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3 Ways to Grow Your Curated Email Newsletter Faster
20th January 2015 • The Digital Entrepreneur • Rainmaker Digital LLC

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This is the second of three core lessons related to content curation based on a case study of my new email newsletter Further.

You can listen to the first episode here: Position Your Content Curation for Success With These 5 Essential Elements.

A key aspect of last week’s episode was identifying the purpose of any smart content curation project audience building. Specifically, building an audience asset in the form of an email list.

This week we re focusing exactly on that essential element. After smartly positioning your curation project, you want to do everything you can to optimize your initial sign-up conversion rate before you invest serious time and money in driving traffic.

In this 34-minute episode Robert Bruce and I reveal:

  • Why traffic alone isn’t enough to build an audience
  • My overall content architecture for
  • Whether the “How To” headline is losing effectiveness
  • The stupidly simple way to get your newsletter shared
  • The origin of the modern social share button
  • An unorthodox publishing approach that works
  • How Copyblogger achieved a 400% increase in email signups
  • How to create an unbelievably effective ethical “bribe” for subscribers

Listen to The Digital Entrepreneur below ...

The Show Notes

The Transcript

3 Ways to Grow Your Curated Email Newsletter Faster

Robert Bruce: I forgot to tell you how pissed off I am.

Brian Clark: Really? You usually don’t.

Robert Bruce: Yeah, I try to keep it to myself. I try to be a professional.

Brian Clark: No. You usually don’t forget.

Robert Bruce: Well listen. Every Saturday I go down to my favorite Italian deli and I get a meatball sandwich. So this weekend, I called ahead to order my sandwich and nobody picks up. It rings, and rings, and rings.

So I go down there and the place is gone. It’s been there about a year and a half. The guy moved in, put everything he had into it and it didn’t work for various reasons, that I need to get into with the city council. But that’s later. I might be running for office. We’ll see.

But gone. A year and a half. An absolutely great, little Italian deli and I’m sitting here thinking why didn’t I start my hyperlocal site two years ago? If I had done that, and I knew that guy was in trouble, I would have freely advertised his business week, after week, after week on that hyperlocal site. So, I am kicking myself and I’m pissed off.

Brian Clark: That’s interesting. There was a little pizza/sub joint in Boulder. Worse location on the planet. No wonder they couldn’t survive, but if I had have known that they were going under, I would have done the same thing because I did start a hyperlocal site over 2 years ago.

Robert Bruce: Right. That’s right. We need to talk about this in another episode entirely but that temptation has got to be there. But again, you have got to know that they are in trouble, you’ve got to reach out, whatever.

Brian Clark: And usually I have to have 50% of the business. You know, details.

Robert Bruce: Oh, right.

Brian Clark: Yeah. No, I’m just kidding, of course.

Robert Bruce: So today we are talking about getting traffic, right?

Brian Clark: No. No. We are talking about growing our email list faster, which involves taking certain steps before you waste a bunch of traffic on a site that does not convert.

Now come on Robert, you’ve been doing this for too long to make that mistake.

Why Traffic Alone Isn’t Enough to Build an Audience

Robert Bruce: So getting traffic in of itself is not necessarily the point. You’ve got to send this traffic to a website that converts. That actually works.

Okay. So we’ve laid out a couple of ideas here on this, and by the way, this is episode two of a three part case study that we are doing on your site, Anyway, you’ve got a few points that we want to cover today.

The big idea though, is yes. Three ways to grow your curated email newsletter faster.

Brian Clark: Well, let’s just go back a little bit to cover some ground. The reason why traffic is worthless, unless they take the action you want is, because the primary goal here is to build an audience asset. And in this case, and almost every case, that is exemplified in your email list.

If you don’t have permission to reach them, you don’t have a whole lot, because depending on them, and their memory, and their willingness to just remember to come back, is probably not going to work all that well.

Now, even before we got to this topic, we talked about positioning. You know, you can almost hear it out there. Some people are like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just tell me how to get people to my site.” And I think that’s where a lot of people go wrong. Because if you don’t connect with the audience in the right way … In fact, if you don’t connect with the right audience in the first place, you are not going to succeed in the long-term. So you can’t skip over these steps.

If you have not listened to the previous episode on “positioning your curation for success“, please go back and revisit that. We do cover some similar ground in this episode but it’s in a different context and it’s much more specific to getting people on that email list.

Robert Bruce: Yeah, we talked about positioning on the phone. I think it was on Friday. The idea of it is not the most sexy topic that can be covered, but really it’s the foundation. The foundation of your home, if you will. If that’s not right, or at least researched and thought through, then none of this other stuff is going to matter.

Brian Clark: Actually, I find it incredibly sexy Robert.

Robert Bruce: Somehow I knew that was the case.

My Overall Content Architecture for

Robert Bruce: Okay. Moving on from positioning into this idea of sending traffic to a well positioned site. And we have got three components of this. Starting with content.

Brian Clark: Right, and content really is the whole thing. Even though we are curating other people’s content. If you look at this style that I’m taking with If you want to go check it out. If you haven’t yet. It’s very highly influenced by Dave Pell’s NextDraft.

I’ve admitted that 17 times. So no surprise there. But what Dave does, and what I’m doing, actually creates unique content, even though it’s pieced together. Assembled if you will Robert, just like a sales letter to a certain degree. Taking parts but you are still putting it in your unique voice.

We talked about that aspect of it on the last call. It’s got to be both valuable and convenient for people but it’s got to be unique. Essentially, you do that by developing your own style, your own voice and not being afraid, or shying away from being yourself.

But in this context, I’m talking about content as proof of concept before someone is going to give up that email address. Now sometimes people are going to come to your site through an issue of the newsletter in the first place. You are wanting to promote social sharing, so you do want your archive pages out there on the open web, so that people can share it and search engines can index it. You don’t want to hide it away, even though when they come to the homepage, pretty much there is one choice of what to do.

Now on Further, you will see an about page, you’ll see a contact form and you’ll also see a very important link. And this is really what I am talking about here called ‘Current’.

And it’s amazing because I don’t promote Current. It’s an archive page. It pulls that latest issue into that link and then whatever the newest thing is, there you go. People have it. But it’s amazing, and when I have a little bit larger data set, I am going to share the pathways of signups in a future episode. You know, how many come through the homepage, how many come through a content page and how many come through Current as a sample.

But one way or another, you’ve got to have that sample. You’ve got to have that proof of quality, usefulness and convenience.

Robert Bruce: Just to be clear, the navigation at the top of the homepage for, there is a link called Current. You click on that and as you described, it allows the reader to go to the latest issue. Just so everybody is clear on what that actually is.

Brian Clark: Yeah, that navigation, those four things are at the top of every page. So that is an important thing where you are allowing, because with a blog of course, everything is out there in the open, people can read for days before deciding they want to sign up. But the difference I think here is that the entire sites architect, architected?

Robert Bruce: Architected?

Brian Clark: That’s an awkward word. The whole site is built to drive email sign ups. Every time you go to a new page or a content page specifically, the first thing you see is that opt-in box. Now you are probably not going to use that one, so it’s there again at the bottom. Right? When you finish the issue and you are happy with it.

Robert Bruce: Yep.

Brian Clark: One way or another you need to be able to give people a sample. Now, best case scenario in the current version of Further is, you come in through a random issue that got shared, then you click over to the homepage. You are not ready to sign up yet but you see Current. So unless it’s the same issue, it gives you another sample and then hopefully at that point you are ready to pull the trigger.

Now last week we talked about that maybe I’ll put the about page text below the sign up because that really tells the story in more than the minimum elevator pitch, right?

But instead, I’m thinking to leave the about up there in the top navigation for people who want to go there, and then have one more thing on the homepage, which is subheading samples. And then just have three issues there and then use categories to select whatever the case may be. I could show my three favorites. It could be the three most popular according to the audience. That might be a better idea. Anyway, you get my drift.

Robert Bruce: You can rotate through those as you please.

Brian Clark: Yeah. You are using the category functions in Rainmaker and you could have them pull into the homepage that way. That’s a custom design thing but it’s very simple.

So that may be something that I test next. Like, what’s the optimal amount of sample content? Is one going to convert best? Is more going to convert best? That’s one of those things that we have yet to determine but it’s an important thing to experiment with because you really do. Once you’ve got that traffic coming to the page, you want as many of those people as you can get, because frankly if you don’t sign them up, they are not coming back.

The Stupidly Simple Way to Get Your Newsletter Shared

Robert Bruce: We’ve seen a lot. What is it? Amanda Palmer has got a book out now. I think it’s The Art of Asking. James Altucher has just been talking about this a lot. But we all know this. I think it’s one of those kind of touchy subjects in terms of asking people to share.

Brian Clark: Yeah. It’s something that I think I got lazy about with Copyblogger because once you do build an audience, sharing happens but it’s still a good idea to ask. I mean, Amanda Palmer is hugely popular and so is James and they are still talking about asking.

So you’ll notice with all of the six issues so far of Further, every time I sign off, I ask people to share and I do it with a wink and a smile. I make a joke. Sometimes the joke is on me but the ask is there. And people do it. It’s amazing and I appreciate it. It’s cool but I just wonder if I didn’t take those two sentences or whatever to do that, would sharing go down? I can almost guarantee you that it would.

Robert Bruce: I bet it would and this is one of those things. A basic copywriting principle of some people look at this like, “Ah, it’s obnoxious. You are asking for this stuff all the time.” But this is one of those things, if you have got an audience and you’ve got people, particularly subscribed to your email list, most of your audience is already thinking, or a large portion of them are already thinking, “This is really cool.” Somewhere deep down in that brain, “Man, I’d like to share this” but it’s just not top of mind. So those two lines are really a reminder to what they already likely want to do. Being clear. Being specific.

Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. And I would like to point out in this medium that we are working in, that’s totally old school. I have been doing this since ’98 and the email forward was the original share button. And it still happens. People forward. If you give them access to your social media buttons, it’s whatever form they want it to take and I probably will start pulling sharing buttons into the actual email. Obviously they are on the web pages.

I also added for the first time, a link at the top of the newsletter edition, that says “Read on the web” because I got a few minor reports but Yahoo kind of kills paragraph breaks, which is horrible. So I don’t want anyone to have a poor reading experience because of their email client. So I put that option right at the top. If anything is wonky, they just hit that, they go to the web and I think the experience is even better.

Whether the “How To” Headline is Losing Effectiveness

Robert Bruce: All right. So let’s move on to the second of the three ways to grow a curated email newsletter, and that is the thing that started it all, which is copy.

Brian Clark: Yeah. So last time with regard to positioning, we talked about copy in the context of voice and positioning and the way you want to be perceived by your audience. But we also touched a little on split testing because I had been running one at the time.

I was testing the main headline and it wasn’t a major difference in substance, in fact, it was the same substantive headline. I started with “Live Your Best Life” and then I tested against “How to live Your Best Life.” And like we mentioned, every copywriter on the planet would guess that the “How to” would win and it’s amazing, because when we did the show, “How to” was winning.

The day that we finished the show, “Live” came back roaring and almost tied it up. Then, “How to” pulled away again and by the time I ended the test, and this was past a large enough sample size to be legitimate, “How to” won, but by a tiny amount. And I thought that was interesting. So “How to” certainly didn’t hurt the headline and statistically, it was a little bit better, but it wasn’t that much better. I think it’s because it says pretty much the same thing.

I’m not going to speculate that “How to” is less effective. It’s all contextual.

The general rule is you put “How to” in front of almost any headline and it will do better.

Robert Bruce: Yeah, you are talking about audience. You are talking about general trends as they go on the web, as people become used to certain things. Certainly there is a lot of headline kind of formulas that are just slapped on and applied, that people get tired of.

You know, back in the day, even in print there were waves of types of headlines and types of subheads. It’s the same now. Nothing changes. It’s all the same.

Brian Clark: Right. So, the key here, since it’s all contextual and we have these very easy tools, in our case, split testing is built into Rainmaker. It’s so easy, even I can do it.