Need some extra money? If you’ve got an email list, there are plenty of ways to monetize it. You can sell stuff directly in your email messages, of course. Or you can sell other peoples’ stuff – known as affiliate marketing. If you’ve got a big enough list, you might even qualify as an influencer. Then you could sell reviews or mentions of products and services in your email newsletters.
Or you could just skip all that and sell advertising space.
Truth be told, this is not an ideal way to make money. I’d rather you were selling your own products or services. But you’re probably a candidate for selling ads in emails if:
- You’ve got a big enough email list
- Your emails’ open and click-through rates are average or above average
- You’re offering good content
Let’s dig into those qualifications.
What’s a “big enough email list?”
According to E-newsletters.com, you’ll need at least 2,500 subscribers. I’d say that’s the bare minimum. Realistically, you should probably not expect to get much income from ads in your emails until you’ve got at least 10,000 subscribers.
Struggling to get there? Here are tried and tested email list building ideas you should use today.
Why 10,000? Two reasons:
- The hassle factor. Most advertisers won’t bother with a small email list. It’s not worth their time to organize an ad buy and tracking just to get a couple of sales. However, if you work through some of the newsletter ad networks, the hassle factor can be significantly reduced. More on that in a moment.
- CPM (Cost per thousand impressions). That’s the unit most email newsletter publishers and advertisers use to determine how much they’ll pay for an ad. Compare it to “effective CPM” which is the count of how many people actually open the email.
What you’ll earn per CPM can vary widely, but $15-$50 is realistic if you’re selling space ads in a newsletter. If you sell solo ads - aka “sponsored emails” - you may be able to get about $100-$250. So if you had an email list of 2,500 people, a space ad might net you $50. If your list was 10,000 people, you’d be looking at earning $200.
Please keep in mind that the $50-$200 figure is only a rough estimate. What you’ll earn will depend on what the advertiser pays. And if you’re working with an ad network, what you earn will be what the advertiser pays minus what the ad network charges for their cut.
Here’s how much the website Practical Ecommerce charges for ads in its email newsletter. The emails go out to 35,000 subscribers.
What’s average for open and click-through rates?
For the open and click-through rates part, here are some benchmark figures from our Email Marketing Benchmarks report.
If you’re meeting (or beating) these averages, you’re in good shape. And even if you’re not meeting these averages, you can still sell ads – you might just want to charge a little less.
What about the “good” content part?
Well, those same engagement metrics (the clickthrough rates and open rates and all the rest) are the best measurement we’ve got for whether your emails’ content is “good” or not. Of course, you could always ask your subscribers what they think. They might give you some ideas for email newsletter content, too.
Making the decision to sell ads – or not
Let’s say you meet all three requirements. Should you be selling ads in your newsletters? Eh… maybe.
Here are some guidelines for how to make that decision:
- Selling ads will undermine your credibility. If you’re publishing a newsletter as part of growing your authority, selling ads might muddy the waters a bit. Because you’ll be taking money from advertisers, some subscribers may be suspicious that those advertisers are shaping what you say or don’t say - whether that’s true or not.
- There are usually better ways to make money. You get a free pass on this if your business model is publishing. For everybody else, you should probably be selling your own products and services, not somebody else’s. Even bloggers might do better than selling ads. They could be creating online courses and other paid materials.
- The hassle factor. This goes way down if you work with the ad networks. But if you’re dealing with individual advertisers, keep track of how long it takes to manage each ad sale. If you end up spending 10 hours haggling over price, chasing down ad copy, and then chasing down your payment, the ad income may not be worth it.
Even if you do decide to sell ads, never overdo it. Refrain from putting more than two ads in any email message. Of course, you’ll see publishers who break this rule… but their emails often feel like advertising overload.
Just for an example, here’s an email from CNet. It’s got only one ad, and it’s a small one:
Email ad networks
If you do decide to sell ads, here are a few companies that can help you find advertisers, collect payments and manage all the other tasks involved with monetizing your newsletter.
This is arguably the big kahuna of newsletter advertising networks. It’s a programmatic advertising platform that offers retargeting and many other features. They keep to email: No website advertising or social media advertising here.
GetResponse is an ESP partner with LiveIntent. That means if you are accepted here as a publisher, your GetResponse account will be ready to serve ads immediately.
This is a large programmatic advertising network that is also a complete planning and tracking advertising service.
BuySellAds bought LaunchBit back in 2014. LaunchBit still exists as a separate site. They specialize in B2B advertising.
BuySellAds also owns Syndicate. Syndicate tends to work with larger publishers. They also help with monetizing podcasts.
NewsletterDirectory.co lets advertisers sponsor some very small email lists. In the example below, the website that publishes “Art Notes” doesn’t say how many subscribers it has, but they’ve only got 742 Twitter followers, 332 Instagram followers and 416 likes on Facebook.
This company manages native ads in email newsletters.
This is an ad network for almost any digital channel, including websites, apps, social media and email messages.
Ever seen those ads that recommend content at the end of blog posts? That’s kinda what RevenueStripe does (it’s sometimes called “native advertising”), but it puts them in an email newsletter. The content promotions rotate in a carousel. It looks like this:
Word to the wise: One ad network that you absolutely cannot use for email advertising is AdSense. It is against AdSense’s terms of service to put AdSense ads in newsletters. If they catch you at it, they could ban your account.
Selling ads in newsletters isn’t for every email marketer, especially if you're strictly following the widely accepted email marketing best practices. But if you’re struggling to monetize your list, or if you’re a blogger who hasn’t quite tipped into earning a living, selling a few ads could definitely help. Especially if you have the option of picking which advertisers you’ll accept.
What do you think?
Are you selling ads in your email messages? How’s it working out for you? Leave a comment and tell us what you think.