In this article of our ‘how to start a hiking blog’ series, we’re taking a look at one of the most important ingredients to audience growth: creating a newsletter – why it’s important, and how to put one together…
Creating a Newsletter for Long Term Blogging Success
One of the biggest challenges facing anyone running a blog is ensuring you can keep your community of readers engaged and interested. You may have fantastic, original content, but this isn’t always enough – someone may land on your website and be blown away, but unless you offer them some kind of way to keep in the loop, they may leave your site, never to visit again, drifting away like a leaf in the wind…
To extend the metaphor, what a blog writer needs to create is something closer to a pile of leaves. To extend the metaphor even further, this means they need to find a way to gather the leaves together, which means finding a way of keeping your readers in the loop. To abandon the metaphor and get to the point: creating a newsletter is a vital step to ensuring blog success.
In essence, a newsletter is a regular update a website provides to its fans, containing news, insights, important messages, links to relevant resources and more. It’s a way for a blogger to easily stay in touch with everyone in their audience by sending regular mailers, keeping them in the loop about what’s going on in your blogging world.
They usually take the form of an email; alas, the days of physically-posted newsletters as standard are long gone, unless you’re Argos or a keen local politician. But then, if you run a website, you’re more than aware that we live in the internet age and this isn’t 1991.
They contain everything from updates on new blog posts and features on your website, to interesting hints and tips and links to relevant online activities such as sales or competitions, or even more esoteric offerings like ‘thoughts of the day’.
Essentially, a newsletter can contain anything you can think of that you think your audience would appreciate – there’s no limit to how creative you can be.
It’s fair to say that running a blog comes with a bit of a smorgasbord of responsibilities, and adding another thing to the regular ‘to do’ list isn’t always the most appealing idea. But it’s important for every blogger to understand that creating a newsletter shouldn’t be regarded as an optional extra: they’re a vital ingredient for success.
There are a number of reasons why this is the case, which are worth noting when understanding what the ‘big deal’ is about newsletters:
Maintains contact with your readership
Without some kind of regular newsletter, a blog can be a bit passive. It relies entirely on a reader bookmarking or making a note of the site, coming back to check when new content is uploaded, and essentially doing all the work.
The truth is, a blog is a bit like a brand, and if you want people to become invested in your brand, you need to keep your site at the forefront of their mind.
This is one of the primary functions of a newsletter: it’s a gentle nudge, a reminder that you’re still creating that fantastic content that hooked them in the first time they found your site, and it’s well worth their time to check back in with your blog every once in a while.
Helps disseminate new articles and blogs
It takes a lot of time to create a fantastic blog article, and when you’ve invested all of this effort into researching, planning, and writing a piece of content, it goes without saying that you want people to read it. It’s a familiar challenge for every blogger: getting your content in front of people. The usual techniques all abound, from SEO to social media marketing, but these all take a lot of time and work to implement.
One of the biggest benefits of newsletters is that they provide an instant, efficient, and easy way to get your newly published content in front of people who are already ‘qualified’ readers.
Any time you publish a new article, or at regular intervals (such as fortnightly), you can directly update your subscribers and provide a link to your fresh content – giving your writing an immediate boost to visibility.
Enables additional content types
It’s not just links to your blog and articles that newsletters are for though; they also open the door to entire new realms of possibility for content – and open the door to a richer, more rewarding experience for both you and your readers.
Depending on the format you choose to take for your newsletter, you can put together all kinds of short-form content from competitions, to ‘quick shot’ paragraphs and thoughts, or even image galleries from your recent hiking excursions.
The benefits listed above are far from comprehensive, and depending on how you use your newsletter, there are myriad possibilities. But however, you plan to use a newsletter, it’s worth taking a bit of time to get your head around how to set them up on your website.
In theory, it’s possible to implement and execute a newsletter manually. This would involve asking anyone interested in joining your mailing list to email your site directly, with you then collating details and manually putting together emails which then get sent out to your curated list. While this might work, it’s an unnecessarily complicated way of doing it – instead, it’s most efficient to use a dedicated newsletter platform.
These vary in what they offer and how they can be implemented, but usually, they consist of a few core elements: a function for setting up ‘signup forms’ on your site, an email template builder, and the ability to manage and monitor your mailing lists. These platforms offer pretty much everything you need to get started and run your own newsletter.
Like any other marketing tool or software, there are seemingly countless options out there for newsletter marketing tools. And like many marketing tools, all of them make a very good case as to why they’re the best in class and outstrip their competitors at every turn.
In reality, for a large number of bloggers, most tools on the market will work just fine – and making the right choice really comes down to budget and personal preference.
Some tools offer free versions, while some are subscription or license-based, and some are based on the ‘bare essentials’ while others offer a comprehensive suite of services and tools.
At Roaming Spices, we use ConvertKit, which offers a graded pricing system (based on how many subscribers you have – it’s free for the first 1000!) and comes with a full suite of services.
While we’d happily recommend ConvertKit, it’s not the only option, but whatever software you choose you should make a checklist of things you’ll need your platform to offer.
Be honest with yourself about how much ‘hand holding’ you’ll need – there’s no shame in opting for the easiest-to-use platform! Things you will likely need your newsletter tool to include will be:
Depending on which CMS you use for your blog, there are likely a wide range of plugins that can be used to create forms on your website – and this is where any good newsletter list will start. By getting people to fill in a simple form (with their name, email, etc), you can easily build a mailing list.
With that said, many dedicated newsletter tools offer their own form-building function, and frankly, these tend to be the easiest option. Forms built and implemented using your newsletter tool are ideally fit for purpose, and won’t require complex integrations – any signup data will be immediately added to your user lists.
Mailing List Management
Probably the most important ingredient in any successful newsletter is the list of people who have signed up to receive it. Known as your ‘mailing list’, staying on top of who has signed up, and how they’ve responded to your content is a crucial part of curating a keen and engaged follower base.
This is usually a core function of a newsletter platform (in fact, if a tool claiming to be a newsletter service doesn’t have a mailing list, we’d question how useful it is for anything…) – but there are a few things to consider, like how easy it is to make notes, tag, or update your list.
For instance, if some people regularly don’t open your newsletters, is there a function to add a note such as ‘less interested’ to their details, in order to make informed choices around how to contact different segments of your contact list?
Another vital ingredient of a newsletter tool, the ability to create engaging and interesting email newsletters is a make or break factor in how well this content is received, and whether or not it becomes a factor in augmenting your impact…
Different platforms offer different ‘builders’ for email content, but the more versatile they are – and the easier to use – the better. Many tools use a ‘block-based’ system, which essentially allows you to drag and drop blocks of content (such as texts, headers, images, buttons and more), and these are great for beginners and anyone looking for an efficient and simple way of creating engaging visual content.
So, you’ve picked a platform and set it up on your site, you’ve built your first signup form, and – fantastic – you have some subscribers! This is always a hugely rewarding moment, and it means that your content has resonated well with at least some visitors to your site, and this is something you should most certainly be proud of! But now you’re faced with a new dilemma: what should you put in your newsletters?
This can feel a little overwhelming at first – it’s a very different kind of content to long-form blog articles, and there’s an added level of pressure: with your blog, you’ve written the content and readers have sought it out, but with a newsletter, people have actively requested to hear from you. It can all feel a little bit ‘show me what you’ve got then’.
Fortunately, this concern is often unfounded, and newsletters can actually be one of the most rewarding parts of running a blog. It’s a chance to speak directly to your audience, and there is no limit to what you can say. With this in mind, here are some ideas and considerations to factor in when creating your newsletter content:
Be authentic, and match the tone of your site
An important guiding principle: your newsletter is an extension of your blog, and it was your writing on your blog that attracted people to sign up to your mailing list. Keep your tone of voice and writing style consistent! It can be a bit tempting to try and change things up, but in reality, maintain your usual persona, and people will enjoy what you have to say.
Mix up content types
When it comes to the content of your newsletters themselves, it’s a good idea to vary up the types of content within each newsletter. Don’t just put 6 links to blog articles in a row – people will lose interest after one or two.
Equally, make sure not to just include images and visuals, as this will only offer so much for your mailing subscribers. Instead, offer a few different types of content within each newsletter, perhaps a short quote you’ve read, a link to a blog article you’ve uploaded, and some photos from a recent trip.
While the above point regarding mixing up content is important, it doesn’t just apply to the content of individual newsletters. It’s important to vary up the type of newsletter you send out from time to time, otherwise, things can get a bit ‘samey’.
You could do a news focussed update one week, followed by a ‘favourite articles’ list from your blog another, and then perhaps a competition or discount sale another time. Not everyone will be equally interested in all of these, but it gives your community a sense that there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Open the floor to reciprocal contact
Newsletters, like blogs, can end up as a bit of a one-way street. While they’re more directly engaging than simple website content, they’re also – in effect – just a way for you to talk ‘at’ your audience.
That is unless you find ways to stimulate reciprocal conversation! Try to come up with at least some way to engage your readers directly – you could perhaps ask people to reply to the email with their favourite place they’ve visited, or some photos of their own, which you can then share with everyone in your next newsletter.
You can also generate discussion by simply posing a question, and some newsletter tools let you do things like run polls, which can be a great way to get your readers involved easily.
There’s no limit to what you can suggest, but it’s nice to open the floor to some user-generated content, to facilitate more of a two-way conversation between you and your readers.
Make your content visually engaging
One of the great things about modern newsletter builders is that they make it really easy to create visually engaging emails, and this is really important. With a blog article, a content-heavy page isn’t necessarily the end of the world, provided it’s broken up with some imagery or video content.
With an email, though, it’s important to keep your content aesthetically engaging – you only have a small space, so make the most of it! Use a combination of image blocks, text blocks, headers, quotes, buttons, videos, links, and more, to create a sense of ‘flow’ that keeps people scrolling – don’t just include a header and a block of text!
There’s no one-size-fits-all rule about how often you should send out your newsletter, but there tends to be a bit of a ‘goldilocks zone’ depending on your audience, and the kind of content you usually create.
It can be surprisingly tricky to find enough to fill a newsletter with on a regular basis, so don’t overcommit – you also risk burning out your audience if they’re receiving updates too frequently.
When you’re creating a newsletter for the first time, try fortnightly or monthly updates. Leaving a good gap between emails will mean people get that slight kick of excitement when they see your update appear in their inbox, as they won’t have heard from you in a little while. If things go really well and you have lots to say, you could eventually update this to a weekly contact – but start tentatively and see how things go.
Anyone involved in anything to do with marketing or data management (or business, for that matter) has probably heard of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) at this point.
If not, essentially this is a data protection act that ensures anyone who holds onto people’s private data for commercial purposes – and that includes bloggers – must do so in a responsible way, and abide by several rules.
This amounts to guaranteeing to provide users with the data you have of theirs should they request it, and making it easy for people to request you cease holding their data at any time.
Fortunately, this isn’t too complicated for bloggers when it comes to newsletters: if someone has filled in their details and signed up to your newsletter, they’re already demonstrating consent for you to use their data for marketing purposes – that’s the point of a newsletter!
You’ll need to make sure you give people the necessary freedoms though, which will mean including an ‘unsubscribe’ option at the bottom of every email. Almost all newsletter subscription services will provide this as standard (they’re required to!), and will handle unsubscriptions automatically, so there’s not much you’ll need to do – but it’s important to double-check regardless!
If there’s one thing to bear in mind above all else when expanding your blog to include a newsletter, it’s that you’re going to need to test and test again. This isn’t so much the case with your blog articles, but the short-form nature of email newsletters makes it easy – and essential – to try things out, see what works, and adjust each time you send out a new email.
Why? Because if you hone your newsletter craft to a fine edge, you’ll be able to expand a thriving and engaged community. Get it wrong? You’ll be plagued by a cycle of people signing up and then unsubscribing straight away
Some things to pay attention to include:
Most email newsletter tools will give you a data breakdown of how people are interacting with your email content. The extent of the data with which you’re provided will vary depending on the platform you use, but in general, two of the most important things to pay attention to are open rates and click rates.
If you have a low open rate, this means people aren’t even bothering to open your newsletters – despite signing up. This could be because your subject line isn’t attention-grabbing, or possibly because it’s been filtered into spam (there is plenty of good advice online about phrases to avoid using in your email subjects…)
If your click rate is low, then people are interested in opening your newsletter but aren’t clicking through to your blog or your links. This can be a good or bad thing – it could be because they found your email satisfying enough to not warrant further reading, or it could be because they didn’t find your link compelling. Try changing up the content to make it more tantalising, or linking in different ways, with different kinds of content.
There’s no doubt that any successful blog needs a successful newsletter, but putting one together doesn’t happen overnight. Just as with creating your blog, it takes time, perseverance, and a willingness to embrace the fact that you may not get it right to start with. Creating a newsletter is hugely rewarding, and is well worth the effort – but the key ingredient to success is flexibility.
Like any other webmasters out there, we at Roaming Spices are on our own blogging journey, and we’d love to hear your own experiences and thoughts about newsletters. Have you had any memorable successes or failures? Do you have any top tips to share? Leave a comment down below, and let us know what you think – we’re always happy to chat!
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