CHAPTER 1

Why Email Marketing is Better Than Social Media

In building a “minimum viable audience” online, an important question that you need to consider is what to do with the traffic you receive.

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While email is a comparatively old, un-sexy technology compared to social media, the rallying cries of “Email is dead!” are simply inaccurate and undoubtedly hurting the bottom line of those businesses who listen. Email marketing provides the most direct line of communication for turning leads into sales, which is why the savviest entrepreneurs have no intention of giving it up any time soon.
The truth is that you don’t even need to be on social media to make use of it.
Social networks thrive on the sharing of good content, and your only job is to give people something to share. When they get to your site, your job is to continue communicating with them, and for that, email is the superior choice, avoiding just another update in an overcrowded Twitter stream. Below, we’ll go over the truth of how these channels perform so that you’ll be able to get a clear picture as to why email isn’t dead, and won’t be dying anytime soon.

Breaking Down the Data

In order to convince you that email should be your #1 when it comes to communicating with customers, it’s time to bring out the statistics and data to examine how and why email use lends itself to better engagement. In the sections below we’ll discuss just how much more effective email marketing is than social media marketing, with a particular focus on these three points:
  • Email is more popular than social media.
  • People guard their email accounts, so engagement is much higher.
  • You’re competing with “fun” on social networks.
Ready to find out why these matter?

1. Email is More Popular than Social Media

According to a recent study by Ipsos, nearly 85 percent of people who use the web will use email, compared to only 62 percent who use social networking sites. The key difference to note here is that all social networking sites were included in that 62 percent, which means that each individual site has far less of an audience than you think.
Email is universal, widely used, and still the de facto place where business is conducted online.
Worse yet, by using multiple social networks (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest), you’re spreading your audience across multiple platforms. Comparatively, a powerful email list can be a singular distribution channel for content and updates. If you’re not sold yet on the power of email marketing, wait until you see the statistics below.

2. Engagement is Much Higher via Email

As an AWeber user, I’m regularly checking my open and click-through rates on recent broadcasts (it’s just as addicting as checking Google Analytics!). After compiling an average of some data from my newsletter, it was apparent that reader engagement via email was incredibly strong. Email Engagement Better still, since we began heavily focusing on email marketing at Help Scout, we’ve regularly seen open rates of greater than 21 percent. To put these numbers into context: a myriad of data compiled on Twitter shows that the average click-through rate rarely tops 1.64 percent. Without paying for promotion, the average Facebook post is even worse. This is compared to email open rates, which hover around ~20% for many industries and can go up to as high as 40, 50, and 60 percent (and beyond!). (Paying to reach the fans you already earned? We’ll pass.) According to data compiled by Litmus, an email marketing analytics company, email regularly offers better value per dollar spent than even search and paid ads:
ROI
Email$40 for every $1 spent
Keyword Ads$17 for every $1 spent
Banner Ads$2 for every $1 spent
Email has higher conversion rates per session than search and social combined:

Email:4.16%

Search:2.64%

Social:0.48%

It’s easy to see that an engaging newsletter is a win-win. You get to send out valuable content to current customers and prospects who have an interest in your industry; in return, you’re able to maximize one of the most powerful, personal marketing channels available on the cluttered mess that is the internet. Perhaps best of all, however, is that you don’t have to compete with a myriad of distractions that are present on social networks. I’ll outline a few of these problems in the section below.

3. Email is Made for Business

An explanation that many miss when evaluating why social media updates, ads, and even promoted posts are so ignored is the fact that you are competing with fun on social media. When the average user logs into Facebook, they want to see new pictures from last Friday night (so they can un-tag any unsightly evidence), updates from family members who are out of state, and witty status updates from their friends. Thus, not only does email trump social media in both quantity (more users) and quality (better engagement), it also has another factor going for it—it’s a platform that was made for business. Social media streams are filled to the brim with items users don’t mind being seen publicly.
Email as a communication channel is personal.
As consumers, we are therefore naturally more receptive to things in our inbox— which most of us tend to guard like a mother bear guards her cubs—because they are filled with things we elect to see with some privacy. This more intimate medium of communication lends itself to more honest decisions; that’s an important reason why people will always be “warmer” to being sold on their interests via email, and just another reason why email will always beat social media marketing.
CHAPTER 2

Simple Tweaks to Convert One-Time Visitors into Subscribers

We’ve established that email marketing is most certainly not dead, but one of the most popular questions posed by startups is how to increase the size of their email list, specifically through their company blog.
...While content marketing has proven itself to be the best strategy for bootstrapped startups, the problem is that most company blogs are poorly designed for conversions, focusing on featuring useless items like social media banners and category links. You won’t have to fall into that camp though, because today we’re going to go over how to take your startup’s blog and refine it into a conversion building machine—and the best part is that simplicity is the foundational element, so you won’t have to worry about coding up a ton of random features. When it comes to must-use tactics, there are two main elements that you must structure correctly to fine-tune your company blog’s conversion potential:
  • Place opt-in forms where they count
  • Assemble “hub” pages with your best content
Interested in hearing more? Great, let’s continue on to look what simple tweaks can be made to help maximize the potential of new email signups through your company blog.

Identify the Best Locations for Opt-in Forms

Many company blogs don’t convert well simply because they don’t have opt-in forms placed in popular, easy-to-use locations. Most business’ blogs are far too conservative in where they place their opt-in forms—worse yet, some don’t have them at all! To strike a balance that promotes harmony between the user experience and your business blog’s goals, place opt-in forms in the four high-converting locations detailed below.

1. Feature Box or Pop-up Box

The denouncement of pop-ups has become an availability cascade; people love to point out why they “won’t work” despite the fact that the data shows most people aren’t really (all that) averse to pop-ups. Both the AWeber blog and the Help Scout blog run pop-ups, and we’ve never had someone complain that it was intrusive or annoying. As a matter of fact, a large portion of Help Scout’s newsletter subscriptions are generated by that pop-up! The point is, they work. If you are still apprehensive about using one, consider another amazing alternative: the feature box. First proposed and popularized by Derek Halpern of Social Triggers, a feature box is a large, well, box that sits above your company blog’s content, presenting a snapshot of what the blog is about and why people will benefit if they subscribe via email. To see an example in action, check our personal example on the Help Scout blog: Help Scout FeatureBoxThe feature box works extremely well for the following reasons:
  • It describes what your site is about. A good feature box provides a 10-second pitch of what your site is about. This means visitors won’t have to review your website’s navigation or even your content to decide if your blog is right for them.
  • It’s eye-catching without being annoying. If you’re not a fan of popups, rejoice: since the feature box is front and center when your site loads, it will grab a reader’s attention without impeding their ability to read.
  • You can pitch the benefits of your newsletter. Few other places on your blog will give you the ability to explain why your site is worth signing up for.

2. Top of the Sidebar

This is the classic location, and for good reason—it works. People expect to see an email opt-in on top of the sidebar. Buffer Email Opt-In A great example of the sidebar sign-up form from the Buffer blogIn similar fashion to when sites place their navigation in strange locations, users are confused when they don’t see an opt-in form in this space. You have lots of options to test here: including a freebie, adding social proof to your opt-in form, creating a “long” form as found on places like QuickSprout, or keeping things relatively minimal, as we do on the Help Scout blog.

3. Bottom of Article (Below the Footer)

If someone reads through one of your 800+ word blog posts, it’s safe to assume that they were pretty engaged with the content and likely enjoyed it. The ending of an article provides a classic example of the “What’s next?” phenomenon experienced by web users. The time invested in that activity has ended, leaving users without a clear cue on what they should do next. Post-footer signup forms should let readers know that if they enjoyed what they just read, they can join the newsletter to get notified of future posts. Whether you keep it super simple... Footer Email Opt-In...or go for a fancier approach, make sure this form highlights that they can expect more great content to come by signing up for free email updates.

4. Dedicated newsletter or resource Page

An entire web page devoted to this endeavor may seem like overkill, but trust us on this one—the Help Scout resource page is responsible for a huge majority of our new email leads! If you don’t currently have any downloadable guides to offer (more on that later), it’s best to stick with a traditional newsletter page like this one. A page like this offers an opportunity to outline the benefits of joining your newsletter, letting you reach current blog readers who need that little extra nudge to sign up. AWeber has a fantastic example of this copy in its 7 reasons to subscribe page, which is a great place to link to on guest posts and off-site features. In other words, an AWeber guest blogger could link directly to this page in their byline, as it will convert far better than just shuffling someone over to the blog homepage. If you do have some resources cooked up, make them accessible by email (via an auto responder) so they can be delivered safely to a new signup.

Create ‘Hub’ Pages

This is the step almost everybody seems to miss, so pay attention! As you produce more content, your older stuff is likely to get pushed back further and further into the abyss (and let’s be honest, it’s rare for people to dig 5+ pages back into your archives). To highlight your best content, rank well in search engines on the topics that matter most to your business, and generate qualified email leads, you need to create hub pages. Before getting into hub pages’ structure, let’s take a quick look at a few examples of what finished pages look like: You can create your own hub pages by following the three simple guidelines below:

1. Address an important topic in your industry.

The first requirement of a resource page is that it needs to address a cornerstone topic that is regularly relevant to your industry. Copyblogger does these pages very well. Let’s take a look at one of their examples: Copyblogger Landing PagesBecause Copyblogger is all about online marketing, having a hub page dedicated to landing pages—an important subject in the online marketing community—is a very smart thing to do. It gives readers a starting point if they are specifically interested in the topic of landing pages, and it lets a passerby reader know that Copyblogger talks regularly about this subject. This hub page also allows the Copyblogger editorial team to recycle and breathe new life into their previously published content on landing pages. Speaking of which, these pages are perfect for highlighting your blog’s “greatest hits.” Next we will go over how to do just that.

2. Link to 5-10 pieces of your best content (on that subject).

Categories pages are an inefficient way for showcasing your greatest content, since they put things in chronological order rather than highlighting the must- reads of your blog. Hub pages, however, will be prominently featured on your site, visited often by people who want more on the topic, and give you the ability to place the spotlight on your most exceptional articles. On our pages, we call out the most pertinent articles and include a quick description as to what the article is about: Help Scout Best ContentThis allows interested readers to really zero in on the best content on your site about a topic that they enjoy (a win for both of you). But wait a minute ... what does this have to do with building your email newsletter? Guideline #3 below will walk you through this linkage.

3. Include an opt-in box for continual updates.

Now that you’ve established the important topic on your site that this hub page will address, showcased your best pieces of content on that same topic, and piqued your readers’ interest, it’s time to leverage the opportunity to build your email list. The final item on your hub page should be an email opt-in form that lets readers know how to get updated on this kind of content in the future—for free. Help Scout Opt-In Box

An Added Bonus:

These pages often rank well in search engines since you can aggressively link to them from guest posts and other features because they serve as a content hub on a popular topic within your industry. Copyblogger ranks on the first page of Google for searches like “content marketing,” “internet marketing,” “copywriting,” and, yes, “landing pages”—all from using this exact style of resource page. Your business may be targeting eCommerce terms or other industry-specific searches. If so, make sure you take advantage of the opportunity that hub pages provide to help you build your email list!
CHAPTER 3

Increase Email leads with Content & Features

We’ve discussed the power of email and the benefits of an easy-to-navigate blog. Now let’s move on to content.
...Though content marketing should be the backbone of any bootstrapped marketing strategy, many companies find themselves in the “content creation rat race,” as Derek Halpern calls it. Drive-by traffic can come in swarms from all over the web, but it isn’t sustainable if no effort is made to convert one-off visitors over to email. That’s why in this chapter, we will highlight some key ways marketers and entrepreneurs can revamp their strategy content and off-site features. Instead of a small bump in Google Analytics that quickly dissipates, you’ll be ready to get people on an email list to extend the communication. Even if you don’t have a content marketing strategy in place, this chapter will position you to be more prepared than 90 percent of startups out there ... so get ready to take some notes!

Integrate Email into your offering

One of the smarter ways to gather email leads online is to simply integrate email into your product’s usage. The most basic technique here is requiring an email to sign up (which most companies do), but this is also an opportunity to get creative. Ruben Gamez, founder of Bidsketch proposal software, integrates email into his product by requiring your email address to see a sample copy of an assembled proposal. BidsketchThis results in qualified leads signing up via email, thereby capturing an audience that has already shown interest in the product’s capabilities. The important thing to keep in mind here: be straightforward with your potential signups. This means being completely honest and transparent about what handing over their email means for them. If you plan to include them in your newsletter after the signup, notify them. Many people will not object to this, but if you try to sneak them into an email campaign when all they wanted was to sign up, you’ll create a lot of discontent (not to mention kill your credibility).

Integrate Email into your offering

Email leads are most effectively captured through landing pages. Since landing pages focus on a single outcome, they are fantastic for conversion rates in general, and this also applies to acquiring more email addresses—so don’t get skimpy on creating them! Create a landing page for each downloadable resource, for each guest post (more on these later), to explain why your newsletter is worth signing up for, etc. If the desired outcome of any webpage is an email signup, the structure of the content should be styled as a landing page; in other words, no sidebars, no footer, a subdued header, and plenty of single-column copy that dives right in to what the page is about.

If you need more advice on creating landing pages that work, check out the advice featured on Unbounce.

Create Free downloads

Downloadable resources can be an incredible source of new email leads. They also provide prospects with useful information that helps them get more use out of your product—so they’re a win all-around. The reason to put them behind an email opt-in (besides the obvious benefit of growing your list) is to qualify the people signing up; only the most interested customers will bother with an email form to access the content that suits their needs. These resources can come in a variety of formats, for example: Founders and marketers always ask what these guides should be about. The best answer we can give you is to create resources based on your customer personas and your “affinity” interests.

Promote your resources Far and Wide

Resource-style content such as white papers, eBooks, and infographics is made for promotion. While blog posts and traditional articles are a great way to reach out to people (“Hey, thought you might like this recent piece we did on...”), you can get a lot more mileage out of a broad set of evergreen resources.
One way to promote this content is to take an already existing resource and transfer it to a new medium.
Slideshows are pretty much the perfect platform for this, because they mostly rely on a redesign and don’t suffer from Google’s duplicate content penalty. For example, we took our “75 Customer Service Facts, Quotes & Statistics” eBook and created a set of slides for use on SlideShare. Notice that the call to action at the end of the presentation leads to our resource page, where visitors can download the eBook in exchange for their email address. This process is effective because it lets you work with content you have already created and turn it into something that generates leads on an entirely different platform. Additionally, there’s always the old-fashioned way to promote your resources: reach out to fellow entrepreneurs, bloggers, or even journalists and shoot them a personal email with your latest resource attached (hint: don’t make them opt-in!). You provide them something for free, which starts the process of reciprocity, and, in turn, they may write about your latest creation and drive new visitors to your site.

Guest Post with a Purpose

Guest posting is always benefited by a laser focus on generating new email signups. You’ve heard how great companies like Buffer have benefited from guest posting (especially in the early days), but what many entrepreneurs and marketers don’t realize is readers are suffering from byline blindness—the result of an over- saturation of guest bloggers. Since so many guest posts are now floating around the web, bylines are getting ignored. So in order to maximize the return on your guest post, you need to get strategic. The best way to do this is to integrate step #2 (landing pages everywhere!) with your guest blogging efforts. In other words, create a landing page for each “big” guest post that you write. For the readers who do click through on your byline, seeing something like “Welcome [Guest Blog’s Name] Readers!” is surprising in a good way. This headline is personal and attention getting, and now that you’ve captured their attention, they’ll likely read on to see what your site is about. Srini Raos, founder of BlogcastFM, does a great job with this technique following a recent feature he guest wrote on Copyblogger. Blogcast FMYou don’t have to dip your toe into custom graphics, but you should be liberal in creating these pages for all of your notable guest posts.