4 Tests I’ve Done To Grow My Email Lists

Growing email lists is one of those things online that has a million opinions around it. Everyone has their own results and methods, and even more of those people have something to sell to help you grow your list.

I'm not going to discuss the merits of actually growing a list itself today. Let's just assume that having email subscribers is a good thing, and be done with that whole debate.

By the way, it IS a good thing.

I also think that growing a list is something we should all be doing as soon as we can. I know in my own experiences it was always something I'd get to later. Whenever I build new sites I think “Well I'll get some traffic first then worry about a list”.

The problem with this, is that having a list is a great way of growing your traffic through return visits. Surely it makes sense to grow that list as soon as possible?

We're all so quick to monetize our sites (often negatively affecting the site in the process), but why do we dilly dally over adding an opt-in form?

Is it because Aweber costs money and other free list builders aren't quite up to scratch?

Or is it because we simply don't know the best way to build a list?

If someone had told me two years ago the exact best position, timing, and wording on an opt-in form, I probably would have done it immediately.

The problem is that what works for you, might not work for me. We can make general guesses that a lightbox might work better, or a static sidebar opt-in will do better, but in all honesty it just takes testing.

If you REALLY want to optimize your opt-ins, as with any aspect of your website, you'll need to test.

This is what I've been doing since the start of the year. After seven months, I'm still not 100% sure what gets the best opt-ins on my sites, but I have at least made improvements. More testing will reveal more answers.

The rest of this post will detail the four main things I've tested. If you have any other suggestions or results of your own, I'd love to hear your input in the comments below.

Test One – Split Testing Opt-ins

One on of my sites, I had an opt-in form in the sidebar, and one in the footer. I also had a “subscribe page” with an opt-in.

My main method of getting signups on this site was to prompt people to do so by linking them to the subscribe page where relevant, or to just hope that my opt-in forms were catchy enough.

For the latter, I discovered that Aweber has a great split-testing function. I could create two versions of each form, and Aweber would automatically rotate them (this is known as A/B testing). It would capture how many impressions (views) each form would get, and how many people would sign up.

This would, in theory, let me know which form was better, and after a certain amount of time I could end the A/B test and just go with the winner (or I could then A/B test the winner vs a third design, and so on).

How It Went

Well…it didn't go so well!

Have a look at this, I almost couldn't believe it myself:


1 subscriber in over 14,000 views (for each location). ONE!!?

So much for conclusive results.

Now before you start laughing at my inability to build a list, I'm going to say that it's just these opt-in forms that are woeful. I do still get opt-ins almost daily; they just all go via the subscribe page.

What This Tells Me

I know that on this particular site, people either have to be prompted to subscribe via in-content prompts like “subscribe to my list for more tips like this” or they have to proactively click on the “subscribe” link on the nav bar.

They sure hate my opt-in forms.

In the future, I'll test some different style opt-in forms, and be more proactive with prompting subscribers. In general the list I do have is pretty active and well engaged, I just need to get people on it in the first place.

It's great to find out where my subscribers are coming from.

I also think that as this site is mostly informational, people aren't going to subscribe just for the sake of it; I'm going to need to entice them in by offering value in form of an email course or similar.

Not to worry, this site isn't my main site by any means, but it would be nice to know I was a little better at list building…

Test Two – eBook Giveaways

When I launched HumanProofDesigns I had quite a few ideas for eBooks. Originally I was planning to give them away as a bonus to my customers. Then I was thinking about releasing them for a fee.

In the end, I decided to give them away for free, in exchange for joining my mailing list. This is a pretty standard act online, and I figured it would do well. I put quite a lot of effort into it and actually released 4 eBooks. Two of them were written by other contributors mind you.

I didn't run this particular test for THAT long, and while the test was running my traffic was still in the early stages, but I was curious to see the results all the same. Let's take a look:


As you can see, there was some decent interest, but every one but two people unsubscribed. In fact, one of those was a test account so I only ended up with one legitimate subscriber. The others were doing the classic “Subscribe, download the file, unsubscribe” technique.

I didn't even promote to this list, they didn't receive one email from me!

In the end I decided to release the eBooks for free rather than have Aweber think I'm spamming people.

What This Tells Me

I'm not sure to be honest! It tells me that offering something as subscription bait isn't necessarily going to work. Even though I made sure to put effort in and make these eBooks good value, people are so jaded by this technique that they just unsubbed immediately (grumble grumble).

If I were to try it again, I'd set the eBooks up as autoresponder sequences. This would mean they would HAVE TO stay subscribed for a couple of days in order to receive the email sequence, and ideally, by the time they had got the info out of me, they would feel it was worthwhile staying on my list.

In all honesty though, I'd rather just provide excellent value on these blog articles so that people are inclined to sign up to stay in touch.

Sidenote: I really did put a fair amount of effort into those eBooks so please do go and have a read. There's no need to sign up either.

Test Three – Just Keep Mentioning It

This was the other strategy I tried on my Kettlebell site. The idea was to just drop hints that I had a list and that people could subscribe to keep up to date.

One thing I did to encourage this was to publish a series of blog posts all related (6 posts in total) and release a new one each week. At the bottom of every post I would put a link to my subscribe page so that people could be notified when the next post came out.


The overall strategy had mixed results. I get 99.9% of my subscribers to that site from in-content subscribe links, but it's not huge volume.

It's kind of hard to keep saying “Hey sign up to my list” in every article, and if you're not 100% sure what to do with your list, you feel like it's better to just throw a product promotion into the post instead.

I think this strategy would work well if your entire business plan revolved around getting people onto your list. This way you'd be able to justify dropping hints to subscribe into every post.

Test Four – The Slide-In/Lightbox With OptinMonster

For my most recent test, I added a light-box and slide-in to this site using the OptinMonster plugin. I quite like the plugin, although I'm actually working on a rival to it as we speak with my DeftDev partner Dean.

I have mixed feelings about a light-box (the big square thing that pops-up in the middle). On the one hand, it's slightly annoying to have it, but on the other hand I have a feeling it works.

I put a delay on it so it doesn't pop up until 20 seconds into your time on post. I like to think that this is better, as you've had time to see the value in my content, but I honestly have no idea.

The slide-in is pretty cool. It's unobtrusive but still noticeable, and can easily be dismissed. I think I still need to work on the wording though (same applies to the light-box).

How It's Been

Well it's only been live for a little while but I've already had a few submissions (thanks to those of you who opted in!). I think the key factor might be that I'm not offering anything other than updates on my tests.

This sort of post that I'm writing now is exactly the type of case-study/update post I'm going to do in the future, so if you like it, opt-in!

What I've Learned From All Of This

I honestly think that it doesn't matter so much which type of opt-in you use, but more what the motivation is. On my Kettlebell site, people had no real reason to opt-in (except to keep up with related posts).

On HumanProofDesigns, people have more interest in my content and updates, so they are opting in more readily (at least for now!).

Time will tell which opt-ins fair the best (I'm also going to test “In-Content” opt-in forms), but without value and motivation, people just aren't going to hand over their email addresses in a hurry, ESPECIALLY in niches where there are spammers and promotions coming at them left, right and center.

I Need Your Help

No, I'm not going to ask you to subscribe. Oh OK then please subscribe.

What I really want your help with is your opinions! What opt-in should I test next? What should I offer as a motivator to get people to opt-in? Should I just change my wording?

What makes YOU opt-in to a list? What makes you unsubscribe from a list?

And lastly, what has worked for you, if you've tried anything?

10 thoughts on “4 Tests I’ve Done To Grow My Email Lists”

  1. Hey Bryon,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences! Man that sucks everyone was downloading your e-book and unsubscribing! :/

    I just wanted to share with you what I’ve found works really well for opt ins (and I don’t know if you’ve tried this yet or not) but ending your “About Me” page with your opt in form (and explaining how you can help the people that join) should get you much higher conversions.

    I put an “about the author” sidewidget in so I get quite I few visits on my about me page, and found my conversions from that form are 14%. I’ve tried sidebar, footer and pop-over forms as well – they only convert at less than 1%!

    I haven’t tried just mentioning it within my content with links, but I think I’ll give that a test too! Thanks for this again!


    1. Cheers Wendy, that’s a great idea. I’ve been meaning to add an “about the author” under my posts for some time. Also a sidebar bio as well. So you use both or just the one?

      14% is great! I guess people just need to be told what they’ll get out of it, and there’s only so much you can write on a small opt-in form.

      I’ll have to test out people’s suggestions and then blog a part two later on!

      1. I currently use both, but haven’t tested them individually so couldn’t say which one works better.

        Yeah I think if you can get people to your about me page and connect with them, they’ll be much more trusting and likely to sign up vs. if they just saw it within a sidebar or popover form.

        Great, looking forward to part 2 ! 🙂

        1. You speak a lot of sense. I should know by now that the key to getting subscriptions, just like conversions, is to let people see the value. I’ll try your methods across a few of my sites and see!

  2. Hello Bryon, great post mate and thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    A/B Testing is something every single marketer should be doing and not just on their online forms. I use Optimizely, mainly because its easier and probably the biggest, but there are other providers out there, the main point is to test your landing pages, gather and analyse the data and do it all over again until you have a killer landing page that converts like nothing else 🙂

    Bryon, on the increasing your email list topic, i was wondering if you could share a bit of knowledge here mate. A read this article (ahttp://goo.gl/HH6IWu) that talks about the use of Groups in LinkedIn, but was wondering maybe you would have other suggestions that would have worked for you in the past. I have some clients that should leverage their LinkedIn account and was hoping to get some help from the online community 🙂

    Look forward to your thoughts and remember:
    keep Calm and Keep on Testing!

    1. Hey Izzy,

      I do find that LinkedIn groups are pretty engaged, and LinkedIn sends you an email digest daily about all the discussions taking place. I can definitely see the need for people to leverage it more.

      As for using it to get more subscribers, I’m not sure. Maybe creatin teaser content to share with linked in users then asking them to subscribe to get the rest, or publishing a series of posts and sharing the first one with LinkedIn with a subtle prompt to subscribe.

      I honestly don’t know what would work best. Like you say, it needs testing!

      I’ve not used optimizely but have used a few others. I really need to test some more of my pages too!

  3. Hi Bryon.

    I don’t have any subscribers yet – but as a “visitor” – I hate the light-box sign-up plugin – I’ve seen it on a lot of sites, and it gets in the way of me reading the article I’ve chosen to view. It just seems too “salesy” – the pushy salesman trying to get you to sign on the dotted line, before you even know what you’re buying.

    I always just close it down, and get back to reading – as I’m already in the mindset of being interested in a post, a pop-up stopping me or interrupting me mid-flow, is really annoying.

    I DO like the small, unobtrusive box at the bottom right (I’ll keep you updated…) – I see Nathan uses something similar. That does not get in my way, nor does it interrupt me – but it’s there, in my field of vision. So if I enjoyed the article, or took something useful from it, I’m far more inclined to go on to give my details to the opt-in box at the bottom right.

    Cheers Bryon,

    All the best, Mark

    1. Yeah I do agree with you about the light box and I’ll probably do away with it later. Need to test more first.

      One thing I’ve discovered recently is a two-step opt-in where somebody clicks a link or button and that prompts the light box.

      At slats that means they’ve chosen to see it etc, and should be much higher converting.

      Cheers for the honesty Mark!


  4. Hi Bryon,
    Very good article and an interesting read. Personally, when I enter a site and get buzzed with an opt-in, it inspires a bit of annoyance in me and my first reaction is to get it out of the way as fast as I can so that I can see the content on the site. I personally would only sign up if I see good value in the content of the website and I would actually look for the sign up in the main menu. That’s just my take on the subject.
    Thanks for info.


    1. Hey Todd, thanks for stopping by.

      You’re 100% right that building a list needs you to deliver value, both on and off the list. I used to agree with you as well about the lightbox, but the funny thing is that my lightbox currently has more submissions than the sidebar slide-in, so it may be annoying, but it clearly works!

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