Going for Gold: How Email Drives Publisher Success
Facebook made overtures to local publishers earlier this year when they announced that their news feed would start prioritizing local news, but some local publishers are finding better luck with driving traffic elsewhere.
In the inbox, to be specific.
A recent case study from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center showcases the story of a successful nonprofit news publisher, Vermont’s VTDigger.
A Case Study in Email Success
Like many small publishers, VTDigger struggled to stay afloat in a changing digital publishing industry. How did they grow to 300,000 monthly users in the nation’s second-smallest state?
The answers lie in the case study’s “10 Ideas You Can Steal from VTDigger” section. Over here, we’re particularly fond of their third idea: “Treat email like gold.”
What does it mean to treat email like gold? Should you wear an elaborate chain of email around your neck? Bury email underground in anticipation of the next great economic crash? Sell email on low-budget daytime television commercials?
Well, not quite. Rather, it’s important that publishers recognize the value of email—and the pretty stable value of email at that. When news feed algorithms can make or break publishers, email is the solid centerpiece of consistent content distribution.
In fact, the importance of email is a common theme in many publisher success stories. Audience relationships are the core of a sustainable business model, and there’s no channel that drives relationships and engagement like the direct one that email provides. Especially when it comes time for readers to pay for a subscription.
Take a look at these stats from larger publishers:
- Readers who receive a New York Times newsletter are twice as likely to become paid subscribers.
- The Seattle Times’ newsletter visitors are 25 times more likely to subscribe than visitors from Facebook.
- Newsletters drive 12% of The New Yorker’s traffic, and the top indicator of a reader’s likelihood of becoming a paid subscriber is whether they subscribe to a newsletter first.
Digging for Gold: Driving More Value with Your Email Program
So what can publishers do to replicate the email success of these publishers? Here are a few ideas of our own that you can steal:
- Implement active email capture. It’s not often that site visitors will hunt down your newsletter signup form. You have to bring your newsletter signup to them, and an active capture widget (such as a slider or sticky footer) is the best way to do that. When visitors referred from search or social can leave your site just as quickly as they found it, getting their attention (and their email address) is critical to ensuring they come back.
- Make your newsletter offer count. Asking your audience for their email address is a small step, but some people might be loath to part with it. Use your email capture copy to demonstrate the value of signing up. Let them know what they’ll receive and how often they’re receive it. You can also maximize email conversions by contextualizing your capture widgets to match the content that your visitor is currently reading.
- Consider offering multiple newsletter products. The more newsletters a member of your audience signs up for, the more opportunities you have to engage (and monetize) them. VTDigger added additional newsletters to their email program to keep visitors coming back, and if you have the resources (or automation capabilities) to do so, it can pay off.
- Cross-promote additional newsletters. Once you’ve implemented more newsletters, get your audience to sign up for them! Use your newsletters to encourage subscribers to sign up for other newsletters, like the New York Times is doing with their limited-run pop-up newsletters. Need help? Here’s a quick guide to effective newsletter cross-promotion.
- Test everything. Testing is critical for continual improvement in your email program. Opportunities for testing are everywhere—in your email capture widgets, your subject lines, your email template, your copy. But make sure you keep at it: once you stop testing, you’ve already fallen behind.
- Look at the data. Like email, first-party data is practically publisher gold. Learning more about your audience will play a role in the email products you create, as well as help you to monetize your email through direct ad sales. Of course, smaller publishers don’t exactly have the resources for expensive data solutions, but unlocking more of your first-party data can be as simple as taking a closer look at your Google Analytics
It can be easy to get distracted by shiny platforms, but as the VTDigger study (and all great stories, come to think of it) shows, often the true value can be found right under your nose.
Especially if you do wear one of those gold email chains around your neck.
Editor, PostUp PlayBook