mailing list

I recently saw a discussion on a blog about how it is now harder than ever to grow a mailing list. So hard, in fact, that the people having the chat were using it as a reason to give up on blogging altogether.

I’d like to offer a different point of view.

It’s easier than ever before. Not harder.

Of course, that does not mean it’s easy.

But, I honestly do think that if you have the right information and tools you’ve got a better chance of growing a good quality bunch of email subscribers now than five or more years ago.

Here’s why.

Are you struggling to grow a mailing list?

I wanted to start this post by just acknowledging the fact that I know a lot of bloggers do have trouble growing an active email list.

Not only that, those that are having some success growing the list seem to struggle to use those subscribers for further expansion or earnings.

One of my goals here on Blog Tyrant is to help you avoid the mistakes that I have made in the past, so hopefully this will give you some new ideas.

Please leave a comment below and let me know what you’re having trouble with in regards to your mailing list. Is it getting subscribers? Is it finding new traffic sources? Is it using the subscribers to make money?

Why it’s easier than ever to grow a mailing list

Alright so I guess it’s time for me to justify my outrageous and most contrarian reasoning for making such incredulous claims.

1. We have more knowledge about how to get subscribers

A lot of the time bloggers reminisce about how easy it must have been back in the old days.

There was less competition.

Things weren’t as crowded.

So on and so on.

Yeah, but hardly anyone knew what a mailing list was let alone how to grow one!

These days the knowledge that floats around on the internet about mailing lists is astounding. There are guys like Neil Patel writing regularly about his conversion experiements and companies like Optimizely which help people like Barack Obama get more email subscribers in a scientific way.

And the reason is simple: mailing lists are worth a lot of money if used correctly. People are now aware of that fact and are giving their email subscribers the attention that they deserve.

Think about the idea of A/B testing your opt-in forms. This is only a relatively new concept but one that makes such a huge difference to your efforts.

In the old days you just had to guess.

So what are some of the things we now know?

  • Colors matter
    We know that colors have an effect on how people react to not only a website but the email submit forms on that website. Derek Halpern reckons it’s all about contrast.
  • The type of social proof matters
    It’s not just about having some social proof on there. You need the right type. Ordinary social proof can put people off and decrease sign ups.
  • Pop ups can work
    People hated pop ups on blogs a few years ago. But, if done properly, they can really work wonders.
  • Placement is important
    There are places on your blog that will lead to 10%-20% more sign ups just by virtue of it being in the right spot and without any new text.
  • Copy is vital
    Are you using the right emotional triggers? Are you communicating an idea that encourages people to sign up? We’ve learned a lot about the effect of copy on submissions.

As I said above, I’ve got something coming out soon that is going to expand on this a lot more. Make sure you’re on the mailing list. Love the irony.

2. There are incredible tools and software available

Closely related the the first point is the fact that we now have a plethora of tools and software available to us to ensure that we not only get our opt-in forms in front of people in a more appealing way, but that we can track and see which ideas are working better.

  • Design
    Plugins like like Pop Up Domination and OptinSkin let you create beautiful forms right from your WordPress dashboard without any coding or Photoshop experience.
  • Tracking and testing
    Websites like Aweber allow you to run A/B tests on your opt-in forms to see which one performs better. You can also see how many people in your mailing list open the emails you send and then how many people click through to your website. You can even split test your mail outs and run different designs or copy to see which converts better.
  • Storage
    Again, sites like Aweber, Mail Chimp and Campaign Monitor allow you to store all your email subscribers for an extremely reasonable price. In the old days a lot of people had to manually store all these for themselves unless they wanted to spend a fortune on top level software.

If you take advantage of some of these things you put yourself in a very good position, assuming you are getting the right traffic.

3. There are more people on the internet

As we all know, there are more people on the internet than ever before. Not only is the internet expanding into countries that didn’t have access before, the countries that did have access are now getting super-fast networks and cheaper access that create more surfing time.

And don’t forget smart phones! Like I said last week, there are now more smart phones on Earth than toothbrushes and these (and tablets) now represent a huge part of overall web traffic.

These new users are potential subscribers to your mailing list.

They are customers waiting to buy your products or interact with your content in a meaningful way.

It’s important to remember that the internet’s growth is something real to your business – not something “out there”.

4. People are less worried about signing up to a mailing list

One of my own personal theories is that people are a lot less worried about entering their email address into your mailing list’s opt-in form.

Even just two or three years ago people like my mother would never sign up to a list. The security ramifications were too scary and the concept was too foreign.

And while that is still true for a lot of people, I think the major shift has taken place with how much trust people have in websites. In Australia, for example, 50% of people now use online shopping on a regular basis.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should trust every website and it doesn’t mean you should stop doing things that help people trust your website. These are still important.

5. There are different ways to do it

When I first started on the internet there was definately not as many methods of capturing email addresses as there are today. You would maybe have a crappy looking submit form in your sidebar or some kind of guest book type page where people could leave a message.

That has all changed.

Think about the different ways people collect email addresses now.

  • Basic forms
    There is all the basic form ideas like sidebars, end of post and on a dedicated subscription page.
  • Pop ups, slide outs and pop unders
    You can have your form appear on a pop up or pop under or on a nifty little graphic that slides out only after the reader reaches a certain place on the page.
  • Redirects
    When someone leaves a comment on my blog I redirect them to a thank you page that asks for an email address. That converts really well.
  • During a transaction
    Remember the last time you bought something online and they had a little check box asking you to sign up for updates? Those work well too.

There are a lot of other ways too but the point is that there are a lot more savvy ways to collect emails for your mailing list now than when it was supposedly a lot easier to grow a mailing list.

But what about all the competition?

The main reason people cite for it being harder than ever to grow a mailing list is because there is just so much competition now.

Is that a valid reason, do you think?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, there is more competition. There are more blogs than ever before. Regardless of your niche you can guarantee that there are more people writing about it now than there were a few years ago.

But no, it’s not a good reason to stop blogging.

Did Subway stop trying because McDonald’s was already around? No. And now they have more restaurant locations than them.

There was always competition on the internet. Perhaps it wasn’t as clever as it is now but it was always present. The things you have to do now to succeed are just a little bit different, but not necessarily harder.

Where are you struggling?

If you’re one of the people who think that growing and using a mailing list is harder than ever I’d really like to know where you’re getting stuck. Please leave a comment below – I think it will be very interesting to see where bloggers sit with this debate.

Photo: Β© Mirmoor


Join in. The comments are closed after 30 days.
  1. Jamie Anderson on June 10, 2013

    Hi Ramsay,

    I agree with everything you’ve written here. There is that much good quality information and data out there on how to build lists that people really shouldn’t complain about how ‘hard’ it is.

    I’m currently working on getting a pop up plugin to work on my new blog and am looking forward to see what sort of effect it has on engagement and opt in percentages. I may publish a post with the results after a few months of having it live.

    1. Hey Jamie.

      I’d be really interested to see those results. I’m currently testing a few.


  2. Lauren Bertolacci on June 10, 2013

    Hey Ramsay! Totally agree. I regret only getting my mailing list started a few months ago, but I’m not finding it too difficult to grow at a steady rate. I find the pop up converts well on Laurens Fitness, a little in your face for me and I don’t like them personally… but hey, I am not my own customer!

    Yes there is more competition now, but there is also more awareness. i.e Giving out your email is not giving out all your personal data!

    1. So good to see you around here again Lauren!

      Have you had any complaints about pop ups? I’m still not convinced that they are as bad as people make them out to be. I don’t think I’ve ever had a complaint here.

      1. Lauren Bertolacci on June 10, 2013

        No complaints at all. It’s pretty clear how to close it, I actually offer a free fitness starter pack, and I only show it one time.

      2. I have a BIG complaint with popups, most are not responsive designed, thus FAIL on my phone.

        Ramsay, it looks like yours is off for a mobile view – congratulations. Brands that get this wrong can lose me as a viewer forever, my phone is that important. Cheers, -Steve

  3. Jessica Flory on June 10, 2013

    Fantastic ideas! It’s amazing how simple some of them are, like changing colors and placement.
    The biggest question I have is how to turn your mailing list into cash. How can you ensure that the people receiving your email are the right customers for your product?

    1. Thanks for dropping a comment Jessica. I think your question is one that a lot of people will be asking.

    2. Michelle on June 12, 2013

      Hi Jessica,

      I believe that you have to make sure the right people sign up to your list. You could create a special offer for new subscribers, that you know your ideal audience would be interested in.

      If your freebie is compelling enough, the right people WILL sign up.

      I think it is much harder to keep your subscribers engaged once they are a member of your list. A valuable welcome program will make a big difference. You need to start immediately with building a relationship with your audience.

  4. I got a discussion on digital point forums about mailing list and you know what they said,it is easier to grow a mailing list by those one page sites that offer something to you, on putting in your E-mail , That is just very strange to me , Bloggers have much more potential of growing a list.

    1. Hi Waqar.

      I used to spend a lot of time on Digital Point Forums for graphic design and copywriting so I have a lot of respect for some of the people there. That being said, not many of them would run a premium blog I don’t think.

      Those one page designs work really well for paid traffic which is great if you have the budget. It all depends on why you want to grow the email list I think. Some of those one page designs would have people un-subscribing pretty quickly when they receive ordinary content because there is not a lot of trust.

  5. Hey Ramsay,

    Bloody fabulous post!

    For me, it was split testing my optin forms that really got the ball rolling.

    Since taking the time to really dig into the stats and see which designs, colours and placements turn my readers on (i’m using OptinSkin) , i’ve seen a massive rise in the number of brilliant people on my list (300 and counting – don’t laugh – i’ve only been at this for 3 months…).

    On top of that I’m currently trying out alternative weeks of Pop-Ups/Hello Bar to see which converts better….

    Also – Am I imagining things, or have you done away with your sidebar optin form?

    1. Hey Patrick.

      Great to hear man! I love to hear stories like this. I absolutely WISH I knew about split testing when I was at my first 300 subscribers. I must have lost so many!

      I’m using HelloBar at the moment. Reached my max for the month (on the $4.95 plan) but it’s converting at around 5% some days. That just seems huge to me. How about you?

      Yep, sidebar form gone! Yet another test.

      1. It’s pretty much neck and neck after 2 weeks (one week each), though my pop up is performing slightly better (around 3%) than the Hello Bar.

        Didn’t you have a pop up form at one point? Is the Hello Bar converting better for you?

        1. I have a pop up for my list but the HB was promoting something else.

          Not a big fan of the HB AB test analytics display. It’s a little bit cumbersome to read I find.

          1. Shaun @ Training Outcomes on June 11, 2013

            Not a fan of Viperbar mate? πŸ˜‰

            Looking forward to the upcoming announcement.

  6. Warren Nye on June 10, 2013

    Great article, very helpful indeed. My biggest concern is having my viewers sign up. With some of the other folks ideas and yourself, I will start implementing them. Looking forward to your new article.

    1. Thanks Warren.

  7. Bonnie Surette on June 10, 2013

    Thanks Ramsey! I’m just getting started with lists/optins etc and I find your info very helpful and accessible. For someone just starting out, there is ALOT of info out there and it can be a little overwhelming. Thanks for helping it be less overwhelming!! Much appreciated πŸ™‚

    1. Glad it’s helping Bonnie!

  8. First time looking at your blog on an s4. The popup took forever to show the x to click on and its so small. Still in the end i can live with that because of your quality content.

    1. Hi Chris.

      Yeah, that pop up is not great on mobile. Going to to do something about it.

  9. liz@lifedreaming on June 10, 2013

    Another great article packed with really practical tips and great links.

    Two questions Ramsay – I as wondering about the redirect from comments thing. Would it annoy a loyal reader who comments often and is on the list or does it just redirect people who aren’t on the list? And is the redirect a plug in you could mention?

    Life Dreaming site nearly ready and Marc has different sign up forms for the blog and the LD Expedition. I’ll ask him if we’re using popups.

    Sent him over this article.

    Well done again mate


    1. Hi Liz.

      You comment regularly, do you get redirected every time?

      1. liz@lifedreaming on June 11, 2013

        silly me, I don’t get redirected

        1. πŸ˜‰

  10. Hi,

    I launched my blog in January and I’m still struggling with several problems, including this one.
    It’s about six months and I haven’t got even a single subscriber in my MailChimp list!
    I have put a subscribing form in my sidebar.
    Should I do anything else?

    1. Hi Deina.

      If you haven’t got any subscribers in that time I think you need to make some drastic changes. Firstly, make sure that your form is working! Secondly, your home page looks a little unfinished with blank spaces and not much content showing. Thirdly, start posting more on social media and on other blogs. See if that helps.

  11. Ramsay, thanks for a great post. I’m still new at this, blogging only a few months, and only on WordPress right now. But my career for a long time was in muit-channel and direct- marketing w/a specialty in mailing lists and new customer acquisition. The “how” of building the list doesn’t worry me, I agree with so much you said. I’m struggling now w/the fact that I’m limited by WordPress and probably need to switch to self-hosted, otherwise I’m limited. I have noticed as I have built my email subscribers over the last few months, fewer of them comment anymore because of the way the WordPress default email looks; it’s not condusive to sharing or commenting from the actual email. Anyway, maybe this week it’s time to start looking into the more-proactive approach you recommend so I can start taking advantage of your advice and really start building it the right way. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that, but maybe so… Thanks again.

    1. Hi Robin.

      I would absolutely get on your own hosting – especially if you are growing. There just isn’t enough control on free hosts, as you seem to be noticing.

      I recommend BlueHost as a good starting point – they will probably do the migration for you as well.

  12. Christine on June 10, 2013

    I have an email subscription box on my blog that came with my Word Press theme. Should I also add Mail Chimp?

    1. Hi Christine. Where do your subscribers currently go when they enter their details?

  13. Melanie Wilson on June 10, 2013

    It’s been fairly easy for me since I started seeking subscribers for a few reasons:

    1. Many bloggers aren’t trying to build mailing lists. They’re all about traffic which is like being happy that a hundred people come into your store. But if they don’t sign up for your mailings, how will you get them back?

    2. I created an ebook delivered on subscription that people want (on meal planning). I was fortunate enough to have two websites with huge subscriber lists advertise my free ebook. This did more for me than guest posting for sure.

    3. I hosted giveaways that had subscribing as an option for entry. I’ve had some unsubs after entries or getting the freebie, but the percentage is very small.

    4. I always leave my landing page describing my free ebook with subscription as my blog address. It makes a difference!

    1. Nice work Melanie! Sounds like you’re doing really well.

      Thanks for the great comment.

  14. Why am I commenting here before taking care of work at my own blog..?

    Nice content, really adds to your list building arsenal.

    1. Ha ha. Nice one Greg.

  15. Thank you so much for your informative post. This is full of information that I will be trying to implement.
    I am new at blogging and I am getting people looking at the content and my list has grown by 5 or 6 and those not in my target market. Seriously sad. I have a very limited target market and not finding ways to get them there. It seems that I am pretty invisible, but I am committed to figuring this out. I will be looking into your suggestions and seeing what I can do.

    1. Keep trying to get new sources of traffic. Try and find related sites to post on or advertise on, even if it’s not directly relevant.

  16. Great article Ramsey. I’m just starting my online nutritional store & I plan to use a blog about health tips & so forth to drive traffic to it. Not sure exactly what I’m going to do to try to build a list yet other than so my readers can receive updates.

    1. Hi Ron.

      Great idea. Once you build that list through quality and distinctive content (try to make it fun and topical) you then have a database of people that you can email about specials or new health trends.

  17. Hey Ramsay,

    I agree that email lists are very important for anyone who is into internet marketing. But I also think they’re really helpful for other people if done well (like yours ;-)) That’s why I personally signed up to many different lists and even recommend to do so to my readers.

    Thanks for helping us out,

    1. Thanks Phil. That means a lot.

  18. Glynis Jolly on June 11, 2013

    I still don’t like the pop up idea, probably never will. Because I don’t like it, I’m not going to subject my readers to it either. But… I do like the idea of a redirect page. It means another plug-in, which I’m trying to keep to a minimum, but I can think of several advantages to this idea.

    1. I understand your reasoning Glynis. Respect.

  19. Tina N. Phan on June 11, 2013

    Great post Ramsay!

    I think people find it harder nowadays because there are just so many methods of going about it and people are suffering from information overload.

    Honestly even the most simple of ideas can be rendered complicated when there is so much varied information about it.

    I just started and I think the hardest thing about growing an email list is using the right copy and offer to get them to opt in in the first place. Right now I’m using a free marketing training done by someone else (the video is a resource from an internet marketing training company) but I want to create my own offer soon.

    1. Sounds like you’re on the right track Tina. Thanks for commenting.

  20. Hi Ramsy
    Another informative post to share with us! Thanks. im not really “struggling” with this email-stuff as i havent yet taken this “important” step. i was busy elsewhere, but i have noted some great tips, and ill integrate them ASAP. Keep it up! comment me on my blog if you have free time, ill appreciate πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks for stopping by Fa.

  21. I do not think it is that hard to grow a list, as long as readers are offered something of value–new posts, free ebook, etc. I try to offer subscription in many places, to make it easier and do have a sidebar form.

    I personally hated pop ups before, but think will be giving them a try soon too, although I still find them annoying on mobile devices, especially since some are not resizing to even get to the point to be able to close them.

    I see you are not using a mobile option for your site. What are your thoughts on that? Do you have a link to an article on the topic?

    1. Just had a look at your site Elena and it’s really awesome. As a vego I’ll be back!

      1. Oh, and mine does work on mobile but it won’t show if you’ve already visited the site once.

      2. Get out! Really?!That’s awesome! I am actually redesigning it to go on Genesis network in a couple of months, so, it will be better. I just have to start doing more ads. To this point all of my income is totally reader dependent. It is growing, but I am stocking your and couple of other sites (like problogger) to get better at blogging ;).

        You will have to do a veg post then soon too πŸ˜‰

        1. If you mean a veg post on your blog then I would LOVE to! Not sure my readers here would get it as it’s not exactly blogging! Ha ha.

          You have a really solid brand. Be interested to see how the re-design goes.

          1. Let’s talk about that for sure ;)! With my 12 mos running around, I would love a break with a guest post πŸ˜‰

            And thanks on the brand compliment–it took a while to define where I was going, but when I did, I started to get solid following and making $$ :). With the new design I am planning to make navigation even easier, to draw more sign-up, and to incorporate my Hubby and Baby in the header design (Hubby, so my male readers feel more connected).

            I am planning to stick with the bold and loud colors–that is me all the way. That was also what made my brand stand out as well, when I ran my photography business πŸ™‚

            what’s the best way to get in touch with you for a possible guest post?

          2. Oh, and another important redesign element is going to be my store. A new plugin was just released for authors–it makes for a better presentation. Unfortunately it doesn’t work well with Thesis–my current framework.

  22. Great article. I just purchased OptinSkin and completely re-vamped my optin forms. Looks great, and I’m confident I will have a boost in subscribers by tomorrow when I release my next blog post.

    1. Let us know how you go.

  23. Marijan Sivric on June 14, 2013

    It’s not hard to grow a list if you have good looking optin forms and if you receive a lot of traffic to your website. But what if you are just at the beginning? You have to spend a nice sum of money to advertise your squeeze pages…solo ads can be expensive! Do you have any other source of traffic you could recommend to us? The next problem is keeping your subscribers…how can I do that when most of my subscribers are being annoyed the emails I send? And I think these emails are useful…and free!

    1. Hi Marijan.

      I’ve only spent $100 advertising Blog Tyrant as an experiment. The rest of my roughly 10,000 subscribers came through organic traffic. You need to focus on finding new sources through comments, mentions, viral content, guest posting, etc.

      If you attrition rate is high then you need to take a look at whether your content matches what your subscribers think they are going to get. Make sure you are very clear with them during the sign up process.

      Hope that helps.

  24. Christopher on June 14, 2013

    You’re right…it’s not harder, just different. Competition is a poor excuse because even as it increases, the market we compete in grows every day too. There’s just as much tremendous opportunity out there for all of us as there ever was. But now we also have the know-how to go in and capitalize more effectively.

    1. Great view Christopher. Thanks for commenting.

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  26. Sometimes I get very annoyed by email popups on some of the blogs I read.

    I am not sure if those popups end up hurting your blog because certainly they are not user friendly.

    1. Hi James.

      Yes, I’m a little bit torn with them sometimes. They convert really well but I know some people don’t love them.

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  28. Carlos Coto on June 17, 2013

    Hi Ramsay,

    As always, GREAT POST!!! What I have seen in my blog, is that 1)Pop up, hasnΒ΄t done anything… people sign up at the sidebar, or at the end of posts… I am still split testing everything, but that is what I have found.
    2)Just a subscribe sign, without anything to obtain by signing has worked better than my opt in with two video training… so What is happening??? No idea. I need to TEST, TEST, and do more TESTING.

    Thanks for your info!

    1. Hi Carlos.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      I visited your site but it loaded extremely slowly. That might be why the pop up isn’t converting. Any ideas why?

  29. Jeremy Cook on June 20, 2013

    Well, first of all, thanks somewhat in part to you, I’ve increased my # of subscribers by roughly 4x. The bad thing is that I still have only 36 subscribers, some of which are duplicates I believe.

    One thing that’s been frustrating is I use JetPack on WordPress, which is good enough, but #1 – I can’t figure out how to manually add subscribers besides just typing it in the “subscribe” box and #2 – I’m not really sure if this works anyway. I feel there may be something that doesn’t work correctly if you do this too much. I’ve tried to subscribe/unsubscribe myself and it doesn’t always seem to work.

    Any ideas? Would love someone to attempt to subscribe to my blog and let me know their experience. Feel free to immediately unsubscribe, I would like to know that this is working correctly as well.


    1. Hey mate.

      I subscribed for you. Works fine. To be honest, though, I’m not familiar with how works in this respect – never used it.

      One thing – your email subscription form needs some work in terms of design and also some creative copy to attract people for the sign up. Might get more sign ups if it was bigger and brighter.

      Hope helps.

  30. Adam - Wellness Coach on June 21, 2013

    Awesome post yet again. List building is very important and you nailed the topic perfectly bro.

    1. Thanks Adam.

  31. Bobby Velev on June 22, 2013

    Totally agree with you Ramsay. If you have something interesting and cool to provide in your newsletter, people are more willing to be subscribed than ever before.

    I think that it is very important to include privacy information in the opt-forms. It increased the subscribers for me and I guess it will work for others too.

    In my case pop-up with freebie works best.

    1. Thanks for sharing Bobby. Sounds like you’re doing well.

      1. Bobby Velev on June 24, 2013

        So far so good. I am now making some improvements on my site and I hope things will become even better after the changes.

        Great articles Ramsay.

        1. Thanks Bobby.

  32. Hi Ramsay, My Struggling time has stoped after finding this great article. I was just looking toward Mailing. Thanks to you Ramsay πŸ™‚

    1. Glad it helps Vivek.

  33. Great post Ramsay! What I struggle with most is that I not only have to know photography and everything that goes with that such as photoshop but I also have to know about web site building. It all seems foreign to me. I would like to build up a email list and use programs like Mail Chimp and Adweber etc but I find it hard in implementing their instructions etc.

    Wow reading back over that makes me sound so clueless. But basically what I am saying a person has to be a Jack of all Trades and not just knowledgeable in the field that interested them in the first place like photography.

    1. I totally agree Averil. I know what you mean. I’ve got something coming out soon which might help you a lot.

      1. What will be the name of it so I can keep a look out for it

        1. You’ll have to be on the mailing list to find that one out! πŸ˜‰

          1. I am already but aren’t you clever πŸ˜‰

  34. Hi Ramsay, I’ve just discovered your blog. There are some great tips and advice on here. I’ve just started a new blog on the website I’m building. I’m using WordPress, can you suggest a good pop-up mailing list plugin?

    1. Hi Martin.

      Check out this post for some ideas:

  35. Does the comment redirect work with Disqus comment system, or only with WordPress original comment form?


    1. No idea, sorry.

  36. Hi, Ramsay.
    I am a big fan of your work as well as Glen Allsopp.
    Please could you do a case study on e-mail marketing?

    1. Something very similar to that idea is coming out soon.

      Thanks Ian.

  37. Its really a cool post and a very important topic. The tips are excellent. Thanks for sharing.

  38. Solicitor Angela on July 4, 2013

    Great article.
    I too hate pop ups, but I accept now that they can work.
    Some really useful ideas in here.

  39. Bookmarking this. Really useful information for when I start trying to build up a mailing list. Thanks for this Ramsey. Helpful stuff as always.

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