The Fifth Commandment of Ezines: Obey the 40% rule

Last month, we talked about the importance of focusing your ezine’s content on a well-defined subject (or set of subjects).  But how much self-promotion can you do?  Quite a bit, actually – but,  yes, there is a limit.  Now we’re going to talk about what’s called the “40% Rule.”

Commandment #5: Thou shalt not overwhelm thy reader with promotional content; yea, prosperous be the man or woman who observeth the 40% rule.

Earlier this year, I received another monthly issue of a popular copywriting ezine.  I eagerly opened it, and before long, my “spider sense” started tingling.  Something was not quite right.  And I had to figure out what.

Just to satisfy my curiosity, I copied the text into a word processor and did a word count.  But it wasn’t just a total word count – it was a comparison of “useful” content to “promotional” content.

And when I was done counting, I reluctantly unsubscribed.

Why?  Over the course of several monthly issues, the ezine had pumped up the promotional content and decreased its more useful content.  Just to be sure I wasn’t imagining things, I compared the last issue’s promotional/useful ratio with an issue from a year before.  The difference was startling.

My “spider sense” had been right – he’d just broken the 40% Rule.

Any permission marketing vehicle, by its very nature, promises to deliver something of value to its recipients.  It’s all about reciprocity – you give me permission to email you, I send you something you can use.

But when an ezine becomes mostly promotional – “Buy my ebook! Register for my seminar!” –  it violates subscribers’ trust.  Granted, it’s not as bad as selling or giving away subscriber email addresses.  But it’s still a violation of an implied agreement.

With that in mind, here’s the 40% Rule:

Purely promotional content in your ezine should never exceed 40% of your total content in any given issue.  And if you can keep it closer to 20-30%, so much the better.

So what constitutes “promotional content,” you ask?

  • “Buy my _____” or “register for my _____” or “hire me” messages
  • Testimonials from satisfied customers or case studies/white papers on work you’ve done
  • Promotional offers (limited time offers, discounts to subscribers for particular products or services, etc.)
  • Announcements of new products or services
  • Affiliate promotions (i.e., promoting others’ products or services in a way that scores you a sales commission)

Remember, you’re in their inbox by invitation because they’re expecting something of value.  Be a good guest.  Deliver what your readers signed up for with a minimum of “salesy” content.

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