41 Ways to Build Email Circulation Forever [+ Video]

You can build email circulation over forty different ways, and we’ve got all the case studies to prove it!

If you’re subscribed to our email newsletter, you’re living proof that the tips I’m about to share actually work. One of them even worked on you! If you’re not, well, sign up right now before I start to look foolish.

Regardless of how you got here though, building email circulation is sort of our thing. It’s the foundation of every site we’ve ever built, and it’s our Gold Members’ favorite number to watch!

There are three functional parts to building email circulation:

Getting an email address: The website architecture and freemiums that get people to say “These people are smart, I want to hear from them every day.”

Keeping an email address: The content that makes those subscribers think, “This is great stuff, I look forward to opening and reading this email newsletter every day.”

Gracefully bowing out: The ease of unsubscribing so that someone who may not want your emails doesn’t turn into someone who doesn’t even want to read your blog posts or tweets, like, ever. That’s the unrelenting promise of a broken or confusing unsubscribe link!

Even though we think the last two parts are equally as important as the first, we’d be here all day without focus.  Let’s talk about building email circulation. The part that comes from scratch. The part that can be done from the minute you launch a website to the time you redesign it, and at every point in between.

If video is your thing, watch a 90-minute presentation Don and I put together about building email circulation for any publishing website. We decided to release it from the Mequoda Pro archives to further elaborate on everything we’re about to discuss. Forgive the quick cut in the beginning!


Building Email Circulation Organically

When it comes to building email circulation from scratch, you have three different buckets to work from.

Offers: Ways you can entice people to exchange their email address for something free, like a white paper or website access.

Internal Sources: Great conversion architecture that turns every page of your website into a super subtle but effective lead generator.

External Sources: The many, many things you can do from the “outside.” You’ll see what I mean later.

Using Offers to Build Email Circulation

1. Site Access. America’s Test Kitchen doesn’t ask people for money to see their recipes and cooking videos. Instead, they’ll let you see a snippet of the content before hitting you up with a pop-up that won’t go away until you fork over an email address. Not a bad trade, and their email list of enthusiastic home chefs is huge.

2. Free Downloads. Another remarkably effective tactic is to give away a free white paper or some other type of downloadable freemium. Did we ever tell you about the time that one of our magazine clients built an email list of 20,000 email subscribers before the site we built for them even launched? With just one measly landing page? Yup, Knitting Daily did it with a free knitting pattern. They also sent traffic to the landing page from their magazines. These free downloads are how our clients see web-to-email conversion rates of 7% and more on everything from article pages to category pages. We’ll talk more about HOW we do it this way later on.

3. Email Updates. We’re all familiar with this one, right? “Sign up for our newsletter! We’ll pop a confetti cannon here at the office every time you do! We don’t sell your email! We hate spam too! JUST SIGN UP PLEASE, WE NEED YOU!” This would be the most generic ask for an email address, and it’s great for people who genuinely love your content and already know you. We just really like to pair it with one of the offers above to really boost conversion rates, because this method alone sees a 1% conversion rate.

Using Internal Sources to Build Email Circulation

4. Navigation Links – If you have free reports, go ahead and slap a “free reports” link in your main navigation. Everybody loves the word “free”!

5. Embedded Text Links / Ads – About halfway through every article, sometimes a few times per article, we recommend adding a text link or a text ad in the middle of your content that offers a free white paper. The white paper should be contextually relevant to what your post is about so that it’s a no-brainer to the person reading.

6. Free Downloads Marketplace – If you have more than one free download, give people a place where they can view them all and download whatever suits them. By having a “marketplace,” you can point people to it from your main navigation, in social media and anywhere else.

7. Free Downloads Index – To build SEO juice and guarantee a ton of inbound internal links to your free download landing pages, try a free downloads index. All you need to do is create a list of your free white papers and include them in the right- or left-hand navigation of your website. By including them here, you’re ensuring they’re repeated on the persistent navigation theme of every page of your website.

8. Most Popular Downloads Index – This goes along the same idea, but is appropriate for people who either only have a few white papers or have way too many for one sidebar. In this instance, you choose your top five or 10 and include them as a “most popular downloads” list.

9. Rapid Conversion Landing Page (RCLP) – This page goes by a dozen other names (name-squeeze page for example), but its primary purpose doesn’t change – to convert a visitor into an email subscriber. Our landing pages are 100% optimized for search, and even though we make it easy for the user to subscribe right away, in a big, user-friendly order form, we also make the copy long and optimized for search engines to find it. These pages offer our highest conversion rates. These are the pages that all of the below sources will point to, which makes them a fundamental, first step for building email circulation.

10. Order Forms in Editorial (OFIE) –This order form appears within editorial content on a website, most often found on the home page, article pages and category indexes. This is because it’s easier for a publisher to get more subscribers or sales by placing OFIEs on a page that are heavy with content and likely to be indexed by search engines. OFIEs simply require a user to supply his or her name and address and click “submit.” For these to be the most effective, we always pair the offer with the content on the page. We do this by pairing the topic of the white paper with a similar category. So, if someone is reading about motorcycle maintenence, they shouldn’t be getting an offer having to do with truck tune-ups.

11. Order Forms in Navigation (OFIN) – These online order forms appear in the navigation panels of a website. The customer/end user fills them out to sign up for the email newsletter. While they are usually smaller in size than OFIEs, an OFIN’s strategic intent is the same: to quickly capture your visitor’s name and email address in order to grant access to a free special report.

12. Free Offer Floaters – Named a floater because it appears to float onto a webpage. This was a method created in order to fight back against pop-up blockers. While it may look like a pop-up, a floater does not open in a separate window and therefore cannot be blocked or banned. The floater order form is a tactic for increasing landing page conversion rates and may be used at nearly every entry point on a website, though it’s usually better to set a cookie to let the floater appear to the user only once upon entry to the site. Floaters on average have about an 8% conversion rate. For most of our sites, these floaters, similar to pop-ups, are bringing in 35-60% of email subscribers. Even though they’re perceived as “annoying,” even today’s former naysayers are turning into converts when they see how well they work. The key is context. When you can make the offer contextual and useful, it’s not annoying anymore!

13. Editorial Mentions – Feel free to casually mention a free download by writing it into your editorial, maybe an advertorial, which means excerpting from the white paper and telling them to read more when they download the white paper.

14. Banner Advertising – If you take a look at The Motley Fool’s website, you’ll find quite a few banner ads which, you might be surprised to know, are ads for their own products. As we’re often so blind to banner ads, Motley Fool steps it up a notch by making their ad spots text-based, sort of like a Google ad.

15. Email Forwards – Think it’s silly to promote your email newsletter in your email newsletter? Not so fast! The “forward to a friend” feature in emails that have it have proven to be surprisingly effective. Some publishers include a line in their email that says, “Share this email with your colleagues” or “Did you receive this from a friend? Subscribe to our list.”

16. Online Buyers – If someone has just bought a product or magazine subscription from you, there’s no better time to convert him or her into an email subscriber than right when they’re comfortable enough to give you money. Add an automatically checked box to all of your order forms that ask them to subscribe to your email newsletters.

17. Order Flow Abandons – When someone abandons an order, you might lose them forever. One of the best ways we’ve seen a publisher snag email addresses from this opportunity is by David Baum of Golf Odyssey. Before the potential subscriber even gets to the order form, they’re asked for their email address. This way, if they end up abandoning, they’re not completely lost.

18. Customer Service – Whenever someone is on the phone with a customer, invite them personally to subscribe to our emails. Don spends hours on the phone every week with new and potential clients. What better way to keep the relationship going than asking them if they want us to put them on the list of updates that we work so hard to put together every day?


Using External Sources to Build Email Circulation

19. Organic Search – If you can get search right, you can build a huge email list through unique landing pages on your site. By naming your freemiums with niche, non-competitive keywords, and then optimizing the landing pages that you offer them on, you can get a ton of traffic to your free white papers and convert search traffic into website visitors. By connecting the wires above and using OFIEs, OFINs and text ads, you’ll create so many internal links to these pages that Google will have no choice but to think those pages are pretty important. And they are!

20. Twitter – Every week we have “White Paper Wednesday” on our @Mequoda account, and we’d recommend you do the same. You don’t want to commercialize your Twitter feed too much, but you can quickly convert Twitter followers to email subscribers by tossing around a freemium here and there. We’ve found that Twitter users convert 200% better than visitors from search – likely because they’re highly qualified “leads.” After all, they were already subscribed to your content through Twitter!

21. LinkedIn – Same idea here. If you can get your editorial staff and anyone engaged in the production of your freemiums involved in promoting them, you’ll have a bigger network of people to promote them to! Your brand page can also be used for promotion and you can add them into your “products” section, too.

22. Facebook – One smart strategy being used by publishers is the custom tab.  Sound Mind Investing is one example of a publisher who has created a landing page on Facebook where people can subscribe to the email newsletter right there without ever leaving the site.

23. YouTube – Think you can’t collect an email address through video? Well, stay tuned until the end of this video and we’ll prove you wrong! YouTube isn’t too shabby, either. Publishers like Knitting Daily create short clips of how-to projects and then encourage people to sign up for a related special report right on the screen giving a unique URL where they can download it and sign up.

24. Press Releases – Got a free download? Send out a press release! Whenever we release a new one, we use a few select press release distribution sites to build inbound links and drive a small amount of traffic to our landing pages.

25. Portals – Former Managing Editor David Zinczenko over at Men’s Health proved that guest blogging isn’t just for us peasant folk. David successful drove traffic from his portal site over at Yahoo! Health directly to his site and email conversion pages through links in related content he was writing over at Yahoo.

26. Bloggers – On the same note, aren’t there bloggers out there in your niche that you can partner with? Some work-from-home mommy bloggers get as much traffic as major parenting magazines. Partner with the rock stars in your niche and ask them to read and promote your white paper either for a stipend or a trade.

27. Paid Search / Clicks (CPC) – Need a quick return? No time for long-tail strategies? Got investors to impress? Google Adwords might be for you! Just look up a few good keywords, hook them up to your free download landing pages, and start building. On this note, you can try the same with Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin Ads.

28. Affiliates / Co-Registration – The glory of co-registration is that you can choose a sort-of competitor and pay them to let their customers opt into your list when they sign up for theirs, or when they buy a product. This works especially well with retailers, since you’re technically in different markets and not competing over content.

29. Banner Advertising – Just like we mentioned in our Internal Sources section, you can use the same banner ads on other people’s sites!

30. Live Events – At the end of your presentations at live events, leave a slide that offers up additional resources, aka your free downloads. Keep them relevant only to what you’re talking about, but offer them up as a nice take-away from the event and also a potential calling card.

31. Radio: The Wall Street Journal uses their radio show, which is free, to send people back to the WSJ site for further reference throughout the shows. If you have a radio show, are featured on one, or partner with a local radio station, you can create a freemium and a unique, trackable, easy-to-remember URL to announce and send people back to.

32. Podcast: Same idea here; the difference is that you can actually create your own podcasts. If you want, you could create a new podcast around each new download you release, give away every last lesson from the report, and still ask people to download their own copy to refer to when they need it.

33. Books: The smartest of authors have learned to include additional “downloads” in their print books. Many will place their URLs in the footer section of their pages, and others will include them in special inserts that come with the books. Either way, the URLs are always short and trackable.

34. Magazines: Same idea here, and it applies even more dynamically to digital magazines where you can click on an image and be taken to a sign-up form for whatever it is that you’re giving away.

35. Print Order Forms: Remember when we said that you should always add a check box to your order forms online? Well don’t forget them in your blow-in cards either!

36. Newspapers: Syndication is a popular way to drive traffic from a popular news source back to yours. Nobody’s claiming that it’s a major source of revenue to be a syndicated publication, but it certainly does a good job driving inbound links to your website, which, if optimized with OFIEs, OFINs, text ads and floaters, should have no trouble converting the newcomers into email subscribers.

37. Newsletters: Same idea here. We’ve seen some publishers have great success in print media by partnering with newsletter publishers who often publish URLS to useful online resources. If you can create a useful download than can be a resource to their readers, you can drive a whole new audience.

38. Packaged Goods: If you’ve ever bought a Real Simple or Martha Stewart product, you’ll find no lack of URLs leading you back to their websites. How can you “optimize” your non-digital products the same way?

39. Telemarketing: Hey, why not? Part of the closing strategy for any telemarketing campaign should be taking the time to ask if they’re subscribed, if they want to be, and if there’s anyone on their team that they think could benefit from your newsletter.

40. Email Compilers: This list wouldn’t be complete unless we added in some of the not-so-secret secret tools of today’s largest publishers. These companies, like Broadlook, will data-mine websites to come up with new users that you can add to your email list. You’ll need to go through the process of opting them in and combing through the list yourself afterwards, but it’s a popular method to build big lists. We prefer the more organic methods ourselves.

41. Email Appends: Print publishers with old but loyal lists of magazine subscribers have found great success in email appending. What companies like MelissaData will do is take your list of print subscribers and mine the web to fill in any missing field of your subscriber profiles – namely their email address. This strategy is so successful that our clients who have done it have seen the 20 cents per name turn into $50 per name in revenue generated.

The ultimate goal for the website publisher is to quickly and easily add unknown site visitors to an email database. Using OFIEs, OFINs, floater order forms, display ads, text ads, and simple text links on a website are relatively simple ways to improve the conversion architecture across your website network.

Once those elements are in place, you can send traffic from anywhere, whether it’s search, print or syndicated content, and you’ll always have a higher conversion rate than without.


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