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How You Can Build an Email Marketing List as Quickly as Possible

According to a 2014 survey of 1,000 web-based businesses, email marketing has the highest ROI of any marketing channel.

Surveyed companies attributed an average of 23% of total sales to this single channel, and these results are hardly isolated. Anywhere you look nowadays, you’ll see that email marketing is more profitable than ever.

The question then isn’t: “Should I build an email list?”, but rather: “How can I build my list as quickly as possible?”

That’s the $1,000,000 question (literally), and we’ve analyzed the best in the business to bring you the ultimate guide to hacking your email subscription growth.

1. Content Upgrades

What’s the difference between your blog post converting at 6% and converting at 60%?

Content Upgrades.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Write a blog post.
  2. Create a piece of content that goes more in-depth on the post’s topic.
  3. Offer readers of your blog post the option to receive the upgraded content in exchange for their email.

This strategy is brilliant in its simplicity. Your readers have already expressed interest in a topic by clicking through to the blog post. Why not take advantage of their interest by offering them more?

Bryan Harris from Video Fruit used this strategy to increase his subscription rate to 30% per upgrade offer. His best offers have generated an insane 62% subscription rate.

letterman formula

Brian Dean of Backlinko catapulted his subscriptions by 785% with this strategy. Authority Hacker used a single content upgrade to collect over 11,000 emails.

the content upgrade

This strategy gets unrivaled results, but it can also be one of the most time consuming strategies. To cut down on time, check out this guide for content upgrades you can create in just 30 minutes.

2. In-Email Social Sharing Options

Typically, your goal for sending out blog posts to your email subscribers is to obtain click-throughs to your website and generate site traffic.

You want readers to visit your website, and statistics show the presence of multiple links will result in less clicks on the one you want.

Considering we want website traffic and, of course, for users to actually read our content, the concept of adding social sharing buttons in the email itself seems a bit counterproductive.

Why would someone share my post without reading it? And how does that benefit me?

Well, if you’re anything like me, the answers will surprise you.

Email provider GetResponse noticed a trend in the addition of social sharing buttons within emails and did a study on the results.

get response may 2015

Image Source: GetResponse Blog

The average CTR for emails with social sharing options is 6.2% versus 2.4% without.

That’s a 158% advantage for emails with social sharing!

Even if your subscribers don’t read the article themselves, each share is likely to be generating traffic from multiple visitors, which means more bang for your marketing buck.

3. Host A Giveaway

The more you can engage people, the more likely they are to sign up for your list.

When the marketing team at WWRD ran a sweepstake in 2011, it increased email subscribers by an impressive 11%. Perhaps even more importantly, customers obtained via the giveaway had a 21.7% higher order value than the site-wide average.

Bryan Harris used a giveaway to land 2,239 emails in 10 days. Josh Earl acquired over 60,000 emails with a giveaway in the same amount of time.

That’s the definition of noteworthy.

But what does it take to run a successful giveaway?

  1. A compelling prize your audience actually wants
  2. Bonus entries for referrals (the KingSumo Giveaways plugin makes this easy)
  3. Guaranteed bonus incentives for all non-winners (something you can give for free)
  4. Promotion to relevant audiences

Now, you might be thinking, “Sure, a giveaway will grow your list, but the emails will be low-quality, made up primarily of freebie junkies with no interest in buying your product.”

There’s a very simple way to solve this problem. Make your prize something only potential customers will love.

In the Bryan Harris giveaway I cited earlier, the offered prize was a 10 year subscription to Leadpages, an industry-leading landing-page service. For someone in Bryan’s target audience – online marketers – that’s a $3,000 value and an amazing prize. For anyone else – anyone not interested in marketing or ecommerce – it’s worthless.

Problem solved.

leadpages for a decade

Giveaways are a lightning fast, guaranteed way to boost your email list. In addition to the direct benefit of more subscribers, giveaways increase goodwill with existing subscribers as you are offering something to them for free.

4. Featured Opt-In Incentives

These days, it’s rare to find a high-traffic website that doesn’t have some type of featured opt-in incentive. This could be an Ebook, swipe file, white paper, resource list, free software tool, or any number of content types, but all of them serve as opt-in incentives for acquiring email subscriptions.

The difference between this and the previously mentioned Content Upgrade is that Featured Incentives aren’t linked to a specific blog post. Most websites create one high-value opt-in incentive and then advertise this same incentive via their:

  • sidebar
  • lead capture top-bar
  • opt-in popups
  • blog post footer
  • author bio

The advantage with this strategy is efficiency. You only have to create a single piece of content, and you can then utilize this content at every turn. This is a much more palatable option for small business owners who don’t have the bandwidth in their schedules to produce upgraded content for each blog post.

For example, on his Quick Sprout blog, Neil Patel offers a free course promising to double reader traffic in 30 days.

quicksprout screenshot

Buffer simply uses the free version of its flagship product as an opt-in incentive.

buffer screenshot may 2015

The featured incentive is a simple, straightforward way to immediately increase your subscription rate.

5. Pop-ups

As Hunter Boyle says, popups are like Justin Bieber: “You either love ‘em, or hate ‘em, but lately you see ‘em everywhere – because they still pull in big crowds.”

Social Media Examiner attributes 70% of its 190,000 subscriptions to the site’s pop-up form. Chris Penn’s subscriptions “fell off a cliff” after removing his site’s pop-up form.

popup removed may 2015

Unconvinced? A test by Darren Rowse demonstrated in increase in subscribers from 40 a day to 350 a day after installing a pop-up subscription box on ProBlogger.net.

daily new leads

The best part about pop-ups is they are easy. You can’t argue with 9 times more subscribers for a few minutes worth of work. The steps for installing a successful popup are easy.

  1. Install a pop-up script or plugin
  2. Write a few lines of copy
  3. Watch your subscription rates jump

Pop-ups are insanely easy to implement and they work. They WORK!

But what about bloggers and companies targeting a non-marketing audience? Crafting blogger Nikki McGonigal increased her subscription rate from 0.4% to 5.5% with her lightbox pop-up, an increase of 1,375%!

Jumping even farther outside the marketing box, I recently installed SumoMe pop-ups on a men’s blog with astonishing results. I think it’s fairly obvious to see when the pop-up was installed.

list growth chart

The point is, love ‘em or hate ‘em, pop-ups are extremely successful… like Justin Bieber

6. Leverage Social Proof

Social Proof is powerful. 63% of consumers say they are more likely to purchase from a site that has product ratings or reviews.

In a series of peer-reviewed studies conducted in 2008, researchers found that social proof was consistently more influential in modifying behavior than protecting the environment, personal responsibility or even saving money.

One of the keys to leveraging social proof is volume. The bigger numbers you have, the better.

If you have 2,000 email subscribers, 10,000 Facebook fans, 15,000 Twitter followers, and 5,000 RSS readers (they’re people too), you’re doing better than most, but none of those numbers are particularly impressive. You want a potential subscriber to look at your “proof” and think, “Wow, a lot of people like what you’re doing!”

So why not just add all those numbers together? “32,000 followers/readers/subscribers” is a lot more impressive of a number.

Michael Hyatt is a great example of someone who does this well.

the right way to hire people

Look at that number in the top right corner of this image. Total Subscribers = 512,944. Wow.

That’s impressive. I don’t even know what it means, but it’s impressive. Does Michael Hyatt have 500k email subscribers? No, he doesn’t. This number is probably some type of combination of all possible follower metrics, including his email subscribers, 241k Twitter followers, 57k Facebook fans, etc.

The point here is that when I see “512,944 Total Subscribers”, I immediately start taking this guy seriously. He has to be doing something right with a number like that.

If all Michael had was the 57k Facebook fans listed right below, I’m not nearly impressed. Combined with the big number above, however, the FB fan numbers serve as crucial verification. If your website has 1,500 FB likes, there is NO WAY I believe you have 500k viewers. But with Michael’s Facebook numbers, I start to believe in that much bigger number above, and it means I probably can’t afford to miss what he’s saying.

The great news is that this strategy works for anyone. Anyone can add a lot of numbers together to make a bigger number.

Brian Dean quotes a split-test study from DIYthemes as an example of where social proof fails. Adding “Join 15,000 subscribers and receive free updates” performed much worse than a simple request to join minus the social proof.

I think what Brian and the testers are missing is that 15k is neither big enough to be impressive nor small enough to be inviting. It’s not a number that works effectively as social proof, and while I can’t test it out myself, I believe, based on evidence for social proof around the web, that DIYthemes would have had much better success with a combined number in the 50k+ range as mentioned above.

7. Name Drop

There are two types of people:

  1. People who care about what people think
  2. People who care about what THOSE people think

For segment #2, your social proof won’t be nearly as effective as a well-placed name drop.

Name dropping links your brand with another brand. It’s a way to borrow and leverage someone else’s authority and influence, while simultaneously establishing your own.

Neil Patel is probably my favorite example of this concept in action.

name drop like neil

I remember the first time I visited Quick Sprout. I was relatively new to the world of marketing and had ZERO clue who Neil was. But my ignorance didn’t really matter, because of what you see in the image above.

Once you land on the Quick Sprout blog you are immediately introduced to a large image of Neil followed by a laundry list worth of credentials.

Let’s count at the recognizable brand names. Even skipping over his well-known businesses, we are immediately hit with:

  1. Amazon
  2. NBC
  3. GM
  4. HP
  5. Viacom
  6. The Wall Street Journal
  7. Forbes
  8. Entrepreneur Magazine
  9. President Obama
  10. The United Nations
  11. Congress

Seriously… he name dropped Obama!

I didn’t need to know anything else about Neil Patel. The article I was reading was brilliant and anyone who can name drop Amazon, Forbes, Obama, and The United Nations in one sentence deserves my immediate subscription.

But how does this apply to you, assuming you don’t have the POTUS on speed dial?

The beauty of the Name Drop is that you only need one.

All it takes is one credible name to get your foot in the door. If you provide quality content to your audience, that one credible name will often be enough to get that email subscription. From there, it’s up to you what you do with it.

8. Customer Referrals Via A Tasty Bonus

Referrals are like the Walter White version of social proof. Nothing is more pure & powerful than the direct recommendation of a friend you trust.

People want to be happy and make their friends happy. If you are making your email subscribers happy, they will naturally want to share the love.

Your first option is to simply ask subscribers to refer your content to their friends and coworkers. As I previously mentioned, email subscribers are far more likely to engage with your content than any other group.

But you can do a lot better than simply asking. Make them an offer they can’t refuse – a bonus so tasty they would be foolhardy to say no (yes, I’m bringing the word “foolhardy” to online marketing).

GiftBasketsOverseas.com offers customers a $20-off coupon for referring a friend to their products. On top of that, the referred friend receives $20 off their first purchase.

customer referral program

This page is poorly optimized, lacking visuals or an in-your-face CTA, but the referral strategy is brilliant. Take people who like what you are doing, offer them an even better value and provide them with the opportunity to share this same great experience with their friends at a discounted price.

Think of how you could one-up this offer. $20 doesn’t sound nearly as cool as 75% off.

Setting up a referral system is a fantastic way to quickly hack your email subscriptions. And best of all, you can do it yourself at low cost. Here’s a how-to guide by Sacha Greif on setting up a simple referral system.

9. Partner With Influencers

There’s a reasons celebrities command exorbitant rates for their endorsements. Influencers can do a lot to drive conversions.

But money isn’t the only currency you can use in partnering with influencers. There are a number of brilliant strategies you can use right now, regardless of your budget, to start partnering with the big dawgs.

A. The Poster Boy Strategy

Many of today’s influencers build their empires on some method, strategy, or knowledge base that supposedly helps people make money or accomplish something desirable.

They are “experts” attempting to sell themselves as teachers and in order to do so effectively, they need one thing.

Successful students.

These wildly successful guys need stories about how their strategies turned Average Joe into Maui Rich. They need poster boys.

You can be their poster boy. And that means you are going to be featured and talked about in all their marketing materials.

Become their “success story” and you have landed yourself a lifetime partnership with a major influencer. Bryan Harris explains this strategy in-depth here.

B. Fill A Need For Free

Anyone who is famous or even moderately well known in his/her niche is getting perpetually bogged down with promotion requests. People are asking, asking, asking all the time.

What most people aren’t doing is giving. They especially aren’t giving for free.

What you probably don’t realize, is that most people you’ve heard of are in their position due to a very specific skillset. They are SO good at something, they’re famous for it.

What they aren’t amazing at is ________. Just fill in the blank with the first thing that crosses your mind and it probably fits. Influencers have needs too, and they are usually looking for ways to improve.

If you can help them out, without asking anything in return, you’re going to be building favor in the right places.

At a really basic level, a common example of this is guest blogging. Content providers need quality content on a regular basis. By giving them quality content at no-charge you are building goodwill with both the influencer and the influencer’s audience.

C. Join Forces With Tomorrow’s Influencers

Most of today’s top names in blogging and marketing started around the 2002-2005 mark. Many of them sought each other out and leveraged each other’s audiences all the way to the top.

You can take this same long-term approach, but it requires to begin looking in different places.

Start connecting with individuals at your current level of influence. Find people who are serious about building their brands, and work together to expand your collective influence.

Alexis Grant is a great example of someone who has successfully utilized this strategy. Through her company Socialexis, she has connected rising influencers in multiple industries, collectively propelling sites like Brazen Careerist, The Penny Hoarder, and The Write Life while establishing herself as a blog publishing powerhouse.

10. Make Your Website Faster

Speed kills on the road, but on the Internet, it’s a lack of speed that will kill your conversion rate. You need to do everything possible to speed up your site.

This might seem like an obvious talking point, but you probably don’t realize how important each marginal increment of load-time is the higher your traffic numbers climb. Just take a look at these stats compiled by ViperChill.

  • Amazon’s sales increase by 1% for every 0.1 second decrease in page load time.
  • When Google tried showing 30 results per page at a cost of just 0.5 seconds in load time, traffic and revenue decreased by 20%!
  • 40% of visitors will abandon a site after just 2 seconds of load time.
  • Shopzilla increased its pageviews by 25% and its conversion rate by 7-12% after improving average page load speed by 4 seconds.

Okay, so you want to speed things up. How do you do it?

One quick option is to install a caching plugin and use a content delivery network like Incapsula. Or like ViperChill did after the previously cited research, you could pay for your own dedicated server. Obviously, most businesses won’t be able to afford that option.

If you’re not sure how your site is performing, free tools like Quick Sprout’s URL analyzer or premium options like Searchmetrics will let you automatically crawl your site for errors, speed reports, SEO alerts, custom error reporting, scheduled site crawling and automatic alerts.

The point is simply that site speed will affect 100% of your critical metrics. It should be a top priority for your website.

11. Webinars

Webinars are one of the most efficient, versatile forms of content you will ever create, and they work like a charm for hacking your email growth.

A solid webinar can be recorded in 15 minutes and serve as a standalone product, a product launch piece, or a cog in your direct-sales funnel.

Webinars are more compelling than regular videos because they have a limited run time. You can’t simply watch them whenever you want. You have to show up at the right moment, which A) creates a micro-commitment and B) generates urgency.

Viewers are often coaxed with a claim of “limited spots available,” creating a false sense of scarcity. Since attendance requires uses to enter their email address, the right webinar or, better yet, the right series of webinars, can generate a massive influx of subscribers.

critical strategy behind product launches

Jeff Walker has been using this strategy for years. It’s an integral part of his Product Launch Formula and a major reason he consistently runs six-figure launches. But you don’t need a course to get started. Simply record and schedule a webinar or series of webinars about something your audience needs.

What’s Worked For You?

Your turn! Have you tried any of these strategies? How did they turn out?

Have something else in your tool belt we didn’t mention?

Share your experiences in comment section below.

About the Author: Jacob McMillen is a copywriter, blogger, and small business marketing specialist. In addition to launching sales growth via expert copywriting, Jacob enjoys reading exceptional books and pretending to think in his spare time. Connect with him at JacobMcMillen.com.

  1. I’m seriously loving the content “upgrades” trend. You said under webinars “micro commitment” – that’s a track I think a LOT of these take. Just do this. Just go here. Just add us here, just respond, just show up … it’s all this small baby step, baby step, look how far you’ve come. Love it!

    • Jacob McMillen Apr 28, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      Absolutely Matt. It’s all about moving people down the funnel, no matter how small you have to make those steps.

      And I share your enthusiasm for content upgrades. They just make a lot of sense.

  2. “Pop-ups are like Justin Bieber. They annoy everyone but still manage to be wildly successful.” – best content marketing quote ever!!

    great list – thanks for sharing.

  3. Gabe Johansson Apr 29, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    I remember reading that social proof comparison before and the thing I find interesting is the two variations that didn’t do as well just seemed redundant.

    I just looked it up now and it pretty much said “subscribe. Join x others and subscribe” which didn’t flow well.

    On a previous blog I’ve noticed and increase in conversions by promoting the fact that I had 300 subscribers, and it was in an online marketing niche.

    Otherwise, great strategies revealed here that I’ll have to put into practice! Thanks!

    • Jacob McMillen May 01, 2015 at 11:57 am

      Great example Gabe. It can be different for every website and every audience. I’m glad you were able to find a way to apply social proof effectively to your audience!

  4. Hi Jacob – echo Matt’s comment about content upgrades. What tool do you use / recommend to do this? It is a WordPress plugin?
    Thanks, Paul.

    • Jacob McMillen May 01, 2015 at 11:53 am

      Hey Paul, the simplest way is just to create a graphic and display it on WordPress Simple Text Widget. You can link the image to a signup sheet.

      I think Bryan and Brian in my example both use LeadPages’ Leadbox feature, but I’m not 100% sure.

  5. Since the Google Penguin and Panda updates, a lot of marketers finally have realized that ranking a website in the long term is not just about building a large number of links. Best content marketing quote ever!

  6. I’m so glad that you decided to write this article! Now I’m able to create my email marketing list quickly and start sending newsletter using GetResponse with simplicity.

  7. Hey Jacob,

    I was liking the post — until I got to #5. Seems awfully familiar with the Bieber reference and 3 case studies I used a year or two ago.

    conversionconference.com/blog/why-you-need-to-test-lightboxes-the-justin-bieber-of-email-marketing/

    Hard to see that as a coincidence. Attribution is a good thing. Please keep that in mind.

    Cheers — Hunter

  8. Elise Forsyth Mort May 09, 2016 at 6:59 am

    Funny I just setup two mailing lists 4 weeks ago. One was to send out updates when I post a new article on my web site, the other one was a weekly newsletter where I collect, cherry-pick and annotate links to a bunch of news items in a very specific subject: The Perl programming language.

    The former got I think 7 subscribers, not a huge success.

    With the latter I already have more than 500 subscribers. It is not as impressive as the numbers we can see for the copyblogger free updates (top right on this page, if you missed it) but it is certainly more than what I expected.

    Now the hard work starts. Keep sending the newsletters week by week.

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