Photo Credit: Sendgrid Blog

Photo Credit: Sendgrid Blog

These days, there’s such an emphasis on gaining new audiences for your blog through social sharing that it’s easy to forget about how to continue to engage the readers you already have. It goes without saying that creating consistent, high quality content is the most important way to keep your readers around, but you also need to get it in front of them in a way that’s memorable. How do you get your readers to come back day after day? How do you make sure that your readers never miss a piece of content and start to truly understand you? How do you convert a reader from a once-in-a-while speed dater to a madly obsessed raving lover?

Valentine’s Day metaphors aside, this is all to say one thing: as you’re trying to build new audiences for your blog, don’t forget about the ones you already have.

Picture 1 - I Love You

Photo Credit: Rahxy via Compfight CC

Driving people to follow you on your social channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest is one way to do this, but when people have thousands of followers on each service and a barrage of never-ending content streams, it’s easy to get lost in the mix.

The answer to our problem lies in the unsung hero of the social sharing world: email newsletters. Call me old fashioned, but the fact of the matter is that people still spend over 50% of their day on email. Knowing that, don’t you think it only makes sense to reach them where they already are?

If you leave this post with only one thing, let it be this: starting an email newsletter for your blog is one of the most effective ways to deepen engagement with your existing readers and convert passive visitors into active visitors. Let’s dig a little deeper to see why.

Did you know that most of your visitors are passive?

As you dive in and try to understand your blog’s analytics and traffic sources, it’s easy to get lost in the nitty gritty. So let’s take a step back. At the end of the day, I like to divide my readers into two categories: passive and active.

  1. Active visitors are the holy grail of blog followers. They come to your blog without asking and without prompting. You’re one of their first stops when they turn on the computer. They rave about you to their friends, actively engage with comments, and share regularly. In your analytics, the only source that can truly be called active are Direct visitors.
  1. Passive visitors are finnicky. They may be new or returning readers but typically require some sort of “prompt” to visit your blog. They may stumble across your blog through a Google search or perhaps follow you on a social channel. They might see a new post pop up here and there and occasionally click on something. They may come back…or they may not. It’s all about chance. In your analytics, this is everyone else except Direct.

If we look at the comprehensive data from Shareaholic’s October 2012 Traffic Sources report, only about 20% of visitors to publisher websites are coming directly to their sites.

October 2012 All Traffic Sources Report

This means that the majority of your visitors are passive! So wait, you’re telling me that I’m spending most of my time promoting to people who may not even come back?

Unfortunately, yes.

So let’s fix things. If active visitors are the most valuable type of reader but we have significantly more passive visitors coming into the top of the funnel, we need to figure out a way to convert our visitors from passive to active.

There are a lot of way to do this, but an email newsletter is the hidden gem in your toolkit to engage passive visitors.

Why Email Works

With Facebook and Twitter feeds moving at the speed of sound, it’s easy for one of your followers to miss a post. Email bypasses this problem by taking all of the chance out of the game. Whether at work, at home, or on the go, most people are checking their email frequently throughout the day. By putting your content in your reader’s inbox, you ensure they never miss a thing.

They don’t have to log in anywhere else. They don’t have to remember to visit another website. They don’t even have to be thinking about you. It all comes to them without having to lift a finger.

Over time, however, you can build this relationship into something much more. Your emails, whether daily, weekly, or somewhere in between, become a small (but constant) reminder that you exist. It’s like that little birdie whispering into their ear saying, “hey, remember me?” The once casual relationship turns into something more serious as your email readers start getting exposed to more of your content over time. You start to cut through all of the noise and become a trusted, go-to source in your niche. You become the one they remember.

You become reliable. They become active.

Picture 3 - Dating

Photo Credit: ZakVTA via Compfight CC

Sound a little like dating? That’s because it is! It’s all about developing a relationship with your reader, and email, above all other channels, gives you the most direct line to do that.

But with an invitation to someone’s inbox also comes great responsibility. For many people, their inbox is a sacred place and as publishers, we need to respect that. Here’s how.

4 Ways to Creatively Use an Email Newsletter

Once you’ve set-up your email newsletter and figured out how to grow your list, it’s time to decide what to do with it. Here are a couple of ideas and examples (please excuse the fact that they’re mostly food blogs – that’s what I do!):

1.  The most basic use of an email newsletter for a blog is to convert your RSS feed into an email. There are a number of ways to do this, but the basic idea is that every time you publish a new post, it triggers an email to your readers like this one from Shareaholic publisher Kristen from Dine & Dish. Depending on what service you use, you can have the email sent automatically or you can manually format it yourself. Kristen does it manually so she can control the content on the sidebar.

Picture 4 - Dine & Dish

2. A weekly digest email, like this one from Food52, is a great way to remind your readers of everything they missed over the past week or to highlight certain posts. This requires a bit more manual work, but with a good template, you can crank it out quickly every week.

Picture 5 - Food 52

3. If you have a product, like a new e-book, you can use your email list to promote and sell it! Kevin from Closet Cooking occasionally (and I repeat, occasionally) will intersperse his auto-triggered emails with something a bit more promotional. If done thoughtfully, this is a great way to get your convert your now active readers into revenue!

Picture 6 - Closet Cooking

4. Looking for feedback? Asking your email list to take a survey (like Bonobos did) every few months is a great way to get their thoughts on what you’re doing. Looking at analytics is great and all, but hearing feedback from the horse’s mouth is far and beyond the best way to know if you’re on the right track. Consider asking about the frequency of posts, the types of posts they want more of, and what they love. Do this, and you’ll discover your blogging niche in no time.

Picture 7 - Bonobos

At the end of the day, setting up, growing, and running an email newsletter is another item on your to-do list, but I hope that I’ve been able to prove to you that it’s worth your time! With a some up-front work and a little creativity, an email newsletter can quickly become one of the most valuable tools in making your blog even more successful. Grow your readership then convert those passive visitors into active, raving fans. After all, email is for lovers.

Vijay Nathan is the Co-founder of NoshOn.It, a curated content network and daily email newsletter that brings hand-picked recipes and expert cooking tips from the world’s best bloggers and chefs straight to your inbox. To talk about email newsletters, food blogging, or content networks, you can contact Vijay on Twitter at @VijayRNathan or via email at vijay@noshon.it.

  • Anja Emilie Madsen

    Can you tell me, how I can turn RSS feeds into newsletters? Thank you for a great post! Just what I needed ;-)

    • Ginny Soskey

      Hey Anja, thanks for the kind words about Vijay’s post! Check out our other post on RSS to email subscriptions for more: http://blog.shareaholic.com/2012/10/feedburner-alternatives-email-rss-subscription/

    • Thanks so much Anja Emilie Madsen! This is a really common question and with Feedburner being “up in the air,” a lot of bloggers are turning to one of the other services like MailChimp or AWeber. Regardless of what you use, I’ll say that it does take a little bit of fidgeting to get all of the formatting and stuff exactly right. But, once you do, it’s a great resource!

      The other alternative if you have trouble with that is to do what Kristen from Dine & Dish does (the 1st example) and just set up a template that’s easy for you to update and send manually.

  • This is a great post, Vijay! Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

  • This is a really helpful post as I’m gathering information and ideas for launching a monthly newsletter this September. It also makes me realize that I could stand to improve my current RSS to email campaign. Wow, Dine & Dish’s email looks WAY prettier than mine. Love the pics! Thanks for the inspiration. Definitely clipped this page for my “Newsletter Brainstorming” notebook in Evernote.

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