My Evolution With Mailing List Software

One of the things that has always interested me is communicating with customers and readers. Back in my nursery days, I had a customer newsletter that we mimeographed and then stuffed into envelopes for sending out. My kids were the envelope stuffers and they still hold it against me that they had to stuff over 5000 of these things several times a year. I still hear about it twenty years later even though I point out they were paid for it.
One of the first things I did back in 2005 when I started full time online-writing was to start a mailing list. And it’s been an interesting ride. My enthusiasm for it waxed and waned over the subsequent ten years but I never considered killing it (although some days when readers violently disagreed with something I wrote, I thought it might kill me.)
I’ve always done it for gardening and now, I’m doing it for fiction as well.

Why It’s Important To Use A Good Email Service

The reality is there’s a huge range of offerings in email management but this is the one place I don’t skimp because I’m serious about making money and supporting my readers.
Companies such as AWeber and Mailchimp communicate regularly with ISP’s worldwide to get email through spam folders. Not only do they work with the rest of the Net, they also have rigorous systems in place to insure your lists are kept up to date and clean. For example, when an email address on my list bounces, AWeber removes it from the list automatically. So as emails go out of date, they’re removed.
If a reader marks my email as spam (a common way some folks unsubscribe) and it is also removed from the main list by Aweber. Without that removal you continue to send email to a spam folder. As you generate an increasing number of emails marked as spam in different reader systems, all your emails become marked as spam by the receiving isp.
This means if you’re using your own server as an email system, the odds are you’re being marked as spam in way more addresses than you know about. And many of the systems will have marked all your email as spam even for those readers who want to read your missives.

The List Is Only Half The Battle

The list service you use is only the working end of things, the heavy lifting, and they do it seamlessly and seemingly without effort for you.
The art comes when you work to identify and collect email addresses. This is where you make or break your list.
 
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Email Collection Systems I’ve Used Or Using

It’s been an adventure moving forward in this learning process to identify both the system and software to optimize the signup rate.

Sitesell

Native Sitesell signup box with no data or reporting. This worked reasonably well in those younger, naive days of the Net when we’d sign up for darn near everything. It was a simple form sitting on a sidebar of the site.

Aweber

A fancier signup box sitting on the sidebar of the site(s). This is the industry standard and you’ll see it on almost every site you visit. No longer particularly effective but still there. Variations of this can be seen at the bottom of individual posts as well. Aweber reports on effectiveness and allows for A/B testing

Popup box

This allows site owners to become more aggressive about collecting email addresses. Bottom line – everybody hates them but they work. Signup conversion rate typically less than 2% but when you’re hammering them out there in large numbers, the number of newsletter subscribers goes up fast.

Sumome

Here the adventure went up a notch. In simple terms, they provide the forms for your website but not the website or the mailing system. Their sole purpose is to maximize email collection and website social status by providing plugins. There’s a free and paid level and I used several of their products. Using A/B testing I was able to drive the popup conversion levels slightly higher. By testing headlines, I found one that worked for each of my surviving garden sites (they weren’t the same interestingly enough) But in testing, the percentage of conversion increases didn’t justify the pro level costs.

Curtains.

I experimented with blanking out the entire page when somebody arrived on it – this is a transparent screen with an email offer superimposed over the content. This drove signups through the roof but conversion (those who actually agreed to take the email) plummeted and I was no further ahead. Deleted them and noted I hate those more than I hate popups.

Other Experiments

I also experimented with Lead Pages and PopUp Monster but both have been discontinued because Rainmaker provides all the services I need. Eliminating these two expensive writers tools paid for half the yearly fee for Rainmaker.

RainMail

I’m now using the Rainmaker system, for both of my main websites, and there’s an email system built into each site.  It’s a “front end or interface” using Feedblitz for the actual email servers.  The system is fairly new but it incorporates tagging and modern systems of personalizing websites for readers.  I’ve moved the email system for this fiction site to Rainmaker and am learning all the tagging, autoresponders and sequences with a smaller list.

And Now Google Says

I note that Google has put web masters on notice that if they have popups blocking a page, the website will receive negative scoring. I won’t say this is about to kill popups but I’m switching away from popups to tagging and redirecting.

Bottom Line

  • If you’re a writer, go to MailChimp and get a free account.
  • Either use the included systems or go to Sumome and sign up for their free listbuilder plugins. I note Sumome has a WordPress plugin to make it dead easy to install.
  • Start collecting email addresses.
  • Send an email at least once a month to subscribers.

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