A Ten Minute Guide to Launching and Growing a Newsletter

By the team at ReadThisThing

In April, I launched an email newsletter. For the first week, I was the only subscriber. Then, a few more people subscribed. Now, thousands of people are subscribed. In that process, I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t — so I thought I’d share.

This isn’t advice on how to get millions of subscribers or how to make lots of money with a newsletter. But if you’re looking to start small and build a base of subscribers, this stuff should work for you.

1. Use a simple, direct landing page

I tested a bunch of landing pages, and the one that worked best for me had just a few components:

  • A huge subscribe form
  • Testimonials from people who like the newsletter
  • A description of what the newsletter is
  • Another huge subscribe form
Is there any confusion about what the user should do on this page?

Tip: TinyLetter is a free, easy way to setup a newsletter + landing page. You can’t customize it like I did above, but you can launch it in 10 minutes.

2. Repurpose your newsletter as content marketing

You’re spending time putting together a newsletter to send out each day or week. Why not use that content to reach more people who like it?

I learned this one from Politico’s Mike Allen, who publishes his newsletter verbatim on Medium every day:

3. Write original content

In addition to re-using the content from my newsletter, I’ve also been writing lots of original content. Since my newsletter features awesome journalism, I try to write content that will appeal to people who like awesome journalism.

Here are some examples of what has worked for me:

Each post aims to be actionable and helpful to my audience — which is anyone who cares about journalism and storytelling.

Tip: read Ali Mese’s actionable tips to growing a Medium blog

4. Use the right tools

There are tons of great tools to help grow an email list. Here are the ones that I’ve found to work best:

  • Medium — publishing content, driving traffic to the newsletter
  • Campaign Monitor — sending emails
  • SumoMe — capturing email addresses on my website
  • Twitter — setting up a one-click subscribe button on a pinned tweet
  • Product Hunt — driving traffic to my newsletter
  • MList — an awesome iOS app for newsletters that featured ReadThisThing
  • Google Analytics — measure traffic and conversions

5. Don’t waste too much time on design

Lots of the best newsletters have the simplest designs. Here’s Dave Pell’s NextDraft:

The success of your newsletter hinges on the quality of its content, not the flashiness of your email template.

Pick a design that emphasizes the content, and move on to more important things.

6. Encourage sharing

Primarily, you can do this within your newsletter. I include a Tweet link in every newsletter, and every day at least a few people click it. This has consistently driven traffic and new subscribers.

Additionally, I’ve found that people often forward my newsletter to friends — so I made sure to include some context.

As you write your newsletter, focus on your primary audience of people who subscribed and know what to expect, but also think about what someone with no context would think.

7. Provide value

This holds true whether your newsletter is aimed at helping grow your business, or becoming its own business, or simply being a fun side project. The focus of your newsletter is to provide value to your subscribers.

If the point of your newsletter is to provide great drone photos, and you bury the drone photos underneath 20 ads for fast food restaurants; you’re trying too hard to extract value.

The value of a newsletter comes over time with engaged subscribers. The way you get there is by providing value.

8. Watch the data

These are likely the key metrics at the bottom of your funnel:

  • What is our open rate?
  • What is our click rate?

The goal of newsletter content should be to make these go up in tandem. If open rates are climbing and click rates are dropping, that might be an indicator that your subject lines are getting people to click but the content in the body of the email is disappointing.

Farther up the funnel, these are some numbers you can look at:

  • How many subscribers do we have?
  • At what rate is our subscriber list growing?
  • What is our unsubscribe rate?
  • How much traffic is our landing page getting?
  • What is the conversion rate on our landing page?

The goal of your landing pages, content marketing, and other growth efforts should be make these numbers go up.

9. Have fun

Whether you have business-related ambitions for your newsletter or not, try to have fun. It’s a lot of work to write a newsletter (especially a daily one!). Some days you’ll get hundreds of subscribers in a few hours, and you’ll love it. Other days, 20 people will unsubscribe at once and you’ll want to cry. Try to have fun. :)

Subscribe to my newsletter, if you’re interested: readthisthing.com

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