State of the Newsletter

Planning / Process
Backstory-Newsletter-Status-Photo-by-Pau-Casals

Before the end of 2017 I stated I was hoping to implement email newsletters on the Indievisual site and opening up subscription sign-ups by the first quarter of 2018. It is nearing September and obviously the newsletter subscriptions have not yet started. Behind the scenes, however, progress has slowly been made toward implementation and I thought this would be good time to reveal what has been going on and what will happen with the newsletter.

Why a newsletter

Before proceeding to detail the progress of the newsletter up to now, I thought it would be a good idea to go over the reason behind creating and distributing newsletters for Indievisual readers. There are a few ways for visitors to keep up to date with developments on the site. The first is to visit the site often. Obviously this can be difficult for people based on their schedules and/or internet consumption habits. There are RSS feeds, but the technology for this as well as the apps on which to read them are slowly fading out of existence. It was the way to follow a site long before the rise of social media. Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook became the popular means for businesses and site owners to make announcements and communicate with their customers/visitors, creating a “community” which engaged not only with the business or site owner but amongst one another as well. However, increasing concerns regarding personal data and how it has been exploited by the algorithms of such platforms are causing users who are fed up with ads and irrelevant content to become distrustful of their own newsfeeds. Simultaneously, sites and businesses looking to maintain high traffic and ad views to generate revenue are prioritizing the quantity, rather than the quality, of engagement on their social media site.

An email newsletter is a way to return quality engagement that is both personal and tailored specifically to the site’s subscribers while simultaneously sustaining and increasing the site’s brand value. Some data regarding the effectiveness of newsletters taken from this article on the Dreamhost blog [full disclosure: Dreamhost is my web hosting provider]:

  • You are six times more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than you are from a tweet. Bonus: you get more than 140 characters to do it.
  • Ninety percent of email gets delivered to the intended recipient’s inbox, whereas only two percent of your Facebook fans see your posts in their News Feed (they’re probably watching cat videos).
  • Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter and achieves 174 percent more conversions.
  • Email is a direct line of communication you have with website visitors that explicitly said they want to hear from you!

In this day and age, it is probably surprising to think email is still an important platform, but when a site’s visitor willingly signs up to stay informed of updates to the site, special offers, etc., the relevancy of a personally addressed email newsletter arriving in their inbox can not be ignored. In terms of publications, two of my favorite newsletters are Kai Brach’s simple, brand consistent and thoughtful guide to content on the web, the Offscreen “Dispatch”:

Offscreen-Dispatch-screen

And Freunden von Freunden’s visually well designed, and carefully curated guide to new content on their site:

FvF-Newsletter-screen

Platforms

Prior to doing research into the email campaign platforms available, I first thought about my needs. What did I want/need from the platform I would choose? The first was cost. I am not adverse for paying for services–in fact, I feel doing so makes for a better experience. However, Indievisual is operated on an almost non-existing budget so I needed a platform which offered robust features at a free tier or low cost plan. Second, the platform offers features which would help me create, send, and manage my email newsletters including the sign-up forms, landing pages, pop-up forms, and subscriber management. It also has to allow for a degree of customization so my newsletters would look consistent with the Indievisual brand and not be “generic” templates or watermarked with logos/text for the platform (usually the case in free pricing tiers).

With these in mind, I went about examining the most popular platforms. Two of the major corporate level platforms, Campaign Monitor and Get Response did not offer free tiers with Campaign Monitor being the most pricey entry-level platform at $59. So these were not in the running. The clear search winner, however, was MailChimp which does power many newsletters I know. MailChimp offers a free tier if you are below 1000 subscribers, but limits the some features available to you, offering them as add-ons instead. They also do not offer 24-hour email or chat support for free tier users. Digging deeper in to the search results, I found Revue, which is a dedicated newsletter platform–as opposed to the previously mentioned three which are email campaign platforms which could be used to promote products and offer discounted prices/coupons to subscribers. Revue seems to be targeting writers on the web and giving them the ability to generate revenue from their writing. However, their free tier is limited to 50 subscribers, does not offer any customization of your newsletter, and there seems to be little in the way of documentation or help tutorials. Searching further revealed MailerLite. Their free-tier allows up to 1000 subscribers and more importantly gave access to all features found in the paid-tiers. Only the size of one’s subscriber list deterimined the pricing plan one had to use. Moreover, they offer highly customizable email designs including embedded media. Their help section is filled with helpful documentation and video tutorials while their support staff are available via email or chat 24 hours/day (more on this below).

These were just some of the many platforms I examined and compared against one another. Though they all offer similar features and technologies (automation, timezone delivery, a/b split testing, auto resend, etc.) necessary for the creating and management of email newsletters, pricing and a few key differences helped me settle on one over the rest.

MailerLite

Offering a free-tier which did not limit access to features was a major factor in my deciding to choose them over their competitors. Their simple to understand and well produced video tutorials also gave me insight into what those features do and how they could be tailored to my needs. Furthermore, their drag-and-drop editor offers a multitude of customization options that can be saved as templates allowing for specific Indievisual branded newsletters that can change depending on circumstance (for example, an Indievisual at Osaka Asian Film Festival newsletter could integrate OAFF’s color scheme for that year). In fact, almost every interaction can be personalized from Sign-up forms and successful sign-up message screens to even an Unsubscribe form. They also offer integration with WordPress (the publishing platform which powers Indievisual), social networks and various web-based software. Their subscriber database and management system is also easy to use for novices allowing for more complex campaigns and groupings with approximately the same user experience as managing a blog.

But perhaps the biggest factor in deciding on MailerLite is who they are. They are a young startup (literally, with the team averaging at 28 years of age) based in Vilnius, Lithuania. The small company has no corporate structure, but instead believes in a company culture that is product-centric and people first. Though they may have a small office in Vilnius, only a core group of developers work there. The rest of the team work remotely from wherever they are which allows them to be responsive in any time zone, 24-hours/day. Without a large office to house such a staff, MailerLite is able to keep costs down and pass on that savings to their users.

I will admit my preference to support small businesses and independent thinking most likely played a role in choosing MailerLite, but their feature rich platform do offer the right solutions for my newletter that I can currently afford. The fact they are not a corporate-sized platform just happens to be a bonus.

Implementation

With a platform chosen, from here it’s time to sign-up and learn, experiment, and become familiar with MailerLite’s features as well as the intricacies of subscriber sign-ups and management. Forms need to be created and their behavior adjusted (appearing immediately upon viewing the site, only after reading an article, or before leaving the site, etc.) prior to being integrated within Indievisual.

I also need to think about the newsletter frequency. Though I have stated on the Indievisual site that I would be taking a survey regarding this matter, this will no longer be the case. I need to decide how often the newsletter should come out based on the realities of running the site as a one-person operation. Even if the frequency will be limited to whenever new content is available, being upfront about this at sign-up will be a necessary section of the form itself.

More than anything, however, I will need to familiarize myself with the new GDPR rules regarding data privacy and user rights enacted by the EU. I am not sure to what degree this will affect the collection of subscriber data for Indievisual newsletters, but I do already know that generating a Privacy Policy page may be required. How this should be written is another task to be conquered prior to implementation.

So, when can you expect newsletter subscriptions to start? I made a promise before which I could not keep and thus I am not going to set a specific deadline. I already know my work schedule in the following months will limit how much I will be able to even update Indievisual itself, much less allow for the learning and launch of a new feature. Rest assured, though, progress is always being made behind-the-scenes. I will let you know here on this blog, on Indievisual’s Facebook page and Instagram when newsletter subscriptions will commence.

Feature photograph by: unsplash-logoPau Casals