By Don Nicholas • 06/18/2012
Perhaps the most basic audience development strategy revolves around restricting access to free content and then using that content to build email newsletter circulation.
Legendary email newsletter publisher Bill Bonner has been quoted often as saying, “nobody wakes up in the morning, and says, ‘Gee, I think I’m going to subscribe to a new email newsletter today.’”
The folks at Agora publishing are famous for inventing the free-on-free offer because Bill Bonner is essentially right – most people are not looking for your free newsletter. It’s pretty easy to lift response by offering other forms of free content plus a free email newsletter.
Here at Mequoda Group we’re famous for encouraging our clients to give away free downloadable special reports, white papers, and eBooks. Many of our clients have dozens of these free downloads, and the folks at Interweave are approaching 200. We like this strategy because it’s easy to create free reports and other downloads that align with our keyword clusters. The same keyword clusters, of course, make up the backbone of the taxonomy that drives every website using our website design concepts and best practices.
Free content is king
Over the weekend I was surfing the web, doing a little research on boats. Like most boating enthusiasts, I like reading about boats and understanding their features and performance even if I never plan to buy that individual make or model. When I’m out on the water, I like being able to recognize the unique characteristics of the boats around me.
BoatTEST.com is one of my favorite sites for checking out both new makes and vintage craft. One of the things I like best about the site is the video content. There is a ton of content outside the wall available for free which makes this website come up on page-one in Google search for hundreds of boat related searches, especially if the word review or reviews is included in the search phrase. All that free text does a great job of getting readers to the site. But if you want to see the videos or the performance reviews you need to register. Registration is free and the real point is getting you signed up for their email newsletter so they can have permission to bring you back to the website again and again.
TrailLink.com is another personal favorite. When I’m not on the water I like wandering through the woods. In the town where I live, there are lots of trails and the old rail line is being converted into a really cool trail system for walkers, cyclists, and riders. The TrailLink site is packed full of information about various trails, with a heavy concentration of those in the Northeast. Virtually all the information on the website is free and in front of the firewall. The exception is the maps. If you want one of the trail maps you’ll need to register. Again, registration is free and the goal of registration is to get your email address to bring you back to the site again and again and expose you to other premium offers from the parent organization.
The Economist.com has perhaps the simplest strategy for capturing your email address. Most of the stories are behind the firewall, and they’re not free. While the website is designed to capture email addresses, the bigger goal is converting visitors into paid subscribers. To keep the traffic flowing, about 15% of the stories are made available outside the firewall for free. The rest of the site’s high-quality content is available only to those who subscribe. As I’ve written about here, this strategy has been marginally successful and really took off when the subscription also began to include the iPad tablet edition. For more about that related story on universal digital access, take a look at this article.
Relationships, relationships, relationships.
If brick-and-mortar retail is about location, location, location, then online publishing and marketing is about retailing to people who you have permission to play with. Because it’s so cheap to distribute great content for free on the Internet, free content delivered over many affinity platforms, from email and web to Twitter and Facebook, is the driving force behind digital audience development. Kim and I have worked up a really cool concept graphic for our upcoming Digital Publishing Bootcamp that illustrates how one feature article can be distributed in many forms across many platforms to build audience and generate revenue.
This powerful strategy is difficult to master, and requires lots of decision-making about what content is free and what content will be paid at your website. As noted above, free downloads are just one way to kick off the relationship.
Posted in Audience Development Strategy