By Ann Gynn published August 14, 2015

How to Grow Your Subscribers: 19 Experts Weigh In

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What organization doesn’t want a loyal following?

As Joe Pulizzi says, “If you build engaged audience members who devour your content, and thus, trust and like you, they will begin to change their behavior. They will stay longer as customers. Or they will buy more. Or they will close faster …”

Building a strong and growing subscriber base takes work, but the payoff is great (and, note, this is different than generating leads). Not only do you have an enthusiastic opt-in audience, you also have numbers to show the impact of your content marketing efforts on the organization.

Knowing you need to build your audience and getting new subscribers are two different things, of course. Thankfully, our Content Marketing World presenters can offer some tips.

Step it up

Creating good and frequent posts is the No. 1 thing you can do to grow any subscriber base. After that, it is important to test sign-ups like any other conversion metric. Focus on how you can show visitors the value of your newsletter and test different ways of communicating that value to them.

Sachin Kamdar, CEO & co-founder, Parse.ly | @SachinKamdar

Be genuine

Give them an authentic reason to return. That’s easier said than done. Think about the blogs or other sites you visit regularly. What newsletters do you opt to receive? What drives your interest? That’s the same thing that drives your audience. Give them what they want or answer what they search.

I read John Scalzi’s blog, every day. I do it because of the type of content he publishes, his wit and humor, and his willingness to speak bluntly about controversial topics in publishing and American politics. He has a specific and clearly defined point of view. Too many blogs take a shotgun approach to content. There is no cohesive plan, no single voice, no target audience. One size does not fit all. Ever.

Kathleen Gossman, project manager, EnVeritas Group | @EnVeritasGroup

Go deep

Be consistently good for a long time. There is no secret that trumps quality and consistency.

Jay Baer, president, Convince & Convert | @jaybaer

Back to basics

This is Content 101 — actively create content your readership hungers for and then consistently connect that content from your blog to social media. Subscribers see the value, read and share, and growth happens.

Aubrae Wagner, chief operations officer, EnVeritas Group | @AubraeAWagner

Make it prominent

You must focus your efforts on making your blog subscription form a prominent part of your design. On our blog, we recently implemented a larger call to action to sign up for weekly updates, and have seen tons of subscribers roll in. (We previously had an RSS button tucked away in the header and a small email sign-up button on the sidebar.) By elevating and strengthening the visual component of our subscription sign-up strategy, we have seen huge leaps in the number of subscribers in a short time. Reassess the visual prominence of the main action you want your visitors to take, and run tests to see what copy and placement works the best.

Arnie Kuenn, CEO, Vertical Measures | @ArnieK

Take the pen and paper

My answer relates to my personal side project – ComicBookSchool.com. I have a newsletter that I send every three weeks or so. When I speak at events like comic conventions, I bring a little clipboard with a sign-up sheet. I usually have a helper who circulates the clipboard.

Except for some illegible handwriting issues, this tends to result in good sign-up numbers with a low unsubscribe rate. I tag them according to event registration, so l know which events are most effective. The pens always get lost and the clipboard sometimes vanishes, but it is a really effective technique for building my mailing list.

Buddy Scalera, senior director content strategy, The Medicines Company | @MarketingBuddy

Go elsewhere

Guest blogging. My answer may sound ironic because it focuses on other brands’ properties, but hang with me.

For four-plus years, I’ve networked with the leaders in online marketing and content marketers whom I most admire and offered to write for their blogs. It’s been a key to the growth of my subscriber base and growth in every way. The days (and weeks following) that one of my posts appears on a site like Content Marketing Institute or one of the others, traffic to my blog skyrockets, as do email opt-ins.

Barry Feldman, founder, Feldman Creative | @FeldmanCreative

Crush the cats

Every day our inboxes are flooded with spam lottery notifications, Candy Crush invites, and Love My Cat newsletters that you completely forgot you opted-in for. Or is that just me? My point is that you need to stand out.

Being creative and being prepared (excuse the cliché) to step outside the box in a way that conveys a clear message about your product or service are effective strategies. Showcasing a distinct point of difference in the content you share is important. Make it clear that what you’re delivering to your audience, they can’t get in the same way, anywhere else.

Jordana Borensztajn, social media trainer, Social Needia | @JordanaOZ

Work out every day

Make a daily habit of creating great content – written, spoken, video, all of it. Get aggressive at asking your readers to subscribe to receive more. If it’s more of the valuable content they’re used to, you’ll be surprised how many of them opt in. We have clients who have seen five- to 10-time increases in newsletter subscriptions by launching a pop-up on their blog. A pop-up!

Matt Heinz, president and founder, Heinz Marketing | @HeinzMarketing

Don’t just sit there

When you create a great piece of content, make sure to promote it. You should ideally spend more time promoting the content than writing it.

Don’t be satisfied with your conversion rates. If your blog posts have an opt-in for people to subscribe via email for updates make sure to test it regularly to improve conversion rates. Use tools such as Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer to set up tests.

Find out the content that gets the most traffic and create content upgrades for it. An upgrade typically adds more valuable content to the post that people can access by subscribing via email. If you create a content upgrade specific to a particular post, your conversion rates can be much higher.

Ian Cleary, founder, RazorSocial | @IanCleary

Pop it

First is super-high-quality content. Don’t waste people’s time by trying to drive them to a site that doesn’t deliver value. Next is a simple pop-up box that asks them to subscribe. We all know they’re irritating, but they work. I hear brands, especially B2B brands, say that pop-ups are cheesy and imply that their organizations are better than that. You have to be smart about what you’re offering. Brands complain about not being able to build an audience and they will do a lot of things, just not “that.” You can be an elitist all you want, but dont knock pop-up boxes until you’ve tried them.

Carla Johnson, president, Type A Communications | @CarlaJohnson

Check please

A really simple thing to do is include a checkbox on each lead-generation form asking if they want to be subscribed to your blog. People coming to your landing page may have never seen your blog. If they are interested in the content on your landing page, they would likely be interested in your blog as well, but you have to offer it to them. All of our lead forms include a pre-checked box to subscribe to the blog, so they need to uncheck the box if they don’t want to subscribe.

Stoney deGeyter, president, Pole Position Marketing | @StoneyD

Give it away

The most important tip is to focus on creating content so good that people want to subscribe. Next is making sure you provide ample opportunity for your readers to sign up without becoming obnoxious. I suggest testing different designs and approaches. And providing a free giveaway as part of the process certainly doesn’t hurt.

Michael Brenner, head of strategy, NewsCred | @BrennerMichael

Deliver regularly

Well, after delivering real value (duh), I think a regular cadence of content probably helps a lot. We’re bad at this for ourselves but preach a good game.

Doug Kessler, co-founder and creative director, Velocity Partners | @dougkessler

Ask, ask, and ask again

Make sure your email sign-up form is above the fold on every page of your website. Better yet, try a pop-over “light box” that shows up as visitors are about to leave your website. If you’re going to a trade show, collect names there. If you have a partnership with a relevant, non-competitive company, ask them to invite their subscribers to sign up for your list, too. No matter where you’re asking, give a good reason to sign up.

The truth is that you’re not looking to acquire an email address. You’re looking to acquire a prospect and use the email to turn that prospect into a customer. Where do you find new customers now? Are you offering value (content) in exchange for contact information like email address? If you’re willing to pay a little, try sponsoring events or content created by others, finding searchers looking for your solutions, and exploring other cross-channel campaigns for acquisition.

Jessica Best, digital marketing evangelist, emfluence | @bestofjess

Use social and be in real life

Twitter has worked for me personally, but it can backfire. When you’re constantly broadcasting your own content, it can get boring and irrelevant. Make sure you are keeping the conversations balanced.

I always mention my Twitter handle at in-person events and I mention our email newsletter. It’s amazing how many more subscribers we get after a presentation. I also take as many opportunities I am given to be featured as an expert. That content exists to validate to my subscribers that they are consuming valuable advice.

Ahava Leibtag, president and founder, Aha Media Group | @ahaval

Stop pestering

I think this is the part where I expose myself as a dirty, filthy millennial. For me, it’s actually less “find the user, register them for emails, retarget!” and more “constantly create cool content, delight and entertain, make a difference.” No one really wants to be pestered by a brand. If I know your brand, if I like your brand, I’ll come to you.

Erin Monday, marketing manager, Lenovo | @ErinMonday

Take every opportunity

Always include a “subscribe to the blog” option on contact forms, especially content downloads. It’s so simple, but it works.

Paul Roetzer, founder and CEO, PR 20/20 | @PaulRoetzer

Use three letters

I’ll use one of my favorite sayings from sales training years ago: If you don’t A-S-K, you don’t G-E-T. It’s one of the oldest strategies out there: Tell a friend and ask her to share. Referrals are a fantastic way to build your base.

Jeannine Rossignol, vice president, global marketing for large enterprise operations, Xerox Corporation | @j9rossignol

Want to hear more from these experts about building your subscriber base or improving other parts of your content marketing programs? Register today to attend Content Marketing World 2015 this September in Cleveland and use code CMI100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. She also serves as the Tech Tools editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

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  • Christina Thomas

    We have a subscription strategy. The offer is a newsletter. But we are building a new website and I wonder if we should focus more on blog subscriptions that go out automatically as we post as opposed to a newsletter that takes time to produce?