Before we get into the list…
The single most common email question I get asked is, “How do I get more subscribers for my newsletter?” I’ve built this article to share what I’ve learned about growth.
Inside this article, I’ve shared 25 different effective ways to grow your lists. But before we get into the slides, I wanted to mention three things:
When it comes to growing your lists, nothing beats telling great stories and producing great content. Exceptional work — great reporting, exclusive content, outstanding storytelling — is crucial to helping you grow your lists.
What works for one organization may not work for you. Test out different methods from this article and see what works best for you.
Try a lot of ideas. Just testing one or two of these ideas isn’t enough — the best organizations are using dozens of different growth methods.
I’ve divided this article into two sections: Opportunities to grow your list on and off your site. I hope you consider ideas from both buckets.
Table of Contents
- On-site opportunities
- Off-site opportunities
Main newsletter sign-up page
Individual sign-up page
Header or nav
Alerts or banners
Social media or search
Forward to a friend
- Having a single page that highlights all of your newsletters allows a reader to register for multiple products at once.
- Give this page an easy-to-remember URL (like yoursite.com/newsletters).
- Make sure that readers don’t have to enter their email address multiple times to sign up for multiple newsletters. It’s a frustrating user experience — especially on mobile — that will cost you sign ups in the long run.
- Consider allowing someone to register with a login from a third party, like Google or Facebook, to improve the UX for mobile users.
- Make sure that on mobile, your form offers an autocomplete option to allow a reader to easily enter their email address. For more technical details, here’s the World Wide Web Consortium’s guide to autocomplete attributes.
- Have a CAPTCHA or an email verification tool built in to your sign-up box. Spambots tend to target sign-up pages like these. Keeping these pages secure is crucial for your email deliverability.
When you build a page like this, make sure you:
- Clearly explain the value of each newsletter. Go beyond a tagline. Why will this email be valuable to a reader? What makes this the perfect newsletter for them?
Also make sure you:
- Tell readers when (i.e. 7 a.m., in the afternoon, etc.) and how frequently they’ll receive the newsletter.
- Show the product, either through an image on the page or by linking to a sample newsletter.
Individual sign-up page
- Don’t stop with a just single sign-up page. Build unique pages for each of your newsletters that allow you to really sell the value of your product.
- Make sure you create easy-to-remember URLs (i.e. a Food newsletter might have the URL yoursite.com/foodnewsletter) that will be easy for someone to share on social media, at an event, or while doing an interview.
For this type of page, make sure you:
- Present clear branding.
- Show the product, don’t just tell them about it.
- Set reader expectations about what they’ll get it and what’s in it for them.
For this type of page, you could also:
- Add testimonials from readers or experts.
- Take readers behind the scenes and explain how you put together the newsletter.
- Introduce the author of the newsletter.
Remember: This page doesn’t need to be terribly complicated to be effective. A simple post with good copy and a box to sign up is more than enough to start.
Adding a sign-up to your header or nav allows you to promote your newsletter on any page on your site.
- You can have a link to your main newsletter sign-up page or to a unique newsletter sign-up page.
- You can also pick a specific newsletter to promote and embed a sign-up box directly into the header or nav.
Adding a newsletter sign-up to your footer also ensures that you have a sign-up module on every page on your site.
- Just like with the header or nav, you can pick a single newsletter to promote, or link out to your main newsletter sign-up page.
Your content is going to be the best driver of sign-ups, so make sure you’re promoting your newsletter on those story pages.
- You can embed some copy + a link to the sign-up page.
- Or you can directly embed a sign-up box.
- Test out different options to see what converts best, and where to place them.
- Put your readers first — optimize these units for reading experience, not just conversions.
- Make sure you target specific types of stories with specific sign-ups (i.e. a sports newsletter on a sports story.)
A reader who finishes a story is an engaged reader, so give them the chance to stay engaged through your newsletters.
- This space is especially valuable for mobile readers who may not want in-line interruptions.
- Make sure you target specific stories with specific sign-ups.
- Pop-ups are one of the most effective units for capturing email sign-ups. But deployed incorrectly, they can also be one of the most annoying for readers.
- When you run these, make sure you’re careful about not deploying multiple pop-ups on the same page (i.e. a newsletter sign-up followed by a special offer in quick succession).
- Optimize first for reading experience, then conversions.
There are several different types of pop-ups:
- Interstitials: A full-screen takeover to promote a newsletter.
- These work well on desktop.
- Test different combinations of copy, images, and CTA buttons to optimize your interstitial.
- Fly-ins: A unit that enters from one side of the screen.
- These can also be deployed at the end of a story in lieu of a bottom box.
- Toasters: A unit that pop-ups from the bottom of the screen (like a piece of toast from a toaster).
- These can be bars at the bottom of the screen, which often work well on mobile, or pop-ups that don’t take over the full screen.
Before deploying one of these, ask yourself a few questions:
- Reader behavior — Do you want to show these to a reader on entry or exit?
- Pages visited / time on site / scroll depth — Do you want to show these only after a specific number of stories read or time spent on site? Or after a reader reads a certain percentage of the way through a story?
- Entry source — Do you want to show a certain type of unit based on a reader’s entry source (search, social, direct, etc.)?
- Device — Do you want different units for readers on desktop or mobile?
Get sophisticated with your targeting. Start by deploying different units for desktop vs. mobile readers and keep testing from there.
Looking for a tool to power your pop-ups? A few to consider:
- Pico lets you create high-converting pop-ups — I’ve seen ones that convert 4% of users, which is well above industry averages. It costs $5 per 500 users signed up, so you only pay when your list grows.
- Poptin is a tool that allows you to create interstitials, fly-ins, or toasters, as well as embeddable sign-up boxes. Like Pico, they allow you to show pop-ups based on reader behavior (i.e. scroll depth). Pricing is based on the size of your audience — most sites will pay at least $49 per month.
- OptinMonster offers a wide variety of basic pop-up options. All three of these tools offer direct integrations with ESPs as well as an integration with Zapier. For most sites, pricing starts at $29 per month.
An alert or banner is a nice way to promote a newsletter to readers on all pages of your site.
- Try not to overuse these units. These tend to work well for new newsletter launches.
or sites that have high direct traffic to their homepage, adding a sign-up module to that page can be a good way to promote your newsletter.
- Pick a flagship newsletter to promote.
- After, you can redirect them to the main newsletter page to sign up for more emails.
- Or consider adding a section to the homepage to promote multiple newsletter products.
Putting content behind a registration wall gives a reader the chance to both keep reading a particular story and to start getting newsletters with one click.
- If you use a registration wall, consider giving readers a chance to opt in or opt out of specific newsletters.
House ads allow you to widely promote your newsletters on-site or within an existing newsletter.
- Use these house ads as an opportunity to test and see what copy or images convert best.
- Consider replacing ads that drive low revenue with house ads that may eventually lead to greater reader revenue.
With a lead magnet, a reader is trading their email address for the chance to get access to exclusive content.
- Make sure there’s a strong tie between the content and the newsletter they’re signing up for — the newsletter needs to be highly relevant for the lead magnet to work.
Quizzes can be a good way to convert fly-by readers into newsletter subscribers. Consider offering a news quiz to readers, and then give them a call to action afterwards to subscribe.
- These can also be effective drivers of leads for pop-up newsletters or Courses.
Interactives or games often require significant development work, but they can be effective at engaging a reader and then converting them into a newsletter subscriber.
- In this example, a reader learns about their career path from this calculator, and then is given the chance to sign up for a careers newsletter.
Surveys can be an effective way to convert an audience from one channel, like Facebook, to another.
- Ask readers questions to help you best serve them.
- Then give them the chance to sign up for a relevant newsletter. Make sure you clearly explain the value of this newsletter.
UGC is a good way to engage and then convert a reader to a newsletter.
- Consider asking readers for questions around a certain topic, and then promote a relevant newsletter.
- Anytime a reader sends you content, it’s an opportunity to ask for their email address.
Contests, giveaways, or sweepstakes can drive lots of new sign ups.
- Beware: Many readers who enter a contest are only interested in the prize, not your emails.
- Clean your lists often if you run contests.
- Consider adding an opt-in for newsletters so a reader can choose to subscribe (or not).
Particularly for non-profits, petitions can be incredibly effective at driving engagement and then converting readers.
- As with contests, consider giving readers the chance to opt in to your newsletters.
- Make sure you pair this with a strong onboarding series to continue to drive reader engagement.
After a reader becomes a paying supporter, give them to chance to subscribe to a newsletter.
- Depending on local laws, you may be able to auto opt-in readers to a newsletter when they support you.
- Consider promoting other newsletters on the confirmation page.
Social media or search
Optimize every newsletter sign-up page to perform well on social and search.
- On social, make sure you include copy and images that offer a clear CTA to subscribe. To test your pages on social, try these links: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.For search, build pages optimized to deliver search traffic for specific search terms.
Every event (both digital and IRL) is an opportunity to build a relationship with an engaged audience.
- Encourage a reader to sign up for a relevant newsletter when they register for the event.
- During the event, remind readers to sign up for newsletters.
A referral program is a form of paid acquisition. It can be a good way to incentive readers to share the newsletter at a low cost.
- Think carefully about the rewards. Start first with digital offerings.
- Make sure you know how much revenue you’ll generate from each new subscriber. Using a metric like average revenue per user (ARPU) or customer lifetime value (CLV) allows you to understand what will happen when you grow your list, and helps you decide which rewards will drive the strongest return on your investment in a referral program. I go into more detail on this in the paid acquisition section below.
Looking for a good tool to power a referral program? I really like Sparkloop.
- You can set up everything in just 90 minutes.
- It integrates with MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, ConvertKit, and Active Campaign.
- They help you build a referral hub page to showcase the rewards at each tier.
- The cost is very low — less than $0.10 per lead.
- I’d highly recommend giving them a try.
Forward to a friend
Asking a reader to forward the newsletter to a friend is another good way to build in those word-of-mouth referrals.
- Test out different types of CTAs (“Forward to a friend,” “Invite a friend,” “Share our newsletter”) to see what converts best.
Partner with an outside newsletter to drive sign ups.
- The key here is to find newsletters with a similar audience to yours that don’t cover the same topics.
- Consider adding an intro note, or “topper,” to personalize the ask.
- Or promote it using your house ad slot.
There are lots of different types of paid acquisition efforts, but let’s focus on just four for now:
- Lead gen
- Traffic + conversion
Lead gen units are the most straightforward. You promote your newsletter to a specific audience, and ask them to sign up.
- Some channels, like Facebook, allow you to collect an email with a single click.
- Make sure you connect these paid ads to your ESP using a tool like Zapier so you can onboard readers ASAP.
Content to capture is where you offer a lead magnet in exchange for a reader’s email address.
- These units promote a related piece of content first, and then offer the chance to subscribe to a newsletter once you’ve clicked through.
- Make sure the CTA to subscribe to the newsletter is clear.
Traffic + conversion is where you drive a reader to read a piece of content and then try to convert them on your site.
- If you use this strategy, make sure you’re correctly adding the right UTMs to these links so you can target these stories with pop-ups on site to drive conversion.
Retargeting is a strategy to advertise to readers who have visited your site frequently but haven’t yet subscribed to a newsletter.
- You’ll need to deploy specific pixels or tags to utilize this strategy. For more, read the Facebook documentation or the Google documentation.
- You can also use this in tandem with a traffic strategy — first get a reader to click, then retarget to them.
- Here’s a general rule of thumb: It costs about $1 USD to acquire an email subscriber. It may be a little higher or lower depending on your audience, but start with that $1 benchmark.
- Keep a few metrics in mind before you start spending:
- Cost per lead (or CPL) — The cost to acquire a single email address.
- Cost per acquisition (or CPA) — The cost to acquire a new paying customer (this could be a new paying subscriber, donor, member, event-goer, etc.). Only a fraction of your new leads will become new customers.
- Average revenue per user (ARPU) or customer lifetime value (CLV) — Depending on your business, you may be using one of these to measure the value of a customer.
- Note: Here’s a simple calculator to help you figure out your CLV.
- So here’s a simple example how this might work in practice:
- You’re a large newspaper that focuses on CLV. You’ve run the numbers already — the lifetime value of one of your customers is $100.
- You spend $1,000 on paid acquisition, with a CPL of $1. Your $1,000 turns into 1,000 new email leads. Cost per lead = (Amount spent / Number of new leads)
- 10% of those leads become new paying subscribers, which is a CPA of $10. You’ve acquired 100 new paying customers. Cost per acquisition = (Amount spent / Number of new customers)
– Of note: If this number is higher than your ARPU / CLV, you’re spending too much!
- The total CLV of those 100 new customers is $10,000. Your $1,000 investment turned into $10,000 in revenue. Total customer lifetime value = (New paying customers x customer lifetime value)
- Remember: Know these numbers so you know what you can spend.
- A few more things to consider: Before you launch a paid acquisition campaign, make sure you’ve built out a strong onboarding series for these readers. Many of them may not be familiar with your brand, so you’ll need to work hard to welcome them and build habit early on.
- Don’t be afraid to let an inactive reader churn. Build a reactivation series to remove readers who aren’t engaging with your newsletter.
- Move slowly — if you add too many subscribers who aren’t engaging with your newsletter, it’ll hurt your deliverability in the long run.