It’s not about Facebook and Twitter.
Seems like a shocking thing to say on a blog about social media, right?
Well, it’s true.
Take a look at the homepage of this blog. Take a look at the sidebar. The most valuable real estate is not given to social networking sites.
It’s given to email opt-in forms.
Because Francisco knows that the money is in the mailing list. He also knows that to keep his blog alive and profitable for the long term he needs a big ole mailing list filled with people who love his stuff.
The hard truth about email subscribers
There aren’t many things that stay the same on the internet.
It is a constantly changing and evolving space.
But something that has been consistently true for years and years is the fact that a mailing list provides profitable security when everything else is fluctuating. Getting your voice into someone’s inbox is still the most powerful method of connection.
So why is this a hard truth?
Because most people still struggle to grow that mailing list. And that causes them to be distracted doing things on social networking sites that aren’t really the most productive uses of their time.
Tactics for more email subscribers and safer money
What I want to do now is take a look at some of the tactics I use on my blog to get more email subscribers and to ensure that those subscribers form part of an overall strategy that keeps my blog profitable.
1. Solidify your brand so it psychologically connects
The first step to a healthy mailing list actually starts with your blog set up.
I often get emails from readers asking why their blog is stagnating and their mailing list hardly growing. Most of the time when I check their site it is set up on a free blogging platform with a template I have seen a thousand times before.
Why would anyone give their email to a generic-looking blog?
You want to ensure that you blog immediately stands out in each visitor’s mind. You want to make sure they can separate you from the rest of the junk out there.
Get your own domain name
If you are using a domain name with another company’s name in it (like BlogSpot or Tumblr) then you are really growing someone else’s asset.
Get a self hosted WordPress set up
A self hosted WordPress blog is the most popular setup on the planet. And for good reason. Get started on a self hosted platform so that you fully own and control the asset that you’re building.
Know your mission and audience
What are you trying to achieve and who are you pitching to? If you don’t know the direction your blog is going to take it is very hard to build a brand that others trust. Write out your goals and who you are targeting and make sure everything that you develop and create stays on message and takes people towards a final outcome (product, affiliate, etc.). Finding the right audience is something you can always do.
Use logos, colors and photographs well
A good blog will have a brand flows through all of its elements. Get professional photographs, a logo and a theme that all consistently promote your message. Make yourself instantly recognizable.
Create content with a purpose
I’ll go into this more later but the most important part of your brand is your content. Make sure everything you write or produce is on-message and leading people to an outcome (preferably via your mailing list).
Everyone who works online needs their own domain and self-hosted WordPress setup. It doesn’t matter whether you are a blogger, a social media advisor or a photographer wanting more clients. Growing a solid brand based around property that you own is vital.
Without that, it will be very difficult to connect with readers in a way that is memorable.
2. Upgrade to a paid email marketing service
If you are still using a free service like Feedburner to collect your email subscribers then it’s time to upgrade to a paid service like AWeber, Get Response or Mail Chimp.
The majority of a bloggers business (other than the blog) is done through the mailing list. For this reason you need to have access to things like:
All of these providers give you detailed information about open rates, subscriber methods, reasons for unsubscribe, etc. This is extremely valuable. Francisco and I both prefer AWeber for our mailing lists.
Being able to quickly design and build a new form without any coding is essential. It will save you time and money.
Reliability for the long term
There have been a lot of rumors that Feedburner is soon going to be dropped by Google. What happened if you lost access to your subscribers? A paid company is more reliable.
Mailing list experiments
Perhaps the most important part of a service like AWeber is the ability to test different elements of your opt-in forms and mail outs to see what’s working best.
Again, it’s difficult to try and run a blog or website with a goal of professionally trying to acquire more email subscribers unless you are using the best tools. Please do not skip this step.
3. Split test your opt-in forms
In the old days marketers would just rely on ideas when it came to developing successful campaigns.
Ever seen an episode of Mad Men where Don Draper makes a suggestion and everyone assumes it will work just because he said it?
These days we use science.
It’s called split testing (or A/B testing) and it is the art of running two versions of an email, opt-in form or advert and seeing which one performs the best.
Here is a screenshot of two versions of the sidebar that people see on my blog. I regularly test different photos, button colors and text to see which performs the best. A split test like this can be set up in five minutes using AWeber.
When you perform tests like this make sure you are examining the end result and not just the sign ups. For example, an offer like “get $1000 for signing up!” might get you lots of new subscribers but also a lot of people unsubscribing when you send out your first email.
TIP: Make sure you test a pop up opt-in form. Although they carry some stigma about being annoying and invasive, I have one on my site that generates thousands of new subscribers and almost zero complaints. Almost every successful website has a pop up. But, as always, make sure you test it to see if it is actually working in the long term.
4. Create targeted content and promote it thoroughly
The most important part about building a solid email list and earning a stable income from that list is creating targeted content that is heavily promoted.
A lot of bloggers and social media marketers just create content and hope it goes vial.
This is quite often a complete waste of time.
For example, I have an article on Blog Tyrant that ranks at the top of Google for the phrase “about us pages” and brings me about 1,000 unique visitors every day. That traffic is largely useless, however, as the people visiting my site aren’t targeted to my mailing list and the rest of my content.
Targeted content that grows a mailing list should be:
Evergreen and aimed at beginners
The best content is evergreen content that is aimed at beginners. This means it will stay relevant forever and provide value to a group of people that is always growing. The less complicated the better.
As a general rule, long form content converts a lot better than short posts because it has perceived value attached to it. Studies have shown that longer articles get indexed higher in Google and shared around the social web a lot more because it is highly useful.
Off-site content that matches your on-site content
When you do guest posts or advertising campaigns you need to make sure your off-site content is tightly matched with the stuff people will encounter on your site. The voice, style and landing pages all need to match.
Funnelled to a mailing list
Once you have developed highly useful, evergreen content you then need to make sure that funnels readers to a free offer that encourages people to sign up. For example, your guest post might be 23 Ways to Throw the Perfect Punch which links to an article on your site called The Ultimate Guide to Punching Technique which then promotes a free eBook called How to Punch as Perfectly as Bruce Lee. The whole funnel fits together.
Once you develop this content you need to be really “okay” about promoting it. Many bloggers and marketers feel dirty if they promote something that they have done.
This is a huge mistake.
Just like any business, you need to advertise. Develop the useful content and then feel confident that you will be helping people and as such you should try to get it in front of as many people as possible. Facebook Ads and Blog Ads are a cheap way to get started with this.
5. Plug holes
Other than actually getting email subscribers, the hardest part in an email marketer’s life is reducing attrition.
Basically this just means that you want to keep as many subscribers as possible without losing them because they get bored or frustrated with your content.
Some of the main holes that you need to plug in the process include:
Simplify, simplify, simplify
You have to remember that for a huge majority of your readers, signing up to an email list will be a new and unfamiliar process. Make it simple. Explain all the steps at the start.
Remind people what’s going on
I put a little note at the bottom of my mail outs reminding people that the reason they are receiving this email is because they signed up to my website’s mailing list. I learned this trick from Jon Morrow and it seems to have reduced people hitting the spam button because they forget who you were.
Test mail outs
Make sure you test whether your mail outs are working well. Look at things like subject length, number of links in email, photos, etc. to see if something gets more or less opens and click throughs.
Find the tricky points
I recently realized that quite a few people were signing up for my mailing list but not confirming their email address. I created this little redirect page to show people what was going on and found that confirmations went up by almost 50%. Ask some friends to sign up to your list and get feedback on what they found tricky.
The more of these holes that you can plug the more subscribers you will keep active and engaged on your list. This is very important.
6. Direct your subscribers to quality landing pages (not just product links)
Every now and then I’ll be signed up to a mailing list that I think is really good only to be hit with a sleazy product pitch.
It’s a real shame.
The relationship between email marketer and subscriber is one of trust. They have given us their email address and as such we should make sure that we only send out high quality material.
Now, there is nothing wrong with selling.
But we should make sure that when it comes time to sell that we do it in a way that doesn’t conflict or clash with the previous content that we’ve been sending out.
For example, a lot of the more successful bloggers like Pat Flynn use a soft-sell approach where they don’t exactly just send you straight to a “buy it now” link but rather work in a review or mention of the product into a highly useful blog post.
Pat’s podcasting tutorial is a great example of quality content that gently promotes some affiliate products. He created hours of genuine podcasting setup tutorials (he is a very successful podcaster himself) but then also mentions a few affiliate products.
Keep your selling gentle and personal and always do it in the context of useful information. Remember, you want those subscribers to be around for the long term – not just the short term sale.
Social networking is still important (especially their ads)
At the start of this article I kind of bad mouthed social networking sites.
And while I do think that email marketing and content hosted on your own websites is still the most important, I do understand that Twitter, Facebook, etc. still have a place.
After all, a lot of people generate traffic and buzz using these platforms.
This is especially true when it comes to using sites like Facebook for advertising. There are so many examples of clever marketers spending a few dollars and driving huge amounts of traffic to brand new websites.
Aside from that, however, I wouldn’t devote too much time to growing these profiles if it means you aren’t developing other forms of content. We simply don’t know whether these sites will be around for the long term.