Black Belt Email: As Disciplined as a Winning Athlete

This martial arts magazine demonstrates the same discipline in email as in the techniques they teach

This week I had the pleasure of spying on one of our best Mequoda operators, BlackBelt.com. Over the last few months I’ve been peeking in on a variety of publishers with overflowing email circulation numbers to see where they excel.

If you’re not familiar, Black Belt has been published since 1961 and features interviews, historical research and news coverage on martial artists and martial arts techniques. On their website, BlackBelt.com, they feature this content in addition to a giant archive of martial arts instruction and videos which they also sell in the form of handbooks and DVDs.

Black Belt‘s email newsletter is called Martial Arts Daily. From what I’ve heard, they chose Martial Arts Daily as the title of the email newsletter because they didn’t want to confuse web visitors who might want to subscribe to Black Belt the magazine, not Black Belt Daily, the email newsletter (and website). They do a fine job of branding in the title for anyone who might still be confused.

BlackBeltMag.com has no trouble building their email list due to superb conversion architecture. When you visit the site, there are several ways that you can subscribe to their newsletter.

Black Belt knows how to build an email list. They’re busy developing free guides on a regular basis in order to keep it growing. Although there’s plenty to learn from their email design and schedule, you can learn a lot about converting visitors into email subscribers by looking at their website.

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Many different email templates, always consistent

Black Belt must have a very busy designer on board, because three to four times per week, they send out promotions with completely new designs. The structure of these promotional emails stay the same, there’s always Martial Arts Daily branding at the top, but there’s also always a new graphic or sale below it. Here’s an assortment of their many different promotional email templates.

You’ll notice that they always include a list of free guides at the bottom of each promotional email.

On Mondays, Black Belt runs through their editorial topics. On Wednesday, they add a video to the email and promote one of their video posts.

All of their editorial emails have strong and brightly-colored calls to action for subscribers to take what they signed up for and download a few free reports. This strategy is especially smart for any publisher like Black Belt who’s likely to have a high forwarding rate.

On Fridays, Black Belt rotates between promotions and what we call circ-builders. These emails promote the free guides on their site so that readers feel that they’re getting an extra perk for staying subscribed. But the reason why they’re called circ-builders (can also be applied to building paid circ) is because they hope that people will forward the email and get their friends to follow the link and sign up for the email newsletter too.

Finally, Black Belt sends a week in review email on Saturdays, always with the consistent subject line of “This Week’s Top Martial Arts Stories!”

The ads in these emails don’t change often. They have a main featured ad at the top of their right-hand navigation bar, and then a list of free downloads below it. These are the only two slots of advertisements in this email.

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Email schedule and frequency

Black Belt is the only publisher I’ve watched so far that is 100% consistent about the time they send out their emails. Every day in my inbox at 11:22 EDT I have a new Martial Arts Daily newsletter.

As you can see all the above, they’re consistently designed as well. Just as every page on their website promotes something for free, you won’t bump into an email newsletter sent from these guys that doesn’t give something away. Even their paid promotional emails give away free guides.

Not only is all this free stuff good for SEO, but they’re great reminders to Black Belt’s subscribers of what they get for free by subscribing to the email list.

As you might imagine, Black Belt’s email calendar is consistent too.

  • On Mondays, they send an editorial email, a long snippet of a blog post that links from the email to the longer post.
  • On Tuesdays, they send a promotion for their paid products. I found Tuesdays to be very book focused.
  • On Wednesdays, they send out another editorial email, this time with a video.
  • On Thursdays, they send out another promotion.
  • On Fridays, they rotate weeks sending out either a circ-builder or another promotion.
  • On Saturdays, they send out a week in review email.

All of these arrive at precisely 11:22 EDT.

How Black Belt emails make money

Black Belt’s emails are product-driven, so in spaces where you’d usually see advertisers in an ad-driven email, you’ll see ads for products sold in the Black Belt store.

This is where so many product-driven publishers drop the ball when it comes to email publishing, but Black Belt is, again, right on point. They know how to sell themselves.

I witnessed up to five different product ads in the right-hand navigation of their email newsletter, but you could easily find more sometimes places within the editorial content itself.

It’s clear why Black Belt does such a stupendous job with their website conversion architecture when they spend so much real estate in their email newsletter dedicated to product sales. They’re a prime example of a Mequoda System doing what it’s supposed to do: attract (through SEO), retain (by getting them on your email list) and monetize (sell stuff through email).

It’s all about consistency

Beyond everything else I’ve praised them for, there are two things that stand out to me about Black Belt: consistency and structure. There’s not one email out of place in their email schedule. Subscribers know exactly when to expect a new email every day and when they open it, they know exactly who it’s coming from no matter whether Black Belt is deciding to send a promotion, editorial email, circ-builder or week in review.

They also remind subscribers, every day, that they’re part of a VIP club that gets access to tons of free reports. Not an email goes by that doesn’t give away something for free.

Do you subscribe to Black Belt? What do you love about their email newsletter? I didn’t come across many cases when looking at their email newsletters where I felt that there was something to suggest. Do you have any suggestions?

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