Unless you want to have to depend on pricey, ongoing marketing campaigns to drive traffic to your web site, I have four words of advice for you: Build your subscriber list!
“Well, DUH!” you’re thinking, like you hadn’t already thought of that one before!
Well, you might be surprised to see how many publishers overlook this element of successful site marketing. But many actually believe that people use bookmarks and will of their own volition come back day after day, week after week, without any reminder as to why they should.
A wise approach might be to simply assume that your entire readership has ADD. Sufferers of ADD, better known as Attention Deficit Disorder, are constantly under a barrage of competing stimuli. Online, your visitors are also under such a barrage, and they have any number of other things to do with their lives than to remember to drop by and see your site every day.
A common approach to bringing your readers back every day or every week is to send out text mailings of headlines and teasers with a link back to the web site. That works, sure. But since that’s also what everyone does, you might be vulnerable to the periodic housecleaning we all do to the e-newsletters we subscribe to.
Besides, the mailings themselves can be great sponsorship vehicles, so you’ll want to get creative in the kind of content you serve up to your readers via email.
So what else can you offer? Here are a few ideas to try on for size:
Discussion. Believe it or not, your readers may have ideas that differ from yours. Or they might want to share ideas and experiences with others. Launch a discussion forum to keep your finger on your readers’ pulse and let them interact. Cultivate a group of informed participants to lead and maintain discussion on various topics. Most of all, leave your corporate agenda at home, be human, and have fun.
Digest. You’re too busy to keep up with all your email and e-zines, right? Well, so are your readers! Offer them a succinct digest of all the major articles on your site for the past week. Not just teasers, but genuine, no-kidding summaries. And in the long run, remember that bite-size nuggets of information like digests are going to be preferred for wireless devices over the lengthy articles you find on most sites. Think of it as yoursite-lite.com.
Tip of the Day. Again, this is a natural for the wireless market and your busiest readers: Create a list (or several lists) offering a single nugget of advice, wisdom or useful information every day. This isn’t an original idea. But you might be in a position to offer some truly unique value to your readers through your particular specialty. Keep it to a single paragraph if you can, and absolutely no more than two. No plugs. No pitches. Just a quick, useful nugget of information delivered straight to them.
Mini-zines. You might have regular articles on particular topics. An agricultural site might have weekly articles on cattle breeding, sheep care, chicken feeding or manure management. I may want to read only the cattle breeding and manure management articles, so if you made those topics available as separate zines, you will have some very happy, loyal campers. (By the way, ClickZ has done the same thing by offering its readers the ability to subscribe to all regular topics, including the Profitable Online Publishing column you are reading now.)
Classifieds. Perhaps you can facilitate the process of exchange within your audience: helping companies find employees, helping event producers promote their events, helping relevant content sites or zines promote their goodies. This can in and of itself provide great content for some areas of interest, and if someone isn’t already offering such a service, why not you?
All of these are vehicles that can provide added value for your readers. They extend your brand. In some cases, such as the mini-zines, they give your advertisers and sponsors pinpoint targeting opportunities within your base of readers… and they give you additional revenue possibilities.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways that you can use email publishing as a tool to build loyalty and community with your audience. If you have seen some interesting approaches not mentioned here, drop me a note and tell me about it. We may want to highlight some stellar examples in a later column.