How Local Publishers Can Use Email Newsletters to Monetize their Audiences

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As publishers look for new ways to monetize their audiences, email newsletters have moved to center stage. At the Washington Post, more than 75 vertical-specific newsletters are written by a team of reporters, leading to a 129% increase in website traffic over the past year. Buzzfeed had seen similar successes, with email now ranking ahead of Twitter and Pinterest for referral traffic.

“In the age of ad blocking and with continuous changes to how social media platforms distribute content, email has re-emerged as a critical focus for publishers to drive readership, reach high value audiences and monetize readership,” says Marielle Habbel, director of customer strategy & optimization at Sailthru, a cross-platform marketing company.

The country’s largest publishers have teams of editors, and seemingly limitless budgets, putting together their email newsletters, but local publishers can adopt many of their same strategies with just a little bit of creativity. Here are five strategies for local publishers looking to monetize their email newsletters right now.

1. Matching reader interest with email content. “Many publishers still meet the bare minimum for email newsletters, sending a roundup of the day’s or week’s content to all subscribers. High-performing publishers have moved beyond this batch-and-blast to personalize story selection in their email newsletters. By collecting data from email, web and mobile app engagements, these publishers know what interests every individual reader and, through automation, they’re able to match email content to each individual reader’s preferences at scale. Personalization is far more than content recommendations, and for email it extends to the volume of email a reader receives and when they receive communications based on both historic and predicted behaviors.” (Marielle Habbel, Sailthru)

2. Selling advertising within the newsletter. “As smaller publishers look for new ways to monetize their email newsletters, they should capitalize on [their] distinct advantages. As a smaller, local publisher, they have the advantage of understanding and knowing the community better than anyone else. This paves the way for them to sell advertising and sponsorships within the newsletter. [And] because they are dealing with smaller audiences, they can more easily spot trends and make adjustments to their content and offers on the fly. For example, they can quickly get a snapshot of open rates, click-through-rates, and social sharing. Having this information at their fingertips enables them to quickly tweak their content, leading to higher engagement. The higher the engagement, the more they can command from advertisers for their premium space.” (Dave Charest, Constant Contact)

3. Build email programs around categories. “Many publishers are pushing for 1:1 personalization where they use automation and data-crunching about the subscriber to send them a single email each day or week that contains the content that is most tailored to them. On the surface, this sounds like a great idea. But we advise our publishers not to go that route because it can actually limit their revenue. Digital publishers like and have email programs that are built around categories. Most digital publishers these days have categories already for their content—for a news site, you might have a section for politics, a section for world news, etc. The idea is to get a user not to opt into a single newsletter, but to get them to opt into multiple categories. Now that one user is receiving two emails, [that] gives the publisher twice as many chances to generate clicks and ad impressions back on the site.” (Andrea Bridges-Smith, PostUp)

4. Taking a customer-centric approach to ad placement. “Advertisers are willing to pay a premium if they can reach the right potential customers. By understanding the interests and preferences of your individual email subscribers you can extend web advertising into email with premium pricing. Know that a specific individual has an affinity towards fitness related content? Find others like her to sell and serve ads related to that preference, even if the content in your newsletter that day or week is unrelated.” (Marielle Habbel, Sailthru)

5. Adding RSVP to events and buy buttons to emails. “Email marketing continues to move toward shorter messages that allow the reader to engage quickly. Publishers should think about messages that make it easy for readers to take an action. Think picture, paragraph, call to action. Answer the following questions with your content: What are you offering? How will it help the reader? What should they do next?” (Dave Charest, Constant Contact)

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.