Publishing A Newsletter
Today, many websites offer a free newsletter. Newsletters, from the receiving end, can be a great source for information that is delivered to your in-box. You can simply save the newsletter for future reference, something many people do. From the publisher's standpoint, though, a newsletter is a fantastic idea as it gives you a database of people who are interested in what you have to offer. Marketers know the value of this. But, aside from the potential financial benefit of such a mailing list, a newsletter is also a great way to keep in touch with users who may have only surfed across your website once. They may, on a whim, sign up for your newsletter and, thus, you have a way to keep in touch with them at a later date. You can also use your mailing list as a source for demographics information or opinions. Want to start a new feature on your site and want to know whether it will work or not? Survey the members of your mailing list.
So, let's take a look at what needs to be looked at to start your newsletter.
It would be easy to send your users a long, winding email that requires them to scroll a long way to read the whole thing. However, in practice, this doesn't work very well. You want to keep your newsletter as brief as you can. If you include an article in your mailing, keep it brief and to the point. If the article is long, you could publish a portion of it and direct them to your website to read the rest of it.
Newsletter size goes hand-in-hand with length, but with HTML newsletters being the norm today, it is possible to have very bloated HTML that does something that could be done otherwise with much less code. In short, then, keep your HTML efficient so that the size of the newsletter in kilobytes does not become too large. Remember, you're sending a lot of them (stress on the server) to people who may still have dial-up (slow download speeds).
You need to decide how often you will publish your newsletter. Most are published weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. If anything is published more often than that, be sure to make that very clear to new subscribers because mailings that are sent too often will cause some to unsubscribe because they find it annoying. Also, once you commit to a frequency, stick to it. If a newsletter is sent irregularly, people will find it useless or will not respect it. However, if it comes at the same time with constant frequency, they will come to expect it and you will gain the respect of having done what you said you would do.
Most newsletters are offered in both HTML and Text formats and this is your best bet. Most users prefer HTML and HTML provides you with more flexibility to get your message across. Text emails are very plain looking, however they are smaller in size and readable in any email client (some email clients still have a hard time with HTML). It is best to publish in both formats and give subscribers a choice.
Method of Sending
You need to research and find a way to send your newsletter. Sending mass email is fairly server intensive, depending on the size of your mailing list. For very large lists, it is usual to go to an outside newsletter hosting company to publish the newsletter. These companies have dedicated servers and powerful mass email software in order to send your newsletter without a burp. If you send the newsletter in-house and your list is large, you will want to pay attention to how the mail is sent. We use a PHP-based system designed in house which throttles out-going email depending on site traffic - our way of placing a governor on the rate of sending and not drag our sites to a crawl.
When you start your newsletter, you will need to promote for subscribers. If your site is already pretty well trafficked, your job just got a lot easier. Put the subscription form up on your website and begin to collect addresses. You will find that the rate of sign-ups will be very dependent on your site traffic. This action will result in sign-ups, however you may find that the rate of new sign-ups is still rather slow. You need to get their attention. A popup window is a popular and very workable way to do this. While many users don't like pop ups, this is a use of the popup which makes a lot of sense because it is so workable. Your subscription rate can easily double with this alone. When setting up the popup, use a cookie to ensure that a user does not see the ad more than once for a certain timeframe. You might even want to mention this in the popup itself so that people who are more easily annoyed by them may calm down a bit. Set the popup to appear on their first page view or some other interval. When your code opens the popup, set the cookie. In subsequent page views, your code will detect the cookie and not open the window again.
Aside from the popup, make your subscription form prominent on your website. If you have a forum, see about putting an option into the registration process which will add them to your mailing list when they sign up. Also, invite people to invite friends to your mailing list.
Opt in and Double Opt In
An opt-in mailing list means that a person can visit your site, enter an email address and that address is subscribed. Double opt-in means that when they enter the email address, the system sends them an email which contains a link which they need to click to confirm their subscription. This two-stage setup provides more security because you know the address is valid and that the person signing up is indeed subscribing their own email and not somebody else. The opt-in method will result in much higher subscription rates because you do not need to get the user to do anything else once they enter their address. Double opt-in is more secure, however you will have people who simply do not confirm, therefore the subscription rate will be slower. IF you are after sheer numbers, opt-in is you best method of address collection. However, this method is more open to fraudulent emails. If you use double opt-in, you may want to have a system which will send them a few reminders over time if they do not confirm. In using opt-in, at least send them an email confirming their subscription, with an option to unsubscribe right then and there if they are not the ones who subscribed the address. You might even want to include the IP address of the person who signed them up.
A newsletter is an excellent marketing resource for your website and, if you have not begun one, you should strongly consider it.
About the Author: David Risley is a web developer and founder of PC Media, Inc. (http://www.pcmedianet.com). Specializes in PHP/MySQL development, consulting and internet business management. He is also the founder of PC Mechanic (http://www.pcmech.com), a large website delivering do-it-yourself computer information to thousands of users every day.