Listbuilding 101: Your Best Source of New Subscribers

These days list building is pretty tough: there is a lot of noise online demanding attention, and it’s hard to stand out. The best source of new subscribers I’ve ever found is my current subscribers: their friends, family, and colleagues. A recommendation from someone they know carries a lot more weight than an ad or other promotion, so make it quick and easy for them to do it.

To that end, I came up with a nifty little idea the other night (while sleeping/not sleeping) and implemented it the next day. It could well lead to a surge — and maybe a sustained surge — in my free newsletter subscriptions. I did it first in my 22-year-old This is True newsletter, last Friday:


— it’s the “Was This Issue Forwarded to You?” line — there used to only be one blue line between the header and the body, and this is newly sandwiched in as a part of the template. (I do use templates, and the template for True and Emailified are quite similar.)

Of course, just about every free newsletter has a “Please share this” and “You can get a free subscription at the web site [link].” That’s nothing new, but it’s usually buried at the bottom among copyright notices and such (as mine has been for forever). What came to me, though, was a clean way to put it up at the top, yet thanks to the template design, it doesn’t get in the way of the meat of the newsletter.

A Two-Pronged Approach

The idea is both to remind regular readers that they can forward issues and, of course, to encourage new subscriptions among those they forward it to.

The landing page is at least as important as that prominent link. By clicking the link, the reader has indicated they want to subscribe, so let’s make it really easy for them! Here’s what it looks like when they arrive (click the photo to see full size):

This is True's landing page.
This is True’s landing page.

Just about the only thing they see after getting to the landing page is a subscribe form. It’s got a photo of me (the message: “This is from a real person.”), I set their expectations (“Issues come out each Friday.”), and say something about policies and privacy (“NEVER any ads-only mailings.” and “Your Privacy is Randy’s Firm Policy.” — mention, again, of a real person), all in a visually appealing way.

That page, which isn’t linked from anywhere else*, uses a script-generated hover subscribe form to really focus the clicker on the task at hand. Yet if they close the hover, or have a script blocker, the underlying page has a few links to high-value details: my full privacy policy, for those who worry about that; a page of sample stories, so they can see what they’ll get; and the most-recent issue. And a non-script subscribe form. 🙂

* Including here: sorry to not include a link, but I don’t want bots and such to follow it. Do feel free to click it from your newsletter. Oh, did you notice it in the Emailified newsletter? I started using the new format there this week too.

The point here isn’t that you should copy this exact idea. Heck, it may not even work: I’ll test it for a few weeks, and maybe refine it or drop it. Rather, the idea is this: are you making it easy for readers to recommend you to their friends and colleagues, and trying different things? Because that’s the best ongoing, sustained way I know to increase your subscriber base.

(If you are just starting out, and don’t have subscribers to ask to recommend you? I’ll cover that in a separate article later.)

What tips or techniques do you use to build your list? Use the comments to post your ideas.


4 thoughts on “Listbuilding 101: Your Best Source of New Subscribers”

  1. Hi Randy,

    I half-heartedly subscribed to this email list, figuring, “How much is there to learn about email?”. A lot, it turns out!

    I passed this along to my brother, whom I suspect will join this list given that it is even more relevant to him than it is for me.

    Thanks for the great articles!

    • You’re most welcome, Scott. I’m glad you’re finding it of use, and I appreciate your passing it along with your recommendation. It’s the best way to say thanks!

  2. I’ve been a little uncomfortable with the ides of the scripted pop-up like the one in the image. (I believe “modal” is the technical term.) This is for various reasons:

    * I’m always worried about what’s happening to the base page (malware).

    * Concerns about being inundated by what I perceive as “content-blockers”. One brick-and-mortar retailer’s website obsessively insisted I sign up for their credit card. It was so bad that I refuse to use their website. A news site to which I subscribe obsessively demands I sign up to their newsletter and is, therefore, on my script management plug-ins’ “untrusted” lists.

    * I’m worried about eating metered users’ bandwidth.

    What are your thoughts about modals?

    Have a good day.

    • I’ve never heard anyone call such a box a “modal”. I’ve heard “hover box” and I’ve heard “lightbox”.

      This is also the first time I’ve heard anyone express concern about malware on the “base page”. Pretty much, if you trust the site, you trust the site. All it is is content that is highlighted on the page, and as such I don’t see it as taking much more bandwidth than what’s on the page already. It’s also not a “pop-up” in the sense that it’s not opening another browser window with controls turned off (which I absolutely hate). It’s easy to close to see the page — and if you can’t, then that’s cause to be upset with the site in general (such as the retailer you mention), and that’s when I take my business elsewhere.

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