Episode 188 | Six Hacks for Building Your Mailing List

Show Notes


[00:00]  Mike Taber:   In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Rob and I are going to be talking about Six Hacks for Building Your Mailing List. This is Startups for the Rest of Us, Episode 188.

[00:07] Music

[00:14] Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us. The podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products whether you’ve build your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Mike.

[00:23] Rob Walling:  I’m Rob.

[00:23] Mike: We’re here to share experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word of this week, Rob?

[00:28] Rob:  Yeah, I got some good comments on Episode 185 about moving from Windows to Mac. Robert Graham specifically laid out a bunch of really cool keyboard shortcuts. He says that he’s been exclusively on the Mac since 2000. He talks about something called AlfredApp.com which helps with their command space search. It helps improve it even more. Command space allows you to search anything on your box, but Alfred allows you to  configure out even more.

[00:51] Then, Jumpcut which is Jumpcut.SourceForge.net. It creates a history and a buffer for your clipboard which obviously would be pretty cool. Windowing is improved by Shift It, he says, and he could just link this all and the comments for 185. Just a lot of good tips for some other stuff that we didn’t cover about text editing and taking screen shots, and that kind of stuff. I want to send a thanks out to Robert Graham for that.

[01:13] Mike: Very cool. Thanks. I think we talked a little bit in the past about getting a good set of headphones for listening to  podcasts or working out and just trying to get in the zone but I came across Bose QuietComfort 20i Noise Cancelling In-Ear Headphones. I already have a pair of noise cancelling headphones that go over your ear, and I always wanted in-ear headphones that were noise cancelling but I can never find them. I guess, Bose came out with these in-ear headphones, and I was using them the other day when I was mowing the lawn. I couldn’t hear anything. I was just listening to the podcast. It was great. It was fantastic use of like an hour-and-a-half of my time.

[01:48] Rob:   Wow. In-ear headphones that blocked out the lawn mower.

[01:52] Mike:  Yes. It was awesome. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t expect it to work as well as it did and I also have in-ear headphones that don’t have noise cancelling but I tried this out. They’re expensive.  They’re like $300 but they work really, really well. I couldn’t hear the lawn mower, I couldn’t hear the weed whacker. It was just everything in my ear was crystal clear.

[02:09] Rob:  Yeah, that’s impressive. That’s the kind of stuff, when I talk about listening to 50 or 60 podcasts, it’s because I am listening to them all the time when my brain is not occupied. It is when you’re mowing the lawn or when I am out doing yard work, all that kind of stuff. It really is a nice way to get some time back.

[02:26] If you do have room for the bulkier over-ear headphones, I use the Sennheiser HD280s. I think they’re about 80 or 90 bucks on Amazon. What were the ones that you got that are in your ear?

[02:37] Mike:  It’s the QuietComfort 20i.

[02:39] Rob:  I got it. A few hundred bucks, so it’s an investment. We have several new reviews in iTunes. They’re from Cozy200. He says, “Just another fan. Fantastic show. As a new bootstrap startup founder, I rely heavily on my developers and shows like yours for guidance through the process. We’re extremely bootstrapped. Well, more like strapped than anything else, but a quick shout out to you both. Thanks for helping the entire community improve.”

[03:02]  A Son Watcher from the UK says, “This is an undiscovered gem. I only recently discovered the show after reading a post on Hacker News about useful podcasts for startups, and it’s awesome. I listened to it consistently for a couple of weeks and it’s reinvigorating my motivation to push some niche-SaaS apps to market.”

[03:18]  Tyler Bandfield from the US, he says, “This is the only podcast I am subscribed to. I think the title says it all. Well, I enjoy listening to a variety of podcasts. This is the only one I view as a can’t-miss. Not only is there always something actionable and relevant in each episode but Mike and Rob’s initial discussion of what they’ve both been working on with their own projects is always a nice dose of motivation. If you’re running your own business, working on a side project, or just want to start creating something, this is the podcast for you.”

[03:42]  As always, thanks a ton for the reviews. If you’ve been listening and getting value out of the show, we’d really appreciate it if you would log in to iTunes, and give us a five star. You don’t even have to write the full review. You can just do a five-star rating without having to spend any other time and we’d very much appreciate it. What are we talking about today?

[03:58] Mike: Back in Episode 72, we had talked about eight tactics for building a pre-launched mailing list. We talked a little bit about leveraging your existing audience and doing some SEO, and trying to rely on some viral content like infographics and things like that. Then, where to try and pick up people to add to your mailing list, whether it’s Hacker News or Facebook Ads or a variety of other places where you could do advertising, Twitter, Facebook.

[04:42] What I think we’re going to focus on today is specific hacks that you can use to grow an e-mail list, and this is based off of a blog post by Jeff Bullas who provided six simple tips to grow a large e-mail list. We’ll link back to this in the show notes but we’ve got our own take on some of this and modify at least one of them substantially.

[04:44] The first one is to turn your price and page into a lead generation page. This is something I am actually in the process of doing for AuditShark for the pricing page. Something I’ve seen somebody do is request contact info before showing pricing. This is an interesting idea because it gets you people’s contact info and allows you to follow up directly with them before they even really start looking at pricing or signing up.

[05:07] If you have any long sales process or it’s a complicated sales process, I think that this is something that can work really well. There’s definitely cases where this is not going to work. If you look on anyone’s websites now, for example, I don’t think that it would work very well for Drip because the sales process and the value proposition for that I’d say is probably fairly straightforward for the most part but for something like AuditShark, compliance is a complicated product. It’s a complicated proposition to make to somebody. I think that getting that contact information from people so that you can follow up with additional marketing is a much better way to go in cases like that but as I said, there’s definitely cases where doing something like this is not going to work.

[05:48] Rob:  Yeah. For lower price, obviously for B-to-C, it’s probably not going to work very well and for lower priced SaaS, the odds are you’re going to be able to get someone to sign up for a trial round and didn’t happen to get on the list but I agree with enterprise, more complex stuff, a new product that needs to be explained, any of that stuff.

[06:05] That’s why you see the Hub Spots and the KissMetrics, and a lot of the more expensive apps out there, they really have a lead gen form right there. They really want you to call and talk to someone, or to do a demo, or to sign up for a webinar. That’s the call to action rather than actually getting you to sign up directly on your first visit because they know that it’s such a big decision that you really need more information before you can do that. That is where doing lead gen on your pricing pages instead of trying to push people towards your trial is obviously a win.

[06:35] Mike:  The next hack is to use pop-overs on your website and more specifically use something like an exit popup. The way an exit popup works is while they’re on the page, and viewing it, and working through the content, you’re not going to show any sort of popup but as soon as they try to move the mouse cursor off of the website, maybe up to the browser bar so that  they can click on the back button, it will show  a popup to the person and ask them to either subscribe or provide their name and e-mail address, or take some sort of other call to action.

[07:02] There’s a lot of variations of this type of thing that you can find at WordPress.org like WordPress popup or Popup Domination but at the end of the day, the idea is pretty similar. You’re really trying to drive them to a call to action to get them on your mailing list or get some contact information from them so you can follow up with them later.

[07:18] At the end of the day, it actually works. People use them. Internet marketers use these types of things because they work. Other things that are a little bit less intrusive I’d say is something like Hello Bar. The real key to using a popup successfully is to not be a jerk about it. You really want to measure what works and what doesn’t, and anything that’s working to drive people on to your mailing list, you want to use those things and anything that isn’t that’s driving people away, you want to avoid those things.

[07:43] Rob: Yeah. I’d throw out another nonintrusive popup is the Drip widget. It’s in the lower right of your screen. It’s like an Olark chat window and it just pops up unobtrusively after x seconds. You can configure it to do that. The reason with that is because I agree, I am not a big fan of the really big, take-over-the-screen popups.

[08:03] With that said, you have to ask yourself what you feel comfortable with. I think each person’s decision as to how much they want to optimize something, how much they want and they’re comfortable optimizing it. I will probably never have and I never have had basically a light box that comes over my blog website to try to build my mailing list. I know that it would build it faster but I also know that over-optimizing it creates a negative experience for some of my users, and I am not willing to do that.

[08:31] You have to ask yourself that. Just because something works, do you want to go to that point? If you think about selling something. Let’s say, you’re trying to sell something in a presentation or sell something on TV, the maximum amount of optimization is to do an infomercial. All the stuff that they do in those infomercials, where they, say, “Only three low payments of this but wait, there is more,” and all that stuff, it really works; but at a certain point you have to ask. Do I want to go to that extreme and to eke out every last percentage point? I think it comes down to a personal or a brand decision at that point.

[09:02] Mike: The third hack is to follow a strong writing formula for your blog posts and for the content that’s on your blog. You can definitely do these types of things in landing pages as well but for your blog post, you want to have a clean intro to a specific problem. You want to include some story because statistically, people remember stories significantly more than they remember actual numbers and statistics. They’ll remember that story and they’ll relate it to statistics, and they will go look it up; but they won’t remember the statistics themselves. They will remember the story. They just won’t remember the exact numbers that went with it.

[09:34] The other thing is to make sure that there is value for your target audience. When you’re looking at the value that you’re going to provide to that target audience, you want to know who that target audience is. Are they a beginner in your field? Are they intermediate? Are they advanced? Who is it that you’re actually talking to because not every blog post is going to be able to talk to everybody who is at each stage of using the type of product that you’re offering. You want to make sure that you’re talking to a very specific audience and know what it is that you’re offering to them.

[10:01] Then, the next step is to make sure that you’re crafting a great headline for that blog post, and then publish it with a call to action of some kind. You want people to take an action after they have read the blog post and whether that is a popup of some kind or just a little footer at the end of it where you say, “Hey, if you want to hear more information, subscribe to this newsletter.”

[10:19] Rob: Something interesting. I started writing an experiment on SoftwareByRob.com which is my blog. It was that in terms of getting folks on to the e-mail newsletter, the right-hand side, upper right, which is my sidebar, that widget got way, way more and I don’t remember if it was three times or four times but it was substantially more signups than did the signup thing at the end of the blog posts.

[10:44] I thought that the signup thing at the end of the blog post would be it because that’s where a lot of the individual traffic comes to. If someone reads the post and at the end, it says, “Did you like that? Do you want to hear more? Like this.” It just seemed like the natural place to be asking someone for their e-mail address. It was good enough to keep around but nothing compared to that upper-right position.

[11:04] Obviously, your milage may vary depending on your blog but it was nice to be able to test that and know for sure. Then, what I noticed is that I put it at the bottom of my about page and a couple of my pages that are non-post, and those got almost zero signups. Pretty confidently, I could take those off and not feel like it was hurting my subscriber growth, but at the same time, I felt like it was cleaning up my site. It was simplifying and actually improving the user experience without hurting the newsletter signup process.

[11:31] Definitely in terms of that call to action and all the stuff, you do want to test as much as you can. You don’t want to go overboard with it if you don’t have a ton of traffic but I get enough traffic that it was worth figuring out the difference between those two.

[11:44] Mike: The fourth hack for building up your mailing list is to use landing pages that provide incentives to subscribe. Whether you’re offering an e-book, or videos, or screencasts that you can offer interviews, cheat sheets, case studies, any of those things are good things to offer people in exchange for their e-mail address. Most people would be incentivized enough to provide an e-mail address because what’s an e-mail address worth? They can always come back and unsubscribe.

[12:08] Obviously, you have to make sure that you’re going to let them know upfront you’re not going to spam them and they can unsubscribe at any time because nobody wants to give away their e-mail address to somebody who is just going to hand it out to everybody or sell it off. There are definitely things that you can use like those e-books, and screencasts, and things like that to help incentive people and give them something in return for that e-mail address.

[12:28] Rob:  The nice part is that you can reuse content especially if you do have a blog, a lot of people don’t go back and read early posts but they can still be very valuable. At one point, I had a virtual assistant go through and I told her some posts that I wanted her to gather together, she put them in a big word doc. Then, I paid a designer to format it. I, now, have a 170-page PDF e-book and that’s like a 12-point font. It really is almost a full-sized book. It’s all writing that I had done over the past seven or eight years. I had it packaged up really nice, and that is one of the incentives that I hand out.

[13:02] Just because you have older content that you already published somewhere doesn’t mean you can’t go back and use that as an incentive if it is in fact something that someone is going to want to read. I’ve also seen something  working lately or I’ve heard really from Clay Collins of LeadPages but he said that having something that is very specific to the actual post, assuming that that post is getting enough traffic to make it worthwhile but having something specific to the post really escalates how many people will opt in.

[13:30] If you write a blog post about a specific kind of landing page, then LeadPages will give away that landing page template as HTML at the bottom, or if you’re talking about how to write, craft specific types of e-mails, then giving away an e-mail template at the bottom, or giving away an Excel spreadsheet that has something to do with it. That will accelerate your opt-in rate. It makes sense because it’s in context. It’s not a generic giveaway. It’s actually something relating to the post.

[13:54] I think you’d want to probably publish the post and either know that it’s going to get a lot of traffic before you create that giveaway or watch it as traffic builds overtime through SEO and other viral stuff, and then create the lead magnet because to be honest, you probably can’t do this for every blog post. You need to pick and choose, and you want to put your effort where you think there’s actually going to be enough traffic.

[14:16] Mike:  The fifth hack is to run A/B tests on critical elements once your webpage or your blog reaches a critical mass. If you are drawing enough traffic in to be able to run this test, and you definitely want to start testing your headlines. Google Analytics will help you identify which pages are getting the most traffic. Obviously, if you have any other type of tracking software on your website where it’s able to track webpages that are getting the most traffic, you can use those as well.

[14:42] There are also WordPress plugins where you can use them to automatically do A/B testing on some of the different headlines. For example, I think AppSumo has one but there’s other ones as well. Those are the types of things that you want to start testing. If you’re not using WordPress, then it’s not terribly difficult to code your own but you definitely want to figure out which ones are resonating with people and which ones aren’t, and use those headlines.

[15:04] Another thing that I’ve done in the past which has been helpful is to use something like Bitly, for example, where you are going back to a particular webpage and creating those URLs. Then, on Twitter, if you’re posting those URLs using very specific headlines, people see the URLs but they don’t necessarily see where the link goes until after they click on it. You can test the same URL with different headlines in Twitter and see which ones are resonating with people.

[15:31] The sixth hack for building your mailing list is to essentially keep your subscribers happy because you don’t want to have people on your mailing list if in two weeks, three weeks, or four weeks down the road they leave because you’re abusing them as subscribers.

[15:45] You want to provide relevant content to them. You want to think twice before you start hitting that publish button, and really think about what is it that you’re sending to them and are you providing value to them. The last thing to keep in mind is that you have to understand that not everyone is going to read everything that you write.

[16:0o] And as Rob mentioned earlier, a lot of his content from his blog repurposed into an e-book for his website to give away as an incentive but you can repurpose a lot of that content into your mailing list because not everyone is going to go back and read everything that you’ve written. Repurposing content has its place but it doesn’t mean that every blog post should go into your newsletter.

[16:20] You shouldn’t go all the way back to the beginning of time and start sending those out to everybody because there are going to be people who have read those and if they start seeing things that they’ve already read or they see too much of that slanted in that direction, they’re probably going to unsubscribe and you’ll lose them as subscribers. You do want to keep your churn rate down.

[16:36] Rob:  I think another part of keeping your subscribers happy is sending stuff that is super, super relevant and obviously really valuable to them. There’s this movement and this change that I see coming in e-mail now that I am knee-deep in the marketing space with Drip is that people are … In terms of folks who have successful newsletters, the thing that they are doing differently is they are using this behavioral e-mail that sends subscribers different e-mails based on behaviors they take.

[17:04] If someone makes a purchase from you and they buy a specific book, then you now know that they have an interest in that and that they’re a customer, and you can start them on a different sequence based on them clicking that button. If they click on a lot of links that involve SEO, you tag them with the SEO tag and then you start sending them more SEO links and less about conversion rate optimization or whatever.

[17:24] This behavioral e-mail stuff and I am talking about this because at first, I wasn’t a believer. This is even a year or a year-and-a-half ago where I didn’t quite get it yet but I am really understanding the power or the ability to go from one to many, which is what e-mail marketing is today, to going down the one to a few. To where you’re really talking and customizing your newsletter, your list, just your whole movement through your funnel and your relationship building, and you’re able to customize that for multiple people, and that is why we launched this rules engine in Drip, the automation rules, the behavioral e-mail aspect.

[17:58] I am still trying to figure out exactly how to talk about it. It’s amazing, the stuff that you can do and the stuff that you can build with this, and I am not just talking about Drip. There is InfusionSoft, and there is Office Auto Pilot, and there is other ways to do it but just that entire concept. I think that’s where we’re all going to be moving and I just think that’s the future of personalizing this e-mail stuff so that I think that heavly ties in to this keeping your subscribers happy point.

[18:21] I also wanted to add, I think maybe a bonus seventh tip, and it’s just based on my experience building my mailing list. It’s really all embodied. I’ve done some split testing and then it was just some best practices but it’s all embodied in the subscribe form at SoftwarebyRob.com in the upper right. If you look at it, I want to call out a few elements.

[18:39] First thing is I don’t call it a newsletter. I did it at one point but I quickly realized like that feels generic and it feels like something that a corporation is handing out. It’s their quarterly newsletter. I call it Growth Secrets for Self-Funded Startups, not a newsletter. It’s not  an e-mail list. It doesn’t say join the list. It doesn’t say anything like that. It just talks about growth secrets for self-funded startups. The call to action which is the button, it doesn’t say, subscribe, it doesn’t say sign me up. It says get the Book. That’s what it says because that’s what people want.

[19:07] Then, I have a couple of bullet points. The bullet points I have are what you get for signing up, and the bullet points are: a 170-page e-book collecting my best startup articles from the past five years. Then the next one is, previously unpublished startup-related screencasts. You’re getting stuff that no one else is getting. The third is, exclusive techniques I don’t publish on this blog. Lastly, I have a quote. It’s a testimonial.

[19:28] It’s all in a pretty compact space. It sounds like a lot of information. It’s really tiny and like I said, I have tested some parts of this and seen this iteration of it performs the best. I think having a quote is a big deal and I think having multiple things really describing what people get for signing up and putting a lot of value there, like a 170-page e-book filled with startup articles is actually pretty interesting. As I am reading this, I’d probably change it to, say, startup tricks or startup growth secrets instead of just articles.

[19:57] I want to throw that out as a framework of a descent way to really describe that if you’re going to get someone to buy in the type of information that you’re going to want to give them in order to get them to get over that friction of giving in their e-mail address.

[20:10] Mike:  I think those are all really great tips. I do something similar on my blog. I don’t have anything there for my mailing list where I say flat out, you’re going to be getting these things but I basically tell people that they are going to get actual advice, tips, and stories.

[20:24] Rob:  I think that about wraps us up for the day. If you have a question for us, call our voicemail number at 888-801-9690 or e-mail us at Questions@StartupsForTheRestOfUs.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt used under Creative Commons. Subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for Startups or via RSS at StartupsForTheRestOfUs.com where you’ll also find a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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