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46 Comments

This is what $200 of Newsletter ads gets you

TLDR

We tried newsletter ad networks with Paved. With a small test budget of $200, we got low number of clicks and no conversions. Maybe an issue with our targeting or content - but with low transparency on where the ads run, we will never know.

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Lately we’ve been looking to run a few different marketing channel tests to see if we can get a good distribution channel going. Earlier in the week we decided to throw a little bit of spend at a newsletter ads network to see what would happen.

The Goal

With $200, try to get at least 2-3 paid conversions in 2 weeks.

The Campaign

We chose Paved because it provided us with $150 in free newsletter ads. “A good deal” I thought. The only catch is “To earn the credit, your advertising campaigns must reach $150 in spend within 15 days.” (note: this spend is only for paved ad network and not for direct sponsorship of newsletters).

The sponsorship content would be pretty basic:

  • The main content needs to explain what we do, i.e. Mixo lets you validate your startup ideas easily. The Title and description need to state this.
  • Include a striking image that contains some apps they know to catch the eye and provide social proof.

Our plan was to spend $150 to $200 and cap the daily spend at $30. Our maths told us this might get us 5 to 6 days of running the ad. We also wanted to focus mainly on startup topics and newsletters as we felt early stage entrepreneurs who validate business ideas would be subscribers to these.

The Results:

Total spend: $207.01

Impressions: 411,453

Clicks: 174 (CTR 0.04%)

Paid Conversions: 0

Disappointingly, the Paved algorithm decided to ignore the $30/daily budget for the first day and burnt through $115 in 12 hours. I say disappointingly in hindsight, because I hoped this would drive a heap of sales but alas it just gave us a pretty spike on the impressions graph.

We looked through our conversion funnels and found that most of the users referred by the newsletter campaigns bounced at the landing page. A couple made their way into our app but did not get past the onboarding.

The Learnings

  • We missed our goal and we came away with little positive signs to stick to with this channel.
  • Paved ad network is not for us. The main issue I have with it is lack of visibility. Frustratingly, we don’t get much transparency over where our ads are showing up and which ones are working etc. The only thing you really get is some basic graphs. I would want more clarity to help me make better decisions with where the ads are getting placed and which newsletter placements are ones to invest more heavily in.
  • It is possible our targeting setup did not hit our target market (i.e maybe we should have narrowed our focus into a specific sector). Even after the campaign has run though, it is difficult to know what changes to make based on the analytics Paved provide back to us. So instead of going again we have just paused it and parked this for now.
  • We concluded that the ad networks in newsletters are probably better for larger companies and brands. It reminds me a lot of display ads with Google - lots and lots of impressions with little immediate click through and conversions.

We wanted to share this not to dis Newsletter Ad networks or assume we ran a perfect campaign that failed, but to provide some insight and learnings from our perspective. Hopefully these will help someone else in the growth phase.

  1. 7

    My thoughts on any advertising campaign is, it's always a numbers game. You have to have a massive amount of "eyes" seeing your advertising - since each of us is bombarded by advertising almost every second of every day.

    I would say (without doing any research) that a sub 1% CTA would be expected - unless you could get to an extremely focused audience that sees your advertising message.

    Even after click-thru, each successive action has drop off (and unless you're a recognized "brand" with built in market acceptance, that drop off could be very dramatic at each "action" step.

    A really simple flow could be the following:

    1. See your message = 100,000 people
    2. Click-thru = 0.5% (500)
    3. Takes next action (say start trial or evaluation) = 5% (25)
    4. Purchases = 10% ( about 3)

    So that's three people out of 100K (really simple example). The key is getting better at eliminating drop off on your action steps after they click through off your advertising campaign. Or re-capturing them at a later point (via email or some other type of direct contact).

    Ultimately, you still had 174 people interested enough in what you said to "take an action" - there might be some who would buy in the future.

    Be careful creating advertising campaigns with expectation to buy from that initial action - it's best to have an intermediary goal (get their email address, start a trial, watch a video, download an ebook, get a quote, etc.) -- create campaigns with a single goal rather than multiple goals.

    1. 3

      Ultimately, you spent approximately $200 to get 174 "people" to your offer/landing page/site ... so that cost $1.15 each.

      What would the same $1.15 buy you in Google Ads or Facebook Ads? Of the 174, did you get email addresses? What "action" were you asking them to take after they landed on your page? How many took that action? How many actions do you believe it would take for someone to purchase your offer?

      I'm not a fan of the "marketing speak" of "customer journey" - but it is a fact, the majority of people will never buy whatever you're offering - it's your job to put your arm around their shoulder (virtually) and guide them through the "journey" to becoming your customer.

      1. 2

        This is a really good point. I think our disappointment in the result was driven by a CTR of 0.04%. Knowing a typical Google Ads test drives CTR closer to ~0.3% is probably weighing into that sentiment.

        That said, 174 visits hitting a landing page is still data that tells us something.

        To add some further context, we have analysed the 174 visits and found:

        • Of the 174 visits, 2 entered the editor and both completed onboarding. Neither published their first site. Our typical conversion from landing page to entering the editor is ~14%
        • Almost all of the 172 remaining visits to the landing page had very low engagement / exited in a couple of seconds.

        Thanks again for the feedback and advice

        Adam (Mixo co-founder)

        1. 2

          My non-technical term for "checking you out, but not really doing anything" is ... Rock Skipper. They're like the 13-year old kid standing at the edge of the lake skipping rocks - no intention to really do anything except that.

          I think you're 14% update is pretty good - we have found about half of all people who create one of our "Calendar Snacks", never actually test it by sending an invite (even to themselves). About 20 to 25% test it out and do at least one real "run".

          So 50 are rock skippers, 50 do something, about 1 in 4 do a real campaign test.

          All of these are just tests - you spent $200 for test - or you spend 10 hours creating and posting something - we are all just out there fishing instead of rock skipping. Congrats on a failed test, it eliminates something.

          Cheers - Arnie McKinnis (co-founder Calendar Snack)

          1. 2

            term for "checking you out, but not really doing anything" is ... Rock Skipper

            Love it. Perfect way to describe that user.

        2. 1

          Hey Giles (and everyone else for that matter)
          Emails are typically opened on mobile devices.
          Trying to get people to sign up, build and publish their landing page on their mobile is IMO very ambitious...

          Do you have comparable metrics with google ads? search? social?

  2. 3

    I know this is essentially you spending even more money, but have you thought about reaching out to specific newsletters to buy ads with them directly and compare results?

    1. 1

      Yep. This is the next port of call. I'll share the results as they come in.

  3. 3

    Still not a total loss if you can track those clicks and retarget haha

    1. 3

      Ha nice. That's true. We could go full "crazy ex-girlfriend" on them.

      Adam (Mixo co-founder)

      1. 1

        average 8 touchpoints to convert. Never waste a visit. "Guy don't walk on the lot if he ain't interested". Average 5 followups to close a deal. Lets get it!

  4. 2

    Really liked the in-depth analysis and visited your SaaS just after reading. It’s a great tool for startups, I always test water firsts. Trying to mention the sponsors I want first and then reach out to them if they did well. Going to mention Mixo tomorrow in the newsletter!

    1. 1

      Great to hear you loved Mixo. Thanks for the kind words and mentioning it in the newsletter.

  5. 2

    I am using Paved as well and can somewhat confirm that it does not offer the transparency that we'd like to see, but I'd also like to emphasize that I think it works for a lot of people, but not for everyone.

    I ran ads on multiple newsletters (direct sponsoring in specific newsletters) and the algorithmic ads (Paved algo's placing my ads in various newsletter (that I have no control over) based on the target group (that I defined before hand)) and I had some pretty decent success.

    Did I get clicks? Yes
    Did I get clicks for acceptable CPC? (around $2) Yes
    Did I not have to spend a lot of time? Yes
    Was it cheap? No

    I certainly got lots of impressions and a decent amount of clicks, but because I do not get people low enough in the funnel (=people with buying intent right now) I think I am only getting casual visitors, people that I reach very early in the funnel (=building awareness that my product exists) and thus don't convert to paid that easily.

    I'll need to collect more data on this (weeks/months) to be sure though.

  6. 1

    Interesting! Thank you for the insight :) You mentioned in the article,

    "Maybe an issue with our targeting or content - but with low transparency on where the ads run, we will never know." and "Disappointingly, the Paved algorithm decided to ignore the $30/daily budget for the first day and burnt through $115 in 12 hours."

    What are your thoughts on a self-serve platform like ours, Swapstack, where you can choose every individual publisher to work with directly with flat-fee sponsorships, or via a conversion based route -- do you think the transparency aspect and flat-fee/conversion based routes are likely to resonate better than programmatic-style sponsorships for folks new to the newsletter space?

    1. 2

      Sounds interesting. I’ll check it out.

      1. 1

        Thank you! Would be keen to hear feedback / how we can improve this especially for those new to the newsletter space, let me know if you have any! :)

  7. 1

    the struggle is real times. an informative read, nice share!

  8. 1

    With advertising, while clicks and conversions are great, the world is overwhelmed with ads and attention. One way to look at ads is brand awareness of your company name, what it's about, etc.

    Most purchases (especially for B2B or SaaS) require multiple touchpoints before buying and buyers do their own research waaay more than ever.

    Quite frankly, some of those folks who saw the ad or even clicked, could become paying customers that otherwise wouldn't have without the attention of that. I think there is two ways to report, the direct attribution, and going into it knowing the impression and awareness you are generating later down the road can compound. Obviously, you don't want to blow your budget so maybe ads aren't right quite yet for your brand.

    Just some thoughts from someone in marketing (: but thanks for sharing your experience!

  9. 1

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  10. 1

    Thanks for sharing this one!

  11. 1

    Tough break on the algorithm, did you contact them about it?

    1. 1

      Yep, we've reached out to the Paved team via email and chat. I'm planning to provide some tips and insights from them here when we get them.

  12. 1

    Haven't had much luck with newsletter ads either! glad it wasn't just me.

  13. 1

    Trevor Longino has a great article on funnel management . You will find it useful in your next campaign - https://crowdtamers.com/gtm-for-technical-founders/

  14. 1

    Damn, this is a shame. Try targeted sponsorships? That might perform better.

  15. 1

    Wonderful Share, I never thought of this vertical when it comes to Marketing

  16. 1

    That's a good amount of impressions for the price, but it is fruitless if it isn't the "right impressions". Have to be hyper niche to make a newsletter work... even then, unless there's somebody they trust promoting you... its usually a dead end. Instagram influencers in your market might be money better spent.

    Best to you in the future,

    -Chuck

    1. 1

      Instagram influencers is not a channel I've dabbled in yet. Suggestions on the best place to start or pitfalls to avoid?

  17. 1

    Interesting perspective, thanks for sharing!

    Did you also experiment with sponsoring specific newsletters in your industry to reach a more targeted audience?

    Might result in a higher CPC but likely more conversions if the newsletter owner knows what he/she is doing.

    1. 1

      It’s definitely on the cards. We’re planning to test and report back how it goes.

      1. 1

        That's awesome!

        Question: I have a course teaching creators how to secure sponsorships for their podcasts, newsletters, etc.

        Do you mind if I DM you and ask you some questions about how you'd evaluate creators to work with?

        That'd be super insightful for the people who enrolled in my course.

        No hard feelings if you got more important work to do lol

        1. 1

          For sure. Always happy to help out.

          1. 1

            Thanks! Just sent you an email, subject line is "Indiehacker Follow-up"

  18. 1

    Was a good experiment at least. Have you tried FB ads yet too?

    1. 1

      Thanks. Hopefully its useful to others to at least get some insight into what to expect.

      Yep, planning to test FB ad channels and report back with findings (what worked / what didn’t).

  19. 1

    When people don't click on your ads, it has two meanings

    1. they may aren't your personal, so in this way, you should first recognize your persona again and find where they are mostly.
    2. your banner or content doesn't fit your persona, your content value should be better.
    1. 1

      It is hard to distinguish whether its either of those two meanings because there is limited visibility in where the ad is placed.

      Probably the biggest bit of feedback I have for Paved out of this experience is that the visibility of where the banner ads show up is very limited/non-existent. For all we know, the ad may have been placed in newsletters of "cute chubby donkeys" regardless of the initial targeting we set.

      Whilst this doesn't mean our content doesn't fit our persona, it could mean the ad showed up in the wrong places (but we'll never know).

  20. 1

    Thanks for sharing!

    I checked Mixo and the page looks fine, but I couldn't find any pricing section and, even though I'm in the target audience, made me leave the page. I personally would never start using a service and spend time building something it unless I know how much it will cost me when I want to go live.

    1. 4

      Also, another small tip: the Mixo logo (X) looks like an error (especially with the red background), so it creates some negative feelings. I recommend choosing something with a more positive vibe.

    2. 1

      Thanks for the heads up. Interestingly, did you feel like it was a product you had to pay to use?

      In case it helps, we've thrown together something for now: https://app.mixo.io/pricing

      Adam (Mixo co-founder)

  21. 1

    Hey Giles, thanks for sharing your lessons. Don't you think that picking a newsletter by you personally is a better move? To have control over the budget is allocated?

    1. 2

      Hey Jacob,

      Definitley agree with this approach. To be fair, Paved offers a newsletter sponsorship approach also which allows us to do exactly that. As mentioned above, they are providing $150 off but that only applies to their ad network.

      After looking around the internet to see what others were thinking, we decided to test it ourselves and become the guinea pigs. We wanted to share our insights in case it helps others with their approach.

      Adam (Mixo co-founder)

      1. 1

        It makes sense. Thanks! :)

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