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E-Business Secrets

What I've learned about e-mail newsletter publishing
Feature-rich programs make it easier for self-publishers

By  Brian Livingston April 22, 2003  

There comes a time when you have to eat your own dog food. That time came for me late last year when I began preparing to publish an independent e-mail newsletter on Microsoft Windows through a new site of my own: BriansBuzz.com.


I've been writing the E-Business Secrets newsletter for InfoWorld for more than two years now, and I've described many aspects of developing and managing for-profit newsletters to support e-commerce. But all the details of formatting and distributing E-Business Secrets were handled by InfoWorld. Launching my own vehicle taught me valuable lessons that may benefit your own efforts.

My first step, after much Web searching for ideas, was to purchase a copy of Marketing Sherpa's "Buyer's Guide to Broadcast E-mail Distribution Services" (see link at the end of this article). With more than 400 pages, including at least seven pages on each of the more than 50 vendors that are profiled, this detail-packed directory gave me an overview of the outsourcing possibilities that would have taken me months to identify and evaluate from scratch.

Since I had no intention of hosting my own mail server with redundant gigabit connections, my second step was to choose an e-mail broadcast service from the list. I picked Action Message, based in San Jose, Calif. , for its combination of advanced features and economical pricing. The capabilities that appealed to me the most were:

1. VARIABLE-FORMAT CAMPAIGNS. Any e-mail broadcast (called a "campaign") can be sent out with different versions containing HTML, text, or WebTV, although you can send any message using only one or two of these formats.

2. ADVANCED PERSONALIZATION. Almost any e-mail broadcast service can insert the text of a database field into the body of an e-mail message (for example, "Dear FIRSTNAME"). But Action Message allows variables in the body to be replaced by sentences, paragraphs, or whole articles, based on the value of any field. This permits strikingly personalized newsletters to be sent to different subscribers.

3. TARGETING FILTERS. Any subset of a master list can be selected using complex SQL queries that evaluate any aspect of a list. An unlimited number of filters can be saved and used repeatedly.

4. TRIGGER MARKETING. The content of an e-mail newsletter can be saved and sent to various individuals on a list whenever certain events occur. For example, subscribers could automatically receive a series of training newsletters one week apart, or messages could be sent out 90, 60, and 30 days prior to an expiration date that's approaching.

James Briggs, president of Action Message, says, "Over 200 clients rely on us to send out their business newsletters." The site's promotional PDF brochure lists such customers as eBay, Wells Fargo, and Fujitsu.

The service includes tools that host basic but customizable subscribe and unsubscribe pages on the Internet. If your newsletter requires more complex segmentation, however, such as collecting demographics from new subscribers, you'll want to create your own Web interface to handle the questions and any data validation requirements, as I did with BriansBuzz.com.

My Windows e-zine recently faced a sudden spike, with more than 4,100 new subscribers signing up on April 21 alone (due to an article that appeared in InfoWorld). Action Message's servers took it in stride, making me very glad I wasn't responsible for maintaining the back end as well as the writing and editing of the content. For more information: http://www.actionmessage.com http://bri.li/4e89

For details on the buyer's guide to broadcast e-mail services, see: http://www.sherpastore.com http://bri.li/71b1

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1. Your voice mail system can be hacked, costing thousands: http://www.sunspot.net http://bri.li/451

2. Why Google'sPageRank isn't best for single-site searches: http://www.kuro5hin.org http://bri.li/839

3. Four programs monitor Web pages and notify you of changes: http://www.searchenginewatch.com http://bri.li/c21

4. Your employees are likely to give away their passwords: http://www.theregister.co.uk http://bri.li/1009

5. CNN obituary pages for Cheney, the Pope, others unveiled: http://www.thesmokinggun.com http://bri.li/13f1

6. Looksmart gives away a distributed tool for Web indexing: http://www.wired.com http://bri.li/17d9

7. Bitstream releases 10 free, useful open-source fonts: http://www.gnome.org http://bri.li/1bc1

8. How to fix your site navigation so visitors can use it: http://www.adaptivepath.com http://bri.li/1fa9

9. Tip: Use PHP to automatically resize your product images: http://www.sitepoint.com http://bri.li/2391

10. The 300 best lines from first 14 years of The Simpsons: http://www.observer.co.uk http://bri.li/2779

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If you're like most of us, you've got a lot of sugary-sweet leftovers from Easter. I'm talkin' Marshmallow Peeps.

Now Rhino.com put its Peeps to good use in an Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. A series of hilarious photographs documents the historic Ed Sullivan Show with Elvis Peepsley, the dawn of the concept album with "Sgt. Peeper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and the rise of disco in Saturday Night Peeper. See: http://www.rhino.com http://bri.li/c3b9

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Due to a technical error, the check boxes on the InfoWorld.com site that normally allow you to unsubscribe from my E-Business Secrets and Window Manager newsletters have disappeared from the Web page where they are normally hosted. This makes it impossible to unsubscribe in the usual way.

The solution is to use the following link:


Log in using the e-mail address where you receive a publication, then click the Submit button. The resulting page will permit you to unsubscribe from E-Business Secrets, Window Manager, and other InfoWorld newsletters.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian Livingston is publisher of http://www.BriansBuzz.com. Research director is Vickie Stevens. Brian has published 10 books, including:

Windows Me Secrets: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/0764534939

Windows 2000 Secrets: http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/0764534130

You'll receive a gift certificate good for a book, CD, or DVD of your choice if you're the first to send Brian a Top Story or Wacky Web Week he prints. Send tips to mailto:Brian@BriansBuzz.com with "tip" in the subject line.

Brian Livingston is publisher of BriansBuzz.com. Send tips to him at brian@briansbuzz.com.

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