Both (a.k.a. e-zines or e-mail newsletters) are ideal marketing tools for small-business owners. They give you two inexpensive ways to communicate with your customers, give them useful advice, and reveal your latest products and services.
But though they have the same purpose, they are very different.
First, let’s define our terms.
A blog is a website that you can create yourself using Web-based software. Blogs tend to have a personal flavour and speak in the distinct voice of the blogger. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, Web pages, and other media related to its topic. Unlike a traditional, static website, the content or information posted on a blog is up-to-the-minute, frequently updated (although it doesn’t have to be), and displayed in reverse chronological order, the most recent posting first. Also, readers can contribute their comments, turning the blog into an online conversation.
An e-letter is basically an electronic newsletter that you send out regularly via e-mail to a list of people who have given you permission to do so. The content of an e-letter is more evergreen. It can be anything from news about you and your business to tips that demonstrate your expertise. When you use an e-mail marketing service or software, it’s also very easy to design and send.
The main difference between the two is this: You "push" an e-letter to your list so you control the contact, while a blog is a "pull." Readers have to go there on their own, so you have a lot less (or no) control over the contact. The quality of the readers is different too. E-letter readers went out of their way to sign up, so you can consider them a lead for your marketing messages. They’ve essentially raised their hands and asked you to keep in touch. Blog readers, on the other hand, are information hounds, so they may not be as responsive.
A blog is easier to set up - but not by much. It literally takes 10 minutes to create, and you don’t need any technical expertise. However, you have less freedom with the layout due to the limitations of most blog publishing software (especially the most popular and free ones, like blogger.com and typepad.com). With an e-letter, on the other hand, it takes a bit more time to create the prototype and template, whether in text or html. But once that’s done, you just type the text for each issue into that template and send it out.
It takes more time to write an e-letter. Most small-business owners take time to write and edit their e-letters, as they should. Because you’re pushing your e-letter to people, asking them to read what you’ve written, it has to be well-thought-out, concise, and to the point. On the other hand, since a blog tends to be made up of snippets of ideas posted frequently (sometimes several times a day), bloggers don’t labour over their text.
Plus, a blog is less formal, because it’s like a conversation. That means "you can speak in your everyday voice, which is (hopefully) friendly and approachable." So says Colleen Wainwright, a.k.a. The Communicatrix, a graphic designer who blogs. "On a blog, the expectations are much lower for both grammar and formality. Also, you can combine personal and professional elements in your blog; how much of each depends on what you’re comfortable with and what your prospective clientele will be comfortable reading. You can write about anything (and many people do), but if you’re using it to promote your business, it will be most effective if you focus and use the blog to establish your credibility within that narrow niche."
My e-letter goes out weekly, and between the writing, editing, and layout, I spend approximately one hour on each issue. My blogging takes a half-hour on a Sunday morning. That’s when I draft and schedule my three posts for the week. Each one is usually no longer than a paragraph or two with a couple of links. At least one post is simply a link to an article I like, plus a little intro from me about why I think it’s relevant. If your e-letter goes out more frequently - like Early to Rise - the time you spend on it expands by leaps and bounds.
It takes more time to maintain a blog. For most people, creating fresh content several times a week, or even weekly, requires a certain mindset. It isn’t even that it takes so much time to create the material. (Blog posts are mostly very short pieces accompanied by a link.) What takes time is getting into the groove of blogging - and that involves much more than posting to your own blog. It includes visiting other people’s blogs, reading their posts, and commenting on them. It’s not difficult. It just takes time and practice to get into that mode. E-letters, on the other hand, don’t carry the same expectation of freshness, so there is a lot less pressure to produce. You send it out when you like - daily, twice-weekly, monthly, or even occasionally.
A blog attracts more Web traffic. Even if no one ever reads your blog, posting it regularly can be a tremendous boon to your search engine rankings because search engines love fresh content. Any website with new content will come up earlier in search engine rankings than a site that hasn’t been changed in months (or years). Meanwhile, the traffic an e-letter drives to your website consists of those who already know you, not new prospects and leads.
An e-letter makes more sales. Some people make money by displaying ads on their blogs - but if you want to sell products or services, an e-letter is more effective. Why? Because with an e-letter you "push" (send) your offer to your prospects, then watch while they click and, hopefully, buy. Because a blog is a "pull," there’s no way to measure or track sales. On a blog, you show how much you know. You shouldn’t expect to "get work" from your blog, but it will be good for driving traffic to your website. And once you get people to your website, they can sign up for your e-letter… which will allow you to sell to them directly.
Both inspire trust in the visitor. Inspiring trust depends more on the tone you take than the format. If you’ve spent time composing your e-letter, it will show, and that certainly inspires trust. A blog, with its rapid-fire and often impassioned comments, can convey a sense of impulsiveness, which rarely inspires trust. Trust is important on the Internet (a very anonymous medium), because unless people trust you, they’re not going to buy from you.
If you don’t already have a website to promote your business, a blog is a good first step in that direction. It provides a way for people to find you online without your spending a lot of money or time working with a Web designer or learning Web design software. In fact, some people use a blog as their one and only Web presence.
If you already have a website and are ready to branch out with an e-letter or a blog, which one should you start with? That depends on your goal. If your goal is to generate revenue from a known group of prospects, an e-letter is the right choice. If you are less focused on revenue-generation and are looking instead to position yourself as an expert and make it easier for new prospects to find you online, a blog is better.
If both goals make sense in your business plan, by all means do both. Blogs and e-letters work beautifully hand-in-hand.
Here’s how we do that at Marketing Mentor: I want to be able to reach out to my qualified prospects on a regular basis, to keep reminding them who I am and what I have to offer. I don’t want to wait for them to come back to my website or have time to read my blog. I want to be in their inboxes, rather than on their browsers.