Email Marketing

7 Data-Backed Ways to Achieve Explosive List Growth on a Budget

Bamidele Onibalusi
Bamidele Onibalusi

What is the value of an email subscriber to you?

While your answer will vary depending on your business model and email marketing strategies, there is no doubt about the effectiveness of email marketing.

According to data from the Digital Marketing Association, email has an impressive ROI of 3,800 percent. That means for every $1 you invest in email marketing, you can expect a return on investment of $38.

In some cases, you can build a list of thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands without having to spend a single cent acquiring traffic or email subscribers.

This article shares seven super smart ways to rapidly grow your email list on a budget:

1. Run Viral Email Giveaways

What would you do with 187,991 extra subscribers?

While this number might seem out of reach to the average small business owner who has little to spend on list building and hasn’t been accumulating subscribers for years, that was the question Josh Earl suddenly found himself asking after running a viral email giveaway.

By running a viral giveaway, Josh Earl grew his email list from 5,500 subscribers to 192,991 in just 11 days — that’s a 3,417 Percent increase.

Here’s how he did it:

1. Start by deciding your giveaway offer: Josh Earl’s blog teaches people how to use a software called Sublime Text. The license to the software cost $70. He decided to give away a license to the software.

Your giveaway offer could be anything; there have been giveaways in which people offer an iPhone, an iPad, or something else.

If there are two key lessons to borrow from Josh Earl, however, they are:

  • Your giveaway offer does not have to be expensive to be successful; you don’t need to giveaway a gadget worth thousands of dollars to succeed. A simple $70 software can do. An in-demand application license, an e-course, or anything of interest to your audience will do fine, too.
  • The relevancy of your offer is extremely important; Earl’s success can also be attributed to the fact that his offer was extremely relevant to his audience.

2. Determine the mechanism of running your giveaway: In Earl’s case, he decided to use a model he learnt from AppSumo’s Noah Kagan:

  • People have to enter their email to join a giveaway — every subscriber has an equal chance of winning.
  • Subscribers are given a “lucky URL” they can share to invite others in order to increase their chances of winning.
  • The more people a subscriber is able to invite, the higher his/her chances of winning.
  • Sharing the giveaway is made easy with embedded email and social sharing links on the page encouraging subscribers to share the giveaway.

In Earl’s case, the particular giveaway software he used was Kingsumo Giveaways. An alternative app to this is Rafflecopter.

3. Promote your giveaway: Josh Earl didn’t just stop at announcing his giveaway. He knew his giveaway needed momentum, so he went ahead and announced it to his list of 5,500 subscribers, his social media followers, and elsewhere. He also emailed relevant newsletters to announce the giveaway to their list. This helped generate initial momentum for the giveaway which then took a life of its own.

Similarly, don’t just set up your giveaway and forget it; put in effort to promote it as much as you can until it really takes off.

2. Offer a Signup Incentive

Sometimes we tend to skip the simple stuff and focus on the complex, when it’s the basic things that could actually make a great deal of difference.

That was the situation Flyte Media found itself in:

Flyte’s initial approach to list building was to ask website visitors to “Join Our Email List” — this approach was weak at best, resulting in them barely getting any subscribers to their blog.

Flyte decided to switch things up a bit, however, and introduced a sign up incentive. The result was clear: from barely getting any subscriber at all, email sign ups went up to an average 120 per month.

While 120 subscribers monthly isn’t much for a lot of big shot marketers, for Flyte Media it was a 5,000 percent increase compared to what they were getting and it made a great deal of difference.

So, if you don’t have any incentive (an ebook, ecourse, app, or anything else) that people will receive in exchange for signing up to your newsletter, it might be a good idea to create one now.

3. Introduce More Signup Options/Forms

Sometimes you don’t have to create new content or introduce a new offer. You only have to ask people to sign up in more places.

This is exactly what Buffer did to experience a 130 percent increase in email signups from their blog.

What Buffer did was pretty simple:

They added opt in forms in as many different places as they could.

Initially, the only way people could sign up was through a single form on their blog:

  • The slideup form

With the new changes, however, people could sign up through nine different options:

  • Slideup
  • Hellobar
  • Homepage
  • Postscript
  • Sidebar
  • Twitter
  • SlideShare
  • Facebook
  • Qzzr

The result was an immediate boost in subscriptions of 130 percent.

Achieving a similar result shouldn’t be hard:

  • Take a thorough look at your website and note how many different options users have to sign up.
  • If you have less than five different ways for people to sign up to your email list, then you can most certainly double the available sign up options or increase it significantly. This should not be a problem as most email service providers will let you create different kinds of forms (including popups, exit pops, slide in forms, and sidebar forms) that you can easily place all over your website.

4. Create Content/Category Specific Incentives

We already looked at how offering a sign up incentive can give you a massive boost in email subscriptions. Guess what can help this boost even further? Offering an incentive that is specific to a particular piece of content or category.

For example, many blogs have five or more different content categories. In a lot of cases, just a single incentive is offered throughout the site. Now imagine what happens when each of these categories have their own different, targeted sign up incentives.

That’s exactly what Josh Earl did with his blog. Stuck with an abysmally low conversion rate due to the single site-wide incentive he offered, he decided to experiment with introducing a few hyper-targeted incentives just for his most popular blog posts. The result was an immediate boost in subscriptions of 372 percent.

Getting similar results should not be difficult:

  • Identify your top five posts/categories based on traffic and performance.
  • Create a special sign up incentive for each of these posts/categories, ensuring that each incentive is super tailored to the post it will be accompanying.
  • Using several relevant optin forms (in-content forms, pop ups, etc) on the particular post involved, introduce the relevant sign up incentive to readers.

5. Use Content Upgrades

How would you feel if you could perpetually increase email subscriptions from key pages on your website by up to 785 percent just with a few hours of effort?

That was exactly what Brian Dean did with his website, Backlinko.

By adding a content upgrade to one of his flagship blog posts, Dean was able to increase subscriptions from .54 percent to 4.82 percent. That’s a 785 percent increase.

What is a content upgrade?

A content upgrade is an advanced version, a more complete version, a well-packaged version, or supplementary content, relating to a piece of content a reader just finished reading. 

The content upgrade is introduced immediately in the piece of content being read. What’s different about it, however, is that readers need to provide their email address to get it.

How to setup a content upgrade:

  • Determine how to package the content you want to add the upgrade to; you can do this by creating an advanced version of the content, by creating a different format of that content (PDF, video, etc), by creating supplementary resources to help with using that content (worksheets, templates, etc), etc.
  • Hint at the fact that you will be offering a content upgrade in the introduction of your content — you can also add a link to get the content upgrade right at the beginning of the content.
  • To ensure user experience isn’t affected, use a triggered popup to get users to subscribe to the content upgrade. Make sure they are able to sign up using the popup without having to leave the content they are reading.

6. Use a Website Overlay

When people visit a website, the usual options they have for signing up is via a form featured on the sidebar, footer, or as a pop-up.

There’s another way that can convert a lot more than all the above options: the website overlay.

By using an overlay, people are shown an opt-in form that takes over the whole web page as soon as it opens. This optin form then disappears when they scroll down or click a button to remove it.

It turns out that an overlay opt-in form can be very powerful for boosting conversion rates. In an article for eConsultancy, WhichTestWon’s Justin Rondeau reports an increase in sign ups of about 400 percent by using an overlay opt-in form.

7. Use a Nudge

You’ve probably visited a website before and seen the following type of slide in form:

In a lot of cases, when you see a form like this, it is from websites looking to gather user feedback in respect to a particular feature or even the entire website experience.

Many do not know, however, that this quiz-like slide in opt-in form, known as a “nudge,” can be used to boost email subscriptions. In the example used above, the University of Alberta was able to boost subscriptions by 500 percent without experiencing a negative impact on open rates.

In Conclusion

As you can see from the above examples, boosting your email subscriptions by as much as 5,000 percent does not necessarily require you to pay massive amounts for ad traffic or hire expensive consultants. Instead, all you need to do is spare some extra hours or invest in the relevant apps that will allow you to implement the above ideas and you’re good to go.

Bamidele Onibalusi

Bamidele Onibalusi

Bamidele Onibalusi is the founder and CEO of Writers in Charge. Follow him via the links below.