Getting your first 1,000 subscribers is a big milestone in your blogging career. Blogger extraordinaire Jon Morrow actually considers it the milestone that legitimises you as a blogger.
Because it means 1,000 people have endorsed you. They’ve signed up to hear what you have to say. It’s as if they’re saying, “Yes, I believe in your message. Tell me more.”
Most people can get a handful of people to do that. Some might even get a few hundred. But to get 1,000 separates you from the Mickey Mouse bloggers out there. If you can get 1,000, you can get 10,000. You can get 100,000. You’re the real deal.
Many bloggers will also emphasise the importance of your email list in the monetising of your blog. The reason for this is your email list gives you a direct line of communication with your readers. If you want to say something, you can send a message directly to their inbox. Do you know how often people check their emails? All the damn time. For most people it’s one of the first things they do when they wake up. For many it’s also the last thing they do before they fall asleep.
Compare this to your other lines of communication:
Facebook: You post something on your Facebook page, and your organic reach might be 5%-10%. Even if you pay to boost your posts, you’ll still only reach 30-50%.
Twitter: If you have 10,000 followers, your tweets might get 10 retweets and 20 likes. And if you’re lucky, around 500 impressions. That’s 5% of your following.
More importantly, you have no data on these interactions. You can’t tell exactly who saw your Facebook post, how often that person clicks on your posts, and what happened after they clicked it.
Email is a different story. Depending on your email service, you have data on each individual subscriber. You can see how many emails they’ve opened, how often they click, what they click on, and you can contact them, directly to their email like any other friend or family member, whenever you want. That kind of accessibility is very powerful, and very profitable.
But building a list is no joke. It takes a lot of time, effort, and building trust with your readership. Readers don’t just hand over email addresses the same way they hand out page views. Using the tips below, I’ll show you how I earned my first 1,000 subscribers, with all the steps broken down so you can do the same.
1. Create your list
Before you start collecting emails, you’re going to need an email service, also known as an autoresponder service. This allows you to collect email addresses, send mass emails, and collect data on your subscribers. It is one of the most important services you will subscribe to as a blogger.
If you are new to blogging, I would highly recommend using Mailchimp. They are free for up to 2,000 subscribers, and allow you to send 12,000 emails per month. They’re also super user friendly, one of the easiest to use out there. As a free option they are as good as it gets.
To create your first subscriber list, you can follow their Getting Started guide. It’s very straightforward.
2. Create your freebie
It is rare that readers give you their emails just because they love your blog. Why would they? They can simply check in to your blog whenever they want to read something new. If the only incentive they have to subscribe is to “Never miss a post!” you will only be getting your most loyal, obsessed fans subscribing, which usually isn’t a lot.
To increase your opt-in rate, it’s helpful to offer something more. Usually something exclusive they can’t get by just browsing the blog. Some common things bloggers offer are:
- Free ebooks or reports
- Exclusive content
- Free chapters of books/courses they sell
- Email courses
On my blog Bren On The Road, I offer readers a free 75 page ebook about creating a life of travel. Jodi from Legal Nomads offers readers a newsletter with interesting links from around the web each month. Matt from Expert Vagabond offers readers a free photgraphy ebook.
The important thing here is to offer value. If your free course or ebook is going to take 3 months to create, do it. That’s the kind of value that will not only attract more subscribers, but win you very loyal subscribers.
I started creating my free ebook in my first month of blogging, and it took me a couple of months to finish and get onto my site. However once I got there, my subscriber rate boomed. Take a look:
But this doesn’t tell the full story. Because my traffic was rather inconsistent in my first year, a more accurate metric is the number of subscribers in relation to page views. Here’s a look at subscriptions per 1,000 page views:
As you can see, once I started offering a lead magnet my subscription rate more than quadrupled. That’s the difference between getting 1,000 subscribers in 17 months, versus 68 months. Big difference.
When creating your lead magnet, take a look at some of your favourite blogs and see what kind of freebies they offer to subscribers. This should give you some ideas of things you can create for your own blog, and the kind of quality freebies your readers will expect.
3. Start adding sign up forms to your blog
To invite readers to subscribe you are going to need to add opt-in forms to your site. If you are using Mailchimp, they have a basic sign up form you can use which is reasonably easy to design, although you may need to spend some time tinkering with it:
While their sign up forms aren’t the sexiest they should get the job done, especially if you’ve got an awesome freebie on offer.
Of course there are tools you can use to create much prettier and more effective opt-in forms. While there are many available, I use and recommend Thrive Leads. This is probably my favourite WordPress plugin and has totally transformed my email list. It allows you to design forms with a simple drag-and-drop editor, has A/B testing, has all kinds of form types such as ribbons, lightboxes, slide-ins, widgets, popups, and the support is amazing. If you’re looking to invest in better opt-in forms, Thrive Leads would be my recommendation.
4. Test, test, test!
Now is the time to start testing. Building your list is a lot more than just slapping forms on your site and waiting for sign-ups. This does not work.
You need to test your forms to see which ones work. If one of your forms isn’t converting, change it. If it is working, test it and make it even better. You can easily increase your conversion by a few percentage points with each tweak just by running a few simple tests.
One of the standard opt-in forms is the post footer form, which is the opt-in form placed at the bottom of each blog post. Ideally your reader will finish reading your post, be so impressed at how good it was, and see your opt-in form at the end. Already a fan after your fantastic post, they will see you’re offering an exclusive freebie to all your subscribers and won’t hesitate to punch in their email address and hit the submit button!
However, how do we know if a short, straight-to-the-point form works best, or maybe a longer, more descriptive form? Is blue the right colour? Or would red be more eye-catching? Should you add a graphic of your freebie or not?
Most opt-in tools will have A/B testing built in. As I use Thrive Leads on my blogs, I’ll share a few examples of how this works and what kind of effect it can have on your opt-in rate.
The test I’m going to show you below was a 3-form test, pitting my standard white opt-in form against two similar forms – black and blue. The purpose of the test was to determine whether colour made a significant difference to my subscribe rates:
My hunch was that the white form would kill the other two pretty easily, but of course, you never know until you know.
These are the results from the Thrive Leads dashboard:
The test ran over three weeks, and after 15,000 impressions for each form, you can see the white was actually the worst. The black performed the best, followed by the blue. Unexpectedly, the black out-performed the white by over 40%!
Seeing this, I decided to discard the white and test the black and blue closer together:
This test is still ongoing, but you can see the blue form is actually performing 93% better! It’s returned almost double the subscribers over the same amount of impressions.
This kind of testing is so important. As we’ve seen, one simple test can almost double your subscribe rate. If you want to grow your list and ensure you are getting the most opt-ins possible from your hard-earned traffic, you need to test, test and test some more. Remember, traffic that visits your blog and leaves is mostly useless from a business perspective. It’s the traffic that opts in and becomes a potential long-term reader and/or future customer that will determine the success of your blog.
Of course opt-in software like Thrive Leads makes A/B testing much easier. It’s a built-in feature of the plugin and you can set up tests with a few simple clicks – after that it’s set-and-forget. However you can still test with standard Mailchimp forms – it will just require a more manual approach. Put a form on your blog for a week, record the results. Put a new form on your blog the next week, record the results. And so on.
5. Use different kinds of forms
You can also test different kinds of forms against each other. Sometimes the form at the bottom of your blog posts won’t actually be the most successful form. As you can see from the tests above, the convert rate is only about 0.25%, which is really low. Some forms on my blog get closer to 10%, but they are only in select places and are more focused.
For example, when I started displaying an opt-in form in both my sidebar and below my posts, my subscribe rate increased by about 40%. There is also an opt-in form on my Products page, which converts at about 10%. Ribbon forms have also been super effective for me in the past.
To utilise all these different types of forms you’ll need to invest in a plugin or software like Thrive Leads – free tools simply won’t offer this to any serious degree.
6. Engage your list regularly
Once you’ve started building a list of subscribers, you need to start nurturing your relationship with them. This means engaging them regularly.
Regularly does not mean you email them constantly. In fact, some bloggers, like myself, only send out a newsletter once a month. The important thing is the newsletter is sent every month, on schedule, so readers become familiar with your contact. Obviously you don’t want to be emailing your list every single day – that’s too much and they’ll probably start deleting your emails without opening them or just unsubscribe altogether. But by sending an email once a week, once a fortnight or once a month, you’ll start to create a relationship with your readers. They’ll become accustomed to hearing from you, and many will even look forward to it.
What should your emails contain?
It’s up to you.
Some bloggers will just email their list whenever they publish a new post, and maybe include a little background commentary on it. Some bloggers will just give updates on wherever they are in the world, and some might just share cool stuff from around the web. As long as your emails are filled with entertaining, valuable content that’s relevant to your readers, they will open and read your emails.
Another thing that helps is having an email sequence. An email sequence is a collection of emails that gets sent to your list automatically after they sign-up. When readers sign up to my email list, they get this initial email sequence, which includes about 8 emails sent over two weeks. There is nothing salesy in the emails (there is a single email that introduces them to one of my ebooks) – it’s all just useful information about travel and introducing them to older content on my blog that they probably haven’t read or don’t know about. These sequences are awesome because they all run on auto-pilot, continually drive traffic to my old posts, and provide a ton of interesting and valuable information to new subscribers.
Unfortunately you cannot set up auto sequences with a free Mailchimp account – if you want to do it, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid account.
7. Create awesome content
This is the most important piece of advice I can give you.
Creating good content is the best possible driver of building your email list, and building a quality blog in general. If you have a blog with a depth of great content, readers will subscribe. If people relate to you through your content, are inspired by you, are always learning something new when they read your posts, they will want to learn more. Make a good first impression. Impress them. If you blow them away with your blog posts, they will be hunting for your subscribe box. Converting them into a subscriber will be a mere formality.
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