In the e-commerce world, email marketing’s main goal is to drive sales. But when it comes to the publishing world, the game is quite different. While the overarching goal is the same—drive revenue—instead of focusing on transactions, publishers focus on consumption by bringing users back to their website to read articles.
As a publisher, you want to use email to stay top of mind and drive more visits. Why? Because the more visits you have, the more page views you get. And the more page views you get, the more money you make (typically from ad impressions). If you’re The Wall Street Journal, loyal readers go directly to your website to read the news. But if you’re a smaller publisher, you may need to fight hard to remind people that you exist and that your content is worth reading. Email is a fantastic way to do that and stay top of mind.
While publishers can—and often do—monetize emails with ads, the main goal remains to drive traffic back to their site. See, the beauty of email is that you’re able to choose where this traffic goes. You essentially get to pick which articles or sections of your website you want to direct email subscribers to. This is phenomenal given that publishers rely heavily on Google to drive traffic, which is nearly impossible to control. Said another way, email is a great way to diversify traffic sources. Think of email as a lever publishers control—which is often a very cheap lever compared to other alternatives such as ads or partnerships.
As a publisher, given your audience’s broad set of interests, it often makes sense to have separate topic-based newsletters. The added relevancy helps you deal with the biggest challenge you’ll face: keeping your content engaging to make sure subscribers continue reading, and clicking, your emails on a consistent basis.
This brings us to the next point. Your biggest email KPIs are likely to be engagement related. More specifically: page views and pages per visit. You should measure these two KPIs for each email sent. Once you’ve looked at these, take a deeper dive into metrics-land and understand subscriber behavior. Are they clicking on ads? Are they visiting sponsored promotions? What else are they doing on your website?
It’s worth noting that visitors that share their email address are often the most engaged ones, meaning that visitors coming from your emails are likely to visit more pages than those coming from a Google search (for example). When you acquire someone’s email address, you get to stay in touch with them and, when they visit, they see more pages on average. Talk about a double win!
One important factor to consider is that unless you have a subscription model like The New York Times, your LTV on an email address is likely to be low since all your revenue comes from page views—which is based on RPM (revenue per 1,000 visits). Compare this to the e-commerce world where one subscriber may buy a bed or a dresser for $400. To make that same amount of money on the publishing side, you’d need a few thousand page views—which is nearly impossible to generate from one single subscriber.
One conflict you might run into is using email to drive visitors to pages where you make the most money (higher RPM) but where the content might not be the most engaging (e.g., because it’s sponsored content). When you do that, you’ll often see an engagement hit where your pages per visit go down. It’s very important you measure and see if the engagement hit (e.g., -25% page views) is worth the revenue you’re making in exchange. When this happens, you have to do a cost-benefit analysis on a case-by-case basis. Driving revenue for a one-time piece is unlikely to overweight the LTV of an email address. Loss in engagement is a really bad sign for a publisher’s email program.
As a publisher, it’s not infrequent to send many emails a week, and sometimes a few emails a day. Because of this, you’ll need to be creating emails very quickly. One popular way to structure your email team is to separate the content production from the email development process. On one side, you’ll have copywriters preparing all the content and, on the other, you’ll have email developers focusing on email production. Given the heavy email volume, it’s important that you check email performance on a daily basis. This will help you plan upcoming email campaigns.