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Simple ideas to grow subscribers and build user loyalty for your media
A few simple best practices to increase subscriber lists, enhance brand loyalty, and acquire users that convert
Subscribers are the bread and butter of popular brands, personalities and media. Your subscriber base is made up of the people who hang on your every word and look to you as a frequent source of information. They’re what I like to call your “most vital visitors.”
Your most vital visitors are the ones who matter most, as they not only want your ideas, but they’ll eventually become loyal to you and begin to spread word of your work throughout the web, organically, on their preferred social channels of choice. This frees you up a lot to focus on creation over promotion, which is ideal especially if you’re a smaller team with limited resources or individual creator. It’s impossible to be everywhere and on every social place on the web and do so well, but if you do things right you don’t need to.
Gaining more of these people is how you organically grow. Sure, you can draw new users that don’t yet know you from search, social, and advertising, but if they don’t opt-in for future updates, your efforts will be far less effective than they could be.
I’ve had an array of experiences here over the last 2 decades – from building small company blogs into industry-leading authorities, to optimizing large-scale sites (>10M monthly visitors) increasing conversion, loyalty and site performance. In all types of brands, a key factor has been having a growing list of people that have opted-in to receive email updates, (non-spammy) push notifications, weekly wrap-ups, new video notifications and so forth. These are the people who subscribed to content and were interested in receiving and engaging with most things created.
I think about all the sites and products I’m subscribed to that provide me great updates regularly – and there are always new brands I stumble upon that are so good, I just have to add them to my growing list. All of this had me thinking about what it is that these sites that are part of my daily life are doing right. So, I came up with a short list of easy things you should do to not miss a beat on increasing high quality new subscribers to whatever it is you’re doing.
Use analytics to clean up your site/email templates to just the critical actions that matter
Many popular sites have tons of features, links, widgets, add-ons, plugins, and so on, but I find myself quickly subscribing to the ones that take the “less is more” approach. What I mean by this is, it’s hard to ignore a call to action like “Subscribe to not miss additional updates” when it’s the only action, alongside unmissable and unique content. Your site analytics will tell you right now what you can remove (and I’m betting there’s plenty).
Bonus tip: A/B test different calls to action to find the language and placement that work for you not just on site but within things like email campaigns themselves to encourage greater pass-along rate. Also, if you do nothing else, be sure to use event tracking on your subscribe options so you can measure calls to action in analytics.
Clearly define your media strategy - figure out what it is you’re *not* going to do
In a world of infinite content, it’s actually what you don’t publish that defines your site. Everything you do publish needs to be exceptional.
In my free time I compose electronic and jazz music (you can listen to all of my albums on SoundCloud free here if you’re curious). In early audio productions days as a novice, I tried to throw as many sounds and instruments as I could into each mix. It was only with maturity I realized that the absence of specific notes allowed what you do play to have the highest impact. No clutter standing in the way between your best ideas and the listener. Similar with writing words. Edit yourself. Ruthlessly. Make your sentences lean and tough and the ideas within them will stick in people’s minds. This is the essence of how you will actually form a real, memorable brand through content.
It is the deliberate absence that lets your brand develop a personality when held against the rest of a category. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be consistent, but you should do so in a way that does not sacrifice having a voice.
Some more thoughts on this one:
Do you have the executive perspective on content?
If you have really embraced the notion that every company is a media company and are interested in developing a trusted and meaningful voice, you need the executive perspective on content. What that means is not running off and publishing everything and anything because you can. It means having a grasp on your narrative and playing within that space. An experienced editor won’t publish to fill the page. They understand a positive signal to noise ratio is far too important to protect.
Readers will return to brands with a reputation
If your site didn’t publish for a day, would people return? If it has the right reputation the answer is yes. This type of reputation is acquired by applying a filter to the infinite spectrum of potential ideas.
If you cover everything, you’ll never be trusted for anything
Think carefully about your favorite, niche media brands. Now think about the broader sites in that category. It probably breaks down like this: the popular sites cover the obvious stories. The stories you read the headline, skim through and go to the next thing. It’s not that the content isn’t fine, but in all likelihood you aren’t really so concerned about connecting with the author or carefully analyzing each word. Why would you? That site covers everything and so can’t really be trusted for anything.
Consider again the must-read sites
They don’t appeal to everyone. But those they do appeal to are really interested. They’ll read the whole story, feed back to the author and want to connect with that community, subscribe and return. And, despite uneven levels of popularity, the ideas from the niche site end up penetrating the category much deeper. They achieve this through focusing only on what matters to their community who has a specific worldview or set of interests. Their content is designed to fit this.
Examples of doing this with specific content types
So, if you post a link round-up (common thing people do) do so in a unique/fun/creative way. Make it your own with some personality. Post a response to a popular story that’s currently making the rounds, but you have to add value to that story and your own voice. Filter out any random ideas and write on what’s left – the gold content. Your site will quickly find itself in the category of exceptional, rather than average.
Use data to iterate & refine
Data should be your guiding light here. Look at the content reports in your analytics package of choice, and it’ll be clear what’s working and what’s not. Dial up the winners and stop creating the losers.
Conduct competitive intelligence to ensure your approach isn’t the same as countless others
Sites and brands are already talking about literally every subject, so you’d be hard pressed to come up with something totally new. While I’m not saying that creating 100% original content can’t be done, you should also add an interesting narrative to a subject already presented; even one that is already popular.
There are many competitive intelligence tools that exist, along with the most valuable work: your personal observations and experience in your category. Combined with some research in search and social you can quickly ensure what you’re doing is uniquely valuable. You can also use industry benchmark reports in your analytics package of choice as another measure of how you stack up. And remember, you don’t need to have greater numbers than competitors, try for more loyal users instead - they’re far more valuable.
Focus on specific niches that both matter to people and are underserved
Most of the media brands and companies I’m subscribed to, I’m subscribed to for a reason – it’s because they are authorities on a specific niche in a way that I can’t get elsewhere. I subscribe for that specific content. If I want a variety of posts and topics, I’ll head to a local news website or one of the larger brands of media.
Find your niche, and while you can definitely play around within a scope of content, be sure to not let that scope get too wide. That can potentially ruin an otherwise great brand or site.
My friend who runs a relatively newly launched Substack called Doomberg (which is phenomenal, you should subscribe if you haven’t) points out: the riches are in the niches. His newsletter growth shows this (as of December, he has >15K subs and increasing consistently).
Give users a reason to want more
People want to subscribe to something that they can look forward to daily, weekly, monthly, you get the idea. Your content is your best marketing resource to attract subscribers and new users. Good content should really be enough to make people want to subscribe and is reason enough to want more of that content. And the more consistent you can be, the more of a Pavlovian response you can create with readers to expect more. Consistent doesn’t necessarily mean you have to publish daily, it just means you have to show up at an expected pace.
Additional ways you can do this are by developing a series of posts on a subject, continuing to add to previous themes users found interesting. Every addition should be so good, that each new morsel will leave users wanting more.
If you want quality subs: don’t be overly thirsty in social
There’s a rash of people who clearly are only participating on sites like Twitter purely to try and nudge people to subscribe to something like their newsletter or YouTube channel. But this to me feels like a type of social spam. If what you’re doing is that great, you’ll convert people from the content itself over time. You don’t need to remind your followers 10 times a day that you’re doing something on another channel and to sign up for that too, your work there should spread/speak for itself. If it doesn’t, you’ve likely got larger problems on your hands. This isn’t to say you can’t do this once in a blue moon - but sparingly is definitely best.
To sum up
All these tactics should add up to building a subscriber base that is active and engaged, as well as increasingly positive loyalty metrics for your brand and content. If your subscribers aren’t growing, that is a strong directional indicator you should re-think your strategy.