Science Of Free Offers For Email List Building

If you are trying to build an email list on your web site, my research indicates that there is a 80% chance that you are doing it wrong. If you aren’t making a compelling free offer when people join, then you are doing it 100% wrong. If you are making an offer, but it is the wrong one, this is also 100% wrong. There is an offer that works better. In this post, I will show you the data I gathered on the best strategies for making offers that grow email lists on web sites.

A popular topic on this blog and everywhere these days is how to grow your email list. I was recently talking with an entrepreneur about the best way to scale up traffic to his blog and the answer at every turn is “email list”.

People are building platforms. I have blogged about this before. I think a big part of this is how the world is getting smaller. As the Internet more closely interconnects us all, our relationships change. People are becoming more interested in the people. Smaller companies replace giant companies. Individual consultants replace small consultancies. People can self-publish books and build their own apps. More leveraged technologies and automation empower individuals. Individuals become more important.

So marketing individuals becomes more important. Seth Godin’s dream of people branding. But like businesses, we don’t want a marketing scheme that depends on people finding their way to us. We want to reach out to them.

RSS feeds are dying, people on twitter are less and less consistent about reading tweets, Facebook is constraining a brands ability to reach its fans. An email list is the magic solution. It allows you to reach into a users inbox and give them a poke. When you have a message you want to deliver to people, you don’t want to wait for them to check in on Facebook or read your tweet or come back to your blog. You want to deliver you message.

So build an email list.

Best Ways To Build An Email List

The next logical question is: what is the best way to do this? I figured there were four ways:

1) A free offer that comes with subscribing
2) Mind-blowing content so compelling that people sense the value in making sure they never miss your content
3) Shenanigans
4) Something else

Shenanigans involves advice like “pop-ups increase opt-in rates” and stuff like that. Let’s call that “Growth Hacking Email Lists” in a pejorative sense. I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth, but you can only do so many shenanigans. Are there things we can do that are not valuable to the customer at all that grow your list.

Something else would be something good that I had not thought of. Or maybe “moving the right sidebar to the left increases conversion rates 93%”.

Tricks Of The Trade

So I put the question out to my audience:

Growth Hacker Tweet

Now, notice how I say, “what should I do besides the two most obvious things in the world”. And you know what kind of feedback I get from intelligent people in the space?

Growth Hackers Reply
So I say, “What can I do besides a free offer” and the smartest people in the industry reply back “Get a free offer”. I already knew that, but it drives home the point: Want to capture people’s email addresses? Give them something of value.

I was hoping that with such a brilliant tweet (and I tweeted it a few times), some brilliant industry leader would give me a wave of ideas. Unfortunately, no shenanigans or something else ideas presented themselves.

If you observe my site, you will see that I have already done a lot of the basic work.

  • Email invite list in my sidebar
  • What Would Seth Godin Do prompts frequent visitors and new people with custom messages
  • Slide in invite screen (Which I recently disabled because it was not yielding results.)
  • I haven’t done the modal dialogue, but I might do it later. (I was waiting to see if people would tell me I need to jump on that.)

Creating the free offer is the final frontier.

Competitive Landscape of Email List Free Offers

But what to give them? There isn’t a “conventional wisdom” when it comes to this other than “offer free stuff”. Let’s survey the industry:

Dan offers an email course on his site:

Growth Hacking Email Courses

David Garland, who kind of makes a living doing this kind of thing, offers a “cheat sheet”:

Growth Hacking Cheat Sheet Amy Porterfield offers a Video training:

Growth Hacking Video Course

Jay Baer at Convince & Convert offers an ebook:

Growth Hacking eBook

Copyblogger just offers you the kitchen sink: A wave of eBooks plus a “training” – maybe email, maybe video, maybe both. Amorphous! Of course, I would consider Copyblogger the most likely of all of these to have actually done some testing around the offer.

Growth Hacking Blob!

So, to summarize, you could offer books, email courses, video courses, courses, cheat sheets, or all the above. Exhausting, but the real question is this: “Which of these myriad of strategies is most effective for driving email list sign ups?”

I have tested this and I have the data.

Free Offer Test Construction

To test the most effective technique, I used lead gen cards on Twitter to show a population of users that might value my offer similar creative messages:

  1. Free Video Course
  2. Free eBook
  3. Free Email Course
  4. Free Online Course (This was the “vague” approach)

So here were my creatives:

Free Video CourseFree eBook Free Email Course Free Video Course

Pretty similar, right? I ran these creatives and figured we could look at the outcomes to determine what the most effective technique for creating a free offer.

Free Offer Test Results

Data powers decisions, so let’s see what we can learn here.

Growth Hacking Email Lists Data

The most effective type of free offer to intrigue potential customers is a Free Email Course. It is 15% better than an “online course”, 55% better than a free video course and 60% more effective than an ebook. The most amazing thing about this result is how well the online course performed. The difference between the email course and the more vague online course was only 77% confident of its statistical significance. There is still the remote possibility that offering this ephemeral outcome will unlock success for you.

The difference between a free email course and a free video course or free ebook was 99% statistically significant with confidence. Free email courses are much more effective than video courses and ebooks. This conflicts with some conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is that people love watching videos. They might love watching videos, but I don’t think people plan to invest a lot of time in watching videos in advance. It just sometimes happens.

In my informal polling, people told me that they would prefer an ebook because they imagined that the email course was just the book divided into chapters. It turns out in the testing that the idea of having it dripped to you makes it, in some way, more digestible. I didn’t see that coming!

Interestingly, if you look at how many people signed up for the list, I got 2 from video and 1 from email. I chose to not use just straight email signup as my metric because I didn’t want to spend enough money to make it significant.

In my next post, I will analyze a similar data set that will reveal the best way to convince people to schedule a meeting with you. This is a key aspect of building your network and growing your platform to 1,000 true fans. Subscribe via email to make sure you do not miss this!

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