Many successful websites have an accompanying newsletter that they send out weekly or monthly. The benefits of publishing a newsletter are as myriad as those for running a community. A newsletter provides you with a way to inform those who do not visit your site daily of new articles or features, this alone is reason enough to publish a newsletter as the benefit is so substantial. Newsletters can also be used to gather feedback and demographic information from your visitors. If you want opinions on a current or planned feature for your site you can solicit those opinions via the newsletter. Of course newsletters have the additional benefit of generating ad revenue, which is typically substantially more than banner advertising in general. Well targeted newsletters carry a premium that most advertisers are willing to pay.
In planning your newsletter there are some issues to keep in mind. The first issue involves the frequency of your publication. At most you would want to publish your newsletter no more than 3 times a week. Publishing it daily will only annoy your subscribers and cause them to unsubscribe. Typically sites publish their newsletters on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. Depending on how much content you can scrounge up for your newsletter, and how frequently the content on your site changes, you will likely end up publishing at one of those frequencies.
The second issue you need to be aware of is newsletter length. No one wants to read an email pages and pages long, so you need to limit what you include. Some newsletters don't even include any articles - only a brief description of recent articles and some other editorial notes. Others may include the first page or first half of an article and provide a link for the rest of it. Only short articles should be listed in their entirety. If you're having problems figuring out what is the optimum length to send out then take advantage of one of the benefits listed above and ask your readers if they would prefer a shorter, or longer, version of your newsletter.
As technology has progressed another issue has arisen that a newsletter publisher must be concerned with. That issue is whether to send plain text email, or HTML email. The difference is that plain text emails are, well, plain text whereas HTML email can do nearly anything a website can do so you can include colors, images, and complex formatting. Most users would rather read HTML email, the problem is that not all email clients support HTML email. The best solution for this problem is to offer two versions of your newsletter: one HTML, the other plain text. This way your subscribers can choose which method of delivery they would prefer. If you do not have the technical sophistication to offer two versions you should stick with the text only format. This way you can assure 100% accessibility.
You will find that promoting a newsletter is much easier than promoting a community. Where the growth of a community is exponential, starting out very slow, the growth of your newsletter should be relatively linear and directly related to your current traffic.
Your newsletter can still grow slowly though, very slowly, if not promoted correctly. The first major thing you can do to increase growth is to advertise it in a popup. Sure plenty of people dislike popups, maybe even you, but this is one time when they are very beneficial. What you can do is popup a box on a user's first page view, or tenth page view, or anything in between depending on your preference. In the box will be some simple information about your newsletter and the ability to subscribe. This technique is so simple and yet it will increase your subscription rate by at least 100%, and likely more. The trick to keeping the annoyance factor down when doing this is by setting a cookie so that each visitor will only ever see your popup once. You can even warn or tell them this, which should erase any angst they might have felt when the window initially popped-up.
The popup cannot do all the work though so you should also display your subscription boxes prominently on your page. You should also provide detailed information on your newsletters, either on every page or on a separate page you can link to. It will also help your subscription rates if you make it easy for others to recommend your newsletter to a friend.
One major issue that will affect you subscription rates is the type of confirmation you use with your subscribers' email addresses. There are two main methods: opt-in and double opt-in. With opt-in subscribing a user must visit your site and enter his email address in your subscription box, they are then subscribed. With double opt-in subscribing a user gets a confirmation email after they subscribe with instructions they must follow, otherwise they will not be subscribed. Typical instructions are to visit a certain URL to validate their subscription, or to simply just reply to the email. There is also a third type, opt-out subscribing. This is when you subscribe someone to your newsletter and then they have to do something if they want to leave. This is also known as spam and should be avoided. For more information on spam see our article on spam.
Now believe it or not but even if you make your double opt-in instructions very simple people will still either forget to follow them or mess them up. As such your subscription rates will suffer dramatically if you use a double opt-in approach. The benefit to such an approach is increased security and the fact that you can verify all of your subscribers. Nevertheless I recommend the opt-in method because the increase in subscriptions is substantial.
If you use the opt-in method and worry about people putting in someone else's email address then one thing you can do is send a subscription confirmation when someone subscribes. This lets them know that they have been subscribed, so they can take immediate action if they did not want to be subscribed. You can also include such things as the IP address of the person who subscribed them. So you don't require them to do anything to stay subscribed, you simply inform them of their subscription.