Either by the time you read this (or, if not, soon thereafter) this blog will have undergone a design facelift, its first since we launched it two years ago in April 2007. The new design is in sync with a similar upgrade of the monthly bulletin that goes out to all of you who subscribe to the blog via email. (A comp of the new email design is below.)
As I have documented previously in this space, this blog was conceived as a replacement for a monthly e-newsletter that I had written dutifully, every month, for 10 years starting in 1996. As such, the fact that email subscriptions have played such a key role in the blog’s growth since then is not (alas) a result of any great strategic foresight on my part. In fact, quite the opposite – initially, the blog itself was simply the permanent repository for the content broadcast monthly to email subscribers.
Now, of course, I write for the blog, not the newsletter, and the monthly email is simply a means of feeding that same content to subscribers. Far from simply being a repository, the blog has reached the point where it generates a significant number of visits – and sales leads – each month quite independent of the newsletter. (Much of this traffic comes from organic search – Google “Webinar invitation” to see why.)
What the monthly email continues to accomplish, however, is the following:
* it generates on the order of 20 percent of monthly blog traffic, driving visits to the blog from people who might otherwise not subscribe via RSS
* it serves as a key lead nurturing device, keeping our firm “in front of” potential clients as a consistent (but subtle) reminder of our marketing philosophy, expertise and capabilities
* it generates net new sales leads, by providing current subscribers a convenient means of forwarding our content (and information offers) to peers and colleagues
Why then, I ask you, don’t more bloggers cultivate email subscribers? Say what you will about the potential for RSS, an email subscription gives you more information about your readers (starting with their email address) and has just as much viral potential. If the only subscription option on your blog is RSS (or Twitter, basically the same thing for the purposes of this discussion), it may be less work, but you’ll be missing out on a vast, untapped audience of potential subscribers and prospective clients.
The easiest way to add an email subscription option to your blog is to use a service like Feedburner (now owned by Google) or Feedblitz. These services are easy to set up and manage, and (mostly) free. My gripe is that the end product, what’s actually delivered to your email subscribers, is well: ugly. In fairness, these services do what they claim to: package up your RSS feed and deliver it via email. But they lack the reader-friendliness, design flexibility, and ability to drive response of old-fashioned e-newsletters. (Feedblitz now offers a “newsletter edition” of its service but I have yet to see the end product. If you have experience with this service, feel free to comment below.)
When we first launched the blog we used a service called Zookoda to serve up blog content in our own custom, newsletter template, but alas the service was shut down. Just as well, it turns out, because it forced us to convert the same newsletter template for use with Marketo, our marketing automation system. Now, here’s what we do every month:
1. When someone subscribes to the blog (via a registration form hosted in Marketo), that information is captured and ported automatically into Salesforce.com. We’re alerted to new subscribers – as with any new sales lead – via email alerts generated instantly by Marketo.
2. Once a month, our production manager copies the RSS feed from the previous month’s posts and pastes it into the email template hosted within Marketo’s built-in design studio. Some minor formatting, a quick review by yours truly, and the email is ready to go. The subscription list, updated in near real time from Salesforce.com, is pulled down from Marketo.
3. As with any email broadcast, Marketo tracks who receives the newsletter, who opens the email, and who clicks on any of the content, and ports that same information into Salesforce.com, where it becomes part of the activity history for each contact. (If we wanted to, we could choose to be alerted instantly when anyone clicks on the newsletter, but we’re not that desperate.)
4. As you’ll see in the design above (right-hand sidebar), the newsletter also offers up downloadable content: white papers, podcasts, and the like. Those offers also link to registration forms hosted in Marketo. If a subscriber clicks through to any one of those forms, his or her contact information will be pre-populated on the form, which, naturally, does wonders for conversion rates. Here again, any form submissions make their way to Salesforce.com, generate an instant email alert to our business development team, and update the activity history for that particular contact. We choose to manually respond to these leads via Salesforce.com email templates (call it the human touch), but it would be a simple matter to have Marketo generate personalized thank you emails, automatically.
Conceivably you could broadcast a similar blog newsletter using most any email broadcast software, or a third party service provider, but my guess is that it wouldn’t be this simple a process, nor would you benefit from the Salesforce.com integration, tracking, and “smart” (read: pre-populated) forms that we get with Marketo.
The very first post to this blog back in April 2007 exhorted marketers to dump their e-newsletters and convert them into blogs. I stand by that advice today. Now that you have your blog, however, don’t ignore the potential of email subscribers. They could be your blog’s best friend.