Maybe you noticed. Beginning with the January 24th edition of this newsletter, I made a major, significant, pants-shaking change to its format.
I went from including the entire text of the newsletter within the email itself – something I had done for the 15 years preceding – to including just the beginning. In order to read all of it, you had to click a link which took you to my web site.
Some people hated it. Others, when I asked them what they thought, hadn’t even noticed.
So why did I do it? What did I learn? And, most important, should you consider doing the same for your own newsletter and those of your clients?
While both approaches have merit, I’ve long been a member of the “no click” camp:
First, because it’s more convenient for the reader; removing the extra step increases the likelihood that the newsletter will be read. Second, because for those who are reading previously downloaded emails “offline” (on an airplane, for example), the newsletter is all there.
Both still true, although I think the offline benefit has greatly diminished in recent years, given how ubiquitous Wi-Fi has become and how many of us use web-based email anyway (Gmail, Hot Mail, etc.).
The pros on the “click” side, on the other hand, have grown significantly in the last few years, something that I think will continue. These include:
- A move from publication to conversation. 15 years ago, when I began publishing, a newsletter represented the first time the solo professional could afford to speak to a wide group of people, frequently. The variable cost was (and is) nearly zero – the limiting factor in publishing was no longer cost, it was now content. If you had something worth saying, you could say it as often as you liked to as many people as were interested.
But it was largely one way and, even when it wasn’t, the conversations I had with readers were private, just between them and me via email.
Forcing readers to click, moves them into the conversation – as you can see below, the comments appear directly below each issue. This has several benefits.
First, more people comment. Prior to the switch this newsletter averaged 8 comments per issue. Since the switch, it averages 28.
Second, the comments are much meatier. Now, instead of just saying, “nice job” or something similar, many people write several paragraphs. They share their own insights and they cross talk to each other, instead of just with me.
Finally, because the comments are easily and obviously visible to all who scroll down to see them, they make the newsletter itself more valuable – your comments become part of the content.
All together, it’s now more of a conversation, less of a publication. I think that’s good for my brand and my marketing.
- Flexibility and control. 15 years ago, email was on the cutting edge. It was interactive, easily shared and simple enough that you could format and publish it yourself without being highly technical.
Your web site, on the other hand, was a mostly static, locked box whose key was held by your “web guy.” It was hard for the average business person to make changes and updates and there was little happening there anyway.
Today, while email is still everything it always was, your web site has grown up and blown by it. Video, audio, downloads, product sales – they all live there. Once somebody arrives, everything is available.
Plus, you, as the publisher, have lots more control. So, for example, while it’s true that most email vendors provide social media icons that you can drop into your emails, they (necessarily) constrain where those icons go and what happens when a reader clicks on one.
On my own site, on the other hand, I can do things like this, dropping in a “tweet this” bit of hyperlinked text that is prepopulated with whatever words I want.
Plus, plus, thanks to WordPress and other blog-based platforms, you don’t need the web guy for most of this. It’s become as easy as the other software services we all use every day.
- Social media. This is probably the most important change and the one which ultimately convinced me to make the switch. Because whether you like or even use social media much yourself, if you’re not leveraging this phenomenon in the marketing of your business, you’re leaving a lot of marketing juice on the table.
When people read your newsletter on your web site, all the social media is seamlessly integrated. They read it, they enjoy it, they click the Facebook “like” icon and they’re done. Five extra seconds of their time and they’ve just told all their friends about the newsletter.
Sure, they could have still forwarded that same newsletter in email format to one or two or five friends. But with social media, they’re essentially republishing it for you to everyone.
For you math majors out there, since the switch I’ve seen a doubling in the number of social shares and an 11% increase in the rate at which new subscribers join my list (the result, I believe, of that doubling).
So, the big question. Should you make the switch for your own newsletter?
I’m not sure. One thing I have that you may not is a pretty good size list (6,500 subscribers) and a readership that likes to engage.
If your list is a tenth as large and your readers, for whatever reason, tend to be more passive, you may be giving up more than you gain by requiring that extra click. (For now, I have held off on suggesting to my own clients that they convert.)
Where’s it all going? I don’t know for sure, of course, but I believe that the world has sufficiently shifted – and will continue to do so – in a way that makes the web site the place to be. Sooner or later, I think clicking will be the best format for most newsletters.
What do you think? Share your thoughts below…