Back in March of this year (2015), I decided to start putting in more of an effort to build my email newsletter. I started EngageWP back in March of 2014 and, in that year, had built a list of 76 legitimate subscribers (plus about 20 or so spam emails that I removed from the list). Not bad for a blog’s first year…at least not by my standards and how I was going about getting subscribers. As of this post’s publish date, I have 313 subscribers, an increase of 412% in 4 months!
During that first year, my relationship with list-building was off and on. There were times I had opt-in forms visible from sidebars and after posts and there were times I didn’t have any opt-in forms available. The reason for this was because I was still very new to blogging and wasn’t sure why I was collecting those emails. Was I supposed to try to sell stuff to my subscribers? Was I supposed to create something of value and send it? So why was I collecting those emails? Early on, I guess it was just to have them for the future when I figured it out!
Implementing an Opt-in Strategy
In March, I started giving my email list more thought. I already had fair amount of subscribers but I wasn’t sending them anything. I figured I’d need to start soon or they’d forget they even signed up and would wonder why the hell I was sending them emails. At that point, I was creating new tutorials and other posts on a regular basis and figured that a periodic roundup of recent posts would be my regular email and, occasionally, I’d send other stuff if it was really really worth sharing (I only send stuff I’d want to receive).
Tools of the Trade
Knowing what I wanted to do with my list, my plan was to begin sending a monthly RSS email to my subscribers. Since I had been using MailChimp from the start, I knew this would be pretty simple to get going. It was. I won’t walk you through the steps (there are lots of other resources out there that will help you if you need it) but all I had to do was set up an RSS-driven campaign and MailChimp guided me through the process. In all, it took me less than an hour to get started and most of that was choosing and adjusting a template that I liked.
Next, I needed a good way to display my opt-in forms. Previously, I had used a few free options and forms I built through Gravity Forms. The free options I tried let through more spam than was acceptable. Gravity Forms is good for collecting signups through regular contact forms and even dedicated, static opt-in forms that could be placed in something like a sidebar. Personally, I like using G.F. for opt-ins because it’s so easy. However, and if you’ve used Gravity Forms yourself you’ll know what I’m talking about, Gravity Forms is not the easiest thing to style and I wanted something that looked nice out of the box. I also wanted to implement some type of interactive prompt to encourage my readers to subscribe (i.e. popups) and this isn’t something you get, by default, with Gravity Forms.
Opt-in Form Plugins
Now that I had a plan for what I was going to do with my email list and how I wanted to collect signups, I began looking into some different opt-in solutions available for WordPress. I tried a couple free options and a couple paid options. The free plugins didn’t amaze me in any way so I won’t discuss them. Here are my thoughts on the paid options I tried and why I decided to go with one over the other.
First, I tried Optin Monster, which was certainly a nice plugin. It had some attractive opt-in themes and covered all the major options you’d want in how to display your forms (i.e. popup, footer, widget, etc.). It’s also great for developers in terms of extendability.
What turned me off about Optin Monster was the pricing and licensing. Now I’m not normally one to complain about price and that’s not what I’m doing with Optin Monster. For me, personally, all of the features I wanted weren’t worth the $199 price tag. It’s as simple as that. I purchased the $99 plan, which lacked many of the coolest features, like exit intent and canvas forms. No problem here…I just didn’t want to spend $199 on Optin Monster before trying other things.
At more of an issue for me was that Optin Monster isn’t 100% GPL, which I didn’t know before buying. Personally, I don’t support products that aren’t 100% GPL so I wouldn’t have purchased Optin Monster had I done a better job of researching that. I’m not trying to start a GPL debate so I’ll keep those thoughts to myself for now.
In Steps Bloom!
Bloom is a new plugin from Elegant Themes that provides some amazing features and incredible designs for your opt-in forms. Because it is so new, it will definitely continue to bloom in the future (pun intended). You likely experienced the popup I use while reading this post…it’s powered by Bloom. I’m not going to get into a full review because I already reviewed Bloom here. However, here’s what sold me on it:
First, it does most of what I want: stats, opt-in forms via popups, footer and manual placement (shortcode), support for many different email providers, responsive designs and more. While it does the job for me, it is lacking some features found with Optin Monster, such as exit intent and canvas forms. I imagine, however, that these are likely common feature requests and we’ll see them added sometime in the near future.
Also, since Bloom is included with an Elegant Themes membership, you get access to a ton of other cool stuff. For example, you also get access to Divi (one of the most popular WordPress themes), Monarch (a very awesome social sharing plugin), and more. For $89/year or $249 for life, the Elegant Themes deal is terrific.
Lastly, their products are all GPL, which makes me happy!
How you can do it too
Results vary. That’s reality. My results have been better than other peoples’ results and other people have had better results than me. I can’t, in good faith, prescribe some concrete method for building successful email lists. One, I’m not an expert in email marketing and, two, “concrete” methods of things like email lists are usually bullshit. What I can suggest is:
- Always have a plan for your email list. I initially started mine without any real purpose. Basically, I started collecting emails because it seemed like the normal thing to do with a blog. Do you want to promote something or make it something your readers want to receive? Typically, I prefer the latter. The only email lists I subscribe to are very useful to me (i.e. the Daily Bolt, Tuts+, and a couple others). I send a monthly digest of the previous month’s blog posts to my subscribers. Even if you intend to promote something, always offer some value to your subscribers or you’ll be seeing plenty of unsubscribes.
- Use the right tools. I love Bloom as my primary tool to collect emails. I also collect opt-ins via things like my contact and quote forms. You don’t have to use the same things as me but make sure what you do use works for you and is optimal for your readership.
- Send emails. I know this sounds obvious but it’s something that I wasn’t doing properly. When you’re only collecting emails and not sending anything, people will forget they signed up and then they are much more likely to unsubscribe. That said, it’s generally a bad idea to bombard your readers with emails unless that sort of thing is expected and agreed to (i.e. email courses). Utilize your list but don’t annoy people.