Can I be blunt with you for a moment?
Not just direct, but say some things that’ll make some people mad?
Because you see, the world has changed.
Once upon a time, the online newsletter was the goose that laid golden eggs. Instead of hammering poor, unsuspecting website visitors into buying a product or service on their first visit, businesses got smart and asked them to subscribe to their newsletter, gaining permission to follow up again and again, sneaking in little sales pitches with every newsletter, and creating a nice flow of sales every time they published a new issue.
It was a game changer. Businesses went from converting 1-2% of visitors to an astonishing 5-20%, not because of a better pitch or product, but simply because they could stay in touch, educate the prospect, and occasionally nudge them to see if they were ready to buy.
And the best part?
It cost almost nothing. You could shoot out a new edition of your newsletter to thousands or even tens of thousands of people whenever you wanted, as often as you wanted, for a couple hundred bucks (or less) per month.
The result: enormous profits. Not just for big corporations, either, but for Main Street businesses, stay-at-home moms, and savvy writers around the world who wanted to make a living from their words. It was (and is) one of the biggest and most important changes in business in the last decade.
But the crazy part?
Nowadays, it’s pure foolishness.
If you’re publishing a newsletter, you’re potentially missing out on thousands of new subscribers, strangling growth by word-of-mouth, and depriving yourself of feedback from your readers, provided on a regular basis at no cost whatsoever to you, telling you exactly what you’re doing right and wrong.
Where newsletter publishers used to be the smartest people in the room, they are now the sad old fuddy-duddies of the online marketing world, hopelessly outdated, clinging desperately to a dying technology, destined to be crushed by new and savvier competitors. And if you’re publishing a newsletter, you’ll probably be pulverized right along with them.
Social Media Changed Everything
Not long ago, publishing was a one-way street.
You wrote a newsletter, article, or white paper, sent it to your readers, and they either read it or ignored it. End of story.
With social media though, communication now flows both ways. Yes, we still publish information, but now our readers respond back to us, leaving comments, sharing with their friends, and linking to us from their own blogs and websites.
It’s a complete game changer. Rather than publishing an article you like and hoping your readers enjoy it, now you know what they think within a matter of minutes. You can also compare the response to different articles to see what your readers enjoy most.
The most important shift, though?
Thanks to social networks, it’s now easier than ever before to grow by word-of-mouth. If your readers like what you publish, they’ll share it on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn, sending you hundreds or even thousands of new visitors for every article you publish.
Here at Smart Blogger, we receive 50-100 new email subscribers per day exclusively through word-of-mouth. That’s not search engine traffic. That’s not advertising. That’s just readers talking about us on social networks.
It also grows over time. The larger your audience becomes, the more readers you have talking about you, and the more visitors you receive. It’s a snowball of traffic that just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
Newsletters are stuck in 2005
For the most part, they’re still a one-way street.
Yes, some newsletter publishers give you digital archives and buttons to share past issues, but are your readers using those features? Nopers. They just forward the newsletter to somebody they think might like it.
While that’s certainly appreciated, one forward usually exposes you to just one person, where one share on Facebook or Twitter exposes you to hundreds or thousands. It’s an enormous difference. Where your newsletter might get forwarded to a dozen people, the same article on a blog could reach hundreds of new readers.
You also feel like you’re writing in a vacuum. People recognize mass emails for what they are, and unless you train them to respond to you, you’ll hardly ever hear from anyone, not because they have nothing to say, but because they realize it’s not a conversation. It’s a one-way street.
So, they don’t ask questions. They don’t compliment you on your writing. They don’t correct your mistakes. They don’t give you ideas for new products and services. They don’t tell you what articles they’d love you to write next.
Instead, there’s just a vast and empty silence.
It’s disconcerting, because even though you think you’re doing and saying the right things, what if you’re wrong? What if you’re really just a gigantic ass? What if you’re wasting your time?
You don’t know, and not knowing can drive you crazy. You start second-guessing yourself, and before you know it, you’re changing the name of the newsletter or redesigning it or any number of neurotic activities we creators engage in without feedback.
The good news is there’s a better way. And it cost nothing.
What to Do Instead of a Newsletter
What do you call a newsletter with built-in sharing for social networks, a place to leave feedback on every article, and an ongoing digital archive where all of your old articles are automatically indexed in the search engines?
Simple: a blog.
Whenever somebody tells me they don’t understand blogs, I tell them, “Imagine a newsletter where all the issues are stored online, people can leave responses to your articles, and they can share your articles with their friends. Imagining it? Great. Now you understand blogging.”
People act like social media is this mystical, indecipherable being that governs the web with a fickle, invisible hand, but it’s nothing of the sort. It’s simply an evolution of technology. It’s the conversion of a one-lane street to a two-lane street. Nothing more.
Of course, you might be wondering, “If blogs are so clearly superior to newsletters, why do some bloggers have both?” Let’s talk about that next.
Should You Have Both a Blog and a Newsletter?
The short answer:
No. Absolutely not. Start a blog and skip the newsletter altogether.
The long answer is more interesting, though. If you look around, you’ll see lots and lots of bloggers who also have email newsletters, and you might be wondering why.
It all starts with a technology called RSS. Once upon a time, people used RSS readers to subscribe to their favorite blogs, and it would collect all of the latest articles from those blogs and put them in one place for easy access, kind of like a clipping service that would remove articles from your favorite magazines and put them all together so you could skip the ads.
Forgetfulness. Yes, you can get lots of people to subscribe to your blog with RSS, but most folks don’t check their RSS reader that often. They subscribe to a bunch of blogs, forget about them for a while, and then when they remember, their RSS reader is clogged up with hundreds of articles, and it’s too overwhelming to deal with.
The result: RSS delivers pitiful traffic.
A few years ago, I was thinking about buying a blog with 60,000 RSS subscribers, so I asked for their RSS stats, and I was shocked with what I found. Out of those 60,000 subscribers, only about 1,200 read any given post. That’s only a 2% engagement rate!
Email newsletters, on the other hand, typically get 20% or more to at least open up and take a glance at the content. That’s 1,000% better engagement. Or in other words, an email newsletter with 60,000 subscribers is the equivalent of a blog with 600,000 RSS subscribers.
Realizing this, a lot of bloggers decided to start an email newsletter in addition to their blog. The idea was to convert some of their RSS subscribers into email subscribers, making them much more engaged. And it worked. Engagement improved, revenue went up, and the blog grew faster than ever.
So, naturally, everyone started doing it. No one understood why they needed both a newsletter and a blog, but monkey see, monkey do.
It’s also the reason why a lot of email newsletter publishers criticize bloggers. On average, a popular email newsletter is massively more profitable than a blog with the same size audience, so they conclude newsletters are fundamentally better than blogs.
But they’re not. Email is just fundamentally better than RSS.
Only… who says bloggers have to use RSS?
Blog + Email = The Ultimate Publishing Platform
Look around this site, and you’ll notice something peculiar:
It’s not possible to subscribe via RSS. You can only subscribe via email.
When you do, you’ll see I don’t spam you with a bunch of advertisements for our products and services. I just email you whenever there’s a new blog post for you to read. You don’t receive the entire post either, but a simple explanation of what the article is about and a link.
People I link to tell me I’m now sending the same traffic as blogs with more than 200,000 RSS subscribers. Here’s why: massive engagement. We only have about 26,000 email subscribers here, but because I routinely send out high-quality articles, as well as prune subscribers who are no longer reading, our open and click through rates are off the charts.
The blog is also growing like mad. As I mentioned earlier, we get about 50-100 new email subscribers per day purely through readers sharing the posts on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and so on. And that number is rising. By the end of the year, I bet it’ll be up to 150-200 per day, all thanks to those little sharing buttons.
And just look at the number of comments. It’s hard to find a post with less than 50 comments, and many of them I have more than 100. Not only is that immensely encouraging, but those comments also contain ideas for future posts, new products and services, and even separate businesses. You guys are literally telling me what to do next. I don’t have to guess at all.
In other words, I’m getting all the benefits of email plus all the benefits of blogging. It’s the best of both worlds.
And the real shocker?
It’s dramatically less work. Since launching on March 12, 2012, we’ve only published 27 blog posts. Of those 27, I’ve only written 10. That’s less than one post per month. Granted, I usually spend around 10 hours writing each of my posts here, and there’s also some editing time for the guest posters, but I would guess it’s no more than 20 hours a month.
And remember, we grossed nearly $500,000 last year. Here’s why: minimizing the amount of time I spent writing allowed me to focus on creating products and services, promoting them, and giving customers an out of this world experience.
The Truth about Blogging
Blogging isn’t about publishing as much as you can. It’s about publishing as smart as you can.
Which is smarter: publishing your posts to a reader’s inbox, which they check several times an hour, or publishing your posts to RSS, which they might check once or twice a month?
Which is smarter: asking readers to go through the effort of forwarding your content to friends and family, or giving them a button that makes it easy to share it with everyone they know in a single click?
Which is smarter: making it easy for readers to give you feedback and then carefully studying that feedback when deciding what to do next, or just continuing blindly forward without any idea if you’re on the right track?
Of course, it’s obvious when you put them side by side, but most folks never think through it. We just blindly copy what the “authorities” are doing without having any idea what the results are.
That’s why I tell you guys so much about the results we get here at Smart Blogger. It’s not just to brag (okay, maybe a little); it’s so you can see the results of what we’re doing and copy the right things in the right way.
The bottom line?
Email kicks butt. Blogging kicks butt. Put the two together, and you’ve got the biggest can of whoop ass in the history of publishing.
About the Author: Jon Morrow has asked repeatedly to be called “His Royal Awesomeness,” but no one listens to him. So, he settles for CEO of Smart Blogger. Poor man. 🙂