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Growing Your List: Accelerating Subscriber Growth

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Growing Your List: Accelerating Subscriber Growth

[This is the fourth article in the List Building for Bloggers #LBB series]

In this post you will learn about:
  1. The basics of online list growth.
  2. Integrating with social media.
  3. Email to a friend.
  4. Creating and testing incentives.
  5. Making the most of offline events.
  6. The role of advertising.
  7. Subscriber import.
  8. Three things to never, ever, EVER do.
There's also a comprehensive set of action items at the end for you to use right now to better grow your list.

Quantity and Quality

Much like site traffic, pretty much the first thought you have once you’ve set up your list is “how do I get more subscribers?” – and that’s the topic for today’s List Building for Bloggers post. Before diving in, however, it’s worth emphasizing one key point: Quality beats quantity. So do try to grow your list; but keep your list’s quality high too. List quality is the topic of the next LBB article.

There are fundamentally two different ways to add subscribers to your list:
  • Organically, where new subscribers add themselves to your list via your forms.
  • Via Import, where you add new subscribers to your list yourself.

Online Mailing List Building Basics 

Make it easy to sign up on your site

The absolute best thing is to have visitors sign themselves up using your email list subscription form, placed on every page of your web site, above the fold, clearly marked (see last week’s “List Building for Bloggers” post for more on this). Consider asking for email subscriptions as well via your blog’s post footer feature – if you actually ask for the subscription you’re much more likely to get it than if you don’t. Ask for the order!

Add email signup to your Facebook pages

If you’re using a third party email list service like FeedBlitz then you should have access to a Facebook subscription form app to add to your pages. Do it! Enable your Facebook visitors to sign up for your list as well. In other words, make your social media content feed into your mailing list, as well as vice versa via sharing icons.

Enable email to a friend in your mailings

The email service you use to deliver your blog’s list should also have an “email to a friend” feature (sometimes known as “forward to a friend”). If it’s not on, enable it. You’re allowing your readers to refer your content to someone else, which is a Good Thing, and as part of this process the email to a friend feature should ask the recipient for a subscription too.

Enable email subscription links in your social media posts

I firmly believe that you should rarely, if ever, post to a social media site without a relevant link. When you post to a social media site, make sure that the links you put up include a link to your email subscription form (as described in this post: “From Like to Subscribe”). It’s hard to do on Twitter because of the 140 character limit, but there’s no excuse for autoposts to richer social media outlets (especially Facebook and LinkedIn) not to include a link to your subscription form. If your autopost provider doesn’t link back to your main list’s form, ask them when you’ll get one - else you're missing out on potential new subscribers.

Incentives, Promotions and Leads

A great way to grow your list is to use an incentive. Your incentive should obviously be compelling, valuable and relevant for your target audience. What you don’t want to do is attract tire-kickers who are just in it for the reward, so plan it carefully. Ideally, any reward should also be unique to your list – the only way to get at the reward is to join the list; your incentive shouldn’t be readily available otherwise.

Incentives come in two fundamental forms:
  • A bonus for simply for signing up.
  • Recurring rewards for subscribers who stay subscribed over time.

Signup Rewards

Effective reward signups include:
  • Free content (e.g. an eBook, report, white paper, coupon or sponsored item).
  • Prize drawings.
Free content can be delivered via your “thank you” autoresponder or a link on your activation landing page.

If you’re running a small business, using a relevant report, eBook or white paper to encourage new subscriptions is a great way to do lead generation for your company.

Prize drawings are usually for physical items, such as money, gift cards, or some other real-world item that your audience would value. But you can think out of the box here too. Your prize could also be a service you offer, such as an hour of your time, a personalized seminar, free market analysis, a coaching call etc. Depending on what you do, this can also be an effective lead generation tool.

The value of what you offer should also be relevant to the value your list brings you. If your audience is frugal moms, for example, offering a $100 gift card is a very appealing offer - it's perfect for an audience focused on spending less. If that offer brings you 5,000 extra subscribers over the life of the incentive then you’re paying 2c per subscriber; significantly less than you would pay via  traditional PPC or CPA advertising.

No matter what your incentive offering, track your metrics, and try testing with different incentives on a weekly or monthly basis to see which work best for you. Changing your rewards seasonally, timed with a product / service launch (not necessarily your product or service, e.g. think: next iPhone release), or even something topical can reap rewards. Simply rotating a set of equally effective incentives can yield a boost as each new offer goes live.

Finally, if you’re using a reward incentive, mention the winner (perhaps anonymously, as in “PH from Sudbury, MA won this month’s prize”) on your blog and in your mailings – show your readership that the reward is real and that people are getting it.  

Recurring Rewards

Once on your list, you want a subscriber to stay on the list. Relevant content is key, of course, but you can also reward them with something that’s also only available while they’re on the list. This might be a separate email to the whole list (see “Cupcakes, Recipes and Printables, Oh My!”), or a drawing eligible to current subscribers every week, month or quarter. If you’re going to run a recurring prize drawing, however, make sure your emails remind them of the fact that (a) the drawings are happening, and (b) that they must be an active subscriber to qualify.

Advertising

Professional bloggers and businesses should consider advertising as a way to attract new subscribers. You can offer the incentive in your ad and direct them straight to the relevant form or “squeeze” page. You can advertise using third party content networks, such as Google’s AdWords or a Facebook ad. You can also place ads on related bogs, partner or directory sites. If you accept ads and you have space to fill, consider an exchange between you and a partner site for your ad.

Since advertising does typically cost money, however, make sure that you measure and understand the ROI (return on investment) of your ad program. Specifically, you need to measure the subscriber acquisition cost generated by the ad, and that subscriber’s lifetime value (LTV) – in other words, how much income a subscriber means to you, on average, while they’re on your list or a member of your site. You don't want to waste money on getting subscribers onto your list, after all.

Incentive Optimization

Once you’ve tried several incentives and you’ve found the one(s) that work well, test them further by moving them around on our site and changing the copy or graphics associated with them (see the ultimate heatmap referenced here). Do they work better on the left or right sidebar?

If you have a good incentive, consider moving it above your logo and masthead (as Money Saving Mom does here):

Effective but Annoying: Popups

Popup dialogs, especially ones that move, can be very effective in getting subscribers to join your list. We’ve all seen them: you navigate to a page, and between five and 30 seconds later the page is hidden behind a popup asking for your subscription (often with a special offer incentive attached too).

People use these because they work – they add subscribers quickly. Personally, I loathe them. They interrupt what I’m doing without permission, and as a professional, ethical marketer, permission is important to me (as is not being interrupted, let's face it). Where they can go from intrusively annoying to losing you visitors is when a popup appears on every page visited, and doesn’t respect the reader's decision not to sign up (or worse, keeps appearing after the visitor has, in fact, signed up).

If you’re going to use a popup, here are my suggestions:
  • Consider using a header or footer toolbar plugin instead.
  • Time the popup so the subscriber can read your content first. If they haven’t had time to decide that your content is valuable after five seconds, you are wasting their time asking for a subscription that quickly. Consider delaying the popup until the second or third page view that session.
  • Don't nag. Do not pop up the form on every page view. Wait a for an hour or two at least.
  • Ensure your form has a mechanism to never reappear (a “don’t ask me again” checkbox, for example).
  • Don’t ask existing subscribers for a subscription! If the visitor is already on the list it’s really, really annoying to be interrupted again about joining the list.

Offline Events

When you step out into the real world for your sales, marketing or other activity, take along a signup sheet. At a bake sale? Take a signup sheet. Speaking at a seminar, business breakfast? Take a signup sheet. Going to a networking event? Take a signup sheet.

Your signup sheet should ask for name and email address and should have an option the attendee can check to be asked to join your mailing list. When you get back from your event, you can add the ones who wanted to join your list directly (but only the ones who checked the opt in box, right? Right).

Which gets me to…

Importing Subscribers

You have some addresses you want to import. You want to add them to your list.

And that’s probably fine, especially if you’re switching from one mailing list system to another. It is a legitimate activity to switch list apps / services / vendors, and you should not have to make your already opted in subscribers opt in all over again simply because you want to use email service A instead of email service B.

That said, untrammeled subscriber import is an obvious way to spam people, and spam is bad. Subscriber import, from an email service vendor’s perspective, is fraught with danger. While we all want you to grow your list – it’s how we’re paid, one way or another – we want it done properly so we don’t get blacklisted.

There are several approaches that different services have adopted to balance client list import needs with protecting deliverability and service integrity: 
  • Don’t allow imports at all (e.g. FeedBurner). You have to get everyone to opt in again using your form. Very effective for preventing abuse, but a pain for you if your list is anything other than trivial.
  • Only allow imports with rock solid proof. Imports are only allowed if you have associated log data (e.g. containing the IP address of the system that originally created the subscription). Imports are gated, often subject to manual review before you can run a mailing. Effective, true, but can create significant delays for you while you’re waiting for any reviews to complete. These vendors are basically saying they don't trust you (yet). They may also simply not allow imports from older or in-house systems due to lack of proof, and so if you can’t meet their tests subscribers have to opt in all over again.
  • Allow selective imports without notification. FeedBlitz allows imports directly from FeedBurner lists, for example, precisely because the only way on to a FeedBurner list in the first place is via dual opt in. It's inherently trusted.
  • Allow imports with an opt out mailing. This is FeedBlitz’s core (non-FeedBurner) approach; imports are allowed but we send every recipient a welcome mail along with an opt out link. This allows us to collect list quality metrics immediately, but since the vast majority of bloggers and list owners are ethical, we don’t gate your use of that list. In other words, FeedBlitz trusts you unless we discover we shouldn't. Since this an inherently riskier approach, FeedBlitz employs robust anti-abuse and import checking technologies to ensure the process isn’t abused - all before the opt out emails are even sent. It works for us and for our clients; our deliverability is excellent.
  • Allow all imports no matter what. You can do this with self-hosted software (perhaps as basic as your own email software), and with other systems and services. While this is the easiest for you, services that don’t somehow check or validate imports place your reputation at great risk. Self-serving as it may well seem, I'd avoid any service or product that does not somehow filter or verify imports.
IMPORTANT: Use a reputable provider that uses some kind of “safe importing” approach.

If you can’t import a subscriber, what you can do is add them using your subscription form, starting the dual opt in process (you MUST use dual opt in; don’t do anything less). Make sure, however, that you only add folks who have explicitly told you that they want your mailings. 

Importing and abuse sanctions

If you start adding addresses that haven’t given you permission your complaint rates will rise and should be quickly noticed by your email provider. Once this happens, the conversation between you and their anti-abuse team is likely to be brief, uncomfortable and very to the point.

They may close your account, or restrict your ability to import. At FeedBlitz, for example, we automatically suspend any list where the metrics indicate abuse, no matter who the client. If an import appears to be spammy or not permissioned properly, it is stopped before any opt out emails are sent and further imports prevented until you get in touch with us.  

Importing: What you must never, ever, EVER do

Permission is everything in email marketing, and – remember – once you start your blog’s list you have become an email marketer.

Do not import email addresses from anything other than a source you control. So do not import from a CD of names you bought on the Internet, for example. Don’t do it.

Do not rent or buy email addresses and add them to your list. You do NOT have permission to email anyone on these lists. If permission was ever granted by the addressee (doubtful), it was to the list’s vendor, not to you. Don’t do it.

Do not import from a partner blog or sister company’s list. This includes your spouse’s blog, your BFF’s site or the firm whose Board your CEO is on. The names on that list gave their permission to the list owner for the list owner’s content. If you mail them it’s spam. Don’t do it.

Bottom line: If permission was not explicitly granted to you for the content of your blog, do not import. 

Your Action Items

  • Make sure your subscription form is clearly visible on your blog.
  • Add list-aware social media integrations.
  • Create a set of incentives to offer to accelerate list growth.
  • Plan and test your incentives.
  • Optimize your best incentive by testing with different copy, graphics and locations.
  • Create a signup sheet for offline events.
  • Only import subscribers who previously gave you permission directly to mail them.

Next Up

Growing your list’s quality – making the most of your current subscribers.

About List Building For Bloggers #LBB

Written by Phil Hollows, the FeedBlitz Founder and CEO, List Building for Bloggers (#LBB) is a series of posts to help you make the most of your blogging by harnessing the power and capabilities of email, the universal social network, with your bog and social media communications. No matter whether you're a novice or a more advanced blogger, there will be something for you to learn, apply and benefit from in this series. Click here to read more about #LBB

P.S. If you think your friends or followers would find this series valuable, please retweet on Twitter or "Like" on Facebook using the buttons below. Don't forget to use the #LBB hashtag when you do. Thank you! And if you have a comment, contribution or something else to say, please comment too. :-)

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Marketing Automation Sit\e said...

Thanks for your great report on growing your list. Having your subscription form on every page of your site above the fold is a great thing to do. Having an incentive of a free report or ebook is a great incentive to include to sign up.

11:29 PM, December 09, 2010  

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