How CTNewsJunkie learned to embrace HTML newsletter ad tags and make more money



If you have been using your email newsletter to get the word out about your latest local coverage, but you’ve not been selling ads in it, you’re  missing an important opportunity to make money.

“We have run out of ad space on the website and the email newsletter is full of ads as well,” said Doug Hardy, Business Manager of CTNewsJunkie.  HTML newsletter ad tags that measure actual impressions in the newsletter are piggy-backing on timely State House coverage by Christine Stuart – his wife. Coverage and ads combined are earning the couple a living – plus.

CTNewsJunkie covers politics in Connecticut — a hot topic. When Stuart landed a part-time gig covering the state house for Court House News Service in California, they acquired CTCNewsJunkie in 2006 from a friend.

“Our email blast revolutionized our operation twice,” Hardy wrote on BlockbyBlock Resource Facebook Group. “First, it was the impetus to get our first advertiser interest for our site and [second, it] simultaneously quintupled our website traffic in 10 weeks with a list of 500 addresses,” he wrote.

When we spoke last week, Hardy told me that the initial addresses for the email blast were carefully harvested opt-ins from  key public officials and lobbyists in the state.

They started the email blast once a week. After about ten weeks, people started calling and asking to put a banner in the newsletter, Hardy said. The site started to earn revenue –  $300 the first year — the next year — $11,000. And it has been steadily rising.

Initially, CTnewsJunkie offered the newsletter space as a free add-on for those who bought banner advertising on the site. That push-media aspect of the email blast convinced early advertisers to come on board.

“This was a catalyst that helped close ad deals and got us rolling with our first ad revenue, even though we weren’t charging much for ads on the site. Sometimes it’s the added value that closes the deal,” Hardy said.

Something else important occurred around the time they started the email blast. Hardy figured out that the ingredient central to selling advertising was an intangible asset called trust.

“A lot of advertisers have no trust,” Hardy said. “If they are going to buy ads from a specific website they feel like the numbers are being cooked. It’s hard to spend a lot of money and justify it with out data. So we got the ad servers going and that solved that.”

OpenX – a free ad server, was CTNewsJunkie’s first. Ad tags allow Hardy and the advertisers to compare numbers. Recently Hardy switched to DFP Double Click, offered free by Google .

The year before they started the email blast, CTNewsJunkie had a peak of 7,000 page views in a month, but now that’s up to about 200,000 page views per month. Not only are page views up, but the  newsletter mailing list is now 7,000 strong.

The newsletter turned an important corner last year when Hardy started embedding HTML ad tags.

In his Facebook post, Hardy outlined his strategy. “Once we could track impressions on banners in emails, that led us down the road of providing the data to advertisers and eventually deciding an email could stand as additional ad inventory — a product that would stand on its own as a revenue producer by selling the impressions from the email banners,” he wrote.

And, he said, adding the tags is very easy to do, as he demonstrates in a series of screen shots I’ve included later in this post (see below).

So last year the site added a daily morning email blast that includes a roundup of the previous day’s news and also a calendar of the day’s events.

“It’s not an easy learning curve,” Hardy said. “It is an ongoing challenge. It’s not simple. But these are good problems. We are really happy to have them.”

Hardy said he’s learned most of what he knows from his excellent web person.  When he has a problem he can’t solve, he heads to Google. And when he hits a dead end with Google he heads to the social networks, specifically  Quora and Linked In.

“The business model is what I am all about now,” Hardy said. “I’ve gone from being a professional journalist to being a business person. I’ve given up the idea of being a news guy because there is more than enough to do trying to monetize my wife’s news site.”

Here’s how easy it is to embed an HTML newsletter ad tag. 

1. To get the ad tags embed and the banners to show up, we generate the right kind of ad tags for email blasts, and paste them into a Constant Contact block using the HTML feature —  the arrow below points to the HTML editor:

3. The HTML code view editor looks like this below – but don’t be intimidated. I simply delete all that code and paste in our ad tag code, and click “save” and we get the image of the finished product.

 And here’s the finished product.  

I like the charming sell copy at the top: “Hello! You are receiving this email because you are a capitol insider. By remaining on our list, you are helping us CREATE JOBS IN CONNECTCUT as a new sustainable media company. Please confirm your continued interest in receiving email from us.” Who could resist?

Check out CTNews Junkie’s advertising info page and rate card.  With a colleague, Hardy’s also starting  an Independent Media Network to connect advertisers to other sites in the region.

Hardy also provided these links to the March 1  Morning Coffee & Politics email blast. Constant Contact offers this “archiving” option that stores an email as a webpage. And here’s last week’s Friday Night Fix! email blast.

Which to use:   Constant Contact or MailChimp?

For his newsletters, Hardy uses ConstantContact, but many publishers also like MailChimp. To be fair, there are others, like IMake News, which was probably the first, but it is on a different path and employs a paid content model.

Constant Contact offers great drag and drop design and some automation functions — but they are upgrading a lot and Hardy  probably doesn’t utilize everything Constant Contact offers. It is limited in its capacity to use RSS feeds. It has a basic RSS embed function. On the other hand, Hardy says Mailchimp is  flexible with respect to using RSS. The main newsletter template, however, doesn’t offer drag and drop design, which is a higher priority now that they’ve been using a template for a few years.

One of the more delicate aspects of getting an email newsletter started is collecting the email addresses of people who might be interested in subscribing. During the Wild West of email newsletter origins, trolling the Internet for email addresses was common — until the spam got of out of hand. These days building your list requires a delicate, transparent touch and companies like ConstantContact enforce that.

“We do not allow our customers to email anyone without permission, not even once,” a Constant Contact spokesperson said. “We have a very strict, no-tolerance spam policy to prevent our users from becoming spammers – not only because it would give Constant Contact a “bad name,” but also because it would impact our ability to get email delivered for other, non-offending customers.”

As an  email newsletter marketing platform, ConstantContact provides abundant resources for getting started  and keeping things running the right way.

MailChimp  offers similar user-friendly guides to permission marketing.

Both providers are expanding their reach into selling social media services since their platforms are essential links in the system of social media marketing.

Sally Duros is a social journalist working toward the next generation of successful, credible online newsrooms. Connect with her on  and on twitter at saduros..

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