Leverage emails for engaged readers: Audience growth strategies from GQ

Emails have gained new life as a major audience engagement channel (read: potential source of reader revenue), and global publishers are taking note. For instance, Swiss publisher NZZ is sending its daily briefing newsletter to approximately 250,000 readers. This single email accounts for about 8% of the traffic to its site in the morning, according to Digiday. With that kind of reach, even turning a small percentage of those engaged readers into paying subscribers can offer a significant revenue boost.

Yet, email has always been an opportunistic channel—there’s little risk and plenty of reward for readers to opt-in to newsletters and other distribution lists, as we’ve previously noted in our analysis of subscriptions models, but that doesn’t mean publishers have devoted time and resources to it.

We recently invited GQ Manager of Newsletter Strategy Stephanie Talmadge to discuss newsletter strategies with Chartbeat and members of the subscriptions-focused community at our offices (our Product Designer Jess Phoa even live sketched it!). 

One point was clear—large email distribution lists offer little benefit to publishers if audience segmentation and targeting strategies are not in place to encourage deeper engagement. We highlight some of our other key takeaways below.

(For further reading: Subscriber Analytics: Enhanced and Empowering Publishers in Real Time)

Email readers = engaged readers

Readers of GQ’s newsletters spend twice the amount of time on the magazine’s site compared to other users. Translation: Newsletter subscribers are already engaged readers of your content, so do not squander massive opportunities to analyze your data and give them more of what they want.

Newsletters are a product — give a clear value proposition

Publishers preach the importance of the “5 W’s” when it comes to serving relevant content to readers, so why aren’t they applying that rationale to their newsletters? When publishers are pitching sign-ups, for example, they need to spend more time articulating the value proposition—why readers should sign up, what exclusive content they will receive, and how it’s differentiated from the other newsletters they already receive.

(Related: Solving for subscriptions: How the Membership Puzzle Project addresses the paid vs non-paid divide)

You can’t spell sign-ups without design

Enhancements to the user experience, as we’ve noted in our device-based research, gives readers more opportunities to sign up for your newsletters. Take advantage of sign-up opportunities along the journey—on your homepage, article page, landing page, and (believe it or not) your other newsletters—to optimize interactions with your highly engaged readers. In the meantime, conduct an audit of the current experience and determine if there are any apparent drop-off patterns emerging along the journey. A clunky UX on the sign-up page—or anywhere else along the journey for that matter— will not offer much confidence to potential subscribers of your newsletter content.

Build upon the sign-up momentum

Readers that sign up for newsletters are coming in hot, so why not take advantage before their interest cools? Audience engagement, irregardless of the channel, requires experimentation. In the case of newsletters, this includes interstitial campaigns where readers can sign up for both your newsletter and subscription offering. This, along with sign-up welcome emails drip campaigns, which can serve as a prime opportunity to restate your organization’s value proposition.

In sum: Thoughtful email strategies see results 

Right now, publishers can use newsletters to leverage their highest performing website content. This helps build a better subscriber funnel, and gives your audience more of what they enjoy reading. 

Couple that with an intentional strategy around welcome emails (when readers are most engaged) and subscriber-specific benefits to improve long-term retention and reduce churn.


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