3 Ways to Grow Your Curated Email Newsletter Faster

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 Further.net
  • 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

The Show Notes

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, Further.net. 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 Further.net

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 Further.net. 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 Further.net, 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.

But you know the answer. I do want to talk a little bit about, because when you are starting a new site, generally I tell people to not spend a lot of time split testing because if you don’t have enough traffic to make it legitimate, you either have to run it for a very long time, which there is no harm in that, but you just have to be patient.

I think the example I just gave shows that if I pulled that test at an earlier point, I might have had a wildly inaccurate view of how much better “How to” was. Not that it matters. Really we are just trying to make decisions and you’ll see the homepage now is “How to.”

What I am thinking of next is to test a headline on that page that is radically different. In tone, in voice and in substance because it was one of the original headlines that I came up with and that’s a tip right there.

During the run up to launching, I wrote tons of different variations, which you will hear all the time in copywriting circles. “Write 50 headlines.” I don’t think I wrote 50 headlines on paper. I certainly ran through a lot of variations in my head before I started writing down some fairly solid contenders. But one is sticking around in my head because it’s much brasher, much bolder and those are the type of headlines that can make a truly huge difference, but you don’t know in which direction.

So that will be interesting. I am not going to say anything more on that because it almost extends the positioning of the project, which has been kind of built in all along.

That’s the cool thing about going back to positioning is, it can contain multitudes and then when you let different aspects of the broader topic that you are talking about come out and you see audience reaction, you can tell which way to go, right? We have been talking about that forever. But the key is test, don’t guess.

Even that design thing that I talked about adding more samples. I can test that. I can test the normal homepage, against the new homepage and see what happens. It’s a little more complicated because there’s different paths of travel. You are actually giving them a path away from the opt-in form, so that may not be the only action that you are looking for but you can track through analytics and from email signups. You can find the pathway that people took through the site, which is really cool.

Robert Bruce: This episode of Rainmaker.FM is brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform and in keeping with today’s topic, I want to talk curation for just a moment. Specifically what’s coming to RainmakerPlatform.com.

There are two main aspects of any good content creation plan overall and that’s collection and distribution. And to do this well, right now, you need to manage a handful of web services in different places and then bring them together in a way that makes sense for you. And one of the great curses of the web is precisely this. The management of multiple logins, passwords and apps that make it all happen. But what if you could run every aspect of your content curation strategy from one place? One login. One bill.

Early this year the Rainmaker Platform will allow you to do just that and I won’t go into great detail here but we are currently building the Rainmaker curator. It’s a suite of tools that will allow you to find, organize and distribute content, not only to social networks but to the property that you actually own. Namely your email newsletter and your website, with just a few clicks.

And yes, the RSS reader, social media scheduling and content distribution tools are going to be built into the Rainmaker Platform. So there is no more multiple accounts to manage. You can go and get rid of a good handful of passwords when we launch this thing.

Now this is coming to the platform. It’s not ready yet. But if you want to take a look at the rest of Rainmaker, what is there and take it for a free test drive for 14 days, head over to RainmakerPlatform.com. Quit screwing around trying to build your website and managing all those services that are scattered across the web and get back to building your business at RainmakerPlatform.com.

Brian Clark: And I just want to point out that the curation tools, as we mentioned a couple of episodes ago, they were supposed to be in the more expensive professional plan but we decided to put them in the standard plan.

So what that means is, if you decide you like Rainmaker, and of course, you want the curation tools but they are not quite ready yet, you will automagically get them as soon as they are available at no additional cost. You don’t have to do anything. Install a plugin, this or that. Nothing. It will be there. We’ll let you know and then we will really get into how to use the tools.

How to Create an Unbelievably Effective Ethical “Bribe” for Subscribers

Robert Bruce: So the third of these foundational kind of growth strategies is something that makes me think of like a red carpet. I haven’t been to a club in so long. I’m old. But the stuff is all cordoned off. You can’t get in. But you are talking about access. How are you approaching access to content in general on Further?

Brian Clark: Well I think the most obvious glaring thing right now, given modern content marketing or email marketing in general, is the lack of what we call the ethical “bribe.” I mean, it’s almost become standard operating procedure to offer something, besides the actual content that we are displaying as samples for people, in order to entice them a little bit more to jump in.

Now, you’ve got a million crappy sites that offer a free ebook and people have been trained because of the low quality follow-up to grab that ebook and run. Therefore, kind of defeating the purpose. So of course, a better course of action is whatever your enticement or bribe, as you will, is it needs to be delivered over time, so number one, that people realize that they have to stay on to get the whole enticement. But number two, they get to experience that you are not delivering crap. That you are consistently delivering quality that is in line with your samples.

So that’s not a big revelation to anyone. At this point, that’s 101. However, as you know Robert, because you were neck deep in that project at the time, a year and a half ago we switched from our Internet Marketing for Smart People newsletter on Copyblogger, to a different concept. The concept of the content library in which we repurpose the existing content into ebooks. Nothing really new is created but it was a repository of our Cornerstone content in ebook form, but it was behind a member wall. Not paid. It was free. But you did have to register as a member to access it.

How Copyblogger Achieved a 400% Increase in Email Signups

Brian Clark: Now MarketingSherpa did a case study on us about this because the results were so markable. 400% increase in opt-ins. And when it comes down to building your email list faster, those are the kind of numbers that should have anyone paying attention.

Robert Bruce: Real quick Brian. Part of the success of that, and interestingly enough, we’re going to be changing this around again. We will be talking about it soon. Making big changes in how we approach the general registration and email list for Copyblogger. But part of the success of that, and you talked about it before was, you’ve got to blow people’s heads off with whatever this ethical bribe is. Not only like you said, drip content. It’s not a thing of take it and run but because of what’s available out there already, you really have to up the ante. And that’s what we did with MyCopyblogger. So just to put a note on it.

Brian Clark: Yeah. I mean, I think you’re right. Even though when you think about it, MyCopyblogger was a blessing because we’d been publishing for so many years, so even though those 16 ebooks kind of blow people’s minds when they are new to Copyblogger, for us, it was wonderful, classic content repurposing.

Robert Bruce: Right.

Brian Clark: So that was a gift that we had from being in business for a long time. What do you do if you are new? And what do you do, even if you are me, with Further, knowing what I know about the power of dripped course like content, right? That is amazing, that’s topically relevant and yet also provides that concept of access.

How to Create High Value Content as a Creator

Brian Clark: I’ve been talking about this a lot because people always want to hear about anything that raises email subscription rates that much, without a popup or anything that’s really annoying. In fact, it’s something that makes people feel like they are having a better experience at the site, which is crucially important. So thinking about, “Okay, I’m not an authority in personal development. I’m a curator. So how does a curator actually create something that’s of high value content?”

Now the technology is easy. With Rainmaker, you set up a member wall, you set up the drip, you create all the interior pages and give people a wonderful experience. You give them, like you mentioned, the red carpet, or it’s really the velvet rope syndrome.

Robert Bruce: That’s what I was looking for.

Brian Clark: Yeah, they have access to something that other people don’t have. That’s not a problem. The tech is easy with Rainmaker but the problem, seemingly would be, what’s the content?

So I don’t know if you remember, I may have said this more than once, about the art of the audio interview, in the context of podcasting, right? But what is you interviewing an expert and recording it as content? It’s a form of curation, isn’t it? You’re not the expert. What you are doing is picking out the best ideas.

For example, I’ve read a bunch of books and I’ve kind of come up with these seven things that I think are core elements of living your best life, that either people don’t do, or they aren’t doing well enough.

So why not bite the bullet? I don’t know any of these people, but contact those authors. They are always looking for ways to promote their book, right?

I get the idea out there that people are kind of shy to ask, although people aren’t shy about asking me to do free interviews. But I say yes, as much as I can. So I think that’s where you need to start from. A mentality that you are helping them and they are helping you.

But interview those people. I have read the book. I came up with some smart questions. I’m genuinely curious. Remember the David Siteman Garland interview, where he talked about the key to a great interview is being genuinely curious about what the other person has to say. Then I do those seven interviews, and there’s my course.

And as far as I am concerned, it’s curation because it’s not me holding myself out there as an authority on whatever the case may be. No, it’s them. I’m putting the spotlight on them and yet I, going back to that impresario concept, we are going to keep coming back to that, the curator is someone who puts things together for an audience out of other parts, other talents, other expertise, other authority. And in the process, becoming an authority themselves.

Robert Bruce: This is interesting and it’s not new. It’s one of the concepts of Teaching Sells as well. If you are not the expert yourself, how do you build this membership learning focused business? You bring in an expert. But you know, a different take here on it.

Brian Clark: Yeah, and you are right to reflect back on Teaching Sells because this is how you build a membership site too. That people pay for.

When we get into business models with this, which a lot of people are already asking about, getting ahead of themselves. You know, we’ll talk again about it but what I’m saying here is, effectively, all you are doing is starting a podcast, except your initial goal for this content is to increase your email conversions, which in turn, if you decide to continue with a podcast, which hint hint, perhaps is a good idea, then you’ve also got a greater list to get that boost going for the show, which helps you attract new people at iTunes. But I’m getting ahead of myself, because I am getting into traffic now.

What to do When Your Audience is Small

Robert Bruce: Yeah. When we started this thing, my first question to you was “Yeah, we are going to talk about traffic right?” and so now, what about traffic?

Brian Clark: Well, now you are in the position, when you work through these things, I’m not saying you have to wait to start attracting traffic until you have this entire thing in place. Obviously I’m proceeding without an ethical bribe, much less anything. But that’s not the point.

I’d just like to remind people that it takes time and it’s good. It’s good to practice the content without a huge audience because it gives you room to screw up. It gives you room to find that voice and all that.

Now look back at the beginning of Copyblogger. Three months, pretty much crickets. And this is an interesting thing to think about. At that time, no one was using the headlines I was using and all the techniques I was teaching, unlike today, when everyone is doing it. So even three months was incredibly fast but still, I just plugged along. I wrote. I tried to create relationships. I tried to get my content noticed and then at the three month period I found the catalyst that really got things rolling.

For most people it’s going to take six to nine months and you’ve got to have patience and you are going to appreciate it, even if you don’t want to hear that, because being able to refine your game. You know, Michael Jordan didn’t just show up on the court to play game. He practiced.

So I’m viewing this period of Further as just enjoying writing the issues, getting my style down, observing things, learning all sorts of things that we are going to share in coming episodes. I am going to talk about traffic in the context of ways in which I will get traffic that I don’t have access to. It’s not fair for me to say, “Okay, so you create an email newsletter and then you tweet it to your 173,000 followers and voila.” I don’t think that’s a good case study.

The things that I want to talk about in the next episode are the things that I’m going to do with my own time, which is thin, and my own money, which I don’t like to lose, and see what works. But, you can guarantee yourself that I am going to be as well positioned as I can before I do that because why waste resources until you have got your fundamental game down.

Robert Bruce: Thanks for listening to Rainmaker.FM. If you like what you are hearing here, please let us know by heading over to iTunes and giving us a rating or a comment. And more importantly, go to Rainmaker.FM and sign up to get free email updates of future episodes of this show, as well as instant access to a 10-part training course that will likely change the way you think about online marketing.

Brian Clark: And that’s also a demonstration of exactly what we are talking about. I created that course myself because I know a thing or two about it, but just imagine doing the same thing with interviews.

Robert Bruce: All right, Brian. Thanks for taking us through this stuff yet again. We are back here next week. I am going to see you in person. We are going to Dallas this week.

Brian Clark: Yeah. The whole company in one place. It’s going to be chaos but fun.

Robert Bruce: I was going to say, maybe we should do a live show but I don’t think that’s going to happen. We’ll be back next week, recorded, with part three of this case study of Brian’s curated email newsletter project, Further.net. Thanks for listening everybody.

Brian, thanks man.

Brian Clark: We could do “Robert’s drunk and interviewing people on the street.”

Robert Bruce: Well that’s my new podcast for …

Brian Clark: Oh, I let it out.