How I Gained 687 Email Subscribers in My Fourth Month Blogging Full-Time
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re serious about growing your blog and online business. That means you already know the value of building an email list, so I’ll spare you that speech. My goal with this article is to share the strategies I’ve used to convert 9.1% of my site’s users to email subscribers, increase traffic to 25,000 pageviews, and improve the overall health of my blog. And don’t worry, none of these strategies include fancy email funnels or lead pages, paid advertising, or anything far beyond creating valuable content and incentives with calls to action.
Before I get into the actual strategies, I’d like to share a brief history of my site. While my site has been around since late 2014, it was used primarily as a home base for freelance writing and a service-based personal training business. I spent the majority of 2015-2016 running a chain of commercial gyms and left my blog more or less unattended to. In April of this year, however, I decided to leave my job and pursue entrepreneurship full-time. I spent the first few months acquiring clients for my nutrition coaching and personal training business to pay the bills, but my ultimate goal was always growing my blog into a viable source of income. And since August, my primary focus has been on my blog and growing my audience.
One of my core growth strategies, as you’d expect from the title of this article, has been building an email list. I’ve had many failed attempts at building an email list in the past and decided to start fresh without importing old subscribers I’d collected in those attempts. This brings me to one of my biggest tips that I feel is overlooked with email marketing for bloggers, and that’s finding an email service provider that you enjoy using. After using MailChimp, Aweber, and ConstantContact over the years, I’ve been using ConvertKit like many other bloggers and can’t recommend it enough. In the past, I dreaded going in to write email broadcasts or create opt-in forms, and I know that’s a primary reason why my list building efforts failed.
Seriously, find something you can learn with ease and want to spend time in — it makes a difference. If you don’t currently have an email service provider, here’s my affiliate link for ConvertKit where you can try it out for free.
How I Converted 9.1% of Users into Email Subscribers
November was my site’s biggest month yet in terms of traffic. As you can see below, the site saw roughly 7,000 more pageviews than October. What’s more interesting — and the reason I’m writing this article — are the email opt-in conversion rates.
In October, I was able to convert 1.8% of traffic, or 392 of the 18,578 pageviews into subscribers. If we count users instead of pageviews, that conversion rate goes to 5.3%.
In November, the 687 subscribers equates to a 2.7% conversion rate on pageviews and a 9.1% conversion rate on users.
I wasn’t sure what the standard conversion rate is, if it’s calculated on total traffic or users alone, or how 5.3 and 9.1 percent compared to the rest of the internet. I’m sure it fluctuates greatly between niches, audience size, traffic sources, and hundreds of other factors, but I found the following stats from an article on Sumo.com:
And they go on to give the following stat:
For these percentages, it looks like they’ve divided users by total opt-ins for a time period. I’ll go with the 9.1% figure and state that I don’t consider myself an elite marketer but seem to be converting at a healthy rate for the time being. I’d like to add that I’m not using Sumo, pop-ups, welcome pages or slide-in opt-in forms. While I can’t argue with the stats supporting the use of these tools, I find my eyes in the back of my head when I come across them and have decided against using them on my site. If conversion rates are lowered at the expense of user experience, I’m perfectly okay with it.
Okay, let’s get into the good stuff. Here are the things I’ve done over the past few months to generate more traffic and email subscribers.
Generating More Blog Traffic and Growing an Audience
This is the most obvious piece to the puzzle, so we’ll start here. It’s difficult to convert visitors to email subscribers without visitors in the first place. This is where I’d like to throw out the disclaimer that I’m not an expert when it comes to Google Analytics and analyzing traffic sources. Like many of us, I’m learning as I go!
My biggest source of traffic, which may come as a surprise, has been Instagram. As you can see in the image below, linkinprofile.com — a service that allows you to link to every single Instagram post — accounted for over 50% of traffic. I recently published an article on how I gained 5,000 followers in 3 months that I would highly recommend to anyone looking to grow their audience and generate traffic from Instagram. Maybe it’s confirmation bias, but I’ve heard that traffic from Instagram tends to be high quality just because the act of clicking on your profile and links has to be so intentional. This could be a contributing factor to the higher opt-in conversion rates.
I’ve been experimenting more with Pinterest since so many bloggers are crushing it on that platform but have yet to crack the code or spend enough time on it. In late November, I began spending time in Facebook groups for Pinterest Group Boards, joining Tailwind Tribes, and creating better pins for old posts. Part of my Instagram strategy has been creating infographics for older articles and blog posts, so I plan to convert most of them to pins and hopefully drive traffic that way. Fingers crossed.
As for Google and organic search, I haven’t done anything special outside of implementing the Yoast SEO plugin and updating old blog posts. If you’re not using Yoast or some type of SEO plugin, I’d highly recommend it. I have to admit, I rarely do much keyword research or things of that nature. It’s one of the many things I plan on focusing on moving forward.
Speaking of focus, my biggest takeaway for traffic generation would be to pick something and go all in. Whether you choose social traffic, organic search and SEO, or something else, it’s impossible to be everywhere and master every little thing. It’s like they say, if you’re everywhere, you’re nowhere. Something I mention in my article on getting more Instagram followers is that 90% of my social media focus is on Instagram, meaning Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, and other platforms have to take a backseat for the time being. I know it’s a bit generic but if social traffic is the strategy you’re going with, pick the platform you’re best at and go all in.
How to Create an Email Opt-In People Want
This is where my blog may show its age. Like I mentioned above, I’ve had many failed attempts at building an email list. In those attempts I’ve created a ton of different email opt-ins, giving me both insight on what my audience actually wants and content that can be repurposed for more opt-ins. While I feel my niche may be a bit more difficult to sell products in, it’s a bit easier to offer unique email opt-ins. Here’s a quick rundown of the current email opt-ins I offer:
- Nutrition Made Easy 3.0 – a 50+ page eBook on the same method I use to coach clients
- 14-Day Beginner Strength Training at Home Course – a daily email-based video course for beginners to learn how to strength train at home with minimal equipment and experience
- Deadlift Mastery – a free download of a $10 eBook and video tutorials on improving the deadlift
- High Protein Chocolate Lover’s Survival Cookbook – a digital cookbook with some of my most popular chocolate recipes
- Fat Loss Meal Plan and Recipe Database – an example meal plan with nearly 50 different meal options that link to recipes on my blog
- 6 Training Programs – a training program for nearly every goal you can think of
If you’re wondering how I created this many opt-ins since August, know that several were revamped models from past projects. Nutrition Made Easy, Deadlift Mastery, and the Training Programs were all created and continually updated over the past year or two. This is a great example of building a body of work over time, even when you’re not blogging or running an online business full-time. The smaller projects and continually creating adds up over time and can be repurposed down the road.
Increase Email Signup Conversions with Opt-In Variation
As you can see in the image below, the opt-in variation has greatly helped my conversion rates. Having multiple opt-ins appeals to different crowds, it appears. Since September, I’ve added the cookbook, meal plan, and 3 out of the 6 training programs as well as bundled all 6 programs into one opt-in. As a quick nod to ConvertKit, they make it super easy to segment your list based on opt-in forms. If someone signs up for the beginner training course, for instance, they’re probably not interested in emails about mastering the deadlift.
Ask Before You Create
One tip worth sharing for creating opt-in variation is to ask your audience for ideas. Here are a few potential questions to post on social media or somewhere your potential email subscribers would be:
- If you have an idea already, simply ask if they’d be interested in the opt-in. Before I made the 14-day course I asked if people would be interested in something like it on Facebook and Instagram with instructions to tag someone who’d be interested if they weren’t. When it was all said and done, I had 40-50 people interested in the course. In hindsight, I wish I would have collected emails on the front end before creating the course to ask questions during creation.
- “What’s your biggest obstacle in achieving x, y, or z?”
- “If you could learn one thing about insert niche, what would it be?”
- “If I created a product that taught you how to insert skill, would you be interested? If so, what details would you like to see?”
Once you have an idea or project validated, you can get to work knowing it’s something your audience is interested in. And if you don’t receive a ton of interest but are passionate about creating something, it could be worth doing anyway — especially in the beginning. In my case, the 14-day course has been my lowest converting opt-in and was by far the most time consuming. I could chalk it up as a failure, but it wasn’t a total waste of time as I trimmed videos down into tutorials for my 200+ exercise video database. This database enabled the creation of future programs that convert very well.
Answer Common Questions and Solve Recurring Problems
This may seem obvious on the surface level, but I mean create an opt-in that answers every common question and solves every recurring problem. This will take time. There’s a reason Nutrition Made Easy is on version 3.0. In the past, I spent a ton of time answering questions one-on-one in great depth. Over time, I realized that nearly all these conversations ended up with the same solution. So, I put the framework and step-by-step guide to that solution into an eBook. Now when someone messages me with a relevant answer, I’m able to give a short answer with a link to download an in-depth guide to solve their problem. Not only does it save time, it converts well.
I recommend starting a Google Doc or note with questions/topics you frequently come across.
Bonus Tip: Collaboration for Creating Email Opt-Ins
If you know a fellow blogger or someone in your niche with a slightly different skillset than yourself, you could try combining your knowledge and skills into one ultimate opt-in. As long as you’re not directly competing for sign ups, this could be a great way to create something really cool without devoting too much time creating or learning things beyond your scope of practice.
Increase Email Opt-In Conversions with More Calls to Action
Shifting gears, your opt-ins and email incentives are only as good as your calls to action. This was a weakness of mine, and I still facepalm when I look at my older blog posts. If you write a great article that’s directly related to your opt-in, you should pitch it early and often. It doesn’t have to be a blatant full-sized opt-in form — you could simply mention it as a side note for someone to dive deeper into a topic. This is where variation comes into play yet again. The more opt-ins you have to give, the more times you can pitch them without annoying your audience. Below I’ll give a few examples of the tweaks I’ve made to my calls to action and opt-in forms.
Home Page and ConvertKit Widgets
The easiest place to start and sadly, the most recent thing I’ve done, is to place opt-in forms in hot spots and places everyone sees. We’re living in a mobile world, but my site still saw a healthy percentage of desktop users. And that’s with such a large percentage coming from Instagram, which should be around 100% mobile users.
Use your sidebar wisely and immediately. If you’re running a WordPress blog, depending on the theme, your sidebar is likely seen from top to bottom following the content on your page in mobile. Placing your opt-in forms towards the top will ensure they’re seen. Not to keep honking ConvertKit’s horn, but it’s super easy to embed your forms using their WordPress plugin. And one last note on this topic, I noticed an increase in sidebar opt-ins when I removed the first name entry field from the form. You can easily do this with any non-minimal form and unless you’re using email templates with name generators you don’t need their name.
A Call to Action on Every Post
At the end of every post, I drop a short note about one of my opt-ins with a link to the full landing page, a simple entry form, and an image of the opt-in below that. These are my highest converting forms, which makes sense. Think about it — if someone reads through your post in its entirety, they dig your content. Offering them more content (more on stickiness below) and content upgrades for free in exchange for becoming an email subscriber is a no-brainer.
In-Line Opt-In Forms
If you have long-form content it makes sense to offer your opt-ins mid-article if it’s relevant. Look at unintrusive the form above looks. You could drop a side note about a content upgrade, leave an opt-in form, and continue with the article below. It’s not spammy or unavoidable like those godforsaken welcome mats, and the reader likely appreciates the awareness of your content upgrade and more in-depth solution.
Social Media and Link in Profile
In addition to driving traffic like I mentioned above, social is a viable place to actively promote your opt-ins. I notice an uptick in email subscribers every time I have a dedicated post on any social network. That said, I try to make those posts scarce — maybe once a week on most platforms. On the other hand, things like Instagram stories are a great place to pump your opt-ins on a more regular basis.
Another tactic for Instagram, and I mention it in my article on growing your Instagram audience, is the implementation of Link in Profile or something similar. I’m not affiliated with them, but I love the service thus far. One of my favorite functions is the ability to pin a post at the top of your link page. In the image below, you’ll see a link to my cookbook opt-in appears before the true first post in my feed for everyone that clicks the link in my profile. Pretty awesome, right?
And even better, Link in Profile tracks your clicks for every post and link. It’s interesting to compare analytics like engagement and clicks. In the photo below, for example, you can see the week of Thanksgiving is not a great time to drive traffic via high protein recipes.
Believe in Your Opt-In and Pitch Accordingly
If your opt-in is good and helps people solve a problem, you should feel good about pushing it into the world. Some people may unfollow you on social platforms if you’re constantly pushing things, regardless of whether they’re free or not, but a large number of people appreciate quality work. And pushing your opt-ins doesn’t have to be solely online. I used to have a lot of in-person chats about health and fitness topics and now I just hand them my phone with an opt-in form loaded. It saves time, solves the problem, and allows the conversation to expand to different areas. I’m not saying turn into a robot but if you have something that solves a problem in an easy to follow framework, it’s better than an off the cuff walkthrough more often than not. Now that I’m saying this, maybe it’s a good quality test of your opt-in. If you don’t feel comfortable about your opt-in replacing a 5 or 10-minute conversation on the topic, it likely needs to be better.
I mentioned stickiness above and wanted to circle back to it briefly before wrapping things up. There may be a better term for this like bounce rate optimization but by stickiness, I mean keeping people on my site for longer periods of time. Whether they’re reading one post or clicking to others, I want someone here as long as possible. Think about it, if someone trusts you, they’ll buy from you. And since people value their email address almost like their phone number now, they’re paying you for your opt-in even though it’s free. If someone takes a great amount of value from one article or several articles, they’re more likely to make the purchase of your free opt-in.
In practice, this looks like doing a better job linking to other content on your site, improving blog posts to include more interactive content like infographics or videos, and providing over the top value in one way or another. As your blog grows, it’s important to revisit old content and link to newer pieces that are relevant and including new graphics or video that add more value to an older article.
A final point worth mentioning here would be to consider what your goal is for your website. If it’s to gain email subscribers, why are you promoting your social media accounts everywhere? Depending on your goal, all of your social platforms should point to one home base, not the other way around.
- Generating more traffic should always be a goal since you’ll have a tough time knowing what works without users. Still, it’s worth analyzing the quality and effectiveness of your opt-ins and email subscribers growth strategy.
- Find a software that you enjoy using and can get good at with minimal time and effort. High-level funnels and automation are nice but if you’re not consistently sending emails to your list and growing your email subscribers, those won’t matter all that much. One final time, I highly recommend trying out ConvertKit and their free trial.
- Are your opt-ins and incentives good? Could you make improvements? If so, make it happen and believe in your opt-ins’ value add.
- Give away as much as possible for free. Give away your best ideas and knowledge for as long as possible in exchange for true fans and future leverage.
- Add variation to existing opt-ins by creating unique landing pages, opt-in forms, and social media posts. Find ways to position them differently by looking at your most trafficked pages and topics. And track your data to know what’s working best.
- Pitch your opt-ins as often as possible. Aim for relevant spots, like a cookbook for high protein chocolate recipes at the end of a high protein chocolate donut recipe.
- How can you keep people on your site longer and consume more of your best content? Look at your most popular posts and link to as many relevant posts as possible, add engaging content or even snippets from other content, and stop pointing people away from your site once they’re there.
- Quite possibly the biggest piece of advice I can give is to be consistent and patient. Treat this as building a body of work and over time, you’ll have a massive library of free content to give away for free. Monetization follows.
Okay, that’s about it. What do you think? Would you like to add anything that’s helped you or hurt you in terms of building an email list? Let me know!
And while I’m first and foremost and blogger in the fitness and food space, I really enjoy posting about online business, blogging, and digital marketing. If you’d like to get an email when I publish posts like this, you can drop your email below.