that different people interact with posts in different ways. Some gravitate to images first. Some will skim first. Some will read your post line by line immediately. The detail readers are easy, because they’re going to read anyway. But to get the most engagement from the other types of subscriber you should:

  • Have one or more images or illustrations in your post for the visual reader.
  • Use short headlines and selective bolding to attract skimmers.

Appearance

An email that doesn’t appear correctly to a subscriber simply won’t drive engagement. If it doesn’t render properly or isn’t easily recognized then it is as if it was never sent in the first place.

Display problems can happen for these reasons:

  • Inappropriate graphic design choices.
  • Form factor and bandwidth problems.
  • Videos and active content.
  • No branding.

Inappropriate Graphic Design

One example and, frankly, a pet peeve: White text on a black background. It’s so dark and broody; beloved of Goth students and heavy metal bands everywhere. And it just stinks for email, because many email systems don’t display backgrounds (especially if your background is an image, not just a plain color). So if the background doesn’t display, your hapless reader is left with white text on a white background. In other words, it’s invisible.

There are other places where graphic designs that work great on the web can just go horribly, horribly wrong when used in email:

Excessive use of external CSS, floating content and scripts. Some email systems won’t pull in styles from your web server. So your font and color choices aren’t used, which can really foul up your email’s display.

Using div tags and CSS to lay out content. Your designer should be working this way for your web site, but the HTML capabilities of many popular email clients are just awful. For best coverage you should use tables to layout multi-column or more sophisticated designs. Your web designer will want to throw up all over this one, but persist. It’s the only way to get the most consistent renderings across the widest possible range of email platforms.

In fact, for the best appearance across the board, apply the KISS principle.

  • Use simple dark colors on light background for your text.
  • Stick with small image sizes, simple layouts, and very basic HTML.
  • Always have alt or title tags for your images.

To see what I mean with the last bullet, try looking at one of your emails with images disabled. You’ll get the idea. Plus using alt tags is good for SEO too!

When Size Really Matters: Phones

Images are essential for readbility and more, but if your reader tries to download your multi-megabyte promotional image on their phone’s email app, the odds are they’ll give up waiting for it. It will be too slow to download and, again, you’ve wasted your time sending it.

Secondly, if the majority of your audience is on a mobile device, don’t send emails with wide pictures or other content that can’t easily fit on the phone’s display. You’re making extra work for them to read as they have to continually scroll or peer at teeny weeny text on their mobile device. The harder you make it to interact with – or simply read – your content, the less likely you’re going to get the engagement you’re looking for. If you have a mix of mobile and desktop subscribers, use an “auto-flow” layout (instead of a fixed-width one) that automatially fits to the size of the screen.

Videos and Active Content

Videos, scripts, flash, forms – none of these will work consistently in email. In fact, scripts and embedded video players will be regarded as hostile by a receiving email system and not shown, mangling your layout and eliminating the interactivity you were after. Now FeedBlitz can help compensate for some of these issues; for example we’ll create a thumbnail image of your video from your video service if we can. But if you’re relying on an embedded video to get your point across in your email, think again.

Easy Steps to Improve Engagement

Having focused on what can bring engagement down, let’s look at what can bring it up.

Branding

One aspect often neglected by bloggers is branding their emails – all that work on the site design and then no effort for the email subscriber. Such a wasted opportunity! Use your logo or masthead banner in your mailings. Make the effort and finish the play. Let readers who select your email in a preview pane know it’s from you in the first few seconds. It’s appalling, to be honest, how many bloggers offer email subscriptions but haven’t gone to the effort of doing something as basic as a logo into the email. What a waste.

Secondly, set the envelope settings to identify yourself or your company as the sender. Use the name that your reader would know you or your blog by. For example, use “Crochet Corner” instead of “Phyllis Q. Knitting-Needle” if your subscribers know they’re subscribing to the “Crochet Corner” blog.

Thirdly, make sure that the email address you use to send from and get replies sent to is real and read by a human. Yes, you will have to filter out of office replies that come in, but you are looking for engagement here. If someone replies to your email and it disappears into the ether what are they going to think of you? It’s not only a missed opportunity to start a conversation, they probably now think you’re kinda rude. Who wants that?

The Subject Line

A compelling subject line is invaluable. So don’t clutter it up with, for example, the name of your blog, especially if you’re using the name of the blog as the sender. They don’t need the redundancy and you’re wasting space. Your subject line – usually your blog post’s title – should be catchy and well under 100 characters if possible. Remember, you are not your audience, and your message has to stand out and hook the reader quickly. If the point of your email subject line is too wide for the inbox’s subject line column, it’s done you no good. Be brief and to the point in your blog post titles. If your mailing system can’t change subject lines, get that fixed.

Subscribe to your own mailings

I know you don’t want to read what you just wrote, but you should subscribe to your own mailings. That way you experience what your subscribers experience. If you don’t like it, dollars to donuts they won’t either. Fix it!

Focusing Your List

Custom Fields

Counter-intuitively, one of the ways to improve engagement is to reduce the size of your list. You can do this up front, by requiring extra data from the new subscriber, such as demographics (city, state, zip, gender, name etc). Most email services like FeedBlitz call this extra data “Custom fields.”

Requiring custom fields adds “friction” to the sign-up process, but it also means that those who complete it are more committed to you and your content. You sacrifice some list quantity growth for a more engaged audience that you know much more about.

Segmentation

When you mail, most automated mailings go to all the readers, and for bloggers that’s fine. But with demographics you can segment your list, targeting a subset of your readers for the offer or invitation. For example, suppose you’re speaking at an event in Texas. You want to invite folks who live in Texas and maybe Oklahoma, say, but there’s very little point inviting anyone from the north east. In fact, you’ll probably annoy them. Segmentation solves this problem, as long as you have the data.

Only mailing a small portion of the list, i.e. sending the email only to those for whom it might be relevant, is a great way to get increased engagement from that section of the audience. It will also reduce complaints and unsubscribes all around. If you have a CRM (customer relationship management) system you can import data from your CRM and link it to your mailing list, so you can tie data you already know about the user to your mailing system. For bloggers, you can automate this to a degree by offering multiple lists from your blog and applying tag filters.

Personalization

With data you know about the user comes the ability to turn a bland, cookie-cutter mailing into a special, personalized one. You could insert the recipient’s name, for example, or switch what you send them based on custom field data. This is pretty advanced for most bloggers, to be fair, and so if you’re interested in figuring this out in FeedBlitz terms, see this knowledge base article.

Your Action Items

  • Subscribe to your own list.
  • Check your sender name is appropriate.
  • Make sure the sending / reply-to emails are real.
  • Graphic design checks.
    • Verify your logo, banner and other branding are in the emails.
    • Ensure your email design works without images (foreground and background).
    • Determine whether your email template need simplifying.
  • Post content changes.
    • Keep subject lines crisp.
    • Add direct calls to action in each post.
    • If you use video a lot, check how it appears in your emails.
    • Don’t use scripts or forms.
  • Consider and plan any custom fields.

For FeedBlitz Users

  • Subscription forms are at Newsletters – Forms Subscription Forms.
  • Set sender name and email addresses at Newsletters – Settings – Envelope Settings.
  • If you don’t have a template now, set one up quickly at Newsletters – Settings – Easy Email Design Editor.
  • Then set up more complex designs (or simplify them!) at Newsletters – Settings – Advanced Email Design Editor.
  • Custom fields are managed at Newsletters – Custom Fields.
  • Tag filters are at Newsletters – Settings – Content Settings – Tag Filters.

Next Up

Here Be Dragons: Spam. What it is and how to get your emails delivered properly.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you’re a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. Like this post? Retweet it on Twitter or “Like” it on Facebook using the buttons below. Don’t forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

Growing Your List: Accelerating Subscriber Growth

Growing Your List: Accelerating Subscriber Growth

[This is the fourth article in the List Building for Bloggers #LBB series]

In this post you will learn about:
  1. The basics of online list growth.
  2. Integrating with social media.
  3. Email to a friend.
  4. Creating and testing incentives.
  5. Making the most of offline events.
  6. The role of advertising.
  7. Subscriber import.
  8. Three things to never, ever, EVER do.

There’s also a comprehensive set of action items at the end for you to use right now to better grow your list.

Quantity and Quality

Much like site traffic, pretty much the first thought you have once you’ve set up your list is “how do I get more subscribers?” – and that’s the topic for today’s List Building for Bloggers post. Before diving in, however, it’s worth emphasizing one key point: Quality beats quantity. So do try to grow your list; but keep your list’s quality high too. List quality is the topic of the next LBB article.

There are fundamentally two different ways to add subscribers to your list:
  • Organically, where new subscribers add themselves to your list via your forms.
  • Via Import, where you add new subscribers to your list yourself.

Online Mailing List Building Basics 

Make it easy to sign up on your site

The absolute best thing is to have visitors sign themselves up using your email list subscription form, placed on every page of your web site, above the fold, clearly marked (see last week’s “List Building for Bloggers” post for more on this). Consider asking for email subscriptions as well via your blog’s post footer feature – if you actually ask for the subscription you’re much more likely to get it than if you don’t. Ask for the order!

Add email signup to your Facebook pages

If you’re using a third party email list service like FeedBlitz then you should have access to a Facebook subscription form app to add to your pages. Do it! Enable your Facebook visitors to sign up for your list as well. In other words, make your social media content feed into your mailing list, as well as vice versa via sharing icons.

Enable email to a friend in your mailings

The email service you use to deliver your blog’s list should also have an “email to a friend” feature (sometimes known as “forward to a friend”). If it’s not on, enable it. You’re allowing your readers to refer your content to someone else, which is a Good Thing, and as part of this process the email to a friend feature should ask the recipient for a subscription too.

Enable email subscription links in your social media posts

I firmly believe that you should rarely, if ever, post to a social media site without a relevant link. When you post to a social media site, make sure that the links you put up include a link to your email subscription form (as described in this post: “From Like to Subscribe”). It’s hard to do on Twitter because of the 140 character limit, but there’s no excuse for autoposts to richer social media outlets (especially Facebook and LinkedIn) not to include a link to your subscription form. If your autopost provider doesn’t link back to your main list’s form, ask them when you’ll get one – else you’re missing out on potential new subscribers.

Incentives, Promotions and Leads

A great way to grow your list is to use an incentive. Your incentive should obviously be compelling, valuable and relevant for your target audience. What you don’t want to do is attract tire-kickers who are just in it for the reward, so plan it carefully. Ideally, any reward should also be unique to your list – the only way to get at the reward is to join the list; your incentive shouldn’t be readily available otherwise.

Incentives come in two fundamental forms:

  • A bonus for simply for signing up.
  • Recurring rewards for subscribers who stay subscribed over time.

Signup Rewards

Effective reward signups include:
  • Free content (e.g. an eBook, report, white paper, coupon or sponsored item).
  • Prize drawings.

Free content can be delivered via your “thank you” autoresponder or a link on your activation landing page.

If you’re running a small business, using a relevant report, eBook or white paper to encourage new subscriptions is a great way to do lead generation for your company.

Prize drawings are usually for physical items, such as money, gift cards, or some other real-world item that your audience would value. But you can think out of the box here too. Your prize could also be a service you offer, such as an hour of your time, a personalized seminar, free market analysis, a coaching call etc. Depending on what you do, this can also be an effective lead generation tool.

The value of what you offer should also be relevant to the value your list brings you. If your audience is frugal moms, for example, offering a $100 gift card is a very appealing offer – it’s perfect for an audience focused on spending less. If that offer brings you 5,000 extra subscribers over the life of the incentive then you’re paying 2c per subscriber; significantly less than you would pay via  traditional PPC or CPA advertising.

No matter what your incentive offering, track your metrics, and try testing with different incentives on a weekly or monthly basis to see which work best for you. Changing your rewards seasonally, timed with a product / service launch (not necessarily your product or service, e.g. think: next iPhone release), or even something topical can reap rewards. Simply rotating a set of equally effective incentives can yield a boost as each new offer goes live.

Finally, if you’re using a reward incentive, mention the winner (perhaps anonymously, as in “PH from Sudbury, MA won this month’s prize”) on your blog and in your mailings – show your readership that the reward is real and that people are getting it.  

Recurring Rewards

Once on your list, you want a subscriber to stay on the list. Relevant content is key, of course, but you can also reward them with something that’s also only available while they’re on the list. This might be a separate email to the whole list (see “Cupcakes, Recipes and Printables, Oh My!”), or a drawing eligible to current subscribers every week, month or quarter. If you’re going to run a recurring prize drawing, however, make sure your emails remind them of the fact that (a) the drawings are happening, and (b) that they must be an active subscriber to qualify.

Advertising

Professional bloggers and businesses should consider advertising as a way to attract new subscribers. You can offer the incentive in your ad and direct them straight to the relevant form or “squeeze” page. You can advertise using third party content networks, such as Google’s AdWords or a Facebook ad. You can also place ads on related bogs, partner or directory sites. If you accept ads and you have space to fill, consider an exchange between you and a partner site for your ad.

Since advertising does typically cost money, however, make sure that you measure and understand the ROI (return on investment) of your ad program. Specifically, you need to measure the subscriber acquisition cost generated by the ad, and that subscriber’s lifetime value (LTV) – in other words, how much income a subscriber means to you, on average, while they’re on your list or a member of your site. You don’t want to waste money on getting subscribers onto your list, after all.

Incentive Optimization

Once you’ve tried several incentives and you’ve found the one(s) that work well, test them further by moving them around on our site and changing the copy or graphics associated with them (see the ultimate heatmap referenced here). Do they work better on the left or right sidebar?

If you have a good incentive, consider moving it above your logo and masthead (as Money Saving Mom does here):

Effective but Annoying: Popups

Popup dialogs, especially ones that move, can be very effective in getting subscribers to join your list. We’ve all seen them: you navigate to a page, and between five and 30 seconds later the page is hidden behind a popup asking for your subscription (often with a special offer incentive attached too).

People use these because they work – they add subscribers quickly. Personally, I loathe them. They interrupt what I’m doing without permission, and as a professional, ethical marketer, permission is important to me (as is not being interrupted, let’s face it). Where they can go from intrusively annoying to losing you visitors is when a popup appears on every page visited, and doesn’t respect the reader’s decision not to sign up (or worse, keeps appearing after the visitor has, in fact, signed up).

If you’re going to use a popup, here are my suggestions:

  • Consider using a header or footer toolbar plugin instead.
  • Time the popup so the subscriber can read your content first. If they haven’t had time to decide that your content is valuable after five seconds, you are wasting their time asking for a subscription that quickly. Consider delaying the popup until the second or third page view that session.
  • Don’t nag. Do not pop up the form on every page view. Wait a for an hour or two at least.
  • Ensure your form has a mechanism to never reappear (a “don’t ask me again” checkbox, for example).
  • Don’t ask existing subscribers for a subscription! If the visitor is already on the list it’s really, really annoying to be interrupted again about joining the list.

Offline Events

When you step out into the real world for your sales, marketing or other activity, take along a signup sheet. At a bake sale? Take a signup sheet. Speaking at a seminar, business breakfast? Take a signup sheet. Going to a networking event? Take a signup sheet.

Your signup sheet should ask for name and email address and should have an option the attendee can check to be asked to join your mailing list. When you get back from your event, you can add the ones who wanted to join your list directly (but only the ones who checked the opt in box, right? Right).

Which gets me to…

Importing Subscribers

You have some addresses you want to import. You want to add them to your list.

And that’s probably fine, especially if you’re switching from one mailing list system to another. It is a legitimate activity to switch list apps / services / vendors, and you should not have to make your already opted in subscribers opt in all over again simply because you want to use email service A instead of email service B.

That said, untrammeled subscriber import is an obvious way to spam people, and spam is bad. Subscriber import, from an email service vendor’s perspective, is fraught with danger. While we all want you to grow your list – it’s how we’re paid, one way or another – we want it done properly so we don’t get blacklisted.

There are several approaches that different services have adopted to balance client list import needs with protecting deliverability and service integrity: 

  • Don’t allow imports at all (e.g. FeedBurner). You have to get everyone to opt in again using your form. Very effective for preventing abuse, but a pain for you if your list is anything other than trivial.
  • Only allow imports with rock solid proof. Imports are only allowed if you have associated log data (e.g. containing the IP address of the system that originally created the subscription). Imports are gated, often subject to manual review before you can run a mailing. Effective, true, but can create significant delays for you while you’re waiting for any reviews to complete. These vendors are basically saying they don’t trust you (yet). They may also simply not allow imports from older or in-house systems due to lack of proof, and so if you can’t meet their tests subscribers have to opt in all over again.
  • Allow selective imports without notification. FeedBlitz allows imports directly from FeedBurner lists, for example, precisely because the only way on to a FeedBurner list in the first place is via dual opt in. It’s inherently trusted.
  • Allow imports with an opt out mailing. This is FeedBlitz’s core (non-FeedBurner) approach; imports are allowed but we send every recipient a welcome mail along with an opt out link. This allows us to collect list quality metrics immediately, but since the vast majority of bloggers and list owners are ethical, we don’t gate your use of that list. In other words, FeedBlitz trusts you unless we discover we shouldn’t. Since this an inherently riskier approach, FeedBlitz employs robust anti-abuse and import checking technologies to ensure the process isn’t abused – all before the opt out emails are even sent. It works for us and for our clients; our deliverability is excellent.
  • Allow all imports no matter what. You can do this with self-hosted software (perhaps as basic as your own email software), and with other systems and services. While this is the easiest for you, services that don’t somehow check or validate imports place your reputation at great risk. Self-serving as it may well seem, I’d avoid any service or product that does not somehow filter or verify imports.
IMPORTANT: Use a reputable provider that uses some kind of “safe importing” approach.

If you can’t import a subscriber, what you can do is add them using your subscription form, starting the dual opt in process (you MUST use dual opt in; don’t do anything less). Make sure, however, that you only add folks who have explicitly told you that they want your mailings. 

Importing and abuse sanctions

If you start adding addresses that haven’t given you permission your complaint rates will rise and should be quickly noticed by your email provider. Once this happens, the conversation between you and their anti-abuse team is likely to be brief, uncomfortable and very to the point.

They may close your account, or restrict your ability to import. At FeedBlitz, for example, we automatically suspend any list where the metrics indicate abuse, no matter who the client. If an import appears to be spammy or not permissioned properly, it is stopped before any opt out emails are sent and further imports prevented until you get in touch with us.  

Importing: What you must never, ever, EVER do

Permission is everything in email marketing, and – remember – once you start your blog’s list you have become an email marketer.

Do not import email addresses from anything other than a source you control. So do not import from a CD of names you bought on the Internet, for example. Don’t do it.

Do not rent or buy email addresses and add them to your list. You do NOT have permission to email anyone on these lists. If permission was ever granted by the addressee (doubtful), it was to the list’s vendor, not to you. Don’t do it.

Do not import from a partner blog or sister company’s list. This includes your spouse’s blog, your BFF’s site or the firm whose Board your CEO is on. The names on that list gave their permission to the list owner for the list owner’s content. If you mail them it’s spam. Don’t do it.

Bottom line: If permission was not explicitly granted to you for the content of your blog, do not import. 

Your Action Items

  • Make sure your subscription form is clearly visible on your blog.
  • Add list-aware social media integrations.
  • Create a set of incentives to offer to accelerate list growth.
  • Plan and test your incentives.
  • Optimize your best incentive by testing with different copy, graphics and locations.
  • Create a signup sheet for offline events.
  • Only import subscribers who previously gave you permission directly to mail them.

Next Up

Growing your list’s quality – making the most of your current subscribers.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you’re a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or “Like” on Facebook using the buttons below. Don’t forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

Five Key Steps to Grow Your Mailing List #LBB

Five Key Steps to Grow Your Blog’s Mailing List

[This is the third article in the List Building for Bloggers #LBB series. Read the first and second ones.]

In this post you will learn about:
  1. How to get subscribers
  2. What to send your subscribers
  3. When to send it
  4. Listening to Unsubscribes
  5. Promoting your list

There’s also a comprehensive set of action items at the end for you to use right now to better grow your list.

Getting Subscribers

Once your visitors have landed on your site, you want them to subscribe. And for that you’ll need a subscription form where the subscriber gives you their information and starts the dual opt-in process.

Preventing Abuse: Dual Opt-in and the Dreaded CAPTCHA

At some point during the subscription process – and this typically happens up front – the application managing the subscriber has to determine two distinct things:

  • That the visitor is probably human and not a machine;
  • That the human using the email address given actually wants to subscribe.
The first is often solved by a CAPTCHA – those squiggly letters and numbers that you see on many forms. The idea here is that a spam bot can’t read the images well whereas you and I can (with varying degrees of difficulty). There are complexities here around computer-based image verification and providing alternatives for the visually impaired, but passing a CAPTCHA test indicates a high probability that you’re a carbon-based life form.

A CAPTCHA or similar anti-bot device stops automated submission software (aka bots) filling lists with crud and also helps deliverability because crud-free mailings keeps you on the good side of the ISPs trying to stop spam from reaching their customers. It’s a Good Thing.

Dual opt-in proves that the email address submitted to the form is real and actually wants to get what is being signed up for. If you’re signing up someone maliciously this is the part of the process that will catch you. And by the way, if you do this as a prank, be aware that on any reasonable system your IP addresses will have been logged and is traceable. Here at FeedBlitz, for example, we can and do share the IP of the computer which created a subscription if asked to by the email address owner.

The point of this little segue was to emphasize that what you and your subscribers see as a simple subscription form has quite a lot to do behind the scenes to make sure your list is of the highest possible quality.

Placing the Subscription Form

So because the subscription form has a lot to do, it’s often broken up into a couple of steps: Grabbing the subscriber’s email address, and then presenting the CAPTCHA and requesting other data (such as demographics like city, state and zip) on a secondary page or popup. The benefit of this approach is two-fold:

  • The form on your site can be quite small (it only needs an email field and a submit button)
  • The process is initially “low friction” i.e. it’s easy to start.

In order to get the most visitors to subscribe to your blog, you need to:

  • Have the subscription form on every page
  • Make your subscription form easy to find
  • Minimize the number of clicks it takes to get there

The absolute best place to have a subscription form is at the top of your sidebar, above the fold, clearly marked. Every click a subscriber has to make just to get to the form will reduce the likelihood that they will subscribe. So go to your site now (home page and a post page) and look for your email subscription form. If you have to scroll to find it, move it up. If you can’t see it at all, fix it. If it’s unclear, make it more visible. If it’s a click or two away, change how it’s presented. Other places where forms can be effective are above your logo or banner (yes, you read that right), or below every post as part of the footer. If you want to research positioning further, check out the heatmap link referenced here.

If you can avoid it in your design, do NOT use an envelope icon (I know, I know, I don’t currently follow this rule. I should, though). Why? Because an envelope icon can mean
  • Subscribe by mail
  • Email me (i.e. the site owner)
  • Forward to a friend in an email
There are probably other reasons, but the point is this: what the envelope links to and does isn’t clear unless you have words under it. And even then it’s an extra click to get to the start of the process; without incentives you’re losing potential readers from the very start.

Secondly, everyone understands email and relatively few understand RSS. So do NOT use a version of the RSS icon to stand for your generic subscription page; your readers won’t get it. Further, if you are using icons, use the email icon first. Why? Because (a) casual visitors understand email and not RSS unless your audience is very technical, and (b) email is a better subscription channel for you. You’re both missing out if you prioritize something that’s relatively arcane and very technical – RSS – over something that’s ubiquitous, well-understood and simply better – email.

Once the form is up, the pages that it sends subscribers to should reinforce your branding and so make the visitor feel comfortable that they’re safe and still dealing with you. If you’re using a third party service make sure that you’re using their branding features. If they offer an embedded form that keeps the visitor on your own site, that’s great for branding too.

Finally, the form should be self-maintaining. If you add or drop custom fields, for example, you (or your graphic designer) shouldn’t have to go edit your site again. If you do you have to re-test the site, you might mess something up, you might have to wait and pay your web guys or VA (virtual assistant) to do it, etc.

What to Send Your Subscribers

Now you’re signing people up, what are you going to send them? You have two basic decisions to make here:

  • Full or partial posts
  • All posts or just some

Full vs. Partial

If you send full posts (which most subscribers will prefer) you should expect lower click through rates, because the content is all there in the mail (use your email service to provide recaps of older or related posts if you can to encourage interactions back to the site).

If you send partial posts – which is tempting for sites which monetize through ads and affiliate programs – you should see more visitors come back to the site. There are a few things to bear in mind before going the partial post route for your blog, though:

  • Most content truncation systems are really, really stupid. When your content is abbreviated you get plain text: no images, no formatting, no links. It’s dull and not at all compelling (not true for FeedBlitz, see the graphic on the left). So test first to check you are OK with what is sent.
     
  • Make your cut off point far enough into the post so that what is sent is enough to hook the subscriber into clicking through. I’d definitely advise against headlines-only mailings, for example, as they clearly fail this critical test.
     
  • Make sure you have a clear and compelling call to action in your mailing to get readers to click through.
     
  • A small – but typically vocal – minority of subscribers will simply unsubscribe from partial post subscriptions on principle. Apparently that one extra click is too much of a burden for you to place on them, despite all the effort it took to get onto the list on the first place because your content was so good. Go figure.

Choosing the Posts to Send

Most blog to mail systems will send every post you write, and for most bloggers that’s exactly what you want.

However, you may only want to send certain posts automatically, in which case you should use an RSS to email subscription system that can filter. For example, here on the FeedBlitz News blog we filter out articles tagged “noemail” – they’re typically used to notify site visitors of transient problems and aren’t for mailing to a broader audience later on as they wouldn’t be relevant. Similarly, if your site is large and complex you might want to use filters to drive multiple mailings; again, that’s a topic for a later article. 

When to Send: Scheduling

When to schedule mailings really depends on just two key factors: how often you write and your audience’s expectations. In particular, if your mailings don’t align with the latter your unsubscribe rate will rise.

If your blog is for a town and you want to use an email service to send emergency alerts, you want the fastest possible schedule you can get; you won’t be mailing often, but when you do it has to go quickly.

If you’re a casual blogger and posting a couple of times a week, you can probably go with prompt delivery or a daily digest – it isn’t time critical stuff. On the other hand, a corporate B2B blogger might run with a weekly schedule, because that might suit the corporate audience’s work routines better.

If you blog more often – including multiple times a day – you may well want to go with a daily or even a weekly digest, since anything faster risks aggravating subscribers with too many emails. Too much emailing also risks increasing your complaint rate, which in turn increases the risk that ISPs will start routing your email to junk instead of the inbox.

No matter what you choose, a properly configured email subscription service won’t send mailings if properly configured. If it does there’s probably a configuration problem or, worse, a zombie.

Advanced users can create multiple lists to accommodate different types of reader; again I’ll cover that in a later post.

Listening to your Unsubscribes

One of the great things about bloggers is the amount of interaction and community around our audience. We engage in conversations, listen and incorporate what we hear into what we do.

A notification that someone has unsubscribed is another form of feedback. Although it feels personal, it probably isn’t. Unless you’ve just written something that you knew was risky, it probably isn’t even about your content. The subscriber’s probably lost interest, changed direction, or doing something different.

But, whatever the reason, you should pay attention to the message someone leaving your list sends you. Your unsubscribe form should ask why people are leaving the list (but not to the point of being onerous and stopping the process) and you should have access to that data. You might find out, for example, that your audience prefers weekly instead of daily updates, so you can simply change the schedule and that should make an immediate difference.

No matter what, though, the unsubscribe process should be fast, accessible and easy to understand. Do NOT make people log in to a system to unsubscribe. US and international regulations require that an unsubscribe option be clearly visible in all non-transactional emails – which includes ALL emails sent from your blog (a transactional email would be an email confirmation of a purchase, for example – it isn’t from a subscription but is instead part of a process).

Promoting Your List

So your form is on your blog – but you’re not done. Where else can that form go? How else can you encourage people to sign up?

Well, for starters, If your blog is part of a larger site with non-blog content, make sure the subscription form is everywhere on your web presence, not just the blog.

Next, find your service’s Facebook app and add it to your Facebook site. This is really important for consumer-oriented communities where the bulk of activity is on Facebook and not the blog itself; if you’re not trying to capture your readers there as well you’re really missing out. If you use a Facebook app to post to your Pages and Walls make sure that it asks readers to subscribe to your list. Ditto for LinkedIn and other relevant integrations.

For services like FeedBlitz that also offer a link to a hosted subscription form, use that link on sites and other locations where you can’t add a form, such as:

  • Facebook wall posts and your FB profile.
  • Your downloadable and printed collateral e.g. brochures, media kits, eBooks, coupons.
  • Your email signature.
  • Your LinkedIn and other social media site profiles.
  • Your about me page.
  • Your business cards.
  • Your stationery.

If you think about all the places someone can read something you’ve produced you’ll probably find something that isn’t yet asking for a subscription. All your content should link back to your site and give them an opportunity to subscribe. Remember, if you don’t ask for the order you’re not going to get the sale.

Importing and Transferring Subscribers

I know I promised this for this week, but today’s post is already long enough and I also promised that it would be shorter, so I’ll cover this next time!

Your Action Items

  • Add email subscriptions to your blog.
  • Determine your schedule and choose full or partial posts.
  • Check that your subscription option is clearly visible and above the fold.
  • Check your email option is unambiguous and ahead of RSS subscriptions.
  • Check the subscription option is on all pages of your blog.
  • Integrate email subscriptions with your social media platforms.
  • Add subscription links to other online resources and collateral.
  • Blog!

For FeedBlitz Users

  • Configure your subscription form and links at Newsletters | Forms | Subscription Forms.
  • Set post truncation settings at Newsletters | Settings | Content Settings | The Basics.
  • Schedules are controlled at Newsletters | Mailings | Schedule.

Next Up

Growing your list quickly and ethically: Subscriber imports, incentives and promotions.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you’re a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or “Like” on Facebook using the buttons below. Don’t forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

Lists, Email Marketing and your Blog #LBB

[This is the second article in the List Building for Bloggers #LBB series. Read the first one here]

Your Blog’s List

The most effective marketing tool available to you is email marketing. In the previous #LBB article I compared email to other forms of social media and showed you that not only did it outperform other forms of social media, email subscribers are higher quality subscribers as well.

The Hub and Spoke

Not the bicycle store downtown, and not that cute British pub you visited on vacation last year. Instead, the “hub and spoke” system is a very effective way to market yourself across all types of media. I’ve seen different bloggers use this concept in multiple ways to explain how they use it for SEO or promotions. The basic idea, though, is the same regardless:

  • Your blog is the hub where you create and manage your core content.
  • All other (social) media channels are the spokes through which the content is redistributed.

In other words, you create your core content and value on the blog. The content then flows out from there along the spokes to the other venues: Facebook, Twitter, your email list etc. Conversations and inspiration then flow back. You’re probably using a hub and spoke approach now.

Adopting (or formalizing) a hub and spoke approach doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t create content (Tweets, Wall posts etc.) out on the spokes – you should. It doesn’t even mean that your largest audience will be on your blog; there are many consumer-oriented sites now whose largest audience is on Facebook.

But the prime content starts from the blog and works it way out, and when it does so via email you have become an email marketer.

Email Marketing and Your Blog

Now I know you probably don’t think of yourself as being in marketing, still less this strange beast called email marketing.

Instead you want to write about your cause, your family, how to save money, how to make money, maybe even how to eat money (tip: don’t). You blog about your passion: Travel, business, coding, model trains, antique flange sprockets, Egyptian butterflies, the mating habits of the South American ping pong ball. You’re in this for self-expression, not to fall into this thing called email marketing.

Good news: There are third party services like FeedBlitz that will take care of this for you by automating the process. We live and breathe this stuff so you don’t have to. We’re here to help.

But you still have to choose a service, or manage the mailings yourself if you keep it in-house. So here are some common email marketing terms demystified (hopefully!) for you to bear in mind. If this gets to be too arcane after the first few, skip down to the mythology department to skewer a few well-known.

Email Marketing: Terms and Terminology

Here are the basic email marketing terms and what they mean for you and your blog, no matter how you set up your email subscription delivery.

The List

This is the basically the database of email subscribers you are mailing. It can be as simple as just an email address, or can contain other data (called demographic data) you collect along with email addresses such as subscriber names, gender, city, state, zip etc. Most bloggers start out with one list; over time you will probably end up with multiple lists. For example, David Garland has a daily, a weekly and an events list for his site The Rise to the Top.

Relevance

All of the subscribers on any one list should have a common interest which you serve with relevant content. Relevance is huge for managing deliverability and making sure that subscribers not only stay subscribed but help you recruit more visitors to your site. The good news is that it is easy to stay relevant as long as your blog stays on-topic and powers mailings to your list.

Mailings

A mailing is an email you send to your list. A mailing can be a one-off, such as a holiday sales offer, or today’s email subscription from your blog. Mailings are sent to your list or a segment of your list.

Segments and Groups

A segment (sometimes known as a group) means a subset of your list, which you can define based on information you know about the subscriber. It allows you to target mailings to one or more specific subscribers, something that you can’t do with, say, RSS subscribers.

Newsletters and Blog Subscriptions: Just the same, only different.

A newsletter is basically a regular mailing from you to your list. For most bloggers, blog to mail services like FeedBlitz automate this process, and these updates are their newsletter. It’s great editorial content, nicely formatted, that goes out on a frequency determined by the blogger.

Some bloggers and publishers consider their newsletter to be something beyond the automatically mailed posts. When used this way, a newsletter contains additional editorial content which does not appear on the blog and can be sent instead of (or as well as) automatic mailings from the blog. Personally, I don’t understand why a publisher’s extra editorial wisdom should be restricted to just the email list and not shared with every visitor to the site; a great way to do this is to write a weekly wrap-up post on your blog and have that automatically mailed as part of your blog to mail service.

Email Blasts

Ethical professional corporate marketers really, really, REALLY dislike the term email blast, because it sounds spammy. But what is it? It’s a one-off mailing to your list. That’s all. So it’s okay to “blast your list” as long as a few basic rules are followed:

  • The list is yours and properly opted-in.
  • Blasts are the exception, not the rule.
  • They’re relevant to your list.

Break any of these rules, though, and your rewards will be unsubscribes, complaints and ISPs blocking your mail. So don’t abuse it. Keep the ratio of blast to newsletter at six to one or better.

Autoresponders

Autoresponders are mailings sent in fixed sequence over a period of time to subscribers. A “thank you” note sent to a subscriber when they confirm their subscription is a very simple, one mailing long, autoresponder.

Autoresponders can (and often do) have multiple steps to them; they are therefore used for what is often called “drip marketing” where you send an email subscriber mail at regular intervals to incent them to do whatever it is you want them to do. They can be used to send special offers, send surveys a few days or months after a subscriber joins the list, and more. Darren Rowse has an excellent article on ProBlogger on how he uses autoresponders on his sites. Well worth a read.

If you’re still not entirely clear on the difference between a regular mailing and an autoresponder, see this article in the FeedBlitz knowledge base.

Confirmed Dual Opt-In

The only way to make sure your list grows legitimately is to use confirmed dual-opt in. Confirmed dual opt-in proves that the email address given on your subscription form is (a) real, and (b) the email addresses’ owner actually wants your mailings. The process requires the recipient to actively confirm they want your mailings by clicking on a link in a mail sent to them after the initial subscription form has been submitted.

Anything other than dual opt-in will lead to higher complaint rates and your mail not getting through. Don’t do it (a reputable email service provider won’t let you either).

Bounces

A “bounce” happens when an email can’t be delivered. Email services like FeedBlitz typically define two classes of bounce: hard and soft.

A hard bounce is where the receiving system says “the account you’re trying to mail does not exist” in which case you (or your service) should delete the subscriber from the list and not attempt to send mail to that address again. I’ll cover why in the deliverability section below.

A soft bounce is where the email can’t be delivered because of a temporary problem, like the receiving server being offline or too busy, the subscriber’s mailbox being full, etc. Soft bounces are okay to try to send to later.

Complaints

When someone clicks the “spam” button in their ISP’s webmail app the sending system should record that as a complaint. ISPs track complaint rates to help them determine whether you are being a well-behaved mailer. Do the right thing and you get to the inbox. If you have high complaint rates you’re going to end up in junk. Not good. Complaint rates should be 0.3% or lower for any reasonably sized list. AOL takes a very dim view of mailers with complaint rates over 0.1%.

Complaints are typically delivered to email services like FeedBlitz by what are called “Feedback Loops” that link the mailer, such as FeedBlitz, to the ISP. They’re only available to bulk emailers in good standing with the ISPs in the first place (and that includes FeedBlitz, I’m happy to say). See this topic in the knowledge base for more.

Deliverability

Narrowly defined, deliverability is the ability of your email system to get the email you send into the welcoming arms of the of the subscriber’s email server. Any reputable email service provider should be getting deliverability rates in the high 97% or better range, because reputation is the prime factor in determining whether the email comes from a trusted source or not, and therefore whether it should go to the inbox or to junk. If you are unsure, set up some test accounts; mail them and see what happens.

Spam

Hereare the two golden rules about spam:

  1. Spam is the subscriber’s call to make and theirs alone.
  2. If you think have permission to mail them and they make a spam complaint, see rule 1.

It doesn’t matter if you think you got permission a year ago or yesterday. If the subscriber says “spam” it’s spam; it isn’t something to debate with them or your email service. Remove them from your list (your service should do tis for you automatically) and do not email them again.

Now, to be fair, there is some debate about whether you should email them one last time to confirm that they have been removed from your list (this applies to normal unsubscribes too), but as far as I’m concerned an unsubscribe or spam complaint means that they don’t want to hear from your again, and writing them one last time is asking for your mail to be classed as spam again, which will affect your reputation and hence deliverability.  This is, in fact, generally good advice about email marketing in general: If you’re not sure, don’t.

Spam filters and Reputation

Spam filters determine whether an email should be routed to your subscriber’s inbox (which is what you want), or transferred to junk or, worse, trash.

Most ISP filters work on reputation once the email has been received. Reputation is determined by the sender’s past behavior, and includes typical complaint rates, bounce rates, spam traps and other proprietary techniques.

So, for example, if you (or your service) repeatedly emails addresses that respond with hard bounces, your mail will be routed to junk as it is clear that you’re not paying any attention to what the receiving email systems it telling you.

Content filters (think Spam Assassin) used to be the only way to deal with spam. They are still used but increasingly play a secondary role to reputation for ISPs. It is extremely rare for email from an otherwise trusted sender to be routed to your subscriber’s junk folder. If and when that happens you should contact your email provider to figure out why. (For example, in the one case where that consistently happened to a FeedBlitz client this year we narrowed the problem down to a single link in the email that was triggering the IPS’s content filter. Remove the link, problem solved.).

Email from reputable senders should also pass commonly deployed filters (again, think Spam Assassin) because the emails will be properly structured and linked to external white lists. Unless you’re doing something you shouldn’t, you don’t have to worry about content filters if you’re using a reputable third party vendor for mailings from your blog.

White, Gray and Blacklists

A whitelist routes mail directly to the subscriber’s inbox and bypasses most filtering.

A blacklist is a list that immediately routes your email to junk or trash; in some cases it a blacklist won’t even let your email server connect to the subscriber’s email server. Your mail doesn’t get through. You don’t want to be blacklisted.

Greylisting is a technique where the subscriber’s email servers tells you that the server is busy right now, please come back later. It’s not actually true, but it’s an effective anti-spam technique because spambots typically won’t bother to retry. Their mission is to shove a gazillion mails out the door as fast as possible; tracking and attempting retries gets in the way and they won’t.

Reputable and corporate email systems, however, will retry later, at which point your mail will be accepted for delivery. Greylisting works extremely well for receivers. It may cause problems for senders, however, as it tends to delay messages and uses resources to track and manage the later retries.

Authentication

Authenticated mail is genuine mail – a receiver can tell whether the email is really from the system it says it’s from.

Why is this necessary? Well, unfortunately, it’s easy to fake who an email is from. Spammers, phishers, viruses and malware do this all the time. You’ve probably received those fake emails from someone pretending to be your bank.

Authentication enables a receiver to tell whether the email that says it is from megabank.com was actually sent by megabank.com. FeedBlitz, for example, uses two authentication techniques on every email we send: SPF and DKIM (they’re very technical specs and beyond the scope of this post).We do this because we have a great reputation (and therefore great deliverability) and we don’t want a spammer wrecking that for us. Only emails sent from our servers will authenticate.

It’s important to understand, though, that authentication only says whether the email is really from the system that says it sent it. That email can still be spam, however, because spam is the subscriber’s opinion of the quality of the content of your email, not whether it is genuinely from you.

Email Facts, Fear and Mythology

So now you understand some of the terminology, let’s take a look at some of the common fears and myths surrounding email marketing best practices:

My customers are technically unsophisticated and cannot use dual opt-in

Dual opt-in confirmations are required now for almost every service out there to validate email addresses. They’re widely used and now expected. They can and do manage! Plus any other opt in technique is too easily abused and will affect your deliverability. So relax – focus on your content and building a reputable, high-quality list.

I can’t email too often – my subscribers will freak out!

This isn’t typically true for bloggers, because “freak outs” (i.e. mass unsubscribes and complaints) are caused by losing relevance or over-selling, i.e. spamming your list. Since your blog is, by definition, relevant to your subscribers this isn’t a problem for bloggers. But, should you get lots of complaints and unsubscribes, pay attention to what your audience is telling you. If your readership is voting with its feet take action. Refocus and / or back off a bit.

For example, FeedBlitz recently had a new client with a weekly mailing. At my behest we switched to daily mailings. Unsubscribes picked up noticeably over the next few days; this blogger’s audience had been used to weekly mailings from the previous service and they liked it that way, so we quickly switched back.

Finally, you can offer subscribers different mailings; they can then self-select into the daily or weekly versions and you can avoid the problem altogether.

Now, subscribers will freak out when email marketers (usually not bloggers) “blast” the list with nothing but sales pitches. Once the pitch to post ratio gets too high (and the unsubscribe rate will clearly tell you when that is) relevance is lost and subscribers will flee. Again, blog-powered mails are typically very relevant and this isn’t a concern.

In fact, if you’re a traditional corporate email marketer who writes a custom email newsletter once a month or once a quarter you are not mailing your list enough; every email you send will actually generate more unsubscribes and complaints than it should. Why? Because you’re not top of mind in your subscriber’s minds, and irregularly sent emails that arrive months after a subscription was confirmed will feel “out of the blue” and much more likely to be less relevant and more likely to be marked as spam. If this is you and you can’t mail more often, consider using multi-step autoresponders to new subscribers to establish your presence in their mailbox between newsletter issues.

The core difference here is respect for your audience and readership. As bloggers we are all about respecting and growing our readership. As such, complaint rates are typically very low and engagement high.

Corporate email marketers risk treating their audience as low-cost resource they can sell to cheaply and at will. Bloggers don’t. This core difference in attitude is what makes this myth false for bloggers and social media, but potentially true for corporations with little personally invested in their readership.

Shared servers are bad: I need a dedicated IP address for my mailings

Not true if you are using a reputable email service to power and deliver mailings from your blog. Why? Because email services like FeedBlitz care for and monitor our reputations and deliverability, so our servers and domain reputations will be excellent. It’s what we do! You are not only outsourcing email production and delivery, your are also effectively outsourcing email reputation management as well.
Moreover, the email volume through reputable email services with well-known servers at fixed IPs is so large (for example, FeedBlitz sends well over one billion emails a year) that even a rogue list, should it even make it that far, can’t affect the service’s reputation as a whole because it will still be relatively insignificant to the entire day’s mail sent from that IP.

It is true, however, that you should not send your blog’s mailings from your shared web server using your shared web server hosting service. This is because the volume of mail from a shared web server is much smaller than from a dedicated email server run by a dedicated email service like FeedBlitz. As such, a spam web site on the same web server can easily ruin that machine’s reputation, and take your email with it as the ISPs refuse to accept mail from that server.

Furthermore, many web hosts will limit the amount of email you can send per day, because it’s much, much easier for them to throttle you than to take care of managing email reputation for the thousands of IPs they host. If you are even close to being successful you’ll hit those limits very quickly. A dedicated email service won’t limit you that way at all. There are lots more reasons why DIY isn’t such a great idea for anything other than a trivially small list, but I’ll cover that in a later article.

Next Up

Nitty gritty, actionable items to help you with getting started. How to set up and manage your list, scheduling, formatting, subscription forms and subscriber transfers.

About List Building for Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you’re a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

Why Aren’t Email Lists Extinct in the Age of Social Media? #LBB

[This is the first article in our List Building for Bloggers #LBB series]

So you’ve started your blog. You’re on Facebook and perhaps even have a Twitter account. You’re rocking this whole social media thing; why on earth should you bother with email? It’s so, well, twentieth-century isn’t it? Isn’t email extinct, dead and gone?

Why bother offering email subscriptions at all?

Because you can’t afford not to.

Here’s why:

  • Email subscriptions are WAY more popular than RSS.
  • Email subscribers are your biggest fans.
  • Email is everywhere.
  • Email is accessible.
  • Email is the most effective subscription mechanism available.
  • Adding email subscriptions to your blog is fast and easy.
  • Managing email subscriptions won’t take up your time.

You’ll grow your readership, build your community and monetize more effectively by combining your blog with email. It’s that simple.

Email Subscriptions are Very, VERY Popular

The facts are that email works: people want it. Email subscriptions – i.e. your newsletter or mailing list – are familiar to the vast majority of people online. They’re comfortable with the concept. When FeedBlitz partnered with FeedBurner back in 2005 to deliver their email services for them, email subscriptions were the #1 requested feature.

Moreover, the evidence shows that email subscriptions are significantly more popular than their most frequently cited social media equivalent, RSS feeds. (I’ll ignore for now the fact that most bloggers’ email subscriptions are ultimately powered by RSS; it isn’t important from the email subscriber’s perspective).

Need some data? HubSpot ran a survey in 2009 and found that email subscription rates varied by audience, but could be as much as 12 times (not 12 percent, 12 times) more popular than RSS.

Darren Rowse, aka @ProBlogger, revealed at a session Blog World 2010 that ~75% of his subscribers were email-based; that’s 3 times the number of RSS subscribers.

Based on these data points, if you don’t offer email subscriptions you’re potentially missing three to ten times your potential subscriber base.

Your mileage will vary, but clearly the opportunities lost to connect are significant. Can you really afford not to grow your subscriber base that much with a simple step?

Put another way, if someone told you that you could boost your subscriber count four-fold or ten-fold with five minutes’ work, wouldn’t you leap at that opportunity? That’s what having email subscriptions in your blog can deliver over time.

Email Subscribers are your Biggest Fans

These days it’s work – it takes commitment – to subscribe to a properly run mailing list, what with CAPTCHAs and dual opt-in. The email subscribers on your list have made this commitment to you, and they are inviting you to barge right in and occupy their inbox (you need to do this respectfully, of course, but that’s for a later post in the List Building for Bloggers #LBB series).

Many people follow hundreds of “friends” on Facebook, Twitter accounts, and all those teeny-weeny, unbranded, untracked, undifferentiated, easy to miss messages fly by.

See too Jay Baer questions the current vogue of trumpeting the number of Facebook fans and compares the trend to email subscriber valuation:

“The psychology of Facebook “likers” is similar to email newsletter subscribers (I have enough kinship with this company to allow them to stay in touch with me). However, in comparison to your Facebook fans, your email subscribers usually provide far more important information to your business when they subscribe. It takes a lot more than one click to subscribe to an email list.”

Compare and contrast. Your email to a subscriber is in their inbox, by invitation. Fully branded. Content rich. Tracked. Customized. Personalized. A Tweet? Not so much.

Your subscribers are your core audience.

They’re the foundation of your community. They advocate for you. Engage with you. Recommend and refer you. And email is the best mechanism for staying in touch – and for them to forward your messages too.

Email is Everywhere

You’re a blogger. You’re probably more tech savvy than many of your friends. Although you have already several email accounts (one from your ISP, cable or phone company, one from a free service like gmail or hotmail, one for your work, and one for your cell phone), you may prefer not to use email much of the time. That may be true of your blogging friends too as you all hang out online on Twitter.

So when you think subscribers, you may well think of RSS first. That’s fine; it’s natural to do so for you. But remember this:

You are not your audience.

Think about it. Your audience is probably less technically sophisticated than you are. They don’t know nor care what RSS is. They don’t want to download and install and learn yet another system just to get updates from your blog. And no, they don’t understand that little orange RSS icon in their browser and they don’t understand how to get to the browser’s integrated RSS reader to subscribe and track updates. It isn’t happening for them.

So, unless you are writing for a very tech savvy readership, your readers are not as likely to be comfortable with Twitter, RSS feeds or even Facebook. They don’t “get” it. That’s fine too – they’re not worse than you or me, just not as focused on new messaging technology. So stop trying to persuade them that they’re wrong (or, worse, stupid), and accommodate them.

Give them an email subscription option instead.

Because they’ll all have email addresses. And so, no matter what, using email, you have the chance to turn a casual visitor from another blog or from a Google search into a subscriber, a fan, a member of your core community.

Email is also great because of its ubiquity. You can capture almost anyone with an email subscription form. That’s just not true for a Twitter or Facebook page. In fact, the one thing you have to have to join any social network is a functioning, active, email address!

Email is Accessible

A growing number of companies are now blocking social media access from their offices. There a variety of reasons used to justify this – control, legislative compliance, security, productivity are just a few – and as short-sighted as you and I might think this is, it doesn’t matter. Debating the wisdom of such a move is irrelevant. Very often sites like Facebook are forbidden within the corporate firewall.

It is extremely unlikely, however, that email is blocked. A visitor accessing your blog from a business location can subscribe with their company email address and your messages get through. Problem solved.

Email is also the #1 application used on mobile phones for most people aside from, well, phoning. I’ll talk about making your emails mobile-friendly later in the #LBB series, but every smart phone has an email app built in and you can reach the mobile user with an email subscription process too.

Finally, email is readily accessible to people with visual impairments or reading difficulties. Screen-readers can easily convert an email for the visually impaired and so it’s often the best way for them to access your content as a subscriber. This is especially true for HTML mail (the vast majority sent today), since accessibility features in HTML such as alt and title tags also work in your HTML subscriber emails. Social networks and status updates are brief, text based messages that lose all this valuable information.

Email is the Most Effective Subscription Mechanism Available

Email Subscribers Are the Best Subscribers You Can Have

I’ve already mentioned that an email subscriber is a committed subscriber, based on the work they’ve had to do to get on your dual opt-in list in the first place. It takes time and effort to do this, and it’s much more of a meaningful investment than clicking “follow” on Twitter or sending a friend request on Facebook. In a sense, the ease of following someone on these social sites, while it ramps up your friend and follower counts, makes these counts increasingly meaningless. It’s all too casual. And causal is not committed, not invested and not as valuable to you in the long run because of that.

Email is popular and represents a subscriber investing their time in order to have you talk to them. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

But the best part of email subscriptions is what you as a blogger can do with them.

  • Unlike an RSS subscriber, you know who they are.
  • Unlike RSS and social media, you can brand emails to reinforce your message.
  • You can add your own ads or third party sponsorships.
  • You can ask them to tell you more about themselves.
  • You can personalize the interactions with each update (you can’t do that with a tweet, RSS entry or wall post).
  • You can target segments based on history, activity of other demographics.
  • You can track activity easily.
  • You can set up autoresponders for drip marketing and affiliate sales.
  • You can offer rewards and incentives for new subscribers.
  • You can test different subject lines and calls to action.

And you can do all of this automatically, driven by your blog, for next to no ongoing effort. It’s easy!

Email is Better for Most Subscribers

Most email applications are sophisticated, powerful pieces of software with years – decades in some cases – of investment put into them by their vendors. As such they can do things that most social media apps can barely dream of.

Here’s what I take for granted in my email system as a subscriber.

  • Sorting, search and cataloging mechanisms.
  • Folders and rules to automate organization.
  • Categorization, customized views, archiving.
  • Trivial forwarding, replying, attachments and more.
  • Available when I’m offline.
  • Robust! There’s no fail whale in your email app.

Email Complements, not Competes with, Your Blog and Social Media

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m a huge fan of social media. I blog, tweet and all the rest of it. This isn’t an email vs. social media battle.

It’s this basic: Email is the perfect complement to your blog and other social media channels. You can use your email to link back to your blog of course. But it can also link back to your Twitter account, Facebook page or LinkedIn profile. It can invite people to “like” an article, for example. Or to retweet on Twitter. If you consider your blog as the hub of a “hub and spoke” marketing system, your subscriber emails are mini-hubs. They too can link back to your other content and social media spokes.

And so the final benefit of having email subscriptions. Better than any other social medium, email can drive subscribers back to your site and your other social media content, increasing page views over time and establishing a virtuous cycle of greater page views, increasing monetization potential and further growing your subscriber base (your core fans and eventually, your core customers).

Adding Email Subscriptions is Fast, Easy and Won’t Add to your Workload

Here’s the really good news. Setting up email subscriptions for you blog won’t take very long and, if done right, won’t need much work from you once you’re up and running.

In fact, if you’re spending more than five minutes a day on your email list once you have it going successfully, I’d say that something is very wrong.

There are several options to choose from using capabilities that might come with your blogging service, using your own email systems, all the way through to external service providers, like FeedBlitz, who can manage this for you. Some are free, some premium, and we all have different features, pricing approaches and so forth.

There will be a post at the end of the #LBB series on how to choose a provider, but if you’re starting out now, just pick a reputable one (ask your blogging friends, research on Twitter etc.) and make a start. You can always export email subscribers for transfer later on if you wish (importing them elsewhere can be a hassle though – more on that can of worms in a later article).

Next Up on List Building for Bloggers #LBB

Welcome to Email Marketing with your Blog

List Building 101: Basic email marketing list jargon explained, demystified and a few myths debunked along the way.

About List Building for Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you’re a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

The Blatant FeedBlitz Plug

Obviously, we’d be thrilled to have you consider using FeedBlitz for your blog’s email subscription services (and more!). If you haven’t yet selected a blog to mail vendor, please click here to view our five minute “getting started” video tour.

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or “Like” on Facebook using the buttons below. Don’t forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)