How To Build Your Email List Through Smart Blogging
I’ll cut to the chase.
Do you want to start building a mailing list but don’t know how to go about it?
Do you just want to get more subscribers?
If you have answered yes to either of those questions – this is the guide for you.
You’re about to learn:
- Why building a mailing list is important to you and your blog
- Which mailing list providers you can use to get started with right away
- How to stream line your blog and make your readers enjoy their experience so much that they subscribe to your list
- How to use the right colours to maximize your conversions
- The dreaded statistic, over 70% of your visitors won’t return and what you can do about it
- The tools you need to build your list the right way
- How to track mailing list sign ups the right way
- And lots more!
There are also plenty of visual examples along the way.
Why should you build a mailing list?
There has been a lot of talk about how list building is pointless.
I hear people saying that people don’t use email anymore and some even say social media is better.
That’s just wrong.
Here’s a great example of why:
Try comparing the traffic that you get when you email your latest blog post to your list against the amount of traffic you get from a social media update to a comparable number of followers.
I generally get over 1000% more referrals from my email list than I do from any of my social media profiles.
It makes sense though, right?
Think about how many updates you see on Facebook each day and compare that to the amount of emails you receive. This study shows just how low social media click through rates are.
Engagement is usually lower too.
I’m not trying to say that social media is a complete waste of time, because it’s not – far from it in fact.
But when it comes to referring traffic and hyper engaged visitors, a mailing list is just better.
Are you ready to get started?
If you haven’t started building your list yet then you will need a mailing list provider, if you’re already set then skip ahead.
MailChimp and MadMimi are both good tools that have decent free plans but neither allows affiliate marketing. You will also need to upgrade your plan if you want access to an auto responder which I think everyone should have.
MailChimp has a great paid plan that is packed with all the important features but I find that there is more of a learning curve involved here because there are so many features.
MadMimi have less in the way of features and I am not keen on their interface, but that’s more of a personal preference.
I currently use GetResponse because I find the interface much more straight forward. And the price works out a bit better for me. They are also affiliate friendly (I typically don’t send out many affiliate promotions but it’s nice to have the option).
Smart things you can do to build your list fast
#1 – Give your readers some clarity and improve your user experience
When your traffic comes to your blog, you need to ensure that they know what you want them to do.
You need to have one clear goal that you want visitors to complete – this needs to stand out above all else.
If you want to build your list then that goal has to be to get your readers to subscribe to your mailing list.
An exercise for you to try right now
Take a look at your blog right now and think about this objectively.
From a user perspective, is it clear which goal you’re trying to get people to complete?
If not, then it’s time to re-think your blogs layout.
It’s time to remove the clutter
If your blog is full of unnecessary distractions then you could potentially kill your conversion rates.
You need to look at your blog objectively and ask yourself – does that really need to be there?
One of the biggest offenders tends to be badges, back from a time when it was something you had to add to your blog to get your blog into a directory.
The reality is that these add no value and only serve as a distraction – unless of course you’re getting a significant amount of traffic from the directory, but in most situations that’s just not going to happen.
Ads are another big distraction but for some bloggers, these are integral to their monetization strategy.
In that situation you need to ask yourself if the income you’re getting from ads is really worthwhile.
If you’re using Google Adsense and getting mere cents for each visitor you send to them – this isn’t worthwhile but it might be if you’re getting a decent amount of cash then it might be.
This is something you’re going to have to think about and test.
The bottom line
Keep your site clean and concise – everything has to have a purpose.
#2 – Make your call to action text more compelling
Just changing the wording on your opt-in forms submit button can have quite a sizable impact on your conversion rates.
By changing from ‘get email updates’ to a more direct call to action; ‘download now’, Chris Spooner was able to achieve 3 times more email sign ups.
There have already been a lot of extensive posts written specifically about improving your calls to action. This post over on the Unbounce blog has a great collection of posts to help you.
Ultimately, all the best practice tips in the world can only get you so far because what works in one niche, won’t always work in another.
You need to be testing out different combinations and using more than the basic ‘sign up’ text.
WordPress plugins like OptinMonster have this type of functionality built in and right now I’m using the plugin to split test sidebar opt-ins, popovers and slide-in opt-in forms.
I’m currently testing different button colours; once I’m done I’ll be moving on to optimizing button text – I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
#3 – Choosing the right colours does make a difference
I mentioned testing colours and it’s important that I explain why.
Look at the overall colour scheme of your blog for a moment and take a look at your opt-in form.
Does it stand out or does it blend into the background?
If it blends into the background then you need to re-think the colours in your opt-in form.
Certain colours are more typically associated with a call to action; orange, yellow and red.
But if you are using some of these colours in your websites design then they can potentially cause your opt-in forms to stop drawing your visitor’s attention.
The ideal colours often those not found in your sites design but it’s important that the colours still fit with the design.
This can be done using a tool like ‘Color Scheme Designer’.
Here’s a great example
I recently ran a split test comparing a call to action colour that was featured within my logo and other elements of my site (orange), along with another colour that wasn’t (red).
Currently the opt-in form on the right is converting 6 times better than the form on the left.
In another split test I’m running with a slide-in style opt-in form, I’m getting conversion rates that are up to 3 times better using colours not within my design.
It’s still early days yet though, so I’ll continue testing but it is a good indicator that using colours not existing within your design can work very well.
#4 – Choose the right opt-in form locations on your blog
You need opt-in forms to capture your subscribers email addresses but there are a lot of different places you can add them.
Feature box – This sits below your navigation menu and is a very unobtrusive way to gain subscribers, it’s used by Derek Halpern who knows his stuff when it comes to list building. There aren’t many solutions for adding this kind of functionality, but the best I’ve found is a WordPress plugin called Feature Box that is specifically designed for this.
Example from Christiankonline.com
Notification bar – These can be used to display a notification bar along the header or footer of your blog. These will stick to the page as the user scrolls so have the potential to convert very well. Tools like Hellobar and ManyContacts can be used to add header bars and rely on a code snippet being added so they are easy to add to any website, no matter what content management system (CMS) you’re using.
Example from Goinswriter.com
Sidebar – This is the place where everyone expects to see your sign up form so it’s always worth having.
Example from LKRsocialmedia.com
Pop over – Some people do find popovers rather annoying but not as many as you might think. Data suggests that they can increase your conversion rate substantially without increasing your bounce rate.
Example from Entrepreneuronfire.com
After post – When someone has read your article, if they have enjoyed it, they are more likely to subscribe to your list. Using an after post opt-in form means you can take advantage of this.
Example from Kikolani.com
Slide-in – These usually appear in either the bottom left or right hand corner of your browser window and most are set on a time delay or scroll percentage to decide when they appear.
Example from iThemes.com
I currently have opt-in forms in the following locations: sidebar, after post, slide-in and popover.
The combination of opt-in forms is important
Maintaining a great user experience is extremely important.
And although it’s important to include opt-in forms in key locations, those locations need to work in harmony.
Using a combination of opt-in forms that just makes your visitors want to leave your blog isn’t going to help conversion rates.
I’ve seen some blogs using a combination of slide-ins, header & footer notification bars and popovers – then there’s a floating social share bar added into the mix too.
Those types of blogs can be extremely painful to read.
That’s why you need to consider other elements on your blog and pick a combination that isn’t too intrusive.
If you’re going to use a type of opt-in form that sticks in place as the user scrolls, you don’t want to use another one that does the same thing – that’s overkill.
And can potentially reduce your conversions.
#5 – Add opt-in forms to key pages to make it easy for your visitors
It’s not just about adding opt-in forms so they can be seen on your blog posts.
You can get some great conversions by having them on key pages on your site.
This could include the following pages:
- Home (I’ll talk about adding opt-in forms to this page in more detail later on)
- Start here
Chances are you will have other pages on your site, so it’s worth adding an opt-in form and monitor your conversions to see how well this is helping.
A great example of this is how Pat Flynn added an opt-in form within the content of his about page and increased subscribers by 446%.
#6 – Harness the power of social proof and get results
Social proof is powerful.
When people see that you and your blog are validated by a lot of other people or validated by authority figures within your niche – they assume that you’re a big deal.
Here are a few typical ways you can leverage social proof:
- Display a great testimonial from an authority figure in your niche
- Mention incredible results you have been able to achieve
- Show off how many other subscribers you have
- Let people know about an award you’ve won
- Display logos of important sites that have mentioned you
Any social proof element that is difficult for others within your niche to replicate is usually worth showing off.
Great examples of social proof for list building:
Below is an example of the opt-in form in the sidebar of Social Triggers where Derek shows off a testimonial from Chris Brogan .
What makes this so great is that you’ve got to be a big deal to get a testimonial off Chris Brogan.
Below we have another example from Social Triggers, this time a popover where Derek Halpern highlights some of the sites that have featured his blog (along with the testimonial from Chris Brogan). These are all incredible sites that are difficult to get on.
Below is another great example of effectively displaying a testimonial from an industry influencer (Yaro Starak) over on Ana Hoffman’s blog, Traffic Generation Cafe.
The opt-in form below is from the Buffer blog which highlights how a significant number of other people subscribe – great example of leveraging social proof.
Another example of using the number of people on your list to compel others to sign up, this appears in the sidebar on Content Marketing Institute.
Social Media Examiner has over 240,000 mailing list subscribers, that’s a number well worth showing off.
Other great examples of social proof (outside of list building)
There are a number of examples of social proof that I’ve seen that are very powerful, although they’re not specifically used for list building – they’re used to promote products/services.
Although they are used to promote products and services they could quite easily be used to build a mailing list.
Neil Patel makes great use of how he has helped big sites get incredible results – that’s a powerful combination that he currently uses to promote his Traffic U course.
This works well because Tech Crunch is a huge site and this is potentially near impossible to replicate.
Rebekah Radice takes advantage of the fact that she was featured in the Inman top 100 to promote her marketing services.
This works great because Inman don’t just feature anyone in their top 100 lists.
Warning – social proof works both ways
We’ve talked about positive uses of social proof but things can quite easily go the other way.
The examples I’ve given you work from a social proof standpoint because they’re all difficult to replicate.
And by being able to show you’ve got over 240,000 mailing list subscribers or Chris Brogan loves your blog – you are showing your readers that you are a big deal.
You’re showing that your list is worth subscribing to and you have authority.
You need to be careful of negative social proof.
For example, if you’ve just got 50 or so subscribers on your list – that can count against you.
The unfortunate reality is that first impressions really count and if you don’t have any positive social proof to display – don’t display any at all.
That way it can’t count against you.
#7 – Offer your subscribers a bribe – this works
One of the best ways to get people on your mailing list is to bribe them.
In a nice way of course, a way that helps them and delivers value.
Put together an exclusive piece of content for your subscribers that regular readers can’t access.
It all comes down to how valuable your visitors perceive your offer to be.
Various content types can work well:
- Downloadable PDF
- Exclusive Video
- Video course
- Email course
Opt-in ‘bribe’ examples:
You can find the example below on Jon Morrow’s blog (Boost Blog Traffic). I like how Jon positions his bribe as something that can help you achieve measurable results and most importantly; an achievable goal that a lot of people struggle with.
The perceived value of ‘complete guides’ can be extremely high because they are typically very detailed and full of actionable insights. The below example is from Peep Laja’s blog; ConversionXL.com.
People LOVE tool guides and they generally convert quite well, which is why a lot of offline (and online) magazines feature tool guides. This type of offer is even more compelling, especially when it comes from someone who is known as the ‘social media tools guy’. The example below is from Ian Cleary’s blog; Razor Social.
Highlighting a monetary value attached to your bribe can work incredibly well, but only if you can back up your claims. This example is from Neil Patel’s blog; Quicksprout.com.
I really like how Pat Flynn phrases his bribe, because you don’t know exactly what you’re getting but you know it’s exclusive – exclusivity and mystery can be a powerful combination.
John Paul Aguiar offers his subscribers a free email based course which jumps out at me because the perceived value of a course is much higher than a downloadable PDF – it’s easier to digest too.
When Copyblogger unveiled their free ‘My Copyblogger’ membership program they took things to an entirely new level.
This did mean some extra fields for users to enter when they register but the perceived value of this offer is incredibly high due to the volume and quality of content.
What’s really incredible here is that doing this allowed Copyblogger to grow their email list by 400%.
Another great example of offering users access to a membership area full of free content is what Danny Iny and the Firepole Marketing team have done.
I like how they have combined multiple content types and also thrown in a best selling book – incredible value.
#8 – Create a landing page for your bribe and get more subscribers
Landing pages work great.
The reason why is because they are just pages with a single goal.
The goal is getting subscribers on to your list.
No ads, navigation, comments or social share buttons – just the option to subscribe to your list.
If you’re thinking – well, I have opt-in forms all over my blog, what good will this do for me?
One of the best way of increasing the size of your mailing list is by linking to your landing page in your author bio when you contribute to other blogs within your niche.
Later on in this post I’ll show you how you can track sign ups better when doing this type of thing.
Landing page examples:
Below is an example of a ‘squeeze page’ style landing page that Jon Morrow uses on Boost Blog Traffic. It’s compelling and simple.
This example from Pamela Wilson from Big Brand System uses a more long form style and includes some great testimonials and clearly lays out everything that you can get when you subscribe.
Earlier I mentioned about writing for authoritative sites within your niche which is something Pamela does – this landing page is tailored specifically for Copyblogger readers.
This is another example of tailoring your landing pages to blogs that you contribute to. It appears on Henneke Duistermaat’s site; Enchanting Marketing.
I really like the use of social proof here with a testimonial from Jerod Morris, Director of Content at Copyblogger along with logos of websites that Henneke has been featured on – sites that aren’t easy to get featured on!
The example below is from Gary Korisko’s blog; Reboot Authentic. It’s tailored for readers of Boost Blog Traffic and I’m instantly drawn to the opt-in form (thanks to the arrows on the left).
Ramit Sethi is a best-selling author and has been featured on sites all over the web – that’s a level of social proof that not many can match. This example is from Ramit’s website; I Will Teach You To Be Rich.
What if you haven’t launched your blog yet?
If you haven’t launched your blog yet, you can do something ground breaking.
Before websites launch, we often see ‘coming soon pages’ that ask people to opt-in to their list for notifications/updates.
That works well for some sites, but what if you took things up a notch.
Instead, try offering your bribe before you launch.
This is something that worked incredibly well for Jon Morrow on Boost Blog Traffic.
I’m currently testing this out myself on a new site I’m launching later in the year.
Tools to help you create landing pages:
I currently use OptimizePress to build landing pages, it comes in the form of both a theme and a plugin for WordPress and only requires a one off payment.
Tools to help you test and optimize your landing pages:
The above tools require a monthly fee but If you’re looking for a free alternative, Google Analytics has a ‘Content Experiments’ tool which can help you, although it does take a bit more work to get going.
Resources to help you create high converting landing pages:
- The Landing Page Optimization Guide You Wish You’ve Always Had – ConversionXL.com
- Beginners Guide to Landing Pages – KISSmetrics.com
- The Definitive Guide to Landing Page Optimization – Quicksprout.com
- The Ultimate Guide to Landing Page Optimization – Unbounce.com (this is a book by Oli Gardner. Opt-in required, but it’s well worth while)
#9 – Create a ‘subscribe’ page and let your visitors know the score
This could definitely come under the landing page section, but I like to separate them.
There are plenty of great examples on the web, some sites typically use these types of pages to highlight all the possible ways that readers can subscribe.
I use these pages, only in a slightly different way.
Rather than being 100% focused on your opt-in bribe, subscribe pages should be directed at readers that are more interested in getting updates from your blog than downloading whatever piece of content you’re giving away.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t mention it, because you should – it’s a benefit of signing up and it could definitely help your conversions.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
This example is from the Crazy Egg blog (managed by Kathryn Aragon). I particularly like this because you get to choose how often you want updates.
HubSpot know landing pages like the back of their hand and this example from the HubSpot blog is no exception. It’s direct, provides multiple options for email frequency along with examples of the types of content readers will receive and a clear call to action with added social proof.
This example is from right here on Blogging Wizard. I’ve gone for a ‘mini squeeze’ page style and put 100% of the focus on signing up to my list.
I like these types of pages because I can use great background images, and there’s some directionality within this image too as the girls head is pointing to the form.
What I would have preferred was to find a similar photo where the girl was looking directly towards the opt-in form – it seems finding photos like that is quite difficult.
Clay Collins from LeadPages revealed in a webinar that images in these types of pages that had a person or object pointing towards the form received higher conversions.
#10 – You might find an opt-in form on the home page works for you
I don’t currently have an opt-in form on my home page.
But I really should, because I used to and it converted well when I last had an opt-in form in place.
Right now I’m in the process of a redesign for my entire blog so this will change soon.
This doesn’t work for everyone though.
I know some people that don’t display opt-in forms on their home page at all.
This is because they prefer to display particular sections of their blog higher up so that traffic has more of an opportunity to check out the content before they subscribe.
Ultimately, what works for someone else’s blog may not work for you.
This is why testing is so important.
Some of the landing page testing tools like Optimizely and Visual Website Optimizer that I mentioned earlier can definitely help you here too.
A great example of a homepage opt-in:
This example is from Chris Ducker’s personal website.
I wanted to show you this example in particular because it’s extremely compelling and has great use of social proof – the offer is great too with high perceived value.
#11 – Track sign ups properly and make sure subscribers are confirmed
There’s a huge mistake that most people make when they first setup their email marketing system.
That mistake is allowing users to download your bribe or offer without getting them to confirm their subscription first.
To set this up correctly you’re going to need 2 more pages.
The thank you page
This is typically where you thank your subscribers and let them know where to find their confirmation email.
The confirmation/download page
This is where you should redirect your subscribers to once they click the confirmation link that your mailing list provider sends to them.
It’s also where you should let them download the free content that you are offering.
Tracking conversions properly with Google Analytics
Google Analytics has a goal tracking feature that works amazingly well for this type of thing – and it’s free to use, so it’s well worth getting setup.
Tracking your conversions better from external sites and downloadable content
Google Analytics has a tool called the ‘URL builder’.
You can access it here.
This allows you to add custom campaign parameters to your URL’s.
Just fill in the form on the page that I linked to above and click the submit button to generate your URL.
Here’s an example of what this would look like:
It’s not the nicest looking URL in the world but it allows you to track clicks from external sites or your downloadable content more effectively.
Being able to effectively measure your results is incredibly important.
#12 – Over 70% of your visitors won’t return – show them your bribe before you leave
I know there are some people that don’t like using bribes.
The reality of the situation is that you’re missing an opportunity if you don’t.
Especially considering that over 70% of your websites visitors will NEVER return.
It is possible to take advantage of this situation and even improve it, I talk about the solutions in more detail here.
One of the most effective ways of taking advantage of this is by displaying a popover style opt-in form just at the point where people are about to click off your page.
This type of technology is called ‘exit intent’.
I use the OptinMonster WordPress plugin for this because it’s the most cost effective solution right now but there are also plenty of other services that provide this functionality.
These include the likes of Bounce Exchange, but pricing starts at over $2995+/month although you do get access to a conversion specialist meaning they do all the work for you.
There’s also Exit Monitor which is more cost effective but comes without a dedicated conversion specialist, although the team are very helpful.
A final word about testing and best practice
When it comes to improving conversions – for anything (not just list building), best practice can only get us so far.
The rest is up to testing what works and what doesn’t.
This is because what works in one niche may not work in another and it also has a large bearing on who your target audience is.
Also, the examples I have featured above can be a great starting point but I can’t say which pages are converting best – if you are reading this and I’ve featured one of your landing pages or opt-in forms and want to share that data, then you’re more than welcome!
Over to you
Are there any particular challenges that you face when it comes to building your mailing list?
And are there any strategies that have worked well for you?
I’d love to hear more in the comments below.