Have you ever “subscribed” to a blog? What happens? You get emails whenever a new post is published, right? This is a useful alternative to going to the website every day and checking for new articles, or having to follow a blog’s owner on any number of social media channels (you have a business to run, stop playing around on Twitter!). Plus, as the emails come in, you can quickly scan to see if they’re something you want to read later, then file those articles into whatever system you’ve established for yourself.
So we can all agree on the utility of these emails, right? Convenience is the most noteworthy attribute of this type of email campaign for the subscriber, but how about for the publisher?
Publishers make out really well with this type of email campaign. Their articles have a longer potential shelf life in front of a subscriber than they would out in the social stream. The emails themselves are 100% automated, only sending when there is a new blog post published. And if their editorial calendar is consistent, that means top-of-mind awareness for the brand.
There are pitfalls to campaigns like this, most notably all the negative effects that come with automation. There’s no personality in the copy. No takeaway for me from the author that says, “hey, I know you’re busy today, but I think you’re gonna love this article, and here’s why.” The template and layout for these notifications is boring and usually unbranded (shame on you, site owners, step it up!). And in some cases, the email address that sends the campaign is not from the same domain as the site, which could cause it to be filtered into promotional or junk folders.
But they have a purpose for subscribers and publishers alike, so how can we improve on their shortcomings so your email marketing strategy as a whole can benefit? Before I get into how you can spruce up your RSS based campaigns, let’s take a quick detour and talk about how these things work:
- RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and essentially standardizes the format for distributing feeds of content from various sources, like your blog.
- Services can count on the formatting and fields from RSS feeds (because they’re standardized), and write scripts to display the information in certain ways around the internet. Or, in our case, as an email.
- In simple terms, think of the feed as a spreadsheet, and the display of the items within like a mail merge.
So, how does this work with your blog subscriber list?
- You create an email campaign that checks your RSS feed. Some services will let you specify the time frame to check the RSS feed for a new update, while others hook directly into your blog platform and run as soon as your blog publishes the new article.
- If there’s a new article, the campaign pulls the data into its system and creates a new email campaign. There will be a template that has placeholder info, like a mail merge, where the title, link, description, etc. are all written out.
- The campaign sends to your subscriber list.
Simple isn’t it? That’s the idea, although, as you can see, there’s very little room for you to inject your personality and really connect with your subscribers.
In a recent discussion about email newsletters with DJ Waldow, we touched on some ideas to spruce up these automated campaigns. Skip ahead to 32:30 if the video doesn’t start at that point automatically.
Alternatives to RSS-based campaigns
In the above discussion, DJ and I weighed the pros and cons of the automated, RSS-based campaign against a hand-crafted email newsletter. Both of us are in favor of the hand-crafted one, of course, we get better response, and can inject more personality (as well as other resources that aren’t on your blog). It got me thinking about other alternatives, especially if you publish in more than one location like me:
- Add a hand-crafted newsletter into your email calendar. So your blog subscribers get the daily (or whenever) emails of new blog posts, you get the top-of-mind awareness, but really connect with them on a personal level with the hand-crafted one. Once a month, once a week, whatever it is, be consistent.
- Scrap the RSS and publish on a consistent date. If your blogging calendar is only once a week, consider publishing on a specific day of the week and sending out a hand-crafted email at the same time. It’s a little more work, but then again, you’re in publishing mode already and can fit this directly into your blogging workflow.
- Keep the RSS campaign, change up the template on a regular basis to add in personality, calls to action, or links to a curated channel of articles you publish around the web (like a Pinterest board). That link can be a consistent part of your template, but will always add value to your subscribers because they take them to the articles they can’t get from your RSS feed.
BONUS: my friend Susan Finch wrote up some creative ideas for RSS campaigns using Feedburner. Give them a read here, or a watch, there’s a video too.
Now it’s your turn. Tell me about how you notify blog subscribers of new articles, and if any of these tips were useful to improve your email marketing. And of course, be sure to tune in to our Get Smart About Email Marketing web series!