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Newsletter swaps grow your audience and attract new users

Daniel Sim

A newsletter swap is where two or more partners team up to feature each other’s content, product or service in their email newsletters. It’s an excellent way to reach a new, similar audience who might be interested in you.

I ran a number of these for my Shopify apps. Some were very successful, growing our audience by hundreds of users from a single email, and some did absolutely nothing. Here’s what I’ve learnt.

Find the right partners to swap with

No matter how many users your app has, how many email subscribers you have, or how often you send marketing emails, there’s a partner for you.

First, it should be likely that the partner’s subscribers are interested in your offer. Don’t get dazzled by big lists! Just because you both have a big list, they won’t perform well if there’s no interest. If you’re on the same platform like Shopify and aren’t too niche, say like a German fulfilment app, you can probably find an angle to appeal to them; it just might take a bit more work. As I’ll show, finding that angle is worthwhile.

If you don’t have many subscribers

Some partners worry that their list size is too small to consider a swap. Once you have a couple of hundred subscribers, you’re ready. And if you can demonstrate those couple of hundred subscribers are engaged, opening and clicking your emails, this is a strong positive. A small, warm list that you regularly send to performs better than a massive, cold list.

If you have a small list that you’ve never emailed, it might be better to warm it up by starting to regularly send a newsletter of your own before considering a swap.

If you’re a small list approaching a larger one for a newsletter swap, think about what you can offer. I’ve been that small fish. In one case, I went to a lot of effort to create a free PDF guide tailored to the larger partner’s audience. I also demoed the product to a big partner. After seeing the demo, they just really liked my app and didn’t care that they were sending tens of thousands when I only had a handful of subscribers in exchange.

And there's nothing to say that a large partner has to feature you to their entire list, they can make smaller segments to partner with several smaller lists.

So don’t be put off if you have a small list if you’re prepared to put in the effort. The quality of what you can offer and the strong pay-it-forward culture in the B2B SaaS community is on your side.

How many partners and how often

There’s nothing to say that you should just feature one partner. I’ve taken part in campaigns around Black Friday and hot topics where we’ve crafted a joint landing page and targetted all of our lists. There can be too many though. Bigger is not better in my experience. One campaign was 20 partners, where our offer drowned out and gave me big fat zeros at the bottom of the funnel. I’d recommend 1-3 partners per swap.

Reader fatigue is real. I was excited when a new partner’s newsletter performed excellently. We got an above-average number of installs from them. I made the mistake of then scheduling in a series of three email features with the same partner. They were each a month apart, and we changed our content for each so I assumed the offer would be fresh enough. It wasn’t. The first one had half of the conversion rate we expected. By the third, it was zero.

Leave a big gap, I’d recommend at least six months, before repeating a swap with the same partner. Spend your time finding new partners instead.

Is it an endorsement

A mention in your newsletter needn’t be an endorsement of their product or service. While I do background research on a potential partner by reading their listings, going to their website and checking out their social media, it’s not always possible to spend hours using their product. If you use the product, great, say so, but don’t feel you need to be an active user. Including them just signals that your readers might be interested in checking it out.

You want a partner that’s open and reliable. I’ve been burned a couple of times by partners who didn’t send their email and haven’t shared their metrics. It’s tough to screen for this. Trust your gut. Partners committed to a newsletter swap will be responsive and able to give you fixed dates and numbers without vagueness.

No money changes hands in a newsletter swap. That’s how they work best. I have had success with sponsoring email, but that’s out of scope for this article. You may choose to include an affiliate link, just make sure you align your incentives and expectations with money not the primary motivator.

How to feature

The best swap is a thoughtful, prominent feature in an existing newsletter. Something which shows you’ve thought about the partner’s audience and what interests them.

Low effort text mentions

The most basic newsletter swap is a text mention of another app. Just writing a couple-line summary of the app and telling readers they may like it. It’s low-effort and the worst performer. If you are going to do this, at least add a graphic to draw the eye and encourage clicks.

Theme the email

A much better performer is to find a single theme for the email. Use the email to linking out to more resources on that theme. If your email is about a new Google structured data feature of your reviews app and how it’ll help your SEO, featuring an SEO app is a natural fit. Readers opening your SEO-themed email will convert better with a smooth segue like this.

Choosing the right conversion action

We’d love it if readers clicked the email and installed our app straight away. That isn’t unthinkable. However, I’d go for at least dropping them on our app listing to build more trust before installing. You could also test having a landing page on your domain vs the Shopify app listing, but the app listing has converted better in all of my tests.

Up until now, we’ve talked about having the conversion action as installing our app. A lower-friction and better converting option is to offer gated content requiring an email address to access. Using our SEO theme example, we could offer a ‘Guide to using reviews to build your SEO’. The merchant enters their email address, selects to opt-in to our newsletter, and downloads the guide.

If you have a newsletter with good engagement, this list-building conversion can perform better. It nurtures prospects by giving them value and building trust before expecting them to use your product.

Add a limited exclusive offer

Most people don’t do inbox zero. They have a big list of emails asking for their attention. Hopefully, your partner already has a high open rate. The other factor is getting the reader to click, take action when they open it. Email decays fast; if they don’t click it straight away, it’ll slide down the list, and they’ll forget it.

Limit your offer to encourage the reader to take action as soon as they open. Make the offer exclusive and close that offer a day or two after sending the email.

A time-limited or quantity-limited exclusive offer gives the reader a strong incentive to take action to not miss out on something they might need later. I started with a 20% off deal. It converted well but ate into average revenue per user (ARPU).

A smarter offer is to give the user the perception of getting more for the same price, or if you’re a real master, get them to pay more than they usually would. It doesn’t reduce ARPU like discounting and can increase LTV as users don’t want to uninstall and lose their exclusive benefit.

The ‘more’ you’re giving doesn’t need to cost you more. We used a free express setup, unlocked features, short consultation calls, e-books, and free non-listed apps to entice the user to take advantage of the offer.

With offers, you might be concerned about your existing users on your partner’s list seeing them. They could churn. One way to avoid this is by asking your partner not to send to your current users. How do you do this without exposing their email addresses? Any programmer will be able to export a hashed list of email addresses from your list (ideally with a salt). Your partner also hashes their list and suppresses those where the hash matches. At no time are email addresses exposed to either partner.

There are lots of variables in newsletter swaps. Whatever feature format you go for, measure it well and experiment. Your first newsletter swap may not perform as well as you hoped (mine didn’t!). By your fifth, you’ll have learnt a lot, and your metrics will be improving.

Being a great partner

A lot of newsletter swap partnerships happen in private, which makes it easy for partners to renege on what they promise without any accountability.  A couple of partners have screwed me by not keeping their side of the deal. Thankfully it has been rare.

Agree on what should be in the email. Remember that you’re getting featured in your partner’s list and it’s their email. The best partners write and regularly send a newsletter with good engagement, so listen to what they’ve found to work well. Come up with a format and offer that works for both of you.

After agreeing to do a newsletter swap, don’t leave how you will be featured open. Draft some suggestions and discuss them with your partner.

Be transparent about who your subscribers are, how often you email them and your typical open and click rates. Aligning expectations will avoid disappointment when the emails go out.

Know how you’re going to track the email and share data liberally with your partner. It does happen that performance wasn’t as good as expected, but sharing that data helps us figure out why that might’ve been and gives us a starting point for the next swap. Don’t hide behind silence.

Work out when the best time is to send the email, and send it when you say you will. Unexpected things come up, communicate any changes early and do your best to make it right.

Email remains one of the top B2B marketing methods. I love newsletter swaps. A warm feature from a partner grows your list and attracts new users.

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