"Building Your QUALIFIED E-Mail List"
Robin M. Bassett
November 8, 2000
I often consult with small businesses moving into the web arena, so I'd like to share some of the same advice that I give to them.
Whatever means that you use to grow your list, there is absolutely no substitute for time and patience. No matter where you obtain those qualified names outside of self-subscription, you're walking a very fine line between marketing and spam.
As a new website owner you will have all sorts of ideas dropped on your doorstep, many of which are pretty shady. Many of your CGI scripts probably collect the name and email address of every single user - add them to your list at your own peril. You'll have offers for software that will collect addresses for you, CDs full of "qualified" names and much, much more.
Sales are built on TRUST. Remember that one happy Guest will tell everyone that they know - but an unhappy one will tell the entire world, including your ISP and server provider. One accusation of SPAM is enough to get your website thrown straight off the server with no recourse almost everywhere - and including that "according to law whatever and so forth this isn't spam" statement won't protect you at all.
Done right, nothing is a more effective marketing tool that opt-in email. Do it wrong and you'll be bankrupt overnight.
First, examine your reasons for wanting to publish a newsletter/ezine/discussion list - those are not synonymous terms.
- a newsletter primarily gives news about your site. Sites that update frequently like KitchenLink do send these out weekly, but most sites that utilize this method keep their mailings down to no more than once or twice a month at most. Too frequent mailings will LOSE you subscribers - and customers - hand over fist. Think of this like you would that salesman hovering at your elbow while you window-shop.
- an ezine contains articles of interest to the particular audience in addition to any site news that might happen to be of interest. A Letter from Grandma is an ezine, essentially a magazine in digital format. This type of email publishing requires both writing skill and dedication (you have to come up with entirely new ideas for each and every issue) but when well done can be very effective as a means of generating subscriber loyalty and response. WARNING: Not for the faint of heart or short of time! "Ezines" that do nothing but republish articles from other ezines don't last long.
- discussion lists are dependent entirely on the interest and participation of the subscribing audience. While it is fairly easy to get folks to subscribe to these, getting them to participate (as I am sure that you know) can be an entirely different matter!
There is NO substitute for time and patience when building your list - there aren't any shortcuts. Few new businesses have the time, talent and energy to devote to building a quality discussion list or ezine - and in truth most do not need this kind of list.
IMHO, the idea that your online business might fail because it takes several years to build a substantial subscriber base for your own newsletter is a fallacy, right up there with the idea that you will fail if you aren't in the Top 10 for every keyword.
Over the years we have all heard various definitions of "success" on the Internet - and most of us have fallen for nearly all of them at one time or another. You will hear "success" defined in terms of Top 10 listings, pageviews, hits, cards sent, banners shown and on and on. As we are all learning quite rapidly, there is exactly one definition of "success" - and it is the same online as it is off. Successful businesses TURN A PROFIT. The lack of one's very own, very large mailing list will never alone cause a business to fail to turn a profit.
Whether your website is brand new or has been around for awhile, you can utilize someone else's list very effectively to deliver your message. In fact, this method can be more effective than your own list might be for you, particularly if you are attempting to reach a NEW audience. Utilizing someone else's already extant list creatively allows you to reach an instant audience at far less cost and investment of time/resources than building your own "from scratch" list.
Here are two of the most effective strategies to utilize someone else's list while building your own:
1. Purchase advertising in one or more ezines that serve your target audience - probably the single most cost effective online advertising available.
Nearly all ezine publishers with circulations of any size >1000 offer advertising space. Smaller ezine publishers with circulations similar to mine (3000 to 4000) will have very distinctive, well defined audiences. Larger publications will have a broader, more varied audience.
I have had the best results and seen the best results when advertisers very carefully define the audience that they want to address, identify other topics that the particular audience has an interest in, and then deliberately search out publications that target that particular audience. These will, by nature, be smaller rather than large "broadcast" publications. The more narrowly you can target your audience, the better response you can expect to achieve.
Note: An ad in a publication similar to mine will run $10 - $25 per CPM and generate responses in the 2-40% range, depending on how well you have targeted your audience and how attractively you have written your ad. An ad in a publication with a circulation of 100,000 will likely run you $100 or more per CPM - and often generate much lower response rates than you would generate by spreading your ad among several smaller publications - you cannot target the audience as effectively.
Look for publications that severely limit the amount of advertising that they accept. There are only X number of responses per issue of any given publication. Choosing a publication that will bury your ad along with a dozen others at the bottom of the page for $3 per CPM is a waste of your advertising dollar.
Look for publications that do NOT run the same ad each week. Readers of these publications become so used to seeing the same old ad week after week that they soon become immune and simply skip all ads, expecting them to be the same. When a publication rotates its advertising, folks often read it through before they even realize that it is an ad.
A few publications, like mine, run both standard "this is an ad" type advertising and small feature articles that highlight a sponsors service, product or business. Feature articles produce extremely high response rates - that's where I got that 57% response (our "norm" is 20-40% for this type of ad.) Don't expect to just be able to buy a feature though - you must have something worthy of a feature and what that will be is highly dependent upon the publication and the time you would like to be featured.
Ezine publishers are for the most part pretty picky about the advertising that they accept. Anything that smacks in the least of scam or spam will be rejected most everywhere - our audience is our most valuable asset and we don't want to offend them. Many of us also reject ads for gambling sites, religious sites (those that promote a particular religion, not those that offer religious goods for sale), and the like.
Opt-Influence is an excellent resource to help you locate ezines that target your audience . They carefully review every ezine that they accept advertising for, maintain up-to-date statistics and demographics and verify that your ad was indeed run on a particular date, saving you the hassle of individually contacting dozens of individual publishers. You'll find them at
On the other hand, if you're looking for something special - like a feature article or specific multiple dates (and therefor a discount) - you'll want to contact publishers directly. Look through an ezine directory or two for appropriate publications - or inquire at your favorite websites. Be sure to subscribe to the ezine or read through several issues in an archive before contracting for an ad to get a feel for the specifics of an individual publication.
If you are looking for ads to run during December or near Valentine's Day you should be contracting for those NOW to get the dates you want in your chosen publications. Expect to pay up front.
Be creative with your advertising - offer a special discount, coupon or gift only to the folks that respond to a particular ad. Free shipping with a code that you publish in the ad is always popular.
2. Offer articles that you have written to other publications.
Many ezine publishers are happy to publish timely content from other folks and being published will often bring readers to visit your site. As a bonus, the trust factor that already exists between a particular publisher and his audience will automatically rub off on you to some extent, providing that extra little "leg up."
Be careful here. Better publishers that will publish your content expect sole rights of publication - our audience expects our publication to provide UNIQUE content.
Do not write your article in such a way that it becomes a blatant advertisement for your website or product - a sure road to rejection. (We expect ADS to be paid for!)
Drop a line to the publisher outlining your article and asking about specific requirements before you send the article.
Subscribe or read through a number of issues of any publication that you would like to write for so that you have a sense of length, style and subject matter. Wasting your chosen publisher's time with an inappropriate article might mean that an appropriate follow-up is never opened.
Never depend on just one strategy. Successful websites (by any definition) always depend on a variety of techniques to get folks in the door. The web abounds with self-styled Internet "experts" that would have you believe that they have the secret strategy, the magic technique that will guarantee you a million for only $49.95. Baloney! One particular strategy will never guarantee your success or cause your downfall. There are NO shortcuts!