This post is based on episode 68 of the ProBlogger podcast.
Note: This article contains affiliate links, which means that if you purchase anything via my link I may earn a small commission at no cost to you. (And in some cases, ProBlogger has negotiated special deals for our readers with these recommended suppliers).
If you’ve read more than a handful of ProBlogger posts then you’ll know how strongly I feel about having an email list for your blog. As far as I’m concerned, it’s of the best ways (if not the best way) to connect with your readers. That’s why it’s part of our “Today not Someday” series, along with information on how to create products and sell them on your blog.
So yes, having an email list is important. But as you can imagine, having an empty list (or one that has only your family’s email addresses) isn’t going to help you much. So today I want to talk about how to increase your email list subscriptions.
How I got started
When I started Digital Photography School back in 2007, RSS was being hailed as the Next Big Thing. Every blogger was adding the big orange icon to their site so people could subscribe to their feed.
At least that’s what they were hoping would happen.
Unfortunately, RSS feeds weren’t the easiest things to subscribe to or keep up to date with. And for people like my father, an aspiring photographer who wanted to subscribe to my blog, that big orange icon may as well have been in Japanese.
I tried to help him. I went over to his house, set up an RSS feed reader for him and said, “Just run this piece of software and you’ll be able to read the latest posts from the blog.”
But of course, he never did. He really only used the web for email. So I set up an email list, and started sending him newsletters with the links to our latest posts.
And then I thought, I wonder if anyone else would rather get a newsletter with all the links than have to deal with RSS, and added it to the blog as another way to subscribe.
As it turned out, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my blog. (Thanks, Dad!)
Today we have a few thousand RSS subscribers (who probably subscribed back when it was all the rage), and around 900,000 email subscribers.
You do the math.
So why email? Sure, RSS may not have taken off like it was supposed to. But a lot has changed since then, and we have so many other platforms now – Facebook, Twitter, and so on.
Well, the most obvious answer is that pretty much everyone with an internet connection knows how to use email. And most people check their email every day.
Another reason is you can pretty much guarantee it will get through (well, at least until the spam filters get involved). When you create a Facebook post you’re pretty much at the mercy of whatever algorithm they’re using that day. This means you can keep in regular contact with your readers, which helps you build a trusting relationship with them.
And unlike Facebook and Twitter posts that can disappear in a matter of minutes (of not seconds), emails stick around until the reader makes a conscious decision to delete them. Which may explain why around 90–95% of our eBook and course sales come from our emails, even though we post the same offers on our blog and social media channels.
(Actually, there’s another reason email might work so well for sales. Unlike our blog, our emails don’t have any AdSense advertising or other potential distractions.)
Don’t have an email list for your blog yet? Then you really should join up with an email service provider and create one. Some of them even offer free plans for those who are just starting out. (Don’t even think about sending your newsletter from your Gmail account. It will only end in tears.)
Here are three email service providers we recommend:
- Convertkit, which is free for up to 1,000 subscribers
- Mailchimp, which is free for up to 2,000 contacts
- AWeber, which we use for both ProBlogger and Digital Photography School
You may also want to check out our post that compares email service providers for bloggers.
Things to keep in mind
Once you’ve created your email list and are ready to send out your newsletter, you need to keep a few things in mind.
- Keep your list warm. If you don’t keep sending regular emails to your subscribers, they may forget they actually subscribed in the first place.
- Add value wherever you can. Don’t use your list just to sell stuff to subscribers. Make sure you include something useful they don’t have to pay for.
- An empty email list isn’t much use. For your newsletter to be of any use you need subscribers who’ll read it.
Fortunately for you, that’s what the rest of this post is all about.
Unlike that RSS icon, which didn’t offer much flexibility at all, there are plenty of ways you can ask people to subscribe to your email list. You get to choose the words you use, the visuals that go around them, where they sit on your site, and even how your newsletter is delivered.
Unfortunately, all that choice can make it all seem a little overwhelming. So here are six things you should focus on.
1. What’s the benefit?
When you’re trying to get people to subscribe to your list, don’t just say, “Subscribe to get our weekly newsletter”. Tell them what they’ll get out of it (besides your punctuality).
On Digital Photography School we’ve tried things like, “You’ll take better photos”, “You’ll get creative control of your camera”, “You’ll develop confidence as a photographer”. Could you say something similar that’s related to your niche?
And don’t just choose one. Test out different calls to action you came up with to see which one works best.
2. Offer an incentive
While you may think receiving your newsletter is a good enough reason for people to subscribe, it doesn’t hurt to offer something else. Yes, you may find that some people only subscribe to get your freebie. But with the right incentive this can dramatically increase your email list subscriptions.
3. Try different colors and visuals
One of the tests I did in the early days of my blog was trying different pictures around my calls to action. I had a designer put together some really beautiful pop-up kind of calls to action, and we set up the blog so each one would appear in rotation.
I also designed one of my own.
Now I’m no designer, and when I saw my pop-up next to the designers mine looked nowhere near as smooth as theirs. But it was a bit cleaner and simpler (not to mention uglier).
And when we got the test results, the conversion rate of mine was 30% higher than all the others.
So try out a few different options. Try different buttons, calls to action, colors, photos, bullet points, and other ways your calls to action look. It can make a big difference.
4. Try collecting emails in different ways
When I first added the email subscription option to Digital Photography School, it was just a text field that said something like, “Enter your email address to subscribe to our newsletter”. And after putting it there I was getting 30 to 40 subscribers every day.
About a year later I added a pop-up that appeared on my site 30 seconds after people arrived and asked them to subscribe. I was worried that it would seem too aggressive, and would affect my bounce rate. But what actually happened is my new subscriber count jumped to 300–350 subscribers per day. (And my bounce rate didn’t change one bit.)
There are plenty of other tools you can user to collect email addresses. And they’re pretty easy to set up. Mailchimp and Aweber have their own built-in tool, but other tools are available. Right now we’re using SumoMe, which also includes other email list-building tools. We also use OptinMonster, a conversion optimization toolkit.
5. Don’t forget your blog posts…
One of the most effective ways I’ve found to grow my list is by asking readers to become subscribers in the content I produce.
This is particularly effective when you’re doing a series of blog posts that run each day for a week, or even once a month for six months or so.
For example, in Digital Photography School we run a week-long series of posts once a month. And in every post we had a simple line at the start saying it was part of a series and that you could subscribe to get the rest. It was the first time we’d used that type of approach, and our subscriber numbers that week were around 50% higher than normal.
So try and build some anticipation with a series of blog posts and see how it works.
6. … or your archives
Another good place to put calls to action is in any hot posts you have in your archives.
You probably have at least one post that gets a lot of traffic from Google. And because people are coming straight from Google (and may never come back), you can afford to be a little more aggressive with these posts. Put a call to action to subscribe at the top of the post. You may want to even include a graphic.
You can do the same for other key pages on your site – your about page, your contact page, or any page that’s getting a lot of traffic.
Over to you
I hope I’ve got you thinking about how you can increase your email list subscriptions. Let us know what you’re going to do in the comments.
Photo by Tijs van Leur on Unsplash