How I Boosted the Number of Subscribers by 76% (Without a Popup)

Design, but simple.

My popular design ebook is now on sale. Don't miss out!

At the end of last year’s spring, I finally had enough.

Design for Founders was my baby project. I had launched it because it tied directly into my skills and profession. But it was failing.

The site wasn’t converting nearly enough people into email subscribers.

I realised that it will take me years to grow this site with how few subscribers were. I had to do something.

So I read about growing email lists. Lead magnets, MailChimp forms, exit-intent pop-ups, … you name it. I quickly learned that the most effective way to increase your growth is with a pop-up form.

The thing was … I already had one on the site. And I hated it. It was bad UX, interrupted readers on the blog, and finally, it wasn’t even converting that well.

This post is the first in a case study series on this website’s redesign. I’ll show you exactly how I got an amazing boost of sales and conversions without growing traffic.

The redesign and new strategy resulted in roughly 10K subscribers in just these last 6 months alone.

And let me tell you, it feels good to finally have a substantial audience I can reach with a click of a mouse.

The average conversion rate for list sign-ups is 1.95%. At 3.6%, Design for Founders stacks against it quite well.

Want to replicate my results? Read further …

What makes people sign up to your list?

First, why do people sign up for email lists?

Everyone is quite overwhelmed with email as it is. If we’re going to give up our email address, it better be for a good reason.

This “good reason” is often what’s called a lead magnet, a freebie that someone receives after subscribing. It can be an ebook, a special insider training, video course, or it can even be non-digital.

Example of a good lead magnet on A Better Lemonade Stand

Why does the lead magnet in the screenshot above work?

It is narrowly targeting the potential subscriber, provides something of value, and is only available to those that subscribe.

Main features of an effective lead magnet are:

  • relevance,
  • value, and
  • exclusivity.

Would you like to know which tool ticks all three boxes?

Enter content upgrades

I’ve been using content upgrades on Design for Founders more or less successfully since the site was launched 3 years ago. They’re an amazingly effective way to get laser-targeted readers onto your list.

What is a content upgrade? It’s a lead magnet that builds upon the video, podcast episode, or an article. Since it’s very relevant to what people are already reading about, it converts like crazy.

Examples may be:

  • Excel spreadsheet on a personal finance video
  • Icon set freebie on a beginners’ article about UI design
  • Ebook on setting up MailChimp on a post on email marketing

So I have to produce even more content? Are you crazy??!

If done right, content upgrades convert very well. On top of that, they allow you to automatically segment your subscribers by interest, which lets you send them more relevant content, which at least in theory, should result in better sales.

If, for example, someone signs up through my free wireframing kit, I know that they’re interested in UX. I can send them emails on this topic and eventually try to sell them something that I know they will find useful, like an ebook on UX.

There’s just one “little” problem ….

Content creation is super duper resource-hungry.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t have a full-time employee to crank out content upgrades for every post that’s sent out. We can barely find the time to produce the normal content we publish.

How I try to solve that problem is by filing blog posts into different topics and creating a content upgrade for each. At the small expense of relevance, I save a lot of time on content upgrade production.

My custom WordPress theme lets me override the content upgrade for specific posts (the post you’re reading right now is an example).

A better alternative to pop-ups

To return back to the controversial topic of pop-ups. It is a fact that they work, and they will (or do) probably work for your site as well. It is just my personal decision not to use them, mostly because they annoy the hell out of me.

I’m still a sucker for results-driven design though. Instead of the pop-ups, I implemented the sticky bar you see at the top of the screen. It’s always visible, not as intrusive — and most importantly, it works!

And not just for me:

Michael Sandford
Digital Content Manager at Railway Innovation

Implementing Heidi's sticky bar resulted in a significant increase in email sign ups. A highly effective technique from a design master!

Should I test pop-ups against the sticky bar? Yes. Will I? Uhhh … Maybe.

How to set it up

There are plenty of tools out there to help you with setting up content upgrades. I’ve struggled with this step for a while. Many of the solutions lack the basic features, and it’s hard to migrate from them when you realise they don’t work as you expected.

You want to make a good decision the first time.

Here’s how to avoid my mistakes. Look for a solution that:

  • integrates with your email marketing and analytics seamlessly
  • gives you stats and data on which posts, pages, upgrades work best
  • offers a double opt-in, either through your email marketing provider or otherwise (there will be people that will input a fake email to try and trick the system — you don’t need those emails on your list)

I’ve hand coded my custom WordPress theme with content upgrades built-in. This required a lot of work and skills. I have some coding experience, but still had to reach out to my programmer friends to get it right.

If you want to avoid all the extra work and launch your first content upgrade today, I can only recommend ConvertKit. If you’re looking for in-depth analytics, you will be disappointed. However, it is probably the only email marketing solution that offers content upgrades right out of the box. I still use them.

I hope you implement content upgrades on your own site as well. I’ll be hosting a webinar in a week so if you want to see more of the “behind the scenes” content, make sure to register today!

Design, but simple.

My popular design ebook is now on sale. Don't miss out!

Get 30% off