The Basics of Building a Better Subscriber List

Written on
January 16, 2014
Sean Smith
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A  subscriber list is more than just a vanity metric. It’s key to any  online business’s success and the most direct connection to your  audience. It’s the validation of your audience, your presence, and your  available reach.

I  want to teach you why you need to invest in a healthy subscriber list,  what kind of subscriber lists there are, and how to quickly build a  broad subscriber list to use for your business’s advantage.

It’s rather simple.

Prioritize the ROI

I’ve  made an acronym to help ingrain this concept in your memory and to help  you understand the benefits of a subscriber list. That acronym is “AARR” or “the pirate subscriber motto” which stands for Amplification, Authority, Reach and Retention.

Here’s what I mean:

Amplification - The process of hyping your newest content to ensure that it reaches its maximum audience and sharing potential.

Authority  - The trust → leads → followers cycle. It’s a network effect. The  leader is all alone until someone joins in. High numbers are directly  proportional to trust, which gets rid of hesitation.


Why  do you think people like Orman Clark (highly acclaimed web designer)  throws his Dribbble, Twitter, RSS and Email subscriber counts at the  very top of his websites like Themezilla and PremiumPixels? It’s a massive trust indicator.

Reach  - For every person following you there is an average of 200 following  them. This means that if you have 1,000 subscribers and every one of  them shares your content you could have a potential reach of 200,000  users, and that’s on the conservative end.

Retention  - The act of keeping customers. A subscription list is a tried and true  method of transforming one-time customers into repeat buyers. Encourage  customers to opt-in, and keep the relationship alive.

Choose the Highest Impact Methods

Email  - The runner of the pack. Email is the most accessible and most  widespread subscription method there is. Businesses are cut-throat to  create a strong email list and you should be too. Any large department  store will always hound you for your email address. This is because they  can send you heavily targeted outreach at a moment’s notice of a  promotion. Thinks AE, Express, Macy’s etc.

RSS  - Not as prevalent as it used to be but still used to a wide extent.  Google recently cut off their Google Reader service, but that doesn’t  mean this medium is dead. Not by a longshot. Companies like Feedly still take great advantage of RSS to promote blogs and content streams. Tim Ferriss has implemented this on his blog and has more subscribers than most startups have customers.

Social  - Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Dribbble are all tools for  building a social subscriber list. Having a strong social following is  highly useful for a number of reasons far spread from just the “AARR”  principles noted above. Think about how GoPro used their subscriber list  to send out free products on a daily basis under the “Everything we  make” sweepstakes. They were able to capitalize off of their audience to  have constant a visitors stream to their site on a daily basis.


Use These Tools to Get Up and Running Fast

Save time with the following tools and tactics:

Mailchimp is the first on my list. It’s easy, clean, user-friendly, and free up to 2,000 emails a month.

Mailchimp  has many integrations with modern CMS’s like Wordpress. You can also  link to a dedicated subscription landing page if you are throwing a link  in a blog post or something of the sort.

Feedburner  is a close second. It lacks customizability but its automation  capabilities are robust. Google offers this easy service to create email  subscriber lists for your blog or RSS subscriber lists simultaneously.  Feedburner will let you see the reach of your subscribers and blog posts  as you publish them (via email).

Hellobar is  just a quick add-on to your website that can help generate more  subscribers through targeted call-to-actions. It’s free for a small  number of users and then $4.99 for a monthly subscription.

This  easy to install javascript plugin helped Tim Ferriss sell more books of  his New York Times Bestsellers “The 4-Hour Workweek”, “The 4-Hour Body”  and “The 4-Hour Chef” using call to actions placed at the header of his  blog.


Using  proper call-to-actions is always an efficient way of building out your  list. Placing subscribe buttons in prominent places like Moz does on  their blogs helps increase your subscriber base and lets people know  where your business is at around the web.


Final Thoughts: Ideas to Try

Put your new knowledge to use. Here’s how you can make the most out of your list:

  • To amplify visibility for new content production
  • To use in outreach campaigns for content promotion
  • To promote consistently updated newsletters for thought leadership in your industry
  • To promote new services, products, or company announcements.

Last  but not least, remember to focus on the human side of the relationship.  Remember that you’re talking to a customer on the other side of the  computer screen.

Simply effective marketing.