Income Report for March 2013–Email Newsletter Strategy

This is my first income report for Law 2 Blog.  Unlike income reports you may have seen on other sites, my plan for these monthly updates is a bit unique.  Rather than simply list all of my monthly income across all of my sites, I’m going to drill down on one specific aspect of my income for the month.

For example, this month I’m going to talk about changes I made to my email newsletter and share how much revenue these changes generated.  In other months I may focus on a specific site or a specific category on a site.

There are several reasons for this approach:

  1. It will allow me to get very specific with an aspect of my income.  The goal isn’t just to show you how much money can be made online.  The goal is to give you actionable steps that you can use in your own online business.  You’ll see what I mean later in this article.
  2. It will allow me to focus on mistakes that I’ve made.  While it’s fun to talk about the successes in life, making money online is very much a “three steps forward, two steps back” kind of business.  The income report I have in mind for next month will be of this variety.
  3. It’s not all about the money.  Being profitable is of course a critical part of any business.  I make no apologies for the money I make online, and you shouldn’t, either.  But for me, it’s not all about the money.  I write a lot of content in the personal finance vertical, and a big part of my business objective is to help people improve their finances.  Here’s the key.  Making money and helping people shouldn’t be two totally separate goals.  They should be integrated with each other, and I hope these income reports will show you how I do that.
  4. Finally, my mother-in-law could be reading this.  Enough said.

My Email Newsletter

I’ve had an email newsletter on my personal finance site (doughroller.net) for years.  I use aWeber to manage my list.  Several years ago I create an eBook called 99 Painless Ways to Save Money, and I give it away to new subscribers.  Currently, I have just under 8,000 subscribers.

For the longest time I’ve struggled with just what to do with the newsletter.  For a time I sent out a weekly email with links to the posts I’d published that week.  More recently, I would send out a daily email with a link back to the post I’d published that day.  There was even a time when I didn’t send out any newsletters for almost a year.

None of these approaches felt quite right.  Readers rarely if ever replied to an email I’d sent, so there was very little engagement.  I tracked open rates and clicks back to my site, which is very easy to do wtih aWeber.  Consistent with industry standards, I’d typically see an open rate of 20+%.  The click-through rate varied significantly depending on the topic of the email.

As an interesting aside, the highest click-through rate I’ve ever received was on a newsletter about the changes in the tax code for 2013.

So one day I was reading a post by Glen over at Viper Chill.  In the post, Glen describes what he calls email blogging.  To understand this concept, let’s look at how I was using my email list before reading Glen’s email.  Each day I published a post on my blog, I’d send out a short email to my subscribers with a link to the post.  That was it.

Now imagine you had 10,000 subscribers to your newsletter, but no blog or website.  What would you do?  Glen’s approach is the answer.  You send your subscribers relevant, actionable content in your newsletter.  If you do have a blog or website, you might include links to it from time to time, but that’s not the ultimate goal.  This past month, I started to implement this approach by creating a series of autoresponder emails around a specific topic (saving money).

So how do you make money?  Good question.  Regardless of what the topic is, there are affiliate offers that are of real value to your readers.  From time to time, you include affiliate links in the email newsletters you send out.  The key, in my opinion, is to give incredible value to your readers and only to promote offers that do the same.  If you are promoting value, you’re readers will be grateful.  And that’s what I’ve tried to do with my Dough Roller newsletter.

Email Formatting

Now let’s talk about formatting.  For the longest time I wanted to have a “pretty” newsletter.  You see newsletters from some of the big sites that just look fabulous.  But from the serious email marketings I’ve always heard one thing—plain text email is the way to go.  I never believed them.

But for my new email approach, I decided to give the plain text email approach a try.  Part of the reason was I had grown tired of the effort to make a newsletter look good.  It’s not overly complicated.  You can grab a low cost template from sites like Theme Forest and off you go.  But it still takes some effort with each email.  So I went plain text.  Here’s an example of one of my newsletters:

Here’s a riddle for you.  What money saving tip can
save you more money than any other tip, yet not
put a single dime in your pocket?

In fact, it’s because you don’t pocket the savings
right away that so many people miss this one.

The tip?  Keeping the cost of your 401(k) and other
investments as low as possible. The problem is that
we don’t get a monthly bill showing us the cost of
our mutual funds.  If we received a bill each month,
many of us would be shocked.

Here’s the key.  You want to keep your expenses
under 0.50% (in the business, they call this 50
basis points; 100 basis points = 1%), and
preferably under 25 basis points (0.25%).

How much do your investments cost you?

If you don’t know the answer, they are probably
costing you too much.

The weighted average cost of all of my investments
is exactly 0.1573%.  That’s just over 15 basis points.

In the next e-mail, I’ll show you a simple and free
way to calculate your costs across all of your
investments.

Best,

Rob Berger

Now it’s your turn.  Just hit reply to this or any email
you receive from me to share your thoughts or
ask questions.

About as plain as it gets, right?  It makes creating the newsletters a snap.  But don’t be fooled by the simplicity.  There are some pretty important things going on in this newsletter.

First, my newsletters are personal.  I always sign them at the end, and the tone is conversational.  My goal is to engage my readers, not just talk at them.  Second, I encourage engagement, which is easy with email.  All a reader has to do is hit reply to share their thoughts.  And I encourage that at the end of the email.  Third, there’s transparency.  In the above example, I share information about my investment portfolio.

Finally, I “sell” very little.  The above email doesn’t have any links, let alone an affiliate link.  But when I do include an affiliate link, I make sure the product is something I use or personally stand behind.  In the email that followed the above one, I discussed a product called Personal Capital, which I use everyday.  It has a nice payout for those that sign up, and it’s free.  That’s hard to beat.  You’ll see below how much I made from that offer last month.

Auto-Responder vs. Broadcast Message

Email services offer at least two types of email.  The first is an auto-responder, or what aWeber calls a “Follow Up” email.  With an auto-responder, you can set up email messages that are automatically sent to your subscribers in a specific order and at a specific time.  Broadcast messages are messages you manually send out whenever you want.

For my new approach to email, I decided to use auto-responder messages.  The newsletter consists of email messages that each contain one tip on how my readers can better manage their money.  Each tip is very specific, and the idea is to give my readers one actionable step with each email.  The nice part of this is that new subscribers won’t miss out on any of the tips I’ve already sent.

In addition, I do send out broadcast messages if there is a specific offer that I think my readers might be interested in.  For example, this past month Intuit ran a 50% off sale on Quicken, but the sale lasted just a few days.  So I sent out a broadcast message to let me readers know about the deal and included an affiliate link in the message.   My readers get the benefit of the sale, and I make a few dollars in the process.  Win-win.

Engagement

Before we get to the revenue, let’s look at engagement.  For most email campaigns, you look at open rates and click-through rates.  And that was my plan with my new approach to my newsletter.  But I was in for a big shock.  I’ll tell you what happened, but first, here are my open rates and click-through rates for the 11 auto-responders I sent out in March (keep in mind that these went to my entire list):

aWeber Open and Click Rates

Frankly, I’m not all that thrilled with the open rates.  I’d prefer at least 20%.  But as you can see, I’m not hitting that number.  The click-through rate is a bit difficult to judge.  Many of the emails don’t have any links or link to other sites.   Remember, my goal here is to provide insane value to my readers, not get them to click back to my site.  So I’ll need some more experience with this approach before I can better evaluate click-through rates.

What really threw me for a loop was an engagement metric I wasn’t even expecting—email replies.  In the month of March I had an incredible response from readers hitting the reply button and sharing their thoughts on the newsletter.  With past approaches, nobody ever emailed me.  And why should they?  I was just including a link back to my site with very little valuable content in the email itself.

I did a quick count and in March alone, I received 104 replies to the email messages I sent out.  Many of these were incredibly detailed replies that contained great information.  In fact, some of the 11 auto-responder emails contained money saving tips I had received from readers earlier in the month.   We all like to contribute and have our contributions recognized.  By including a reader’s first name and money-saving tip in a future email, it validates their contribution.  Several of the emails I received from readers can be used as testimonials to promote the newsletter:

•    Jennifer:  “Thank you for all the great information you send.  I thoroughly enjoy it”
•    Dan:  “First, I must say I look forward towards your letter of money savings. Thank you.”

And my personal favorite—“CAN YOU PLEASE SEND ME ALL YOUR “DR TIPS”  FROM 1-9 PLEASE?  THIS IS AWESOME INFORMATON AND I WANT TO KNOW WHAT THE OTHER PREVIOUS TIPS ARE ALL ABOUT!!!”  There was apparently a glitch in the email autoresponder, so she hadn’t received the first 9.”

I sent them to her immediately.

Tracking Revenue

Tracking revenue earned from an email is easy if you use affiliate links in the email.  If instead you first send subscribers to your site, tracking gets more complicated.  We’ll cover the more complicated tracking in another article.  For my newsletter, I use affiliate links directly in the email.  As I noted above, most of my email don’t have affiliate links.  But from time to time I’ll include them if I think an offer is really valuable to my readers.

For each affiliate link, I include a subid that identifies the email in which it was included. Since I number my email, the subid is simply n1, n2, etc., depending on the email number.  Using a subid is a simple way to track clicks and conversions.

So let’s get to the results for March.

Results

Of the 11 auto-responder email, only three contained affiliate links.  One contained a link to Personal Capital, which I mentioned above.  Ene email contained two affiliate links to sites where you can obtain your credit score.  And one contained an affiliate link to eBates, a site that lets you earn cash back for online purchases.  In addition to auto-responders, I sent out two broadcast messages with affiliate links to special deals that Quicken and TurboTax were running.

As with this site, I only promote products on Dough Roller that I truly believe in.  In most cases, the products are ones that I use regularly, such as Personal Capital.

With that said, here are the results from these emails:

•    Personal Capital:  $840
•    MyFICO:  $5
•    Credit Sesame:  $55
•    EBates:  $60
•    TurboTax:  $42.54
•    Quicken:  $44.99

Total Revenue from eMail Newsletter:  $1,047.53

Because I did have two links back to my blog in two of the newsletters, I also made some additional income not reported above.  For example, I know that I generated $23.08 in Adsense revenue from my email.  If you link your Analytics and Adsense accounts, you can see your Adsense revenue by Referrer.  From there, I filtered the referrers with the term “mail” to see how much my newsletter generated.

AdSense Referrers   Google Analytics

Next Steps

So what’s next?  As happy as I am with March results, it’s important to continually improve every aspect of your blog and online business.  For my newsletter, I want to continue to provide actionable steps my readers can take to impro

ve their finances.  The engagement in March was fabulous, and that’s more important to me than the revenue.  So my primary goal is to continue sending out email newsletters that resonate with my readers.

In addition, I do have a few more strategies I plan to implement with my email marketing:

  • Mini-courses:  I want to create email mini-courses on several personal finance topics.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  My good friend Bob from christianpf.com has done this on his site with great success.  The first one I’m going to create is about improving your credit score.  It’s an important topic and one that many find confusing.  The plan is to create a 10-email mini-course and promote it on those pages of my personal finance site dealing with credit.
  • Weekly Newsletter:  With aWeber, you can automatically send out a newsletter that includes links to posts you’ve published on your site.  I plan to send out a weekly version of this newsletter each Saturday morning.  It will go out to all of my lists, including those that sign up for the mini-courses described above.
  • Comments:  Finally, I want to integrate comments on the site into email.  I plan to do this in three ways:
  1. Email response to comments:  There are plugins that will automatically send those who comment a thank you email.  I saw investorjunkies.com do this, and I think it is a good way to build a community.
  2. Subscribe to comments:  You’ve no doubt seen sites that allow you to subscribe to comments.  With this feature, those who have commented will receive an email when another comment is left on the post.  It’s another way to promote community on your site.
  3. Subscribe to newsletter:  Finally, under each comment I’ll give folks the option to subscribe to my newsletter.

That’s a lot of work for just one part of a blog, but I think it is worth the effort.  I’ll be updating my progress in future income reports.