Non-SEO Content Marketing: Email

Newsflash: a blog is not a content strategy.

Brands in today and beyond are increasingly moving away from blogs to content on other parts of their website that will better drive conversions and traffic. In a phenomenal read over on Hubspot, the author talks about how marketers these days are increasingly buying into the age of context and realizing that content needs to be outside of just one section of the website (aka the blog) to drive longtail traffic and convert users. While B2B blogs are getting better at producing whitepapers, case studies, and more in-depth reports by mining their own data for inspiration, ideas, and support for these ideas, marketers such as myself (who started in SEO) are still stuck on simply putting content on the website alone to drive initial visitors. Once that’s accomplished, though, what do we do next? And, shouldn’t we look at other channels as potentially driving new traffic as well?

In this post, we’ll examine types of content to produce to not only drive new traffic, but also to generate awareness of your brand and to keep customers coming back to visit and buy again and again and again.

Email as Content

Email is the channel that interests me most these days. It’s a powerful channel because you’re putting content directly into the inboxes of people who have said that they want it (unless you bought an email list, in which case you’re going to face high unsubscribe rates and spam reports). While email is a powerful medium, a recent study by Mailchimp shows that open rates for email marketing messages have decreased from over 13% (except around big holidays when the noise-to-signal ratio is very high) to 12-12.5% on weekdays and as low as about 9.5% on weekends:


As with any channel of marketing, you have vanity metrics and actionable metrics. Email open rates are the former – they tell you nothing about whether or not people are actually buying from you. At best, they are an indicator that you’ve written a headline that gets people to click, but you have to go beyond this metric to see if people are actually buying anything from you.

The goal of email marketing, of course, is to get people to come back to your site. Opens matter a ton, though, because people will never click through to your site without opening it. With the new tabbed inbox in Gmail (and mobile, where half of opens occur), the goal is to make your emails so interesting to your user base that they feel compelled to open them.

Here are a few ideas for content to produce to make this happen:


One of the best ways to provide value to your users, and the flesh to many drip-marketing campaigns, is content curation. If you’re a large platform site like Pinterest, Houzz, or Zillow Digs, you can send your own content to people by curating it into interesting workflows and collections of good imagery or useful tips. For example, a Houzz email:


Grovo is also doing a phenomenal job of this with their lifecycle emails and subsequent dedicated landing pages of learning tracks (full disclosure: I’m an advisor):


And Aaron Orendorff is doing it to great effect using this content marketing process to build not only their own assets but also assets using the wisdom of crowds and experts.

Special content

Another type of content that can lead to people opening your emails even within the Promotions tab is special content that you deliver straight to their inbox from you personally. I rarely open an Orbitz email, because they send me the same thing every day, but I always open emails from Andrew Chen and Patrick McKenzie:


From Patrick:


You see, Patrick and Andrew send emails that they know will add value to their readers. They’re not just an RSS feed of content, but rather it’s curated special content that they’ve produced because they know who their audience is. They both target marketers. I’m a marketer. Therefore, I open their content, digest it all, and often share it with others.

Opt-In Information

Another way to guarantee that your emails will be opened is to ask permission to email people with updates to information they’re seeking. This works the following:

  • Have a product that people need to visit multiple times before they make a decision;
  • If their selection is not yet available, let them ask to be notified when it is;
  • Email them only when there are updates.

This can work especially well for sites like apartment rentals or outdoor clothing.

On BackCountry, for example, if I want the Stoic Stash Shell jacket but I’m not an extra large (I’m a medium usually), I should have the option to select my size from the dropdown or selection menu and input my email address to find out when my size is available. BackCountry doesn’t have this currently (sad face):


A product like HotPads (where I will be doing marketing starting mid-October) should give you options to be alerted via email when new options become available. Right now you can be alerted hourly, daily, monthly, or never. I’d add an option called “When it happens” to be alerted straight away. Time is money in renting an apartment in a competitive market:


Special Offers

A final great piece of content to email to your subscribers is free stuff. Everyone loves free stuff, and this is a way to build brand advocates and prove to them the value of what you do. Eventually, if you’re emailing your own stuff to them for free, they’ll probably move towards purchasing something you offer.

Distilled (my current company) does a phenomenal job of this. Distilled runs conferences, and every month the marketing team sends a free video to everyone on the email list. It gets Distilled exposure, helps to sell conference tickets, and provides a ton of value to the community.




This is the first in a series of blog posts about non-SEO content marketing. Stay tuned for Social Media and PR to come.

2 thoughts on “Non-SEO Content Marketing: Email

  1. Hi John, I am really hot on the subject of Non-SEO marketing at the moment and I absolutely love this post.
    I recently wrote an article on our blog at Jigsoar – How to Drive Website Traffic Without Google – I think you will find it both interesting and relevant to your series.

    I certainly think that content curation is a fantastic way to use email marketing. If you do manage to get through to the target at least you wont be solely plugging you’re own business and can show that you are providing a level of value no matter the origin of the material.

    Cheers John,
    I can’t wait to read your text piece on the series.

  2. Not super into email marketing but I really like the idea for this post and will be looking forward to your followups on other topics related to content marketing outside of the usual areas.

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