Spotlight on newsletters


Creating effective Web sites for subscription marketers


By Robert W. Bly



            What’s working in Web sites for newsletter subscriptions and other information products? Here are a dozen quick observations:

            1. Provide links to the order form early and often. Marc Stockman of says that placing links to order forms at the top of a landing page increases response. He also puts the “call to action” link throughout a landing page, not just at the end and the beginning.

            2. Use a dedicated microsite to sell directly off the Web page. Yanik Silver, Fred Gleeck, Mark Joyner, Terry Dean, and other successful online information marketers use dedicated microsites to sell e-books and other information products.

            Unlike traditional sites, with lots of free content and navigation capabilities and varied sections, microsites are basically a strong sales letter set up as a Web site. The only place the reader can click to is an order form for the product. For an example, see, a microsite Mark Joyner did for my e-book on customer service.

            3. Personalization sells. When you go to, another Joyner site -- this one on public relations -- you are asked to enter your name. Then the Web site comes up with your name in the headline, “Joe Jones Will Be in the News in 45 Days or Less -- Guaranteed” -- a clever and effective use of personalization.

            4. Establish credibility up front. Yanik Silver, a successful online information marketer, observes that consumer skepticism online is even higher than offline. Therefore, you need to quickly build credibility. On Yanik’s microsite, he leads with three testimonials -- and a link to dozens more -- before he even gets to the first word of his headline.

            5. Offer a free e-zine. The most profitable model in online subscription marketing is to build an e-list of subscribers to a free online electronic newsletter, or e-zine, and then promote to that list. The alternative -- e-mailing to rented e-lists of opt-in names to acquire new subscribers -- has met with extremely limited success.

            Your marketing Web site should have a prominent box for e-zine sign-up; see for an example. The Daily Reckoning is a free daily e-zine published by Agora, the financial newsletter publisher. They have hundreds of thousands of free e-zine subscribers to whom they market their paid subscription newsletters with great success.

            If you have a microsite to generate orders for a single offer, you may not want to give potential buyers an alternative to purchasing your front-end product. Therefore, use a window for your free e-zine offer that pops up only after the buyer has either ordered your paid product or is clicking away from the microsite without ordering.

            6. Combine free and paid content. An alternative to microsites are sites that combine both free and paid content.

            A good example, mentioned earlier, is Many of the articles are free; some are not. If you attempt to read an article that is not free, you are taken to a “bridge page” (also known as a “barrier page”) that explains how you can read the article and others like it by subscribing to a paid service, such as’s RealMoney.

            Another example is the home page of The Bahamas Report,, a subscription newsletter about retiring in The Bahamas. There is a section “Islands of the Bahamas” where, when you click on the name of a specific island, you get a free short report on that island.

            Below that is a section “Recent Articles,” when you click on the article title you want, you are told you must subscribe to their online newsletter to read the article.

            7. Avoid “sterile” copy. In the belief that online users don’t read, have short attention spans, and do not like sales copy, many Web marketers make their sites very plain and unexciting. “Make it look like information, not sales hype,” some experts advise.

            But just because someone is online does not mean they don’t have to be sold on your product. They do -- as strongly as you sell them in print.

            Terry Dean, a successful online information marketer, packs his microsites with copy that reaches prospects on a personal and emotional level, not just intellectually. The lead sentence in a microsite selling membership to his subscription site Net Breakthroughs reads: “In just a moment, I hope to make you so angry you’ll want to throw your computer right out the window.”

            8. Offer a choice of monthly or annual subscriptions. Subscription Web sites or newsletters promoted online should give the subscriber a choice of monthly or annual payments., for instance, allows you to subscribe monthly for $6 or take an annual subscription for $30. The annual fee for online subscriptions is typically 10% to 20% less than the monthly option; is unusual in that their annual rate is less than half the equivalent cost of a monthly subscription.

            9. Offer free trials and strong guarantees. Guarantee satisfaction unconditionally. E-book marketers, for instance, offer a money-back guarantee even though the product, sent as a digital file, is not truly returnable -- and they know the refund requestor is going to keep it. Another effective offer is the 30-day free trial, where you take the credit card information online but tell the buyer you will not process it for 30 days -- allowing them to try the product for a month free. (If they cancel within the 30-day trial period, the card is never charged.)

            10. Know your numbers. A variety of services and programs are available for tracking Web site metrics; you can find some vendors at

            The most important metrics are number of hits, conversion rates (percentage of hits who buy the product), and average size of order. From this, you can calculate the value of each hit.

            For instance, if your conversion rate is 1 percent and your product costs $100, you will make $100 in revenues for every 100 hits. If you are willing to break even to acquire a new customer, you can afford to pay up to $1 per hit in marketing costs.

            11. Position your site as the premier online resource in your topic. You can increase traffic and therefore revenues by positioning your site as a value-added information resource on your subject, not just a sales vehicle to push a paid subscription product. When you visit, you are told you have reached “The Center for Nanotechnology Business.” News briefs, articles, stock information, a glossary, FAQs, and other features reinforce that image and feeling.

12. Push your primary offer like crazy. At, the simply designed site has one goal: to get you to accept their offer of a free credit report. The home page is totally focused on this offer, as are two pop-up windows that come up when you log onto the site. When you click away, two more pop-up windows again make the same offer.


About the author:


                Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books). He can be reached at 201-385-1220 or at