I used to feel really uncomfortable thinking about collecting people’s email addresses and sending them emails.

What if they don’t like me?  What if they get angry with me?

What if they call me a spammer?

But I got over it.  And this is why.

  • People voluntarily sign up to my mailing list
  • In doing so they are saying “I like your stuff and want to see more, and I want it to arrive in my inbox”
  • If they change their mind they are free to unsubscribe

In other words you can use email marketing in a totally ethical, non-spammy way to give your audience what they want. You can use a mailing list with your blog to:

  • Let your audience know about your latest blog posts
  • Deliver valuable, extra bonuses to your subscribers
  • Promote your content with regular newsletters
  • Market your own products or those of others to generate revenue

The First Critical Part of Successful Email Marketing

There are two big mistakes you can make right at the start of your email marketing journey.

  • Using your ISP email or a webmail account to send email
  • Using a free mailing list provider

The reason that these are mistakes comes down to one word – deliver ability.  That one word sums up all of the different factors that can impact your email reaching its intended recipient.   Most of it boils down to the spam prevention measures that ISPs have in place for their customers.

  • If you send bulk email directly from your home or business the receiving email servers are likely to block it because it is coming from an IP address that is in an ISP customer range (a huge source of spam on the web thanks to all those virus infected computers in people’s homes)
  • If you send bulk email using your ISP’s email server, or a provider like Gmail, you will run into limits on the number of recipients you can include.  Did you know Gmail will suspend your account if you send to more than 100 people using an email client on your computer, or more than 500 people using their web interface?
  • Free email service providers fall into a similar category to home pc’s, because they are often used by spammers and so are untrusted by other email servers on the internet.

A good email service provider works hard to build and maintain a trustworthy network by putting a huge focus on security and keeping spammers off their service.  This can improve deliverability for your email campaigns by as much as 30%!

Besides those deliverability issues, here are the other things you miss out on if you don’t use a genuine email service provider.

  • Automatic subscribe/unsubscribe management (can you imagine trying to do that all by hand on your computer?)
  • Detailed stats tracking and reporting, so you know whether your emails are being opened and clicked on
  • High quality web forms and email templates
  • Customer service and technical support

Choosing an Email Service Provider

So by now you can see why it is important to pick a good email service provider right from the start, instead of trying to do it for free or cheap.

I surveyed 30 successful bloggers when I wrote this email marketing report.  The majority of them use Aweber for their mailing lists.

Aweber is who I use, and if you want to try them yourself there is a $1 trial offer for the first month. My second choice would be Mail Chimp, who have a free starter plan that you can sign up for.

The Second Critical Part of Successful Email Marketing

There are two ways you can build your mailing list – opt-in and opt-out.  They key word to remember here is permission.

Opt-out is when you say “I will send you emails that I think you will like until you tell me you don’t want any more”.  I personally dislike opt-out email marketing, and most people say the same thing (the people who love it are usually marketers).  Trust me when I say you don’t want to use this method for adding subscribers to your mailing list.

Opt-in is when you say “You can voluntarily sign up here to receive my emails”.  Opt-in marketing is good, but we can make it even better.

Double opt-in is when you say “You can voluntarily sign up here to receive my emails, AND you’ll then get an email asking you to confirm your registration so that I can be 100% sure you really want to receive email from me”.

Single opt-in is open to abuse because you can be added to a list by someone else without your knowledge.  Double opt-in is the gold standard amongst ethical email marketers. There are ethical marketers who insist that single opt-in is good enough.  As I wrote in this post about single vs double opt-in I still stand firmly on the double opt-in side.

Double opt-in is good for everyone. It’s good for your subscribers, because they don’t receive email they don’t want.  It’s good for you, because you don’t have people on your list who don’t really want to be there.  And it’s good for your email service provider, because they have to deal with fewer spam complaints.

Bottom line, if your list building doesn’t include a double opt-in step, you’re doing it wrong.

The Third Critical Part of Email Marketing

If you still feel uncomfortable with the idea of collecting email addresses and sending people email, just remember this next rule: don’t send people stuff they didn’t sign up for.  The key word to remember here is relevance.

Relevant content doesn’t necessarily also need to be free.  Relevance can exist in emails that are making a product offer, as long as the offer has a clear connection to the recipient’s needs.  In fact that is why many of your subscribers will sign up to your list – so that you can tell them the best resources available out there to buy that will solve their problems.

Most of the time when people are complaining about an email being commercial in nature the problem is really that the sender didn’t do enough to establish relevance to the reader.

How to Avoid People Calling You a Spammer

Spam is in the eye of the beholder.  There is nasty spam out there, the kind pushing cheap male enhancement pills and telling you that you’ve won the lottery in a country you’ve never been to.  Then there is the other kind of spam, the email that is not malicious or a scam but the person just doesn’t want to receive.

Since you’re not going to be emailing people about fake pills and cheap watches just assume that when I say “spam” I mean the second kind.

People will call you a spammer if you:

  • Send them emails without their permissions
  • Send them emails that aren’t relevant to them
  • Let them forget who you are and what they signed up for

Since I’ve already covered permission and relevant those first two should be fairly straightforward and easy to avoid if you just keep your ethical marketing hat on.  But what about that third one?

People might think you’re a spammer if you aren’t reminding them each time of how and when they signed up to your list.  The simplest way to do this is to include some basic information in each email that shows them how they ended up on your list.

Luckily Aweber makes this very easy.  Here is a screenshot of the reminder I’ve used in the past for Blogging Teacher subscribers.

Now the bottom line is that you can’t please everyone, and eventually someone will mark your email as spam.  Sometimes they do this simply because it is easier to mark it as spam than it is to properly unsubscribe.  Don’t worry about one or two spam complaints now and then, as long as the rate is very low and you’re sticking to good practices like those outlined above.

Content Strategies for your Mailing List

Your mailing list is like a cup of coffee. Too hot and your subscribers can’t handle it. Too cold and it loses its appeal. But when you get the temperature just right they will enjoy what you serve up to them.

Your subscribers will find your list to be too hot if you send them emails too often.  Or if you go months or years without sending them a single email, then your list will go cold as they simply forget about you.

Either way your mailing list won’t be as responsive and effective as it could be if you work to keep the temperature nice and warm instead.

Getting that temperature just right means understanding your audience, and delivering them the right types of content at the right times.  Let’s take a look at some of those content types you can use.

Email Content – What to Send to your List

Blog posts

Using email to send out your blog posts instead of RSS means that the less tech-savvy people in your audience don’t need to learn about RSS to get regular updates from your blog.

Newsletters

Email is the perfect way to send out newsletters these days.  Whether its weekly or monthly you can put together a newsletter packed with high value content and send it out to your subscribers all over the world with far less effort and cost than traditional printed newsletters.

Bonus Content

Your subscribers are special and deserve a bit of special treatment from you.  One way to do this is to send out special bonus content only to your mailing list.  You could send them a case study, a free lesson, or basically any normal blog post that you hold back from your blog and save as an exclusive for your list members.

Marketing

The sales pitch!  The email where you ask your list to open their wallets and give you money.  Whether it’s for your own product or one that you are an affiliate for, you can use your mailing list to turn subscribers into buyers.  This is the type of email most likely to upset your subscribers, so keep it relevant, keep it honest, and keep them mixed in with a lot of valuable free content.

Finding Your Content Mix

Is there a single perfect content mix?

No, there isn’t.  Everyone’s blog, audience and list are different.  They all need personal attention and a content strategy that is tested and tuned over time.  But you still need to start somewhere, so here are some questions you can use to get started.

How often do you blog?

If you blog every day, or even several times a day, then sending out an email for every single post would be too much.  Instead, try aggregating them into a weekly email, or a “one email per 3-5 blog posts” schedule.

Is there a lot of big news in your niche every single week?

If so then a weekly newsletter where you wrap up the best news along with some of your own content would work.  Otherwise, think about doing a monthly newsletter instead.

What sort of bonus material could you create?

If your blog posts deal with general advice and broad themes you could use your mailing list to send out more detailed, focused articles and case studies.  This sort of high value content keeps subscribers happy and engaged.

Is there any room left for promotional emails?

From time to time you might want to send a promotion or sales pitch to your list.  Make sure you leave enough breathing room in your content mix for these to fit into without overwhelming your subscribers with too many emails.

When Should You Start Sending Emails to Your Mailing List?

So how big should your list get before you start sending your blog posts and newsletters out to your list?

The answer is that you should start sending content to your list right from the start.  Yes, even if you’re the only subscriber so far, it’s time to start sending your blog posts and newsletter to your list, and here is why.

  • To get familiar with the process and iron out any bugs before your list gets too big for them to cause you a real problem
  • To start building an archive of newsletters to demonstrate to people what sort of valuable content they can expect by signing up to your list

If you’re concerned about wasted effort writing emails for a tiny mailing list use an auto-responder sequence instead.  That way you can start building up a nice sequence of high value content that will serve your earliest subscribers, and the effort will continue to pay off every time a new subscriber signs up and starts receiving those messages in the sequence.

Email Signup Forms – Where to Put Them and Why?

There are several locations that you can place a mailing list signup form, each with its own pros and cons.

Sidebar

This is the most common place for a list signup form.  Because visitors are used to looking to the top of the sidebar for this you should definitely place one on your site.

End of Post

The end of a blog post is another good location for a signup form.  When a visitor has read your entire blog post you have captured their attention, so next you want to capture them as a subscriber!  Placing a signup form with a strong call to action at the end of each blog post is definitely something you should consider.

Popup

A lot of bloggers will resist placing a popup signup box on their site because they don’t want to lose visitors by annoying them.  This is perfectly valid, but you should not dismiss popups as an option until you have actually tested them on your site.  In some niches the signup rates for a well-designed, incentivized popup box far exceed those for the regular sidebar forms.

When you’re using multiple signup forms on your blog make sure you create a separate web form in Aweber for each one. The advantages are that you can customize the design of each one to suit its specific location, and you can also measure the performance of each one because they will track their signup rates separately.

This separate tracking will help you optimize your signup form placement and design over time until you are getting consistently strong signup rates.

How to Attract Subscribers with Valuable Incentives?

Just by placing signup forms in the optimal locations on your blog you will attract some subscribers on the strength of your blog content alone.  But the signup rates can be boosted dramatically if you offer some type of incentive to your subscribers.

Here are some examples of how to incentivize your list signups.

Free Downloads

You can offer your subscribers a free download of some kind (eg a report, ebook, or tool).  After a new subscriber signs up to your list Aweber can email them a link to the free download automatically.  I offer a library of free resources as a signup incentive for Blogging Teacher.

Special Offers

Bloggers who create products will often promote them first to their mailing list at a discounted rate, so use this as an incentive for visitors to subscribe to receive those discounts.

Bonus Content

A newsletter or a free, multi-part email course is a good incentive for visitors to sign up to your list.

If the technical aspects of setting up your blog and Aweber for the free incentive are a bit daunting then grab a copy of my guide How to Attract Email Subscribers with Free Content.  It’s free to subscribers of Blogging Teacher.

Email Marketing Best Practices

To wrap up this guide let’s take a quick look at some of the best practices for successful email marketing.

  • Make it easy for people to sign up.  The fewer hoops they have to jump through the better.
  • Be relevant.  Make your mailing list relevant to your blog so that people want to subscribe and then stay subscribed long term.
  • Be actionable. Every email you send should have a clear action that you want people to take, even something as simple as clicking a link.

Test, measure, and test again. Always be testing small variations in your emails and analyses the results to create the most effective campaigns.