Most people who want to succeed as a blogger do everything they can to increase traffic and build a community. That includes creating solid content, using carefully selected key words, implementing sound SEO, encouraging incoming links, and any other trick in the book that works.
But when it comes to e-mail, too often bloggers just shrug their shoulders. “What does e-mail have to do with my blog?”
Bloggers generally like the idea of publishing content and having people drop by to read it. They believe in “pull” marketing. Build it and they will come. That’s fine, but it’s only half the equation. The other half is “push” marketing. And one of the best ways to push is with e-mail.
RSS is popular, but since you can deliver your feed by e-mail, why not encourage more people to subscribe that way? Even better, why not start a free newsletter related to your blog content? Either way, you build a list of addresses you can use to push messages out to your audience to drive blog traffic, sell products, provide services, enroll people in online seminars, or whatever your business model requires.
For example, I help run a blog for a nonprofit political organization. When I first got involved, the site got minimal traffic and didn’t put much emphasis on e-mail. By starting a weekly newsletter and building the list to include thousands of subscribers, site traffic has exploded, with millions of hits a month and steady growth.
So what does it take to start using e-mail to build your blog or online business? Here are a few pointers.
Offer your RSS feed as e-mail.
Some people prefer to use a newsreader, but you’d be surprised how many people will subscribe to your blog by e-mail if you make this an option. If you use FeedBurner, for example, you just cut and paste a different snippet of code to provide a link to the e-mail signup.
Start a simple opt-in e-mail newsletter.
This is a far more powerful way to build an e-mail list. While it’s a bit more work, it provides a means of connecting with people outside of your blog and expanding your reach. Of course, your newsletter must offer valuable content and can’t be purely self-serving. My copywriting and direct marketing newsletter
Post a subscription box on your site.
Whether you’re offering your RSS feed by e-mail or a dedicated newsletter, a sign up box where you can enter an e-mail address usually works better than a link to a sign up form on another page. You may want to deemphasize the orange RSS button and highlight the e-mail feed option. If you’re offering a dedicated newsletter, you’ll certainly want to feature a sign up box in a prominent location. The best place is either upper left or upper right, depending on the design of your site.
Encourage subscriptions everywhere.
Don’t make the common mistake of putting a sign up box only on your home page. You never know where a visitor will enter your site. So your box should be featured everywhere. If you have a standard blog design, this shouldn’t be a problem, since your masthead and sidebars will probably be the same on every page and post. But if you use a more elaborate content management system or have a standard HTML site, be sure your subscription offer is on every page, ideally in the same location. You can also include it at the end of blog posts.
Manage your e-mail list efficiently.
Feedburner will show you those who subscribe by e-mail, but it doesn’t give you any tools for using those addresses. So you’ll need to export them in order to do mailings. If you offer a newsletter, you’ll also need a means of managing your list. There are several options out there, including Constant Contact, Aweber, and iContact. The fees are reasonable and each provides simple e-mail tools to track and manage your list and the e-mails you send.
Use your list to drive people to your site.
If your goal is to build blog traffic, use your e-mail to link back to your site. For example, the newsletter I manage for the nonprofit I mentioned lists 8 to 12 posts of the past week with a brief excerpt and a link to the full article. When I look at the site stats, I can see traffic spike when people receive the newsletter and click to the site to read articles.
Send “alerts” or special offers.
You can also use your list to notify people of events, promote affiliate products, offer your personal services, drive traffic to other blogs you run, or whatever you want. Remember, when people subscribe, they’re telling you they want to hear from you about a particular topic. So as long as what you’re sending is relevant, people will usually welcome additional contact from you. A few will opt out with every mailing you send, but if you’re doing everything else right, your subscriptions will always be on the rise.
This is a big no no. Don’t add people to your list if they don’t request it. Give people an easy way to opt out. Make sure your feed or newsletter is designed so people know what it is and who it’s from to keep them from reporting your e-mail as spam. Don’t abuse your list by mailing multiple times a day. It’s e-mail, not Twitter. Spam is a hot button for most people, so go out of your way to avoid doing anything spammy.
There’s a lot more to making e-mail work, but this should get you started. Just remember that while there’s a lot of buzz about how e-mail is a dinosaur and that social networking is the way of the future, take it all with a grain of salt.
E-mail is a powerful tool. It’s not as sophisticated as some of us would like, but it works, virtually everyone uses it, and it will be around for a long time.