Skip to main content

Theyve got (your) e-mail

Rare is the television station or network Web site that doesn't have an
e-mail newsletter or alert service that viewers can sign up to receive. The
content usually covers the gamut from weekend beach or fishing reports, sent
out via e-mail the Thursday before a hopefully idyllic weekend, to news
summaries, sports scores, stock-price information and weather forecasts that
can be tailored to the specifications of an individual user.

"One of the most obvious benefits of [e-mail content] is extending your
presence, establishing regular contact with your site visitors rather than
relying on them to come to your site all the time," says Lana Spivak, lead
account representative for Topica Inc., a leading e-mail newsletter distributor
and solutions provider based in San Francisco.

To the user, it all looks so simple: a menu of alert choices on your
home page, accompanied by "subscribe here" buttons that, when clicked, will
take your site visitors to a brief sign-up page where they enter their name,
e-mail address and other information necessary to set up the menu of e-mail
content you will supply them with.

To you, the content provider, setting up a robust menu of e-mail content
choices comes with risks, decisions and rewards.

Let's take the good news first. Customized e-mail content is great
brand-extension and, when well marketed, can be "found" money.

Here's how the logistical/ business model often works:

By checking your site's logs for pages that receive the most visits, you
identify content on your site that is especially popular.

You make a decision on the types of popular content that is translatable
either to a weekly newsletter format-such as a guide to next week's prime
time programming-or to an e-mail alert service in which you send
specific, time-sensitive information to people who have requested it.

You present these sign-up options on your Web site, either on your home
page or, better yet, on subsection pages devoted to specific topics, such as
sports or weather.

You contract with an e-mail service to maintain your subscriber service
and handle the actual e-mail distribution of your list. While prices vary by
the type of service, an average fee charged by these services ranges from $25
to $35 for each mailing of 1,000 subscribers. Crunching the numbers, sending
out three alerts to 1,000 subscribers apiece would cost you between $75 and

You make your money on advertising, either through e-mail
alert/newsletter "title" sponsorships or through banner ads in the body of the
e-mail message. While you might be able to get only 2 cents or 3 cents a click
for banner-ad space on your site, keep in mind that, since newsletter or alert
subscribers are self-selected for specific interests, you shouldn't have
trouble finding advertisers or sponsors willing to pay significantly more than
traditional banner-ad rates to reach targeted eyeballs.

Each point in the process calls for some nuanced decision making.

Identify popular content :

Sophisticated but easy to use site-analysis tools can measure the
traffic patterns on all your Web site's pages. "Page views" are just a start.
These tools, which run on your site's Web servers, can chart the peak periods
of readership for individual Web pages, down to the minute.

Identify suitable content:

Here's where log data integrates with good, old-fashioned, tempered
judgment. That's how CNN-Sports Illustrated Interactive decided to offer weekly
golf and pro-football e-mail newsletters, as well as the pro-basketball
newsletter it plans to launch in November.

"We looked at page views for the number of unique [individual] users,
and we worked what we found into our strategic plan," says Andy Mitchell,
marketing director for the site.

Entice people to sign up:

Getting subs entails two important mantras: make the offerings sound
interesting, and guarantee subscriber privacy.

Because people are tired of junk e-mail sent to them by companies that
purchased lists of e-mail addresses gleaned from other sign-up forms, let your
subscribers know if you plan to do this, and offer them the opportunity to
decline the sale of their name. Selling subscribers' names is "OK if intentions
are plainly stated and people get to choose," says Jim Sterne, co-author
of Email Marketing: Using Email to Reach Your Target
Audience and Build Customer Relationships

Sterne suggests two sign-up boxes with options like these: "Click here
for our newsletter" or "Click here for our newsletter *and* very special offers
from the people you want to hear from!"

In the next Common Ground column, I'll discuss how to present your

Russell Shaw's column about Internet and
interactive issues appears regularly. Reach him at