It's been over a year since I made my main email newsletter a purely personal newsletter, not tied to any specific product or service. I did this after realizing whenever one of my books was getting attention somewhere, people were searching for more information by author name, not by book title. This was obvious to some, but coming from a product-based mindset, this was news to me.
I've done a lot of experimenting with the newsletter in the past year, trying something different with almost every issue to get a better understanding of what my readers want (or at least respond to).
In short, headlines matter. They seem to be the only thing that matters in terms of open rates and click rates. Strong subject lines got slightly more opens and strong link titles got slightly more clicks. Basic stuff, right?
Changing formats from blurbs with links to full essays had no effect on open rates or subscribes/unsubscribes. In fact, no formatting changes made any effect on open rates or subscribe/unsubscribe rates.
The format of the newsletter only had an effect on how many readers came back to the blog to read full stories (as reflected in the page view spikes above), which doesn't matter unless you're running advertising, which I don't.
Notice that April 2017 saw a doubling of visits to the blog over March. That's because I wrote in essay form in March and moved to blurbs with links in April.
In other words, all my formatting experiments didn't matter. I could switch to a new format tomorrow and no one would care. If I showed you a chart of the newsletter opens, you'd see a flat line all year. This is great news. It means my focus on being an author-based instead of product-based was correct. People read the email newsletter based on who wrote it, not how it was written.
I expected around a 20% loss of subscribers when I went with the personal (or "author" style) newsletter. I only lost around 5%. The rest stuck around and read at a constant rate no matter what experiment I annoyed them with.
Sorry about the annoyances and thank you for sticking around!
What does this mean for the future? Since it doesn't seem to matter what form the newsletter takes, I need to get down to what works best for me. The hope is that I can find a flow that allows for the creation of new newsletters and publications that have been waiting in the wings for some time.
I need to get better at growing the subscriber rate as well, which I've kept intentionally low during this process. I didn't want influxes of low quality readers I'd have to pay for monthly, while having nothing besides a $2.50 book to recoup the costs.
This means I'll have to release new products and show up on more on podcasts and outside blogs in the future. It's time to take the message to the masses!
The masses demand a clearer pitch to get them to subscribe than the one I have, though. That's my first real challenge. This is incredibly difficult when it comes to personal newsletters. No one's life or work is entirely clear and I have no interest in faking that it is.
As always, I'll share the results of all these future experiments right here.