e-NEWS – A Website’s Best Friend
Since the early days of the Internet, one of the great challenges has been to keep repeat visitors coming back to your website, and coming back in a timely fashion. You may hope their visit will coincide with news on your site about an upcoming sale, the introduction of new products or services, or the announcement of an exciting upcoming event.
Of course, a visitor may choose to go to your website at any time, but there is one great tool for bringing repeat vistors back to your website when it is strategically the most advantageous – and that tool is e-NEWS. E-NEWS has been around since the early days – primarily because it was originally text based (like the web) which made it very easy for anyone to create, as long as they could type and tell a reasonably good story.
So What Exactly is e-NEWS?
e-NEWS is an electronic newsletter. The newsletter is generally based on one key topic (for example BeareWare’s e-news is about Web Design and Development). A newsletter is focused on a group that is interested in that key topic, such as clients, associates and prospects. I don’t actually know where the newsletter originated from (I’d love to know if someone knows the history of a newsletter) – but I have vivid memories of going with my mother in the mid 1970’s to watch her produce a newsletter for the local tennis club for which she was the secretary. She used to use an actual printing plate and ink – no room for typos back then. And I remember thinking how magic it was when she rattled off all the copies. Maybe I caught the e-NEWS bug all the way back then.
I created my first e-NEWS in the late 1990’s. It was an extension of a local sports club’s printed newsletter, which I had written for several years. Over the course of two years, the electronic newsletter completely replaced the printed version – primarily from the cost savings (and the time that went into getting the newsletter printed, collated and mailed). From my very first e-NEWS, I was amazed at the immediate website results. I would send out an e-NEWS – and bang – within that next 24-48 hour period the website stats jumped. In other words – we would send out a newsletter for the club – folks would read the newsletter and rather by links or just by generating general interest, the readers would end up on the club website. And to this day that same behaviour holds true – e-NEWS is great at driving repeat visitors back to your website. This behaviour highlights the value in converting a web visitor to an e-NEWS subscriber.
So Does The Content of the e-NEWS Matter?
e-NEWS is a soft selling tool – just like a newsletter. It should contain information that is of value and interest to the subscribers, and I think it should be informative and personable. This means that developing an e-NEWS takes some time and thought. The content should be relevant, professional, well written, and edited. It should be broken into short stories or introductory paragraphs with links to longer stories, allowing the reader to read more of the story if interested, or to move on to the next story. It can contain graphics that reinforce a story or advertisements, pending the line of business you are in. Online retailers have really started using e-NEWS well over the last few years – and its helping consumers see when specials are available so they can save money.
When I create an e-NEWS for BeareWare, I write 3 to 4 stories and then have an opening “G’Day” that is personable and friendly. The stories I create are reinforced by research and fact checking, and include our knowledge and experiences. I try to keep the e-NEWS light and informative, and estimate that most readers will give me around 1-3 minutes to decide if there is anything of interest they wish to read. I don’t want to waste my clients’ and associates’ time, so the e-NEWS has to have good information that will be of value to them and will show our expertise – which in essence sells our company. An article may talk about a product or service, which also opens up the opportunity for increased sales.
Let’s Define the Target Audience!
I am sure it is tempting for some people who are sending out e-NEWS to think, “If I could get my hands on a big e-mail list, then this will really increase my chances of getting good results from e-NEWS.” To that premise I have to say – I DON’T THINK SO! Your target audience for an e-NEWS is a subscriber (that means they have either subscribed through your website, filled out a form at a trade show or other event, or otherwise expressed interest in belonging to your mailing list) – or they must be a valid client prospect or close associate. I don’t think e-NEWS is a great (or even an acceptable) “cold call” tool. I believe a lot of folks misunderstand this – and also try to take the easy way out on developing a strong e-NEWS list – which ultimately is produced over time with good solid e-NEWS editions. Your target audience is the absolute bottom line of your e-NEWS. A great deal of “spam” on the Internet can be attributed to folks believing that mass e-mails to millions of people results in great profits. My suspicion is that if money is made at this level, it is primarily by the company selling the lists or sending out the spam – but not by the content owner. The demographics on large lists can be very questionable and when you get an e-NEWS or e-mail from someone you don’t know, the common practice (today more than ever) is to just DELETE IT!
e-NEWS is a Formal Communication and Privilege
Another key aspect of e-NEWS is its frequency. Part of the hesitancy of people signing up for e-NEWS is the fear of their e-mail address being sold, shared, or otherwise abused. People may genuinely want to receive a weekly, monthly or quarterly e-NEWS from your company or organization, but whatever your planned frequency, this and your other policies should be made clear to the person subscribing. And you should NEVER, EVER sell or share a subscriber’s e-mail address! Also keep in mind that if subscribers begin receiving e-NEWS from you daily or randomly, they will most likely unsubscribe quickly. There is a distinct privilege to be able to communicate to folks about your services and products. This privilege should never be taken lightly. Sending out e-NEWS on a planned formal schedule is the best way to go. Try diligently to meet your deadlines every single time. It again shows a great level of professionalism when an organization sends out its e-NEWS on schedule every single time.
What’s Involved Technically?
Your e-NEWS system should be database-driven, and simply using MS Outlook or other popular e-mail programs definitely won’t cut it. You want a system that manages your e-mail lists – including subscribing, updating preferences, and unsubscribing. The subscription page should blend aesthetically into your website (i.e., should “match” your website, so that subscribers remain confident that they are subscribing to e-NEWS from you and you alone). And you want an e-NEWS system that will manage these lists electronically and automatically, so that you can devote your valuable time to writing great content for your website and e-NEWS. The system should be set up with a graphically designed template that can be used for each new edition, and it should definitely be designed with your website flavor – maintaining your brand.
Most e-NEWS systems come with an MS Word-style WYSIWYG editor, which really helps in the learning curve, making it simple and intuitive to type out the content of an e-NEWS. BeareWare uses a system called PHPList, which we integrate into our CMS system websites – so our clients have all their management tasks, including e-NEWS, accessible from their website’s control panel. It is quite remarkable what e-NEWS systems such as PHPList can do these days: they send the e-NEWS to the subscriber individually; their graphical and professional HTML presentation is wonderful; and they come with statistics such as number of e-NEWS e-mails viewed and opened. The system makes sure that each subscriber only receives an e-NEWS once, and allows the sender to batch or set timers for sending out an e-NEWS. There is a learning curve when using e-NEWS – learning how to use the system and learning how to write good newsletters – but with all things being equal, producing a great e-NEWS with great content can produce immense rewards. And just like your website, your e-NEWS lists will continue to grow annually.
How Much Does It Cost?
The cost of e-NEWS systems vary. Some companies do everything for you and will charge you a set fee per e-NEWS edition. Other companies charge a transaction fee (which is a cost per e-NEWS sent out – this pricing method can get overwhelmingly expensive as your subscriber list grows). PHPList, which is used by BeareWare, is an Open Source system, with in effect means that the program itself is free and open, with the only costs coming from BeareWare’s initial work in setting up the system, designing a customized e-NEWS template, and client training. There can also be additional hosting costs pending how large your subscriber lists are. PHPList can manage up to 100,000 subscribers and beyond – and your target numbers should be considered when you are setting up e-NEWS. Generally, you will spend a one-time fee of $300 – $500 having your e-NEWS system set up, converting existing e-mails lists, and customizing your graphical templates. When compared to the price of printing, postage, labor, and the use of our planet’s forestry resources involved in sending newsletters the old-fashioned way, there is little wonder why e-NEWS has become such a popular way of communicating.
In closing, an e-NEWS is a great way to formally keep in touch with your website visitors and subscribers. It is relatively inexpensive to set up and only requires a little creativity and marketing prowess from you to ensure lasting success!