If you have read my past articles on Web site promotion, one suggestion appears regularly: start an e-mail publication. Your publication can take the form of an e-zine (like this one), a newsletter, or a product/service notice. The main advantage of an e-mail publication is that it regularly reminds your customers and prospects that you are an expert in your field. This article explains what you need to know to get started.
Before you can do anything, you have to understand what drives an e-mail publication. This publication, for example, is driven by software that keeps track of our subscribers and accepts requests to subscribe/unsubscribe. Because managing a subscriber list is its primary purpose, the software is usually called a "list service." You may also hear it referred to as a "list server" or "listserv." Most Internet e-mail server software includes list services.
Odds are good that your hosting company offers list services as part of your hosting plan, or you may be able to get list services for an additional fee. You are frequently limited in the number of list servers you can set up, although again, you can usually get more for a fee. In our case, our list servers are accessible through the browser-based interface we use to manage our e-mail accounts. We can set up and manage list servers remotely through the Internet.
You usually configure list servers in one of two ways: as a discussion group or as a publication. With a discussion group, the list server allows subscribers to send messages to the list. The list server resends those messages to all other subscribers on the list. With a publication, only the moderator is allowed to send messages to the list. You should set up your e-mail publication the second way, so your subscribers can't accidentally (or intentionally) send messages to the other subscribers.
Every list service works a little differently, but they have many common features. Here are a few things you should think about when you set one up:
* Automate subscribe/unsubscribe requests. This can usually be accomplished with a simple Web form on your site that accepts an e-mail address and visitor name. This Web form formats and submits a message to the list server asking it to subscribe or unsubscribe the visitor.
* Turn off list probing: Some list services accept requests to report the current list of subscriber addresses. Spammers just love to find list servers that willingly give up these addresses. Lock this feature down: your subscribers will appreciate it.
* Allow subscribers to subscribe and unsubscribe themselves. You may have legitimate reason to restrict subscribe requests, but you should always allow subscribers to unsubscribe.
* Be prepared to spend some time managing the list. When we send out our weekly e-zine, we get about a dozen "bounces," where the subscriber's address was unreachable for some reason. In many cases, the subscriber just typed their e-mail address incorrectly when they subscribed. Other times, the receiving mail server rejects the message because the subscriber's mailbox is full. An error message usually indicates the problem. It is up to you to decide what you will do about it. Deleting "unknown" accounts is probably fine, but you may want to let "undeliverable" and "mailbox full" accounts have a second chance.
Finally, here are some suggestions regarding the content and management of your e-mail publication:
* Be sure to include at least one article of useful content.
* Include ads (clearly marked as such), but don't put them in the middle of an article.
* Only subscribe recipients by request (the "opt-in" approach).
If you do a good job of keeping your subscribers happy with ethical list management and interesting content, they will tell others about you and think of you first the next time they need help in your area of expertise.