January 27, 2012
Website Gardening Techniques IV: eNewsletters
Let’s continue with the outdoorsy metaphor for websites, and consider your potential website audience as little leaves that are all about the yard of your website. How can you mulch these leaves into your yard, your website?
One way to draw in and retain your website audience is to create an enewsletter. In an enewsletter, you can provide links back to your website for more detailed information. Newsletters keep your organization or business in your audience’s mind. But how do you get people to subscribe?
There are many ways to approach people about signing up for newsletters:
- If you have a storefront, provide a signup sheet with perhaps a monthly promotion/raffle for opting in to the newsletter or even a coupon for everyone who signs up.
- If your organization participates in fairs, this is also a good place to have a signup list, perhaps tied into a promotion.
- On your website, create a signup link/graphic. For courtesy’s sake, make this link unintrusive to the browsing experience–just put it on a sidebar on most of your site’s pages and give your readers a clue in the form of a one or two sentence description about what the content will be about so that they can infer the benefits of subscription.
- If you have a Facebook page, it is relatively easy to create a tab that contains a signup form or link to your newsletter. You’ll need web development skills to do this (http://developers.facebook.com/docs/appsonfacebook/pagetabs/).
- If you give presentations or classes, you can provide even more value to the attendees by informing them of your enewsletter and making a signup clipboard available at your presentation.
- You can contribute articles to other websites and blogs, especially those of organizations, and provide a signup link there as well.
There are economical ways and practical ways to create an enewsletter, and then there are ways that are a little more elaborate but which produce a more polished result.
Economical Option: Google Feedburner
If you produce a blog or if your site is RSS enabled, you can easily create email subscriptions to your new posts using Google Feedburner. After you burn the feed with feedburner, go to the “Publicize” tab and then click on the Email Subscriptions link on the left. After enabling email subscriptions, you’ll see code for a form or a link that you can add to your website. If you are using WordPress, you’ll find the most benefit by adding this code to your theme or a sidebar widget.
The benefit of using Google Feedburner is that it takes very little time and effort–all you need to do is blog and then the posts are sent out automatically. The drawback is that the formatting is very rustic–pretty much plain text.
Next Level Up: Constant Contact Template
Constant Contact is a versatile solution that can fit your budget. There are alternatives to Constant Contact such as Mailchimp, but Constant Contact is the most widely used enewsletter service so I focus on it in this article. If you are doing all the work of putting together your newsletter in Constant Contact, the professionalism of your newsletter will depend on the amount of work you put into it and your technical, artistic and writing skillset.
The basic level is $15 a month for 500 subscribers, and the cost goes up for more subscribers. Constant Contact provides a number of templates to choose from that–depending on your skillset–you can adapt to your particular organization’s message and look.
If you do not have graphic design and web technical skills, you can hire a web designer to do this for you. The designer can adapt one of the existing themes or create a totally new one. You could hire the designer to create the initial theme, and then whenever you send a newsletter out you can manage it yourself if you like.
At the upper end, to obtain a totally polished look in a newsletter does require the use of a graphic design/web professional so of course this is a more costly way to do a newsletter. Many large businesses and organizations use Constant Contact as the platform for their newsletters on this level, too.
Tips: Keep it Relevant, Timely and Appealing
- If the material you are writing is suitable for different niches, you can also configure Constant Contact to allow people to sign up for various lists pertaining to different niche topics.
- Good, also, to not overload people by sending out newsletters too frequently. Everyone is not always interested in, say, selling with a website on a daily basis even though many businesses do have websites.
- If you are promoting events, it is also good to make people aware of events in time to attend them!
- One’s email inbox is an intimate place. People want to feel good–they want to see the possibilities of what can be done. So, for instance, if you are writing a newsletter about the environment, please help people see what can be done rather than use scary subject lines for your email. And likewise, if you are writing a newsletter about your business, it is good to present information in a more positive, calm way, i.e., “Here’s how to solve a common problem” rather than “If you don’t use our service, you are at risk for such and such a thing to happen.”
- If you can possibly integrate food, recipes and entertainment into your newsletter (if this applies) this appeals to many people immediately on a fundamental level.
- People in the food and entertainment business have it easy because everyone is actually interested in food and entertainment on a daily basis, and many even actively search out food and entertainment promotions. If you are a business that is not food or entertainment related, it can be a bit more challenging to promote your business. Keep your mindset very altruistic and don’t make things too “salesy.” It is good to stick to educational topics rather than present advertisements, and hope that people keep in mind that you have provided actual useful information and will remember you when they want the type of service you provide!
Kathy Smith has developed more than 200 websites – everything from n-tier enabled applications to ecommerce to your friendly brochure-style website. She is senior developer at Lakenetwork.net, a website development company in Eastlake, Ohio.
Lakenetwork is a family-owned business providing website design and development for companies, professionals and organizations in the Cleveland, Ohio area and beyond. We specialize in providing the most cost-effective and appropriate solutions for clients’ online needs. We are located in Eastlake, Ohio.