Even though the digital publishing industry is in flux, there’s one truth that remains steady: email is and will continue to be an important part of any future monetization plan. Here’s why.

Study after study says that email is one of the most valuable marketing channels out there.  It’s also versatile. You can use email at all stages of the sales conversion funnel and target a wide range of buyer personas and purchase needs. Not to mention, email has a close tie to monetization: in addition to selling sponsored placements, publishers can leverage the channel to nurture audiences and drive engagement at all stages of the conversion funnel. For reference, take a look at HubSpot’s recent Digital Publishing Benchmarks Report.

Cliff notes:

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  • 34.3% of B2B and 14% of B2C publishers use email or subscriber lists to drive revenue
  • 64.6% of B2B and 48% of B2C publishers rely on website banner ads or newsletter sponsorships for monetization
  • A high proportion of media companies see alternative monetization streams like sponsored content (54.8%), events (34.5%), and paid subscriptions (15.8%).

The bottom line? Even when facing ambiguity about their long-term plans, publishers will need to invest in email. And sending better email is one of the only sure-fire ways to protect deliverability and guarantee you his the inbox, not the spam folder.

Optimization Opportunities That Your Publication Can’t Afford to Ignore

Here are some optimizations worth making–even before a company is ready to have a solidified, long-term revenue strategy in place:

1) Always A/B Test Headlines 

Send multiple versions of the same email to see what performs best. A/B testing will allow you to iterate upon your messaging consistently and help you drive the most awareness and interest. Remember that audience attention spans are spread thin, and headlines represent the first point of connection for rapport-building. Make the most out of that touchpoint to ensure that you’re always delivering your best message.

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For a comprehensive guide on how to utilize A/B testing in email, check out this guide from HubSpot Academy. Here are some additional ideas to help guide you:

  • Use top headlines from your website as your headline
  • Test consistently formatted subject lines, or pull some wild cards to surprise your audience (like The Skimm)
  • Personalize your subject lines
  • Test different value propositions

Chances are, if you’re dealing with a business question or having trouble making a judgment call, you should A/B test your idea. 

2) Use Heatmaps to Study Scrolling and Reading Patterns

When you send an email, you’re dealing with a lot of wild cards: ultimately, you don’t know how the person on the other side of the computer screen will react and respond–or whether he or she is even paying attention. For instance, you may have a call-to-action (CTA) as a downloadable guide, text link, or button. Are your audiences noticing? When it comes to an email list, it can be very easy for your audience to lose attention, fast.

Heatmap technology can help you make more educated decisions about the placements of your CTAs. In a nutshell, this software allows you to track how audiences are browsing and scrolling. You can then aggregate subscriber browsing data to better understand where they’re likely to be clicking. Looking at data over time, you can improve the UX and design of your email newsletters.

3) Groom Your List 

Names in your email database are perishable inventory. Over time, a bulk of your subscribers will stop engaging with your content–that’s just the way it goes.

The best step to take here is to stop dwelling over your list’s size. Instead, focus on quality by performing consistent quality upgrades. Here are some steps that you can take to keep your lists fresh and optimize your engagement rates as a result: 

  • Remove old subscribers who aren’t engaging with your emails
  • Delete old subscribers who are no longer relevant to your core business
  • Discontinue automated messages

Stop relying on purchased lists: they’re a definite way to reduce the shelf-life of a campaign and get instantly blocked, as these audiences didn’t opt into your list in the first place.

A groomed list will result in fewer spam complaints and higher engagement rates. Even if your subscriber count goes down, you’ll preserve the integrity of your subscriber base and IP. It pays to prioritize quality and relationships.

Don’t send unsolicited email. Make sure that your messages are well-received.

4) Refine Your Value Proposition

Publishers will often use their email newsletters to build top-of-funnel awareness. This tactic is especially strong for reaching new audiences and driving brand visibility. But far too often, publishers overlook a crucial missing ingredient: conversions.

Even when you’re driving top-of-funnel awareness, you can still share details about your company and brand. Make sure that you’re positioning your brand-building newsletter campaigns as a tool for driving valuable engagement on your website. 

Challenge yourself to ensure every email newsletter has one mention of your media company, with a call-to-action (CTA) to your website. Rely on email to kick start your audience relationships.

The Toughest Step?

Be prepared for a little trial and error. Over time, as your revenue strategy matures, your newsletter strategy will change dramatically. Let your email marketing strategy evolve along the way, to maintain close alignment with your business and revenue goals.

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