Email newsletters: A love-hate relationship with probably a little more of the hate

I loathe doing monthly newsletters. Why? Because I don’t really like receiving them, so why would I push them to people? If I want to stay updated on people I’m interested in, I’ll follow them on social media. I get too many emails already.

So I keep asking myself, should I send a monthly newsletter? I already post all of my content regularly to social media. However, not all of my readers are on social media. Even less readers can stay updated once I left Facebook, since that is the only platform that many people use. So yes, a monthly newsletter is a good idea for keeping people informed.

Take it with a grain of salt

After my last email I received a reply from a gentleman who wrote “UNSUBSCRIBE” in the message body, in all caps, 10-15 times. Another email immediately followed but with UNSUBSCRIBE written four more times in case I missed the first fifteen.

I debated responding at all – but I did, stating simply that most people just use the “Unsubscribe” link in the bottom of the email. His response was, “Your email marketing is 🙁 UNSUBSCRIBE. PERIOD.”

Oh, so you want to UN-subscribe. I was confused by what you meant.  This gentleman is also a photography teacher by the way – I can only imagine the kind of feedback he gives his students.  This photo is :/~   ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 


Portion of my last email. Click on the image for the full thing.

Types of email newsletters

There are generally two types of email newsletters.

The first is an actual newsletter, with words. Lots of words. Like sending a complete blog post in a newsletter.

But if you already have a blog I think it’s unnecessary to send out this type of email. Wouldn’t it be just as good to send an email saying something along the lines of, “hey guys, I have a new post about this topic that I think you’ll find interesting, click on this link to read it.” Keep it short and sweet, and you’ll also be sending traffic to your website.

That leads me to the second kind of email newsletter – the notification email. Send an email to your list whenever you have a handful of new posts. Include the headline of the post and a little teaser so they know what it’s about. This is a great way of reminding people who aren’t on social media that you’re still alive and writing.

I’ve been doing mostly the second kind. My monthly emails are structured like this:

  • A little header paragraph, something short that tells my readers what I’ve been up to and what I’m planning
  • The next section includes a rundown of new posts since my last email, arranged in the three categories I post in – sailing, hiking, and photography.
  • I’ll also include a little teaser of what to look for next month if I’m working on anything in particular
  • The final section includes a few of my most popular Instagram photos since the last newsletter

Feedback of all kinds

I generally receive good feedback. People who take the time to respond that they’ve found certain articles helpful with their endeavors. Or people who send me photos of their own travels to places I’ve written about. Some subscribers will write me out of the blue seeking advice or just asking what’s up, when are you going sailing again? This kind of interaction is rare for newsletter lists and is awesome to get. Thanks!

Negative feedback is appreciated as well. And honestly this was the first time I can ever recall getting something like this. But that’s great. When people Unsubscribe it means that my list is getting more targeted to the right people. I’m not wasting list space on people who don’t care for these.

The numbers are pretty good too; my email open & click rates are higher than the industry averages and my net monthly growth is around 3%.

I further debated tactfully responding to this gentleman with, “what don’t you like about it and how can I improve” but I can’t imagine any further interaction would go well.

My issues with email marketing

Going back to my first sentence in this post – I hate doing monthly newsletters. I’ve messed around with the layout and content structure ever since I started doing this five years ago. I’m not a graphic designer or email marketer by any sense of the words. But I don’t want to just completely abandon you folks smart enough to avoid social media!

These are problems that I’ve been aware of for some time and issues I’ve been working to resolve to bring you a better product.

They feel schizophrenic

I have a lot of interests that I put on my blog. People who sign up for the sailing posts could care less about backpacking but yet I’m sending them emails containing content about backpacking in addition to sailing.

Solution: Segment my lists. People could indicate which category they want to read about when they subscribe so that they only see content relevant to them.
Downside: I’m sending out more emails. And these emails will be less frequent because, for example, when I’m not sailing I may only post one article about sailing each month. Do I still send a monthly email with just one update?

nospamMy blog has evolved in ways that some people don’t care for

Many of my original and most rabid subscribers signed up to follow my sailing adventures. I’d write narratives of all the ways I bungled up and still managed to have fun.

Then I realized the monetization potential. I could make passive income from my blog which would allow me to work less and adventure more, enabling me to write about more stuff and make more money, and on it goes. This led to more posts on my website about product reviews & comparisons, which I earn a decent income from. A guy’s gotta earn a living, and I will only try to sell things that I can personally vouch for.

Combine the monetization with two major health emergencies (a family member and then my own) that kept me away from the boat for a while, and the blog has changed significantly from five years ago.

I feel like I’m walking a very fine line between “fun stories & photos” and “annoying salesman”.  I do make an attempt to be subtle about selling; sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t.

Solution: Only send emails containing narratives, not sales pitches.
Downside: Some people actually do find my product reviews useful and I want to make sure they see them.

They’re erratic

Again, I only want to send a newsletter when I have enough content warrantying sending something.  I seem to add content to my website in cycles, so sometimes I’ll go a couple weeks without adding anything.  Then post four things in one week.

Solution: Actually schedule posts at regular intervals.  I had already made a resolution last week to do this better.

My request for feedback from YOU!

For those of who enjoy reading newsletters from different people, or write your own, or are experts on the subject, I want your feedback!

  • Should I segment my lists?
  • What don’t you like about my newsletters?
  • What do you like about them?
  • Too long? Too short?
  • Is the layout an eyesore?
  • Should I also include relative content from elsewhere?
  • Are newsletters even a thing anymore, should I keep doing them?

You can leave your feedback in the comments section below so that others may learn, or just send me a private email – thanks!

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