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If you want to maximize your business’ profit, there’s one thing you need to know: email marketing has a return on investment (ROI) that beats any alternative—by a lot.
I mention it fairly often, so you might already know that. But then why haven’t you started?
Or if you have started, why aren’t you getting great results? It’s not necessarily your fault; in fact, it probably isn’t.
The fault lies in the fact that you don’t have the right system in place. Every blogger will tell you how important email subscribers are, but few will actually give you an actionable strategy you can follow.
Now, there are many ways to get email subscribers.
Some are better than others. For example, you can run contests and get hundreds or thousands of subscribers, but most of them will just be looking for something free.
All those successful companies profiting from email marketing have email lists that are not only large but also high quality.
A good portion of those subscribers will actually buy something at some point if the offer is good.
Today, I’m going to teach you one single strategy. You can use this strategy to get your first 100 subscribers. And the best part is: it’s simple.
Download this 6 steps cheat sheet to your first 100 email subscribers (the easy way).
Not simple in the sense that it won’t take hard work or any knowledge, but simple in that if you have the knowledge and tools needed for success, this is about as straightforward and practical of a strategy as you can get.
Throughout the post, I’ll highlight why this is a great starting strategy and how you might want to adapt it so you can continue to use it effectively once you have your first subscribers.
Step 1: One piece of the right content
Think about everything you’ve read about getting email subscribers.
Most tips or strategies focus around continuous content creation.
It’s a bit overwhelming to think that you need to produce 25-50 pieces of content just to get started.
Yes, consistency is important, but more so down the line. Right now, you don’t need to worry about that.
It’s like trying to run before you’ve learned to walk.
Baby steps. Let’s keep it simple.
With this strategy, we’re looking for one post.
Seriously, one fantastic piece of content.
Even on a brand new blog, you can get hundreds of subscribers with one post if you have the right content and a few other things (which I’ll show you later).
The guys at Groove were able to get over 5,000 subscribers from their first post in just a few weeks:
Those results aren’t typical, but they show you what one great post can do.
But I’m not just going to tell you to create a great post. I’ll take you through the whole process.
First, pick your topic (an appropriate one): Something that content marketers don’t mention very often is that different types of content have different purposes.
A full content marketing strategy will do all those things.
But here, we’re concerned with one thing and one thing only:
Getting subscribers (leads).
Certain types of posts will establish you as a thought leader or help you establish your brand, e.g., writing about controversial topics.
Sometimes they also produce subscribers, but it’s typically not their main purpose.
Other content is more sales oriented, e.g., case studies. And while these might produce some very high quality leads, they usually won’t produce as many as most other types of content will.
So, what we want to focus on are types of content that will help you gain as many subscribers as possible with your post.
In-depth list posts – I have found these to be one of the best types of posts when it comes to getting email subscribers and traffic.
“Definitive” guides – Incredibly in-depth and useful guides that attract a lot of traffic and subscribers.
Interesting, unique research and analysis – In some niches, audiences are hungry for unique analysis.
I highly suggest that you focus on the first two here because doing interesting, yet high quality, research and analysis is difficult. It’s also much less consistent than the other two.
To find ideas for these posts, you have a few different options.
Option 1 – Look at commonly asked questions on forums: Definitive guides are great because they cover every single aspect of one particular topic.
They are also best written about topics that are commonly misunderstood.
One way to reverse-engineer the best guides is to visit forums in your niche.
For example, say you wrote an SEO blog. You’d probably go to the SEO section of the Warrior Forum.
Then, you’d look through the first few hundred threads:
What you’ll notice is that there are a few questions that keep coming up over and over again in slightly different forms.
In the picture above, it’s clear that people want to learn how to create more backlinks.
Here’s a good title for your guide:
The definitive guide to building high quality backlinks
If you look in the Quick Sprout sidebar, you’ll see that I created a resource for this very topic in the past:
That doesn’t mean you couldn’t create your own in-depth guide.
As long as it’s really high quality, people will appreciate it. Some just need to hear things in different ways, so even if your guide isn’t the first one on the topic, it can still be useful.
Option 2 – Look at top posts on Reddit: Unlike forums’ posts, Reddit posts are voted on. You can see the most appreciated content in each subreddit (category).
If you’ve never used Reddit before, read my definitive guide (what a coincidence!) on Reddit marketing. It’ll walk you through all the basics.
Once you’ve done that, you will know what subreddits are and how to find a relevant one.
Then, sort it by “top” to see the most upvoted posts:
That picture is from the social media subreddit.
People upvote for two reasons:
to appreciate a submitted resource
to agree with something
I put a box around a top thread “A guide for the new Social Media manager?”
In this case, it’s someone looking for help. More importantly, there are at least 13 other people (it has an overall score of +14 on the left) who want to know this information.
Now you have a great topic idea:
The complete guide to social media for the new social media manager
Alternatively, you might see a link to a really good post that someone else created.
Then, create a better one, or create a guide on a closely related topic.
Option 3 – Look at your competitors: Another way to find content that produces email subscribers is to look at your competitors.
Just search for “top (your niche) bloggers”, and you’ll find a ton.
Go through their blogs, and look at their sidebars.
You’ll often see that they highlight 2-3 pieces of content:
The higher up on the sidebar it is, the more likely that it’s performed really well on the blog.
Again, you can create a better version of it or create a guide on a similar topic.
Brian Dean (Backlinko) isn’t the best competitor to look at because he spends a ton of time on every piece of content. It’s going to be hard to make things better.
However, you could still create related resources. He has a high converting guide to ranking any keyword. You could create:
The definitive guide to ranking any local keyword
How to rank any longtail keyword
You’ll often find some competitors that produce good, but not great, content.
So when you find a good guide, you can create one on the same topic, but make it way better:
For example, that Instagram ads article above got thousands of shares and several comments, which are okay indicators of the number of subscribers it attracted.
It wouldn’t be too difficult to create a “Complete guide to Instagram ads.”
Do you have one solid idea for a guide now?
Great, let’s move on…
Second, write your content (make it great): Some of you reading this are already pretty good writers.
If you don’t think you are, you can learn. Here are some great resources on writing better:
12 Content-Writing Secrets of Professional Writers
How to Double Your Writing Speed Without Lowering Its Quality
The 8 Underused Components of Compelling Content That Readers Love
Remember when I said that this was a simple guide? It is, but this step in particular takes some experience and effort to execute well.
To truly create a top-quality definitive guide, expect to spend at least 10 hours.
It may take you well over 20 or 30 hours, depending on the topic you choose.
Don’t get discouraged because this is one of the most important steps in this process. The better you make your content, the more you will get out of it.
I expect that for most of you, those first 100 email subscribers will be your minimum.
If you go all out and create an absolutely epic piece of content, you might be able to get hundreds, or even thousands, of subscribers over time from this single piece of content.
So, don’t worry about how much money you’ve spent or how much time it’s taken to write this in-depth post. Just focus on creating the best piece of content possible.
Finally, take its design to the next level: Part of how readers receive a new piece of content, especially from a blog they don’t know, is how it looks.
The value of the content is the most important factor, but design is also significant.
If you haven’t yet, take a couple of minutes to scroll through my Quick Sprout guides. You’ll find them in the sidebar:
I hired a professional designer to create the layout, and it’s pretty much as good as it can get.
Notice how the design makes the content feel even more valuable:
Again, more is always better if possible.
If you can afford to hire a web designer for your content, that’s great. It will earn you extra subscribers consistently over time.
However, if you can’t, that’s okay.
You can do a lot of simple things to improve your formatting, which will result in better user engagement. Your post will stand out from the average post, which is the main goal of formatting.
Here is a post I wrote on 9 different simple formatting tactics.
If you’ve already done those simple things and are looking for something more, refer to my post on 5 advanced formatting tips. In it, I show you, step by step, how to implement a lot of the formatting you see in my guides.
Step 2: One incredible lead magnet
Given how long it can take to create content of this level, you may not get to Step 2 for a week or two.
The good news is that the remaining steps take considerably less time to implement.
Now that you have your content ready to go (don’t publish it yet), you have to start optimizing it for email conversions.
If you just have a box in your sidebar asking people to subscribe, you’ll most likely have a conversion rate of under 1%.
That means that to get 100 email subscribers, you would need 10,000 visitors.
That’s quite a bit.
But what if I told you that you could get a conversion rate of 5-10%, without much trouble?
All of a sudden, you only need 1,000-2,000 visitors to get your 100 subscribers.
That is a lot easier, especially for a new blog.
How do you do this? You use a lead magnet that is optimized for the piece of content you just produced.
The most effective type of lead magnet: A lead magnet is simply something of value that you give away in exchange for information (usually an email address).
The more valuable something is, the higher your conversion rate will be.
Many websites offer one lead magnet to all their visitors, which is a mistake.
Because readers are interested in different things.
For example, let’s say I write about Facebook advertising and Adwords advertising. Some readers will be interested in both, but many will not be.
If I offer a lead magnet about Facebook advertising to readers of both posts, which post will convert higher?
It’s pretty obvious that the Facebook posts will convert higher.
A relevant lead magnet is automatically more valuable.
Value is defined by the readers. You want to give them something they’re interested in.
And you’re going to leverage relevance as much as possible by creating a post-specific lead magnet, also called a content upgrade.
When you get readers to go to the post you just created, they’ll be the ones interested in that specific topic.
If you wrote a guide to becoming vegan, you’d want to create a lead magnet that takes it further. Maybe it’s a summary of vegan tips or a helpful free tool for vegans.
Let’s look at an example of a content upgrade in action.
Bryan Harris wrote a post about lead magnets:
Later in his article, you’ll see a light blue box that stands out to his readers.
It offers them a free download of content upgrade examples. Anyone who is new to lead magnets would be interested in examples to help understand them better.
When readers click the link, they must enter their email addresses into a pop-up to get the download.
The best types of content upgrades: In order to maximize your conversion rate, you need to create the most valuable bonus possible.
Bryan Harris has claimed to have gotten over 20% conversion rate with his content upgrade, but that’s not typical.
If you’re able to get that conversion rate, you only need 500 visitors to your website to get your 100 subscribers, which is fairly easy.
The two things that determine how effective your lead magnet is are:
relevance to the topic at hand
value of the type of upgrade
A simple checklist is probably the easiest content upgrade to make. And while it will do okay, you won’t be maximizing your conversion rate because people don’t value checklists highly.
It’s an option if you have nothing else to offer, but try to offer something more useful. Summaries of guides fall under a similar category.
One type of highly effective content upgrade is something exclusive—templates or other content.
For example, in a post about how to design really attractive sidebar icons, Harris offered a slide template that readers could download and edit to use on their own sites:
Do you understand why this would be really effective?
First, the reader reads about how these icons in the sidebar have performed really well for Bryan.
Then, Bryan offers to give the reader the icon template FREE.
When most of the readers read the post, they get excited about the results these icons could generate for them on their own sites.
There is just one problem—they look difficult to make.
By solving that problem with a free template, Bryan not only made his post more actionable (always a good thing), but he also saved his subscribers time and frustration figuring out how to make one.
Whenever you solve a real pain, people will be willing to pay for it. Give it away, and you’ll get an incredible response.
If I wanted to maximize my conversion rate for this very post, I could I offer:
A checklist of the 6 steps – Would do okay. It would probably convert around 4-6%.
A detailed case study of how I applied this strategy on a new site – Would do amazingly well. One detailed, cohesive example would answer any remaining questions that a reader might still have after reading this post.
Access to an exclusive list building tactic to get 100 high quality subscribers for $20 – Would do even better! Although I don’t think I could deliver this.
Get the point?
Create a relevant high value lead magnet—specific to the content you’ve already created—and you’ll have a very high chance of success.
Step 3: A conversion optimized layout (that anyone can use)
The lead magnet is the biggest key to a high conversion rate.
Do that right, and you should be okay.
If you want to maximize your opt-in rate, though, you’ll want to make a few easy changes to your content layout.
You probably don’t have the traffic to test your best layout yet. However, you can still implement some general best practices to see good results.
Part 1 – Make content the main focus: You’ve gone through the effort of making a really good piece of content.
You need people to read it in order for the content upgrade to be as effective as possible.
First off, make sure that your content is the first main thing that a reader sees when they load the page. If it isn’t above the fold, many will close the page right away.
On top of that, although sidebars are effective elements for certain things, you don’t want them attracting too much attention.
Make your actual content stand out by including an attractive picture or a headline in a color that stands out. On the NeilPatel.com blog, the featured picture draws the reader to the content right away:
Part 2 – Make your offer(s) in the content: The lead magnet is highly related to the content, so it makes sense to offer it in the content as well.
The reason why this is so important is because most readers nowadays are sidebar- and header-blind. While some still look at them, most will automatically try to find the content they came for and ignore the rest.
Since your offer is going to be embedded in the content, you can be sure that almost everyone will see it.
You should try to highlight it with a box that stands out and put one both near the start of the post and at the end:
The top one will convert at a higher percentage; however, those subscribers may not be as high quality as the ones who read through your whole post first.
Either way, you want to capture both groups of quality leads (even if one’s better than the other).
The great thing about these opt-in calls to action, as opposed to others, is that they appear natural. They fit right into the text at appropriate times, which helps them get a high view and click rate:
Part 3 (optional) – Use extra opt-in forms: In addition to the options I described above, you can also use pop-ups or other lead collection tools to grow your subscriber list.
These are more controversial because while they do often improve conversion rates, they can also detract from the reader’s experience.
It’s up to you if you want to try them. You’ll be perfectly fine with implementing just the first two parts of this section.
Pop-ups are the most extreme option They are usually triggered to take over your reader’s screen after a set time period:
If you want a less invasive option, you can use Hello Bar, which adds a simple sign-up strip along the top of the screen:
Step 4: Four sources of traffic to start with
You’ve done most of the hard work at this point. Congratulations!
But you are not done yet.
If you don’t promote your post, not many people will see it. Remember, you need to get about 1,000-2,000 visitors to your post.
This can be done in multiple ways within a fairly short period of time.
The tactics in this section are tough to scale, but they are great if you’re just getting started.
Feel free to try any or all of them, and you can combine them all if you want to maximize your traffic (and email subscribers).
Source #1 – Forums: Almost every niche has at least one active forum with your target readers.
Since you can easily add content to a forum, it’s a good opportunity to drive traffic back to your site.
Just Google “top (niche) forums,” and pick the 1-3 best ones:
It’s really important that you avoid being seen as a spammer when linking to your post.
First, become an active member of the community. Make at least a few dozen helpful posts.
When you finally do post your link, make sure to give it context.
Explain that you noticed that a lot of the members of the forum were having trouble with a particular problem, and you wanted to solve it.
Alternatively, you can also format the entire post for the forum and just leave a link alongside it. You won’t get as many clicks, but some forums are very strict about how you can post your link.
Source #2 – Individual email outreach: If you take a random group of 100 readers in your niche, you’ll get that 5-10% conversion rate we were talking about.
But if you emailed the most interested ones, you could double or triple that rate easily.
The good news is that it’s easy to find these readers because they are the most likely to share or comment on posts.
First, enter the main topic of your post into Buzzsumo’s top content tool:
Then, click on “view sharers” on any recent relevant article, which will bring up a list of people who shared that article on Twitter, for example:
Find these people on Twitter.
Look for a website address in their description, where you might find an email address to contact them.
Alternatively, click on the post itself before viewing the shares, and look at the comment section.
For example, here are a few comments from one of my posts on Quick Sprout:
You could click on the names to go to those readers’ sites, and then contact them.
You can either use their “contact” form or sign up to their email list to get their email addresses. The second option is better, but it’s not always possible:
When you do email them, use a message like this:
Subject: Hi (Name), I thought you’d like this…
I noticed that you commented on (author’s name) post about (post topic) a little while back.
It was a great post, and it actually led me to creating a related post about (topic).
It’s very in-depth and features (something that is interesting like a secret tactic).
If you get a minute, check it out. I think you’d enjoy it.
Here’s the link: (URL)
Source #3 – Reddit and other aggregators: Reddit is a great source of ideas. But even more valuable is the fact that most of its communities are capable of sending hundreds of visitors to any good post.
If you find 2-3 fairly large subreddits and your content is upvoted a decent number of times, you can get more than 100 subscribers just from this.
Again, read my guide to using Reddit for marketing properly if you want to be successful.
The key part of a successful post is to genuinely try to add to the community. Add a detailed summary along with the link in the post:
In some subreddits, you are required to paste your entire post.
Source #4 – Guest-posting: Finally, if you’re not a huge fan of promotion, you can get your first subscribers using guest-posting.
Instead of posting your content on your site, you’re going to post it on a leading site in your niche. I’ve written many times about guest-posting successfully; here is a very thorough strategy.
With guest-posting, you leverage the natural traffic that other sites already have to convert those readers into your subscribers.
Ideally, you want to post a link to your content upgrade offer somewhere near the end of the post in the author bio:
That link should point to a landing page on your domain that offers the content upgrade.
There are a few things to note here.
First, not all blogs will allow you to post links to landing pages. Clarify this ahead of time.
But they’re getting free content, and it makes sense that you should get something out of it as well (and not just “exposure”).
Secondly, since you’re limited with where and how you can post the content upgrade, your conversion rate will go down.
If a blog is popular enough, you may still end up with more subscribers, but just be aware of that.
Step 5: Plan ahead – don’t waste your first 100 subscribers
If you’ve done everything up until now, you’ll have your first 100 subscribers within a month.
It may take a few forum posts or emails on a consistent basis, but you’ll get there if you’re willing to put in the last bit of effort.
This is where I see many new blogs make a huge mistake.
They go through all the effort of getting new subscribers, and then they don’t do anything with them.
There’s not much of a point of collecting email addresses if you don’t email those subscribers.
And I understand that you don’t have a full email sales pipeline set up yet, but at the very least, send all subscribers a welcome email so that they get used to your name.
Additionally, these 100 subscribers are your first chance to learn about your target audience. In the welcome email, you should include some sort of survey or question you want them to answer.
For example, Derek Halpern links to a survey in his welcome email and also tells subscribers to expect new content in the future:
This is your chance to tell them what to expect.
Step 6: Where to go after your first 100 subscribers
Your first 100 subscribers is a big milestone.
It takes some bloggers many months to get there.
If you follow this strategy, I don’t think it’ll take that long.
But now that you have a few subscribers, you have a few different options.
Option #1 – Rinse and repeat: Although 100 subscribers is good, it’s not a huge number.
One option is to simply repeat this strategy 5-6 times.
By the end, you’ll likely have over 1,000 subscribers. Your first posts will mature and continue to collect leads. But the more you create, the better your chances of producing one that will perform extra well will be.
This is a good option.
Option #2 – Start blogging consistently and using your audience to grow: The other option is to treat this first piece of content as “pillar content.”
It forms the base for writing about other related topics you know your email subscribers (from that first post) will be interested in.
You can start focusing more on producing consistent content for your blog and then sending an email to your subscribers each time you publish a new piece.
You might already know what my emails notifying my subscribers of a new post look like. They are quite simple:
If your content is good, your subscribers will share it, and your following will grow.
There is no wrong way to get email subscribers.
But some methods are better than others.
The best one for you is the one that works.
I’ve outlined a pretty straightforward 6-step process in this post.
If you follow it, you should be able to get your first 100 subscribers (at least). It will take hard work, but it will pay off over time.
Think of it as an investment.
And although it’s a fairly simple strategy, I realize that there are some tricky parts. So, if you have any questions, just ask them in a comment below.