A 'Safe' Way to Build Up E-Zine Lists

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Online marketing expert Debbie Weil recently asked me, "How do you know whether an e-zine is successful?"


"An e-zine is successful if it achieves its stated marketing objective," I replied. "Conversely, if you have no written marketing goal for your e-zine, you have no way to determine whether it is worthwhile."


The original goal of my e-zine, "Bob Bly's Direct Response Letter," was simply to update clients, prospects, book buyers, seminar attendees and colleagues about things I was doing that they wanted to know about, such as publication of a new book or availability of a recent speech on tape.


As a result, I deliberately kept it small. Between sign-ups on the home page of www.bly.com and e-mail addresses added from my database, circulation was about 2,000. And that was fine with me.


But my plans changed, and I suddenly wanted to get a lot more subscribers in a hurry. One reason was that a larger e-list would mean more sales of my books when announced in the e-zine. My publishers were concerned that with such a small e-zine circulation, sales of my books to my e-zine readers would be insignificant. Also, a larger list would let me do cross-promotions with other e-zines, enabling me to reach a wider market as well as drive more people to my speaking engagements and Web site.


I called Peter DeCaro, my freelance Webmaster, and gave him the task of adding new e-zine subscribers. To my amazement, within six weeks he built my e-zine distribution list from 2,000 to more than 60,000 subscribers.


"How did you do it so quickly and inexpensively?" I asked (it cost about $1,000).


"Safelists," he replied.


As DeCaro explained it to me, the Internet users on what is known as a safelist have agreed to provide their e-mail address in exchange for the ability to regularly promote to the list's membership. It is known as a safelist, I suppose, because it is "safe" to send promotional material to these people - they have opted in to receive it.


DeCaro has joined numerous safelists to promote his clients' offers, including me and my free e-zine. You and I can join, too. There's no exclusivity. Some safelists are free to promote to; others require a fee. But the fee is a tiny fraction of what you'd pay to mail to traditional rented opt-in e-lists, which can run $200 to $400 per thousand.


What works in promotions targeted to Safelists? "Free offers tend to pull well in safelists," DeCaro said. "So by offering a free report or some other freebie in your promotion, you establish credibility with the safelist subscribers and encourage them to investigate the source of the ad - you - further."


Some safelists permit only text ads; others allow either text or HTML. DeCaro said HTML ads pull better on safelists.


To find safelists, he recommends several online directories, including www.mailpro-network.com, www.megasubmitters.com, www.targetsafelists.com and www.101-website-traffic.com.


Here's how our promotion worked: Instead of sending safelist subscribers directly to www.bly.com to simply sign up for the free e-zine, we first directed them to a special landing page offering a free bonus report as an extra incentive for subscribing to the e-zine. The copy on this landing page began:


"For a limited time, you can get a FREE copy of my report offering recession-proof business strategies by clicking here. Apply these techniques to your own marketing and selling efforts during a recession or a down time, and you will survive - even prosper - while others struggle to get by ..."


A link at the bottom allowed the reader to click onto my home page to sign up for the e-zine. An autoresponder automatically fulfilled the subscriber's request for the free report.


DeCaro suggests using a cgi-based autoresponder as opposed to a pay service. A cgi script is prewritten code that performs the autoresponder function of automatically responding to e-mail requests. A good Web site that reviews different cgi autoresponder scripts is www.autoresponder-review.com. Many cgi scripts can be found on www.scriptsearch.com.


At this point you may think safelists sound like an Internet scam and the quality of the names can't be good. This I don't know yet; it's too early to tell. I do know that the unsubscribe rate for safelist-acquired names is many times higher than people who subscribe to my e-zine either because they know me or signed up for it on www.bly.com.


I also know that if you're interested in quantity and not necessarily quality, safelists can build your e-zine subscriber base in a hurry at low cost.


If you've had experience using safelists, e-mail your thoughts to me. To reach Peter DeCaro, visit www.i-marketingpro.com.


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