The No-Click Newsletter: How to Create & Grow Your Long-form Mailing List

With millions of social platforms and information outlets in existence – and more popping up every day – it is getting increasingly tough to choose where to get your quality content fix!

Because of this, people are getting more inclined to pay for quality content – and to have it delivered to them. 

Email is as old as the Internet itself. 

The mailing list has always been looked at like that super-nerdy friend working with something completely un-cool. 

But pulling in major bucks.

Email is not sexy.

But it works big-time when it comes to converting people into paying customers.

Up until a few years ago, having a mailing list was a necessary evil to push your new blog posts – or discounts – to your subscribers. A way to get people to remember that you exist and that you are creating content.

But in recent times, mailing lists are starting to rebel – to become their own content platform. 

Newsletters are changing from promoting content to be a platform that houses content.

What’s old is new again.

Substack – a platform helping writers to host and monetize their mailing lists by charging a monthly fee – grew 40% month by month in 2019.

On Substack, the creators can launch and run their own publications and send regular emails to their subscribers.

The newsletter-first business publication Morning Brew is sending a daily email to their almost 2 million subscribers – with no read-more-links to a blog, and no offers to buy stuff. The newsletter is the product (and they monetize it with sponsored content)

The interest for mailing lists with unique, long-form content crafted only for the subscribers is growing – and the companies behind those newsletters are doing things right.

Why a content-first mailing list?

People will forget about you and your startup unless you do something to prevent it.

As quick as you appear in someone’s social media feed, as quick you might disappear. 

You don’t own your social media accounts. You are just renting a place there, and your landlord can choose to remodel (or remove a few doors) whenever it suits them.

What works on Twitter or Instagram today might not work tomorrow. You can’t depend on social media traffic – the algorithms can change at any time.

A mailing list, on the other hand, is yours. 

No one – except your subscribers and a few tenacious spam filters – can choose whether or not the emails you send should arrive in the inboxes.

Despite all the different social platforms and communities, the amount of daily email users is predicted to grow to 4.4 billion in 2023, from 3.8 billion in 2018.

Most of them will check their inbox daily!  ­čôź

If you get permission to keep in touch via email – you will have a golden opportunity to stay in touch – provided you deliver top-quality content.

A newsletter is usually seen as a way to market other things; new blog posts, updates, and offers or discounts.

Their goal is not to get people to read them – they are written to get people to go somewhere else or do something else! 

While any mailing list will give some results, having a list with unique content will keep people in the relatively distraction-free environment that the inbox is (at least while you are reading a specific email). 

It won’t force them to click to a blog post or link, risking losing their attention to something shinier.

In the world we are living in, filled with distractions, this adds value to both startups and customers.

How to create a successful long-content mailing list

When I started my mailing list back in the mid-2000s, the advice from the email gurus was the same: write as few words as possible, add at least 5 outbound links, get people to click-through to your blog. 

What happened since? 

The amount of content created every day exploded.

Every time you make someone click away from the tranquil bay of their inbox, you risk losing their focus.

With so much information freely available, we don’t attach to much value to it. A newsletter on the other hand, where you have to be subscribed through a sign-up page to receive the content, can give a much-needed sense of exclusivity

Here’s how to create a long-form, no-click newsletter that will get you more leads and boost your conversion rates.

Create great content

There’s one rule that can’t be broken when creating an original-content newsletter; the content needs to be top-notch.

Every email needs to deliver massive value to the recipients. 

But what someone sees as completely outstanding content, might be the most boring thing to someone else. 

This is why you need to be very specific on who you are writing for

The more niched your audience is, the easier it is to make each email provide value. 

There’re two extremes on the content scale: curated content and created content

Curated content is the best picks from all the content out there. Basically, you do the job for your readers by gathering and sorting through multiple sources of information.

This will quite clearly show why having a very defined niche audience is essential: sifting through the Internet for the best articles on “everything” would be quite time-consuming (and impossible.)

But finding the articles that would interest “remote workers with ADHD, struggling with keeping focus” the most is a bit more doable. 

BUFFER is gathering the best resources every week, in a few succinct categories ]
Michael from NoCode Coffee sends an email daily, with three interesting no-code tips]

On the other side is the created content. Just as you would write a blog post, these kinds of emails feature unique content, written only for the mailing list.

One of my favorite Rob Estreitinho’s newsletter, Salmon Theory

“Each week, I use an idea from philosophy to explore what it means for strategy, creativity, and ourselves. I also interview clever folks about once a month about the philosophy behind their work.”

Rob Estreitinho

It’s a well-written, thoughtful mail that sparks ideas and action!

These are the two extremes – curated and created. You can mix these in any way you want.

The most ambitious newsletter taking this path is without a doubt Morning Brew. Each day, they send a jam-packed, witty email with the latest business news. 

It’s always based on news from the last 24 hours, but with their own personal take on it. 

In For The Interested, Josh Spector shares 5 ideas on self-improvement and career growth. Based on existing content, but with his added value.

Which format works best depends on the way your audience likes to indulge content (remember? Know who you are writing for.). 

Whatever format you choose, remember one thing; write about what interests your audience – not about you or your startup.

Make it readable

When you are writing an email to get people to click a link (i.e., to get them to stop reading your email and do something else), you don’t have to think about keeping them interested for too long.

But when writing long-form content in an email, you need to craft it for the modern internet person. 

With the attention span of a drunk goldfish on cocaine.  

Most people are not primed to read long-form content in email format, as they are in, let’s say, a printed book. (This doesn’t go for all audiences. Some will read long-form, simple text without problems – more on that in a second)

One way to keep the interest of your readers longer is to use pattern breaks. What this basically means, is to deliver the content in easily digestible chunks and make it easy to skim.

Morning Brew is doing a great job with this by using:

­čô░ Clear headlines

­čľ╝ Eye-catching images and GIF’s

­čöÁ Bullet points

­čÄ» Single and short paragraphs

­čôł Statistics and graphs

The same technique is also used in NoCode Coffee. Michael Gill delivers a short introduction that might or might not have anything to do with the rest of the email.

He then continues to share three things from the No Code world; one company, one person, and a project.

The newsletter continues in the same way, with small chunks of information.

If you choose to work with long-format text (think novel-style), use a similar way. Make sure to break the text into paragraphs, use sub-titles, and make use of bold and italic to show the readers where to find the essential parts.

Some people will read each email, top to bottom. Some people will scan and skim, to pick out the parts that seem most interesting to them. 

Both ways will give value to the reader, both approaches are just as good.

Getting people to sign-up

One downside of hosting content solely on your newsletter is that Google won’t find it. That means, your content won’t show up in people’s search feeds, like the posts in a blog would. Because of that, people won’t just stumble upon your mailing list.

As always, your newsletter should be a funnel, where you feed people from all your other platforms. Your website, social media platforms, blog, and podcast should all have call-to-actions to subscribe to the newsletter.

Position your newsletter and its content as a next step. If they like what they see on your other platforms, the newsletter becomes an upgrade – a secret (kinda) club. And we love getting access to things not accessible to others.

The Landing Page

Your opt-in page is the entrance to your newsletter. This is where most people will sign up.

Make sure people understand within seconds if it is something for them or not. Yes, your goal is not to get as many people as possible to subscribe, but the right people (I’ll explain why in a second).

Two things should be obvious on your opt-in page; who your newsletter is for (your niche audience) and what they will get. If you communicate this, people can make up their minds very fast.

Having a “Read an email” option might be a good idea, to give people a way to try before they buy

Growing your newsletter organically

When Tyler Denk was appointed to grow the Morning Brew newsletter (from around 100k subscribers at the time), he knew he needed to get people to share it.

Two things needed to be true for that to happen.


One:
The content has to be really good. No-one will share something they don’t like themselves. That would be social suicide.

Two:
There needed to be a way to share built-in in the product itself


Now, Morning Brew is using a very sophisticated referral system giving points for every person that signs up through your link – and reward them with physical and digital perks.

That might not be possible for every newsletter editor, but there are still ways to get people to share it.

The key is to make it easy for people to share it. Add a text or image at the bottom, asking people to share, and add several ways to do so. 

Footer of the Salmon Theory emails

If possible, do the same thing for when people sign up. Redirect them to a web page after successfully signing up and ask them to share it! 

When someone downloads my free ebook on email marketing, they’ll be shown a message afterward, asking them to share it on Twitter.

Around 50% of every person who downloads it shares it to their followers on Twitter, which will bring more people to download it!

Always add a prewritten text if possible – then people don’t have to think about what to write, they can just click the button. It is, of course, essential that the text you put as default, is something people are willing to share – is it something you can stand behind? 

Tyler Denk at Morning Brew saw the largest conversion rates (people who actually signed up after being referred) when sharing through email

Fighting Banner Blindness

We tend to ignore anything that looks like an ad and is in a place where ads are.

This means that people might read your Please-share text the first few times, but then stop even noticing it.

Make sure you stir the pot regularly. Change the text, move it around in your emails (top, bottom, mid-text) and consider adding (and changing) an image with it.

We are very aware of new things!

Another way is to do referral bursts – short but high-intensity referral sprints where you ask people to share like crazy.

This poses a problem, though. For people to share, they need an incentive. “Helping you” is not enough, unless the main part of your audience consists of your mom and granny.

If you don’t have a system like Morning Brew, where you can keep track of the number of referrals each subscriber brings in, you could do something like this:

Referral run! 

Help us get to 2000 subscribers by Friday! Share this link [landing page] with your friends. If we reach 2k before the weekend, I’ll send a free ebook on [something your audience really wants] to everyone on the list.

Make sure to keep people updated on the process by sharing how far you’ve come.

Monetizing it

When your mailing list is not promoting your content, but are the content, having a way to monetize it is necessary. 

Earning money on your newsletter is not only good for you, but also for the subscribers – that means you can spend more time creating an even better newsletter! 

There are several ways to monetize your mailing list:

Monthly subscriptions

Substack is a great platform to host and grow your list. If you don’t have a substantial list to start with, offering it for free is a good start.

That way, you can build an audience that you can later ask to join your premium list. Substack is suggesting $5 a month for personal topics, and $10 and up for the professional ones.

Getting Sponsorships for your Newsletter

Thanks to your list being extremely niched (you did follow my advice on that, didn’t you?) getting a sponsor don’t have to be as hard as it sounds.

The amount of subscribers per se doesn’t matter to sponsors. Ten thousand fake email addresses can be subscribed to your list, but it won’t do any good for a sponsor.

What they want (and you need to be able to show this with stats) is an interactive and interested audience.

A billboard by the road is broadcasting to a massive amount of people, and it’ll cost the company paying for it a lot of money. But only a tiny percentage of the people seeing it will be interested in the message.

An email list with a particular niche audience has already sorted out everyone that is not a good fit, and the benefits of the product are highly attractive to almost everyone in that audience.

Having 1000 profoundly engaged subscribers might be enough.

What’s important (to the companies you are approaching) is the opening rates and click-through-rates – this is telling them that people will actually take action. 

An opening rate at 25% or more and a click-through-rate around 7% is optimal. 

Side Hustle Nation has a great post on finding and getting sponsors for your newsletter

Selling something

Even when a newsletter is housing its own content, you can direct people to stuff to buy, now and then.

For a startup, a no-click newsletter can be a powerful way to build trust. From time to time, present an offer or discount. 

If you’ve taken care of the subscribers and provided value, this might turn into one of the best sales channels.

Conclusion

Email is an old concept, but the more distractive our world becomes, the more we need its simplicity.

A well-crafted, niched newsletter will help you attract the right people and make them trust you.

Email has always been the best way to convert followers and leads into paying customers.

If you are serious about building a strong audience of fans, delivering precisely what they love to their inbox is a sure way to their hearts!

Thank you Emma Moly, for coming up with the phrase “No-Click Newsletter.”