When it comes to running my blog, I'm normally the first person to ignore conventional wisdom- which at times can be a good thing or a bad thing. No matter the results, the reasons behind my choices are always pretty simple.
- First, most of the time what the majority believes is a “best practice” is flat out wrong and, even worse, is based on no data whatsoever. As an engineer I hate that even if the tips are true in a roundabout way.
- Second, hardly anything is repeatable, making even the most encouraging tip worthless as it is often only valuable to the person who wrote it (and like in the above point, may not be the exact reason they got to their result in the first place).
It is because of these reasons that I'm all for going against traditional wisdom to try something to help out my blogs- especially if I can get repeatable results out of it for others to benefit from!
Why is this preface important? Enter our newsletter– one of the biggest features of our sites we now go against all conventional wisdom on.
Looking For a Better Way
With recent growth of our websites, especially our local Pittsburgh blog, we've had a huge influx of new newsletter subscribers (2,000 in the local blog in the very first year alone!). As publishing our newsletter is one of our least favorite blogging activities (which we'll get into more below), we knew there had to be a better way- both for our own sanity and to help give our readers more of the content they're looking for.
As it turns out, we had no idea what our audience was actually looking for, and after polling our subscribers we decided to throw caution to the wind, make our newsletter much more generic, and even increase the frequency at which we send it.
Sounds crazy right?
Well, as it turns out, we have some very good reasons for doing it this way that aren't so crazy after all.
It is Less Work For Us Overall
Ah, time! The winner of everything!
Talk to any professional travel blogger about things they dislike doing, and odds are good that putting together a weekly/monthly newsletter is on that list.
I don't know why, but running a regular newsletter is viewed by many as a tedious exercise as you are often scrambling to come up with extra material to send out to your most devoted subscribers.
The reason for this is that mailing lists are primarily used by companies that sell products. As bloggers we're really not selling anything. Sure, we do affiliate marketing and sell sponsorships to offset costs, but at the end of the day we cannot look at our newsletter data, figure out an average conversion rate from our open rate, and see that return as revenue for us.
It simply doesn't work that way when you're marketing solely for readership, and many find it a frustrating, but necessary evil to maintain traffic (and grow that coveted list of emails for our readers for the inevitable day when all other sources of free traffic dry up).
By moving to a generic, RSS driven newsletter we still have to do work to update it periodically, but we only have to make nominal changes. Take it from us that this is much easier than coming up with an entire insider article about the goings on with a site (especially on months where nothing happened), and after asking around we found most of our readers didn't care about that part anyway!
Less time commitment from us, getting straight to the point, and happier readers (to a degree- more on that later)? Yes please!
It Increases Our Monthly Click-Throughs
When sending out our monthly newsletters, we'd average approximately 5%-15% in terms of overall click-throughs when compared to our subscriber count. So at 2,000 total subscribers, for example, we'd receive anywhere from 100-300 total clicks through to our websites and associated links that were promoted in the article in any given month.
This is all well and good when our Mailchimp hosted newsletter was free (under 2,000 total subscribers), but once we started paying to send out newsletters we had to look at our newsletter on an overall CPC (cost-per-click) basis and start worrying about money.
At $30/month for the base package at 2,000 subscribers, we were looking at a $0.10 to $0.30 CPC with our old newsletter setup. (After publishing this post we upgraded to MailerLite for more or less the same functionality and half the price of Mailchimp. Click here to read our MailerLite review. Our views in this post still hold even though we have a better CPC rate than the ones that follow!)
This is an okay rate, but considering we're getting $0.02 to $0.05 CPC on our Pittsburgh blog's Facebook page, with the bonus of extra engagement at the same time, we knew we could improve on this by sending out more frequent newsletters.
After implementing the change to send out weekly newsletters instead of monthly, we are now at an average of 5%-10% CTR across all of our sites (a drop of up to 50% at times, which was expected). So using our 2,000 total subscribers example, this means we'd receive 80-160 clicks to our websites and associated links every week. But when you factor in that there are 4.33 weeks per month on average, and we're looking at 350 to 700 clicks overall, this means our change resulted in an increase of anywhere from 16% to 133% depending on the month and newsletter features. (This was mostly tied to the number of new articles that the newsletter had sent out in any given week.)
Our CPC rate then decreases from $0.10-$0.30 to $0.04-$0.085 per click- getting much closer to what we pay in equivalent Facebook advertising. Factor in the cost savings we received by switching to MailerLite later on and we began approaching parity!
When it comes to justifying spending, I can live with this until we start selling newsletter sponsorships to offset costs.
We Want Unsubscribers to Our Newsletter
Wait, what? Yes, you read that right. We want people to unsubscribe to our newsletter and the reason is simple: we pay to keep every single person on our list.
On Mailchimp, like we mentioned above, after you hit 2,000 total subscribers across all channels you then have to pay monthly to use the service. To make matters worse, the price begins at around $30/month and goes up in $5 increments with every few hundred subscribers you bring in.
At the rate our blogs are growing in subscribers (10-20 per day), this means that we're set to see our service fees go up $5-$15 every single month. Now, there is a point about Mailchimp that I'm thankful for, and that is because once you hit $50, $75, and $100/month milestones they tend to have a much larger gap before you start increasing in price again. That breathing room is nice, but it won't buy much time for fast growing lists.
It will become serious money in no time.
Now I don't know about you, but as much as I want my list to grow I do not want it to contain subscribers who aren't interested in what we're publishing. It looks great from a marketing standpoint to have a high subscriber count, but at the end of the day I still have to pay for any waste users who delete my newsletter on sight without opening it (which at times is more than half). By publishing more frequently, our unsubscribe rate goes up substantially as these users opt-out.
This is critical because when I was sending newsletters monthly we would frequently see unsubscribe rates of 0-2 per newsletter (so, practically none). By switching to weekly, we see 5-10 per newsletter (still well under 1% overall). Over the course of the year this could save us a little bit on fees we'd otherwise have to pay, improve our perceived open and click-through rates, and will allow us to funnel that money into other expenditures we have for our sites (or add an extra day onto our next vacation!).
It isn't much, but any little bit helps when cutting the dead weight!
As With Everything, This Won't Work For Everyone
I feel like I say this a lot when I write these kind of posts, but at the end of the day this recommendation won't work for everyone. But only in admitting that do we feel that we have a point that really needs to be said (how many other articles are out there featuring tips that don't work but the article swears it will?).
Naturally, if you are hesitant about giving up control on your site to let certain segments run on autopilot, this method won't be of interest to you. Likewise, if you're building an awesome monthly newsletter that people really engage with, it is going to be a tough sell to go back which may anger more than you anticipate.
But if you are like us and struggle month-to-month just to find something to get it out the door, converting your newsletter to an RSS driven, autopilot type of system may be a great option (especially if you are just now getting into the paid Mailchimp tiers where this style of newsletter becomes available at no extra charge!).
As our newest goal in running this site is to let it become a business that gives us our time in addition to an income, wasting it on details we do not care about seems like something that goes against our entire philosophy.
So, we have to say sorry to our customized newsletter- it is time for you to go!
Subscribe To Our Newsletter, But Only If You Love Our Work
While we would love it if every single person reading this subscribed to our newsletter using the prompt below, if you're not absolutely in love with our content (which is travel, travel blogging, and lifestyle design for digital independence- in case you're not sure), you probably shouldn't subscribe to us. If you do subscribe, you're going to be seeing exactly that in your inbox each and every week!
Upgrade your newsletter to MailerLite and save some serious cash today! We did after publishing this post and couldn't be happier with the switch- saving upwards of $50/month!
Looking for more information on how to promote your blog? Click the previous link to learn all of our secrets! Or, check out some of our favorite articles like why we think going viral is overrated (unless you're prepared), our lessons learned from our WordPress migration, or the three kinds of blog traffic you can have.