You’re building your email list, right?
If you’re not, you need to start today.
Email is by far the most effective marketing channel we have today. Capterra found that the average return on $1 spent on email marketing is $44.25. Nothing else comes even close.
Think about it: email gives you the ability to reach your current and potential customers whenever you want. An incredible 91% of people check email at least once a day.
Having a list gives you more influence over your subscribers’ behavior and allows you to drive page views, sales, reviews, or anything else you’d like.
Here’s the thing though: it’s not a secret anymore. More and more people and companies recognize the power of email and are gathering email addresses of their customers more aggressively.
Buy something from a major retail store, and they’ll likely ask you for your email address.
Regalix reported that 48% of the marketers they surveyed believe that investment in email marketing will only grow in 2015 and beyond.
In addition, two-thirds of companies are already combining email marketing with other marketing strategies such as content marketing and social media marketing.
All this competition is making it harder to earn the email addresses of your average Internet browser. Reports of email opt-in rates dropping across the board are increasingly common, and we will see hard data on it soon.
Nonetheless, I firmly believe you can outperform the average, which consists of all sorts of poorly run businesses.
In this article, I’m going to show you how to:
- determine what your audience values
- ask for email addresses in the right way
- use tools to quickly gather email addresses from visitors
- determine the optimal places to ask for email addresses
Throughout this post, I’m going to be pointing out dated and ineffective techniques so that you can develop a strategy that works.
Learn what your audience craves
Back when email was first created, you could just ask for emails, and people would happily give them to you.
But as I said, inboxes are getting more and more crowded. People will get 204 emails per day in 2015, and it’s projected to increase by about 3% in each subsequent year.
This has led everyone to become more cautious about handing out their email address. If you want your audience to give you their email addresses and then engage with the emails you send, they have to do it happily and voluntarily.
How do you get them to do that? Offer them something they want.
The concept of a lead magnet isn’t new. Give your audience a free e-book or a white report in exchange for their contact information.
What is relatively new, however, is creating a lead magnet the right way. Too many businesses blindly make the first lead magnet that comes to mind thinking that it doesn’t make a difference. But it does.
Create something that your visitors crave, and they’ll practically be forced to give you their emails. Create something that only some of your visitors want, or only want a little bit, and you’ll be left almost empty-handed.
I want you to create content and lead magnets that your readers will love, so I’m going to show you three different methods to determine what they crave the most.
Method 1: Validate that your audience is interested in a topic
If you have a blog that gets consistent traffic, this will be extremely easy.
If you want to see what your audience is most interested in, simply look at the number of times they’ve viewed each article. Additionally, you can look at the number of comments and social shares generated by the articles.
Create a spreadsheet with all your top posts and their traffic stats over a reasonable period (at least three months).
Sort by traffic, and you will see the topics that your specific audience cares about the most.
Then, you can create an offer around those topics. You can use this offer as a content upgrade, or you can promote it around your website.
Here are a couple of examples:
- Article: “22 Gmail Plugins That All Content Marketers Need to Know About”
- Offer: Get the exact templates I use to reach out to influencers
- Article: “How to Make Custom Images for Your Blog Posts Without Hiring a Designer”
- Offer: A private list of 10 designers who will create custom images for $5 per image
Method 2: See what your competitors are offering
If you have a new site or one with few posts and low traffic levels, you can’t use Method 1. What you can do, however, is look at your competitors.
Your most visible competitors have likely been blogging for years. You can take advantage of their experience by seeing what their audience likes the most.
Start by identifying 5-10 competitors.
Add these to a blank spreadsheet. Next to each competitor, create a column for their main lead magnet and 5 more columns for their 5 most popular posts.
To find the main lead magnet, visit the blog (usually the Home page), and look for a highlighted area:
Record the title and a short description (optional) in your spreadsheet.
Next, we need the most popular posts. Some bloggers will include a “Popular Posts” widget in the sidebar. Personally, I don’t trust it because it can be manipulated (and often is).
Instead, use BuzzSumo (a free account will do) to find the most shared posts. Enter your competitor’s URL into the content explorer, and sort by total shares.
Record the headlines of the top 5 posts into your spreadsheet:
Here’s what your sheet should look like. Keep going until you’ve filled it in.
This spreadsheet has a few extremely practical applications.
First, it tells us what lead magnet each blogger has found to convert the best—at least for now (further testing could prove otherwise).
If you were starting a blog in this space and had the background to write a short e-book titled How to Get Your First 10,000 Subscribers, you can be confident that it would convert well based on the Social Triggers’ lead magnet.
The second application is just as useful in my opinion. One danger of simply creating a lead magnet along the same lines as the existing ones is that you could be perceived as a copycat.
In scenario, if I’m a blogger looking for traffic and subscriber advice and come across both your site and Social Triggers, I’m probably not signing up for both. I’ll pick the one that looks most credible, which is the one on an established authority site.
Now go back to your spreadsheet.
You have a list of posts that resonate with the readers of your niche. Categorize all the posts to reveal the most popular general topics:
With the limited selection of posts in my spreadsheet, I identified 4 categories:
- Writing better (4 posts)
- Learning why blogs succeed (2)
- Selling online (2)
- Increasing traffic and subscribers (2)
Now, look at the top categories that you just identified, and look at the lead magnets offered by your competitors. Find the gap.
It’s clear from my very limited analysis that bloggers currently care a lot about writing better. This makes sense given the shift towards higher quality content.
Boost Blog Traffic’s Headline Hacks is about writing great headlines, but you could focus your offer on a different area of writing. You could base a lead magnet on those popular posts you recorded in that category.
- The 20 Words All Successful Bloggers Use in Their Writing
- 51 Essential Time-Saving Resources for Any Blogger
- Free e-book: The Simple Way I Write 1,000-Word High Quality Posts in an Hour
Don’t just create another lead magnet
The biggest mistake marketers make when creating lead magnets is that they make offers that are too vague.
You must create a useful offer that solves one specific problem in your reader’s life.
Otherwise, you won’t make a lasting impression on your new subscriber. They’ll throw out your freebie once they go through it, and there’s a good chance they’ll unsubscribe the first chance they get.
But if you do make a great first impression and deliver something that makes a difference in their life in the short term, they won’t forget you.
Your lead magnet can be in any format. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it:
- is about something your reader cares about,
- delivers massive value (high quality), and
- accomplishes (at least) one specific thing in your subscriber’s life.
To make things crystal clear, let’s look at some examples.
Example 1: E-books
While e-books can be great lead magnets, they can also be terrible. They don’t need to be long, but they need to address a specific topic. Too often, e-books are filled with fluff for the sake of filling pages.
That being said, a good e-book allows you to dive into a fairly complex issue in a way that a checklist or worksheet can’t.
Michael Hyatt offers a free e-book with a very specific claim: take 10 hours off your work week. This is a great topic because you’ll see the results almost immediately.
In addition, he’s a best-selling author and a successful person, which he highlights just before he offers the book. It’s always a good idea to establish credibility to help reduce friction.
Example 2: Free Courses
I love using free courses as a giveaway. Not only do you get your subscriber to continuously refer to your material and get more familiar with you, but you also get them into the habit of reading your emails.
One other advantage of giving away a course is that subscribers usually perceive courses to be more valuable, so they take them more seriously.
I give away a course on Quick Sprout in the sidebar.
It solves one problem—getting more traffic—by showing you how to double your traffic. Note that I made a specific claim—“double your traffic”—which gives my subscribers a way to measure their progress.
Also note that I value the course at $300. Most subscribers find this to be a reasonable amount for the value I give away in the course.
Putting that number on the opt-in form makes the future readers more likely to subscribe. Wouldn’t you want to pay for a $300 course with an email address, which costs you nothing?
Example 3: Lists
If you’re an expert in some field, you can use your expertise to deliver massive value without spending a lot of time on an offer.
On BloggerJet, Tim Soulo offers a list of his personal top 15 tools for getting traffic and subscribers from Twitter.
A list is easy to write as long as you know what should go into it. Since Tim has a ton of experience with Twitter marketing, this probably took him an hour or two to put together.
There are two great things about a list like this.
First, everyone loves tools. They make life easier and often produce more reliable results than tasks done manually.
Second, if a subscriber uses just one tool on that list, they are going to think of Tim every time they use it. It’s great for building your personal brand and getting high email open rates in the future.
Example 4: Free Trial
What if you don’t run a blog-based business? Don’t worry—lead magnets can still work well for you.
Any company with a product, particularly a scalable one such as software, instantly has something of value to offer: a free trial.
Not only will this increase your initial sign-up rates but it will also increase your conversion rates down the line because people don’t like losing things they already have.
When you express interest in Groove, for example, you don’t even have to provide any credit card information. All they ask is for your contact information in exchange for a 30-day trial.
How to ask for email addresses in 2015
If you walked into your favorite clothing store and a sales person ran up to you screaming and waving the store’s latest deal in your face, you’d run away. The offer is important, but so is the way you present it.
The truth about pop-ups
Pop-ups are an amazing way to increase your email sign-up rate, but they can also easily piss off your visitors if you’re not careful.
The average pop-up conversion rate is 1.66%. That’s pretty good for an average. If your blog has a low to medium amount traffic, you should be able to achieve at least double that number after some optimization.
Look at how using pop-ups affected email opt-ins on a cooking blog:
Can you spot when they were first introduced?
But you might be scared that pop-ups will make your visitors instantly hit the back button on their browsers. You don’t need to be.
Some blogs find that pop-ups don’t change their bounce rate or the average time spent reading a post.
What that says is that when implemented correctly, pop-ups aren’t annoying enough to scare away interested readers. They may scare away people who didn’t really want to read anyway, but that’s not a big loss.
The question then becomes: how do you use pop-ups correctly?
It comes down to 3 factors.
Factor #1: Time until pop-up is displayed
Some readers, even if they’re loyal fans, will immediately close the window if they see a pop-up right away.
One test found that the optimal time to show a pop-up was at 10 seconds after the page loaded:
These are the results that you would expect. If you get surprised the second you walk in the store, you leave.
But you must test this on your own site. The guys at Authority Hacker found a different result. A test revealed that the optimal time for a pop-up on their site was right as the page loaded.
That being said, at the time of this writing, their pop-up appears to load about 12 seconds after the page is loaded. Perhaps they had an insufficient sample size for the first test.
Either way, the main takeaway is to always test what’s best for your business.
Another option that can work great is to display the pop-up only when someone is about to close the page or tab in their browser. This is called exit-intent technology, and it is usually a premium feature of pop-up software.
XeroShoes used exit-intent activated pop-ups and were able to increase their overall opt-in rate by 2.5%.
Factor #2: Frequency
If you really want to scare away your readers, show them the same pop-up every time they load a new page.
With all pop-up software, you can set a cookie for a certain length of time. As long as a visitor doesn’t clear their cookies, they won’t see another pop-up on your site for that length of time. If you set it for at least a week, you should be fine.
Factor #3: Ease of closing
This is arguably the most important factor. If you make it difficult to close the pop-up, people will abandon your site in droves.
It’s not always on purpose, but any pop-up with only a small hard-to-see “x” will be hard to close. It’s mainly because readers can’t find the button.
Even worse, some pop-ups have no obvious close button at all, only a hard-to-read link.
Not only are these links hard to close on desktops and laptops, but they are often nearly impossible to close on mobile devices. If your blog has a large mobile audience, double-check how your pop-up shows up on mobile devices.
A safer alternative: Slide-in forms
If you’re really against pop-ups, which I do understand, you can still harness a lot of their power with slide-in offers.
Once you scroll down a certain amount, a nifty little pop-up in the bottom right corner slides in displaying whatever text or links you choose. They only take up a fraction of the screen and don’t interfere with reading the post. However, because they move, they still draw attention based on pattern interruption.
The best example of these are on HubSpot blog posts.
When HubSpot first tested these slide-in forms against their standard static form at the bottom of each post, they found that the slide-in forms increased their conversions by 27%.
But be careful: these can also be a pain on mobile devices, so check them too. I’ve seen a few comments by HubSpot readers who’ve had problems with them:
Designing a high-converting opt-in form
Regardless of whether you’re designing a static opt-in form or a pop-up of some kind, you have to apply the same principles if you want to create an opt-in that converts well.
In general, you have to consider three essentials factors: your offer, your headline, and your call to action (CTA).
Factor #1: A valuable offer
There’s a reason that this was the first point we looked at in this article. You need something that your readers will care about enough to give their email addresses for.
Factor #2: A clear headline
This is simple but important. This is not a typical headline where you might incorporate clickbait tactics. Clearly state the title of your lead magnet, possibly preceded by “Download”, “Get a copy of”, or a similar phrase.
Factor #3: A first person CTA
First, you need a CTA. Once your visitor inputs their email address into the text form, tell them what to do to get their freebie.
To boost your conversion rate, write your CTA in the first person.
Content Verve tested the first person versus second person CTAs and found that the first person CTA attracted 25% and 90% increases in clicks in two different tests.
Try to write your button CTA in terms of the benefit your offer will provide. For example:
- “Yes, I want more traffic”
- “Show me how to get more subscribers”
- “Give me your secrets”
On Social Triggers, Derek Halpern swaps the traditional close “x” for an entire close button. Instead of hiding it, he uses first person CTAs for both the yes and no buttons.
Notice that in order to close the pop-up, you have to read “I reject the free e-book”, which sounds silly if you say it to yourself. This is just the latest test in a series, but I suspect it’s performing quite well.
The most effective email collecting tools
If you want to use a static opt-in form, you’ll need to have a developer design it, or you can modify templates provided by your email marketing provider (Aweber, MailChimp, etc.).
But the most effective email collecting tools by far, as we’ve seen, are pop-ups. To implement them on your site, you will need to use a specific tool designed for this purpose.
To cover all price ranges, I’ve chosen three options that work with WordPress. Be aware that as the price goes down, the amount of work you have to do typically goes up, and the tools become less convenient.
Option 1: Hello Bar
Hello Bar offers a lot of features to capture more emails.
Cost: The free plan covers most features.
The pop-ups that this product makes are very simple and minimalistic. That being said, they’re fairly attractive and non-intrusive.
The neat thing about this tool is that I use it on my blogs. It’s how I was able to grow them to over 100,000 subscribers.
Option 2: OptinMonster
Created by Syed Balkhi and Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster is an affordable mid-range pop-up tool option.
Cost: Minimum $49/year (about $4/month) for basic features.
You can quickly create a pop-up using any of the several templates available. In addition, you can also do A/B testing, which is a great feature. This feature is included in the basic plan (typically in advanced plans in other tools).
Option 3: LeadPages
It’s one of the most comprehensive email collection tools out there.
Cost: Minimum $25/month for basic features.
LeadPages software is very well designed, but it costs a lot more than other pop-up options because you’re paying for other features as well.
Originally, LeadPages existed to help you create high-converting landing pages. They only expanded to pop-up technology once they saw the need for it.
If you go with the basic plan (you can’t just get the pop-up tool on its own), you also get unlimited landing pages. If you have many domains or regularly create landing pages, it’s a solid option.
The best places to ask for email addresses
There’s one last piece of the puzzle missing: where to ask for your readers’ email addresses.
The traditional way is the sidebar. You don’t need a sign-up form in the sidebar. Most forms placed there will get a subscription rate of about 0.4%. Even a well done sidebar form only converts at about 1%.
I’m not saying you can’t have one, just be aware that it isn’t really necessary and will only make up a small fraction of your signups.
1. The Home page
A large portion of your traffic will end up on your Home page. Most of that traffic will come from other parts of your website, which means that the visitors were interested in exploring it further.
These readers can be converted very easily with a “feature box.” A feature box is simply a large area near the top of your homepage that stands out and clearly asks for a reader to opt in.
2. In blog posts
Most of the traffic a website gets is to individual blog posts. So, it makes sense to ask for email addresses there.
The problem with sidebar forms is that they are often ignored. But content isn’t.
If you make your offer somewhere within the content, it will get seen more often and convert higher.
The first place to start is after your post. If someone reads it to the end, they are clearly interested in what you have to say. This makes it the perfect time to offer them something more, whether it’s more content or some sort of bonus.
But you don’t necessarily have to wait that long to ask for a signup. You can configure your pop-up to show up after a certain amount of time, or you can simply use a link in the content to trigger your pop-up manually:
This way, you can mention your bonus when it’s most appropriate.
3. The About page
Look at your site analytics. The About page often gets a significant amount of traffic.
Like with the Home page, anyone who navigates to your About page usually likes what they’ve read. They’re just looking for some more background on you and the site to make sure you’re credible.
This is a great time to ask for their email address. In fact, often you don’t even need to offer anything other than your content and expertise in order to get high conversion rates.
The secret to exploding your conversion rates
One word: relevance.
When we came up with lead magnet ideas in the first section of this article, we looked at the topics that were most popular with your readers. That’s because the more popular a topic was, the relevant it was to your readers’ issues.
But what if you could achieve that level of relevance for every post?
This is the principle behind content upgrades and the reason why they can achieve conversion rates of 20% or more on certain posts.
You create a highly relevant offer for the topic discussed in your post and then offer it somewhere in the post as well as at the end.
For example, I could create either of the following upgrades for this post:
- “See the exact conversion rates of all existing and past Quick Sprout opt-in forms”
- “Free video: Walkthrough of the exact layout I use to get 10%+ opt-in rates”
Those are just hypothetical examples, but wouldn’t you want to give me your email address at this point for either of those (assuming I don’t already have it)?
The upside is an increase in your conversion rates. The downside is that you need to spend more time creating your lead magnets.
If you create simple content upgrades, they won’t provide much value. They won’t be as effective at keeping you in your subscribers’ minds as targeted content upgrades would, possibly leading to lower email engagement later on.
If you really want to maximize your conversion rates, you’ll have to spend a decent amount of time creating content upgrades for each post. If you’re putting in 10 or so hours into creating each post anyway, spending another one or two hours for a lot of extra subscribers is worth it.
One compromise is to create a few different comprehensive lead magnets (e.g., a free course) on the two to four most popular topics that you’ll be writing about often. That way, you’ll always have a relevant offer without having to create a new one every time. You’ll still get great conversion rates, but they’ll be a bit lower than if you had a specific offer for each post.
Derek Halpern has caught on to this strategy and developed three comprehensive lead magnets on different topics that he can promote when appropriate.
Finally, you can always combine the two strategies. There are no fixed rules on what you can offer.
Optimizing your email opt-in rate is not easy—I never said it would be.
But those of you who take the concepts and strategies in this article to heart—and apply them—will get rewarded.
If your blog gets 10,000 visitors a month, even a modest 2% increase in your email opt-in rate would be an extra 200 subscribers a month, or 2,400 a year.
If you treat your list right, that could easily be worth over $10,000.
That should really be the only incentive you need to spend a few hours evaluating your current set up and improving it.
Remember to use your judgement. Always consider how your audience might react to any specific tactic you implement, and test! Find what works on your site using the guidelines I’ve given you in this article.
One last thing: I’d appreciate it if you left me a comment below, letting me know what your current email opt-in rate is. Then come back in a few weeks after you’ve implemented this advice to let me know how much it’s increased.