Why our email newsletters are switching to excerpts

newsletter excerptsFor many years, I've offered a free email newsletter for each of the Offbeat Empire websites as one of many ways you can follow each site's new content.

These newsletters are delivered five days a week, and include the full photo and text of the previous days' posts, with a few comment excerpts, and a link to read more.

Starting today, Offbeat Bride and Offbeat Home & Life's newsletters will be shifting to include only an excerpt from each post.

To read the full post, newsletter subscribers will need to click the links in the email to read the post on the site.

This change is going to disappoint some folks and I anticipate the newsletters will lose a significant number of subscribers.

While I don't expect to change anyone's mind about unsubscribing, I did want to share the factors that lead to my decision.

Financial: Newsletters lose money

This is the most straight-forward answer. On average, only 3% of newsletter subscribers click through to view the posts on the site. (Why would they click through when they can read the post in their inbox?) I've just sort of written off the lost pageviews by justifying that it's good for brand loyalty, which may still be true. My brand loyalty logic starts to crumble a bit when you consider that I pay $140 a month for Mailchimp, the truly awesome mailing service that manages all my newsletter delivery. I am literally paying money to lose traffic.

Yeah, I've experimented with selling advertising in the newsletters, and it's never been effective… nor has it felt right to me. I'm comfortable with sponsored posts, but I can't ever get around newsletter advertising feeling like spam. The few times I've done email marketing campaigns, they've never performed well… and more importantly, they just didn't feel right to me. I hate spam, and never want to feel like I'm sending it.

Technical: Newsletter formatting is janky

Even with Mailchimp's great tools, the formatting of our posts would frequently get garbled when translated into email form. Our lovely little pullquotes would barf all over the place, blockquotes would get mangled, and things just looked generally ugly. Despite using default newsletter templates designed for mobile phones, I'd still get complaints that things looked bad… which isn't surprising when you're taking HTML written for the web, translating it to email, and then serving that translation on a mobile phone. I invested a lot in making the Offbeat Empire's web templates look great on mobile… I don't have the resources to invest in making free newsletters look great on mobile.

Technical: Our posts are too long for email format

For all the reasons listed above, I've been thinking about switching to excerpts for a while… but this issue is actually what finally pushed me over the edge. I got an email yesterday from a reader informing me, "I wish to unsubscribe from all of your emails and I cannot find a link for that option anywhere in the body of the email." This confused me — of course all our newsletters include unsubscribe links at the end! Then I realized that thanks to Gmail's formatting of super long emails, our newsletter look like this:

message clipped

Now, if this subscriber had clicked "View entire message," of course she would have seen the unsubscribe link… but the fact that our posts are so long that they trigger email truncation, so that it's not easy to unsubscribe? That's fucked up. I loathe spammers and never EVER want anyone to EVER feel like they can't unsubscribe from something I send them.

Personal: Email isn't my preferred platform for content delivery

This is strictly subjective, but whenever someone says something like "I had to unsubscribe from the Offbeat Bride newsletter — it felt like too much pressure showing up in my inbox every day!" I'm always like HOLY SHIT I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY ANYONE SUBSCRIBES IN THE FIRST PLACE. For me personally, my inbox is a sacred place. I live and die by Inbox Zero and unsubscribe to almost every commercial email I receive. I prefer RSS for my content subscriptions. While I realize that y'all have your own ways of managing your information streams, my dislike of commercial emails makes it difficult for me to prioritize our newsletters, given all the other factors.

tl;dr

For financial, technical, and personal reasons, I'm switching the email newsletters to excerpts only. I understand that this pretty significantly changes the functionality of the newsletter, and totally respect that some people will choose to unsubscribe.

The good news is this: I've just started development on a super sweet new solution that will replace the newsletters, transforming them into something I feel really awesome about (financially, technically, and personally!)… but that's a long-term project that won't be launching for many months.

For now, I trust everyone to make their own decisions about how they want to follow along with the sites. There are no shortage of options for each site!

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As always, I'm happy to answer any questions!

  1. Hey chicka! I totally understand your reasoning and it all makes perfect business sense to me. While I did really like getting a whole post in my inbox, I can live without it.

    I would like to suggest that old adage 'a picture is worth a thousand words' Visuals sell and get clicks and clicks are money. I would suggest adding a photo for each of the excerpts for the blog posts. With people constantly skimming things even bold and large print aren't always going to stand out to them, but a picture of Spock Sugar Skull certainly would.

    All in all I respect your choices and their outcomes, and I won't unsubscribe 😉

    7 agree
    • Just wanted to update on this. After spending a month trying to get excerpts + images to work, we finally got the official word on the issue from Mailchimp, the service provider that mails out our newsletters:

      The media:content rss tag was originally created by yahoo and has since been discontinued. While the *|RSS:IMAGE|* merge tag could still work with your feed, it is no longer supported by us.

      Moral of the story? The code that makes images+excerpts in our newsletters possible is no longer supported by Mailchimp, so it's not going to happen. Sorry, guys. My developer and I spent a long time trying to get this to work… but it's just not meant to be.

      Moral of the story: click through to read posts and see pictures.

  2. Don't a lot of these issues apply to RSS as well? At least as far as not making money and not sending clicks to the site?

    FWIW I read the posts through RSS, but 90% of the time I click through so I can read the comments.

    2 agree
    • Absolutely… but RSS doesn't cost me $140/mo. Also, I personally love RSS, and personally loathe excerpt-only RSS feeds… so my own preferences come into play here.

      Also, whenever talking about RSS, I love to remind my fellow RSS-nerds just how few of us there are. Offbeat Bride only has 3k RSS subscribers… as opposed to 1million unique visitors a month.

      4 agree
      • As an RSS subscriber, I have taken to just clicking through from the RSS feed to the Offbeat sites. I originally started it when I learned that you don't always get counts on our views when we use the RSS feed, but now it's good as I can actually see comments (and I'm more motivated to comment, myself), so it's a multiple-win for you.

        When I get a little behind on my reading, I must say it's nice to only have to scroll through excerpt-length articles in my feed, though, to open them in new tabs. It can take forever if I have a bunch of full-length articles to scroll through, but I'm having the surprise ruined of what all is covered in the message (gee, first-world problems, huh!).

        1 agrees
      • I'm gobsmacked that so few people follow by RSS feed! I LOVE my RSS feed & I am really not techy at all… I am aware that it means I don't give page counts but I do tend to click through to see the comments on a post that interests me.

        • When Google Reader died, there was a lot of talk about why RSS just never really took off. Here's one great take on why: http://techcrunch.com/2013/03/13/google-readers-death-is-proof-that-rss-always-suffered-from-lack-of-consumer-appeal/

          tl;dr from that article: "Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, I have more content than I can shake a stick at. I don't want to read every single thing that WIRED writes, I want to read the things that people I know think are awesome."

          As an RSS fan, it's weird to see how it's shifted… I mean, Tumblr's dashboard is just an internal RSS feed. Most Offbeat Bride readers use Facebook as their RSS feed. The concept of feeds is still around… just the idea of a reader where you see the feeds of only the new posts of your favorite sites? It's died…

          2 agree
  3. Well…. that's kinda too bad. I understand the reasons behind it but I guess it really means that I'm going to end up not reading anymore. My computer has never handled the site very well and I would only click over to comment. It was awesome seeing this site grow and change, but I think it's changed in a direction I can't follow since email posts were the only form I could keep up with. Good luck on everything!

  4. I totally understand the reasons for the change, and the fact that you shared them all with us is one of the reasons I love this site. It's no bullshit and you tell it like it is. I appreciate that. I enjoyed getting the full articles, but most of the reason I get the newsletter is so that I remember to check in here regularly. I love the site, but before I started getting the newsletter, it would often slip my mind for weeks before I remember and think "hey, I wonder what's been on Off-beat lately". The newsletters help me keep up and I often click through anyway because I love the comments and have gotten just as much interesting and/or useful info from them as I do the posts themselves.

    As an aside, I'll admit that I've never quite understood (or more accurately taken the time to understand) RSS feeds and how they work. I'm sure I'd probably like them if I did it, but I really just need some kind of "dummy's guide" to how to use them. If anyone has a good resource, I'd be grateful.

    3 agree
        • Just for some historical context: RSS feeds were a thing that was totally going to take off in like, 2007. It was going to be HUGE. Then people started using Facebook and Twitter as their feeds, and RSS became a niche nerd thing… which is why Google shut down Reader, their RSS tool that's mentioned in the video.

          For those of us who love RSS, we fucking love RSS. My RSS reader is my window to the world. But don't feel bad if RSS doesn't make sense for you… 46,000 people use Facebook to follow Offbeat Bride, as opposed to 3000 who use RSS. That should tell you something.

          2 agree
          • Yes! We do fucking love RSS. My heart flutters that you understand.

            1 agrees
          • SOLIDARITY.
            I've been an RSS die-hard since I started using Bloglines in 2003, and then Google Reader in 2005, and now Feedly since last year. I'm so old school that I use RSS to subscribe to people's Tumblrs.

            6 agree
          • I did not know you could subscribe to individual tumblrs via RSS! This means I can have a dash full of pretty pictures again, and all the serious tumblrs can go in feedly where I can read it when I have enough brain. Thank you!

            1 agrees
      • Well, that answers the question I hadn't asked. After spending 20 minutes going through the bookmarks in my 'blogs' folder, to find that only 1 had new content, I'm starting to think an RSS reader would be a good idea… but had no idea what to use. Given I'm a Mac user with a penchant for avoiding updates, a web-based solution is what I was looking for.

        So… feedly it is!

        • KikiDae, yeah: that was exactly what lead to lots of bloggers/nerdy types falling in love with RSS: it brings the updates to you, instead of having to go get them. I used to have folders of blogs that I would go through and read one by one by one by one to see if anyone had updated. RSS completely transformed that!

          Of course now feeds are totally common, but 10 years ago it was a big deal to have content from your friends served up to you. #oldnerd

          1 agrees
  5. Hah! My inbox as a sacred space is exactly the reason I subscribe to the newsletters 😛 Only my very favourite blogs get the privilege of entering my inbox directly (and that's pretty much just the offbeat empire…).

    And I'm super excited to hear the pictures will return to accompany the excerpts! Thanks!

    1 agrees
  6. The only thing I'll miss is being able to read the posts at work under the guise of checking my email 😉
    Oh well! I can't imagine leaving the Offbeat Empire just because I have to click a link (THE HORROR!)

    3 agree

    • 1 agrees
  7. Hey Ariel! I totally understand why you are switching over and have no complaints, just one suggestion: Removing the teaser at the top. It totally made sense when you were posting full articles so that one could jump down the page if the first post was super long, but now that you have excerpts, you can quickly scroll through the articles to see which one you might want to read in full, so the teaser seems a bit redundant to me. Best of luck!

    3 agree
  8. Just wanted to let you know that the offbeat bride unsubscribe button in the email takes you to the offbeat home unsubscribe and inevitably one cannot unsubscribe from OBB.

    • Oh now THAT is fucked. Thank you so much for flagging this bug! I'll fix that right now.

      UPDATED TO ADD:
      I think I tracked this down. I was stumped at first, because folks have been unsubscribing from the Offbeat Bride newsletter no problem for the past couple days, and when I checked the the footer unsubscribe link… it was working fine.

      BUT! The little temporary announcement at the *top* of the Offbeat Bride newsletter (announcing the excerpt change) did indeed include an unsub link to Offbeat Home's newsletter. My error. It's been fixed now!

      Moral of the story: thanks for reporting this, and I'm relieved that it was only HALF broken instead of completely broken. (And that announcement wasn't there when the original complaint came in, so I know it wasn't the issue for that subscriber.)

      1 agrees
  9. I like this, it means I can click through to the site to look at the bits I'm interested in and ignore the bits I'm not so interested in.

    2 agree
  10. Huzzah! I love the new newsletter. It makes me feel better about using the newsletter to get my updates, because now I have to click through to read.
    Thank you for making it easier for me to support my favorite blog site. <3

  11. Just wanted to post a follow-up here that based on SUPER preliminary stats, it's looking like the shift to excerpts is being great for click-throughs from the newsletter:

    3 agree
  12. I never realized the greatness of RSS. I am definitely switching to see all of my newsletters there!

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