This guest post is by Ethan Waldman.
Everyone starts from zero. Zero readers, zero subscribers, zero dollars. I can tell you from experience that staring at that number on the screen is one of the most gut-wrenching things about building an online presence.
You’re staring that that big, fat, zero right now and you don’t know what to do about it. Sure, there are loads of people who sell or give away advice on how to rectify that situation, but no amount of reading twitter or buying flashy information products will change it without action on your part.
When I work with small, offline businesses on building a web presence, they usually start from zero. In fact, they start from less than zero because they often don’t even understand what social media is or have never had a website.
In times of frustration and near defeat, one of the most satisfying things I’ve done is to take action. When you take action, you assume responsibility for whatever situation you’re in and attempt to change it.
Still, the first few weeks or months of building a web presence can be so lonely. One of the fastest ways to change that is through an email list. Having a quality email list is awesome because:
- It’s sustainable way to drive traffic to your blog website.
- It is something people opt-in to. These are people that want to hear from you.
- You can use the list to figure out what your customers want.
- It works immediately, regardless of the size.
Building a profitable and responsive email list takes time and effort. Sometimes, it can feel hopeless when you look at your subscriber numbers. Over the course of my online journey, I’ve both learned from amazing mentors and used trial and error to learn how to grow.
The following ten items are things that you can take action on that will help you build your email list faster. You can do them right now if you want to. If you’re not doing the following ten activities already, you’re struggling against that “zero” harder than you need to.
Add a Facebook Like button to your Thank You page
1. If you don’t have a custom Thank You page for your list subscribers, you are missing out on keeping that subscriber on your website. In Aweber, the options for a custom Thank You page are in Step 2 when you’re creating a web form.
2. Make sure your page has personality. A generic “Thank you for signing up” won’t cut it. Use your voice, and thank your new subscriber the way you actually would thank them if you were writing a personal email or talking on the phone. This is also a great opportunity to remind folks that they’ll need to check their email inbox for an email to verify their subscription.
3. Finally, add the Facebook like button to your custom Thank You page.
Here’s the important part: even though subscribers will be clicking the Like button on your Thank You page, you can set it up to like any page on your website.
I would recommend having your Facebook Like button like your Signup page, rather than your Thank You page. Here’s how to configure it. First, go to Facebook’s developer page here.
Create two new web forms and split-test them
I improved opt-ins by 18% simply by trying out different sign-up boxes. Aweber makes it simple to split-test different forms with one snippet of code.
Under Web Forms, scroll to the bottom of the page and choose Create A New Split Test. Give your split test a name, and choose which web forms to include by assigning them a percentage of how often they will be shown.
Back on the Web Forms page, choose Get HTML next to your newly created split test, and use that code in place of the single form on your site.
Check back on this page in a few days to view the stats. Once you find out what the best performing form is, use it all the time. For even better opt-ins, do another split test with the winner of the first and two more new forms.
Thank your current subscribers
In his email list, Un-Stream, Jonathan Mead starts by thanking his new subscribers for the week. It’s a nice way of welcoming people into his community. You can take this one step further: Send out a tweet or make a Facebook post: “Thank you to the awesome 68 new subscribers today to the Cloud Coach stream http://…”
This works on two levels. First, people like recognition. If you @ mention one or two of your new subscribers, there’s a good chance that they’ll re-tweet you (and the link to your signup page). Second, it builds curiosity for people who don’t currently subscribe. They’ll wonder what they are missing and click the link, especially if the number is impressive.
Try a site bar
Have you noticed the full-width bars that pop down from the top of the screen and “push” the whole website down with them? It seems like they are all over the web right now, and that’s because they work well. Visually, they break the flow of the eye as it scans down your page. The result is that they grab the readers’ attention for an extra second, while they read what the bar has to say.
HelloBar and ViperBar are just two of the options:
- HelloBar boasts universal compatibility, a slick web interface with analytics (yes, you can split test your HelloBars), and easily customizable colors and fonts.
- ViperBar is WordPress only and comes in plugin form, so there’s no code to install in your theme files. It also allows you to put a signup box for your mailing list right inside the bar.
Regardless of which you choose, your goal is to increase signups for your mailing list. Use the HelloBar to link to your signup page with a compelling headline. Or, use the ViperBar with the signup form built in so visitors don’t have to leave the page they’re on.
Sweeten the deal
Can you offer new subscribers some sort of giveaway for signing up? “Free Email Updates” is not a compelling reason to sign up. You’ll be much more likely to get opt-ins if they come with something unique.
Not sure what to offer? You’ve probably already created content that you can use with your freebie. Just don’t recycle it! In their (excellent) book Content Rules, authors C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley explain that you should re-imagine your content, rather than recycle it. For example, take five blog posts that are centered around a general topic, and reformat them into a PDF ebook using Pages or PowerPoint. Here’s @C.C.Chapman with more:
Switch from personal email to a real email list provider
I can’t tell you how many small business people I know who do their business emailing from their personal email accounts! If you are committing this sin, most of the other tips in this article will be useless to you. Keeping an “email list” as a contact group in your Gmail account just doesn’t cut it.
Switch to a real provider so you can:
- create web (signup) forms
- find out which emails get opened
- provide a safe way to unsubscribe
- split test your forms and emails.
Not sure which service to look at? Mailchimp offers a free list for up to 500 subscribers. Be wary though, because Aweber is industry standard and once you hit 500 subscribers on Mailchimp, you may be hankering for the advanced features that Aweber offers. See this article for a more in-depth analysis
Create a warm welcome
Write a fun and engaging welcome message that asks your new subscribers to do something. Have them write back to you with the answer to a question, share something on twitter with a particular hashtag, or ask them to post something related on Facebook.
Dave Navarro has some excellent ideas around how to do this including, asking for a share on social media, asking for opinions, or even asking them to listen to an audio or video file. See this blog post for more on responsiveness.
The key is making your communication with your list from passive to active. Instead of just reading your email, you’re asking your reader to take action. Dave does an excellent job of pointing out that if you start doing this now, it will be easier to ask your list to take action when you want them to buy from you.
If you offer a freebie in exchange for signing up for your email list, write a relevant blog post on the topic and link it back to your signup page. You guest post should provide the framework, and lead readers back to your website and email list in order to get the specific training or details.
Increase your blog traffic
It’s a simple fact: the more people who see your blog, the more people see your form, and the more people who sign up for your list. ProBlogger offers some excellent techniques that will help you achieve increased traffic with your blog. Some of my favorites (and most successful) are:
- 10 Ways to Improve Blog Traffic in 30 Minutes or Less: I especially like the tip about saving your great posts for the right time of the day or week.
- A Blog Commenting Strategy: Commenting regularly on my favorite industry blogs has been the most reliable and consistent source of traffic for me behind guest posting.
Make your webform more visible
Is your signup form hiding at the bottom of your homepage or on another page all together? Your opt-in should be in a prominent location and draw attention towards it. The top of the right sidebar is a commonly used location (because it works).
If you’re new to WordPress, you might have noticed that whatever you put in the sidebar appears on all of your pages. You might want your mailing list signup to be at the top right of your homepage, but not all other pages. Luckily there’s a way to customize what you see in the sidebar of each page. To implement this, I would recommend using a plug-in called Per Page Sidebars. Here’s how:
- Install and activate the plugin through your WordPress Admin page. If you’re not sure how to install a plugin, see this tutorial.
- When you go to create or edit a page, you will see a new set of options below the body text. Check the Activate Custom Sidebar box and then choose which sidebar to replace with a new custom one. We’re working with customizing the sidebar, not the footer.
- Save your page and head over to the Widgets page.
- Before, you only had the option of placing widgets on “Sidebar” and “Footer” (which apply to the entire site). You now have an additional place to put Widgets. Any page you have enabled Per Page Sidebars on will be listed with “PPS – Name of Page”. Since I’ve just enabled Per Page Sidebars on my homepage, I see:
- Congratulations! Now you can add your mailing list sign-up form to the top right corner of your homepage without it applying to all of the other pages on your site.
Many of the actions above will only work for you once you have your website and email list in place. After all, you can’t build an email list if you haven’t at least created one yet. Start with the ideas that are comfortable and the move to the ones that are more of a challenge.
The most important thing is to take action, and let me know how it works for you in the comments.
What could we add to this list? Share it so everyone can benefit from your ideas.
Ethan Waldman helps offline business owners create an online presence to get more customers. Right now, many people are using his free 4-day course, Pre-Sold & Hooked, to build a profitable and responsive email list for their businesses.