5 Simple Tips for Building an Engaged Email List

5 Tips for Building an Engaged Email List

Guest blog by Ryan Robinson

In today’s digital world, the biggest challenge facing brands, bloggers, and marketers alike, is capturing (and retaining) the attention of your readers, subscribers, customers.

Flash sales, discounts, and time-sensitive offers will only take you so far today. With all the noise on social channels like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, it can be difficult to build real relationships with your audience, stand out from the crowd and truly earn their regular attention.

But if you can successfully bridge that gap and create an authentic connection with your readers, they’ll be much more likely to jump at purchasing new products, upgrading to new plans that offer more value, take you up on your next training program.

It should come as no surprise, that having a direct line to the inbox of your readers, where American workers report spending more than 4 hours of their day, offers a much stronger return than getting readers to simply like your Facebook page.

No matter your business goals, chances are high that an email subscriber is going to be worth more to you in the long run, than any nominal increased reach on your social channels. In fact, more than 75% of companies agree that email marketing offers a very high return on investment across industries according to HubSpot.

Knowing how powerful an active email list can be, I’ve dedicated countless hours to building the email list for my blog, ryrob.com, up to more than 63,000 subscribers that tune in for my weekly content about starting and growing a profitable side business. And through my work as a content marketing consultant, I’ve been to help brands like LinkedIn, Zendesk, Quickbooks, and more, to also build highly engaged communities that regularly convert into becoming paying customers.

From my own experience, here are five simple tips to help build an engaged email list.

1. Be Human With Your Readers

One of the biggest mistakes I see brands making today is writing blog content and sending marketing emails that sound like they’re coming from an anonymous corporate entity.

Today, consumers crave a real emotional connection with the brands they follow, buy from, and do business with. Humanizing your brand by introducing and regularly highlighting the people behind it, is an easy way to reinforce that deeper connection with your brand. Plus, we all know that blog posts and emails are written by real people, which should be celebrated—not hidden.

Action to take: Whenever you’re publishing new content to your company blog, assign each post to a real writer—not a company-named account. Be sure to have a clearly visible profile picture of the writer represented somewhere on the page to reinforce the human element of your content. When sending emails to your list, use the sender name of someone from your marketing team, like “Ryan from _______________” to strengthen the human side of your brand.

2. Go Where Your Competitors Won’t

The hallmark of every piece of content that gets published on my blog and by me on my client’s blogs, is that I go into a level of depth and reader transformation that 99% of others aren’t willing to invest in. From my guide to validating business ideas, to getting started with freelancing, learning how to write cold emails and more, each and every post I publish takes dozens of hours to research, write and test.

For my blog, finding that differentiator originally came from my own frustration at how shallow business-related content tends to be on the major publications. Take a look around on the homepage of sites like Entrepreneur and Forbes that get millions of monthly readers—the vast majority of their content offers only advice, not the promise of a hands-on, tactical tutorial in how to achieve a specific goal. That’s an opportunity for differentiation.

Now, to offer up content that’s vastly different for my readers, I’ll usually break down a real-life case study from behind-the-scenes of how I implemented a particular strategy, tactic or technique—then use that experiment as the basis to teach a step-by-step process to my readers. The resulting finished product is a piece of content that’s intentionally designed for anyone to come and learn a particular skill or strategy from start to finish.

Action to take: Look for opportunities to differentiate your content from that of your competitors. Don’t always assume that longer is better, but if you’re focused on giving extremely actionable content (including things like templates, screenshots, tutorials, and video walkthroughs), then your audience will be more likely to proactively come back and crave more of your content.

3. Use Storytelling to Captivate Your Readers

As humans, we’re hardwired to consume and share experiences through the format of stories. We’ve been doing it for nearly 40,000 years with the goal of teaching, educating and entertaining each other in various different mediums.

The reason storytelling works so well for turning readers into subscribers and then keeping those subscribers engaged, is because you’re tapping into a deeper level of communication that goes far beyond just selling them on the benefits or features of your product.

Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker explains, “Research shows our brains are not hard-wired to understand logic or retain facts for very long. Our brains are wired to understand and retain stories. A story is a journey that moves the listener, and when the listener goes on that journey they feel different. The result is persuasion and sometimes action.”

When you use storytelling as a component of your engagement and sales strategy, you’re exploiting the thousands of years of evolution that have designed our brains to tune in and be receptive to what you have to say.

Action to take: If you’re not leveraging storytelling on your blog and within your emails, start by interviewing some of your readers (and customers) to really understand their interests, motivations, and gauge which kinds of stories they’ll be most receptive to. Do your readers want to feel like an insider on your company’s journey? Are they interested in hearing case studies of how similar people have overcome challenges through the use of your product or service? Or perhaps they’ll jump at the opportunity to tune in for a podcast that offers weekly tips, stories, interviews and advice from within your industry?

4. Offer Surprisingly Great Content Upgrades

The days of simply asking new readers to subscribe to your email list, in exchange for “more tips and tricks,” are over. Unless you’re a prolific writer like Mark Manson or Cal Newport that can build a cult-like following based solely on getting more essays delivered to your inbox, that ask is too ambiguous, and doesn’t give your readers enough insight into what they’ll be getting from you over the coming weeks and months.

Will they get daily motivation emails? Weekly blog posts? Monthly product offers? Or something else entirely? There’s little incentive today for readers to sign up for just another email list without a clear return. It’s your responsibility to give readers something worth subscribing to. Therefore, the best free content upgrades take real problems your readers know they have—and help them get to a related solution as quickly as possible.

Take for example the free content upgrade I created specifically for my list of the 101 best side hustle ideas. Because I knew readers were coming to this post looking for inspiration on how to get started with a business idea, I built a completely free course that uses a combination of video lectures, PDF worksheets, and assignments to walk people through the process of finding a business idea that’s right for them. After implementing this content upgrade that’s so closely related to the intent my readers have on that specific post, I’ve seen a 500% lift in the number of daily email subscribers I get.

Action to take: Before you get started on creating a new eBook, video course, cheat sheet, guide, calculator tool, or otherwise for your new content upgrade, you need to talk to your readers and learn about the most pressing problems they’re facing (as related to your business). Sure, some of their challenges will be too big to solve at scale through a free content offering, but that’s not the point. If you can create a free solution for your readers that actually helps them get some real results, they’ll trust in your ability to get an even greater return from tuning in for more content and eventually upgrading to paid offerings. If you need some inspiration, check out this list of 11 creative content upgrade ideas.

5. Show Social Proof

It’s well-known in behavioral psychology that people are more willing to take a specific action (like signing up for your email list) when they see others have gone before them—and are clearly getting value from making that decision.

In fact, studies have shown that 70% of consumers say they look at product reviews before making a purchase, and that product reviews are 12x more trusted than just the product descriptions written by the company.

Whether your best version social proof comes in the form of product reviews, highlighting the number of people already on your email list, getting written testimonials from happy customers, endorsements from notable figures in your industry or otherwise, social proof also needs to include using tools like AddThis to show how frequently your content gets shared by readers. Make it clear that your readers aren’t the only ones stopping by to consume your content—when they see hundreds (or thousands) of social shares on a blog post, they’ll be significantly more likely to continue reading and make it back for more.

Action to take: Poll your existing readers and customers about which factors motivated them to subscribe or make a purchase. For each of the people that respond, ask if they’d be willing to give a testimonial or leave a review about what they’ve been able to learn or achieve from your content. Highlight those reviews and testimonials front and center on your content upgrade pages to increase confidence and conversion rates for email signup. Install a social sharing and counter tool like AddThis on your website so that new readers will see how many shares your content regularly gets and be incentivized to easily join in on the sharing.


Author Bio: Ryan Robinson is a content marketing consultant to the world’s top experts and growing startups. He teaches more than 200,000 monthly readers how to start and grow a profitable side hustle on his blog, ryrob.com.