To say that things are complicated right now would be the understatement of the century. As the world slowly retreats into their homes in the midst of a global pandemic, publishers are struggling to figure out what to do next.
On one hand, everything is up in the air — ad dollars included. On the other, publishers are seeing a huge spike in traffic as more and more people seek out information or distraction.
But even before COVID-19 hit, the publishing business was on the brink of transformation. With Google announcing that it would kill third-party cookies on Chrome, and Facebook and Google’s walled gardens monopolizing organic traffic, online publishing was due for a shakeup.
The collision of worldwide behavioral change and evolving media landscapes presents an opportunity as much as it does a challenge. To these ends, this is the moment for publishers to embrace their audiences and to ensure direct communication with them in the future.
Over the past year or so, newsletters have been in the midst of a “moment.” As attention fragments across multiple channels, newsletters have become a trusted source of curated information. More than ever, users understand the value of cutting through the noise in favor of an edited, customized content experience that comes from a trusted source. It’s no wonder, then, that newsletters like The Skimm, Morning Brew, and The Hustle have grown into businesses with millions in revenue.
That said, there’s no reason for online publishers to miss out on that slice of the pie. Newsletters are both a monetization opportunity and a way for publishers to build up their first-party data in preparation for potentially turbulent times ahead.
From experience, there are both good and less-than-ideal ways to go about building and maintaining newsletter programs. Here are a few of the lessons we’ve learned:
1. Establish Content and Cadence
A mistake we commonly see at Keywee is publishers wanting to collect emails for the sake of collecting emails. While building up first-party data is valuable, it loses value if it’s not followed up with ongoing communication. Establishing structured and regular communication with subscribers is paramount to maintaining the health of first-party data.
Before you start, take a look at the sections and articles where you have the most return visitors and organic traffic. That should be the basis for your newsletter content plan, and should be featured prominently.
After you figure out the content that you’ll cover, think about the cadence: How often do you want to communicate with your subscribers — Daily? Weekly? Your instinct may be to communicate as often as possible, but you should consider how much you have to say in the first place. If you can’t keep a daily newsletter fresh in terms of the topics and stories covered, you shouldn’t have a daily newsletter.
Remember that your newsletter will gain loyalty if the reader finds it valuable. Note that value does not come from repetition. It’s better to have a carefully curated weekly newsletter than a daily one with stories that carry over from previous editions. That being said, you should make a decision and stick to it. Whether you’re sending something every morning at 8 am or every third Tuesday at 3 pm, consistency is key.
2. Match Acquisition Content with Newsletter Content
A challenge that publishers often see with paid newsletter acquisition is both low open and engagement rates. While your instinct here may be to change up subject lines or play around with the email format, often the culprit has more to do with the content you’re using to acquire subscribers.
For example, let’s say that you’re a publisher that covers entertainment news and gossip. As part of an acquisition effort, you decide to promote a piece about a basketball player. That particular piece may attract users that are very much outside of your target audience. The result might be acquiring a bunch of subscribers that are interested in basketball rather than entertainment as a whole, and they all may have low engagement rates as a result.
Inbar Yagur is the Head of Product Marketing for Keywee, a leading provider of AI-driven content distribution for 100s of publishers, including Conde Nast, National Geographic, Gannet, and many more. Founded in 2013, Keywee helps publishers increase their revenue by supporting paid distribution for any business goal, from audience development to affiliate content. Inbar is a mother of two, a hopeless Harry Potter and Dr. Who fan, and a reciter of 90's SNL skits.