Anatomy of an E-Newsletter Launch

There’s nothing like a dose of your own medicine for an icy jolt.

Several months ago I decided it was time to launch a WordBiz e-newsletter.

I spend days advising clients on how to write killer content for their e-newsletters, how to craft a seductive subject line, and how to write a winning sponsorship ad. And some nights I spend writing this column, with the reward of hearing from astute ClickZ readers all over the world.

So, after talking the talk, it was time to walk the walk. Scary? You bet. When it’s your dollar you’re spending and you have a limited marketing budget, every bump in the road looks bigger, every mistake seems magnified.

So, starting at square one, what pitfalls and challenges did I encounter? And what were the lessons learned?

Naively, I thought I had the steps figured out. Step one is to promote the e-newsletter with a great offer and thus acquire subscribers. And step two wouldn’t be too hard: Type up an interview, throw in some choice factoids and a few hands-on tips — and hit Send.

But oh, the number of steps and details in between. Still, if there were a battle cry for launching an e-newsletter it would be this: Just do it!

Step One: Acquire Subscribers

It was back to Email Marketing 101. A few months ago, I advised readers to spend email-marketing dollars on e-newsletter ad sponsorships. Ad space is going begging, rates are negotiable, and the cost per thousand (CPM) is considerably lower than it is for renting an opt-in business-to-business (B2B) list.

Easy advice to take, I thought. I would drive sign-ups to the e-newsletter through a sponsorship text ad. But first I needed an offer that was both compelling and related to WordBiz’s core competencies. I needed great copy to drive click-throughs to my Web site. I needed a landing page on my Web site that was blindingly simple, yet seductive, and would convert a high percentage of the click-throughs to subscribers. I needed a confirmation page. (I decided not to use pop-ups for the sign-up pages, at least for this first go-round.)

Did I want single or double opt-in for the sign-up process? I decided on single opt-in because I find the reconfirm message for double opt-in annoying. I wanted a “Welcome” email message in which I could include a link to the download page for my free offer.

Tip: test the sign-up process for an e-newsletter on other sites to see how it works. If there’s an offer, where do you access the link to the download? In an email message? On a Web page? Both? Let’s see what else: I needed a list hosting, delivery, and management solution for the opt-in list I was building. I wanted sign-up boxes on every page of my Web site and, of course, a Privacy Policy page. (Tip: look at other privacy policies, and crib from one you like the sound of. Don’t make it too technical.)

I won’t go into how I chose a list manager (although I know you’re dying to know). Suffice it to say that I ran out of time and had to make a quick decision. I went with a moderately priced, well-respected vendor — the same company used by a number of e-newsletters I like and also subscribed to in order to evaluate their sign-up process.

The Objective

And this is all before I came up with a name for my e-newsletter. (Tip: no one cares what the name is.) But I did have a clear objective: to reinforce the WordBiz brand, to show in addition to telling what best the practices are in e-newsletter marketing, to attract new clients, and to develop a potential new source of revenue through advertising.

The Offer

I decided to use the “Guide to Copywriting” that I’d written. The original Word document could be dressed up and packaged as a downloadable PDF. Yes, looks do count, especially for a free offer. And it needed a better title. How about this: “Guide to Killer Copywriting on the Web.”

(Sometimes you go with what you’ve got. You probably have a white paper or a memo on best practices or a case study that you could whip up as your free offer. Use it!)

Jumping ahead… after weeks of tweaking, the sign-up box was added to my site. I promoted it mainly through my sig file and told everyone, “I’m launching an e-newsletter. Be sure to sign up!”

Lesson number one: the smallest details count. After a few weeks of staring at the pages on my site, I realized that the box needed to be displayed more prominently. My Web designer moved it to the upper right-hand corner of each page — and the number of sign-ups jumped noticeably.

The Creative

I played around with the copy for my ad, consulting a few business associates for feedback. (Tip: run your copy by a handful of tough colleagues whose opinions you respect.) Here’s what I came up with using an eight-line, 60-character-wide spec:

==============================================
YOU’VE GOT TWO SECONDS TO GRAB ’EM…

Great copy can do it! Download a FREE Guide to Killer Copy
Writing for the Web when you subscribe to our e-newsletter.
Get hands-on tips plus a list of copywriting resources.
Hint: set a goal for each page. WordBiz delivers smart
thinking about Web content, e-newsletters & email marketing.
CLICK -> http://www.wordbiz.com/signup_cz.html
==============================================

Later I modified the ad, condensing it:

————————————————————————–
YOU’VE GOT TWO SECONDS to grab ’em. Get our FREE Guide to Killer Copywriting for the Web: http://www.wordbiz.com/signup_cz.html
————————————————————————–

Tip: the best way to get ideas for your own text ad is to look at others. The obvious place to start is in the e-pubs that you plan to advertise in. Evaluate whether the copy has a call to action. Do they use white space effectively to attract your eye?

The Lists

Finally, the landing and confirmation pages on my site were ready. (Tip: like renovating your kitchen, developing promotional Web pages takes twice as long as you might anticipate.) With a limited marketing budget, I decided to negotiate for paid space in two e-newsletters and swap ads for placement in two others. All had a target audience of small business or corporate marketers interested in online marketing. Circulation ranged from about 7,000 to 45,000 subscribers. (Sorry, I can’t reveal which e-newsletters they are or what CPM rate I negotiated. I can’t give away all my secrets…)

The first day the text ad ran — in the more expensive of the two paid placements — I was glued to my computer, checking the number of sign-ups through the Web interface provided by my list manager. I also monitored, in real time, visits to my landing page, to the confirmation page, and to the download page for the free copywriting guide. (I use HitBox, an inexpensive but nifty Web statistics package.)

Surprisingly, the response was disappointing. The next day, however, a two-line version of the ad ran in the paid position at the bottom of an e-newsletter with a somewhat higher circulation and a similar subscriber list — although more skewed to small business marketers than to corporate marketers. Bingo! Within minutes, traffic to my landing page spiked and sign-ups began to mount. At the end of that one day, I had well over 100 new subscribers, more than I had collected through my Web site in the previous two months.

Finally, the two unpaid ads ran (using the same creative, but with one line of copy removed for more breathing space). Again, click-throughs soared, and conversion to sign-up averaged 60 to 70 percent. If you’ve been following the recent discussion about the death of the click-through metric, you’ll understand why I’m placing more emphasis on conversion. The goal of my campaign, after all, was to build my list of opt-in subscribers.

Calculating the ROI

I’m going to give you the “back of the napkin” version. The biggest mistake I made was not to tag the URLs in my sponsorship ads with unique identifiers. This was an oversight. I did create two identical versions of my landing page, but, with four ads running, it quickly got muddled as to exactly who was coming from which ad. Tip: work with a technically savvy Web designer who also understands how an online marketing promotion works.

Factoring in the total I spent on Web design and programming, plus the cost of the two paid sponsorship ads, I can happily report that the cost per acquisition (CPA) for each subscriber is about $1.50. The subscriber tally is close to 1,000 — and growing daily. Not bad for a low-budget launch.

The Launch

Oh, the e-newsletter itself. That’s a topic for another day. I wrote and rewrote it, formatted and reformatted it countless times. And this was just in text. (I decided to launch in text only, due to time and resource constraints.) Finally, I pushed Send. I’ve gotten some great feedback but can already see a dozen ways in which it can be improved for the next issue. Stay tuned.

Oh, and it’s not too late to sign up and get your own FREE “Guide to Killer Copywriting.” Click here, and you’ll be on your way in seconds.

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