Practical Ecommerce

Why free content can give you excellent SEO but poor subscriber growth

Getting customers to sign up to your newsletter – and to keep them – is a challenge most of us face.

Those who’ve bought from you once are more likely to buy from you again (especially following an email), and those who are newsletter members are more likely to convert into purchasing customers after several or more regular emails than a casual visitor.

So we all know that newsletter members are gold. And I’ve been amazed that the biggest risk I thought I could take – not to let casual visitors see almost any of the content they would be signing up for – seems to be working.

A bit of background for you. After switching from an expensive closed-source content management system to a WordPress website in March 2011, I changed everything but still allowed visitors to read their full monthly horoscope on my website. As an astrology gifts website, it is an obvious thing to feature.

If they enjoyed reading that, my reasoning was they could sign up for the monthly newsletter which contained that information, plus exclusive materials and member special offers, as well as the separate, members-only annual forecast.

And with the customer expectation and SEO reward of (constant) free content, I launched (on a separate WordPress website in March 2009), my daily gift news blog. My online retail niche is within the gift market, I love selecting gifts for others and wanted to create a blog packed with (hopefully) fascinating gift-related info. Below each blog post is a link to the 12 Sun signs.

I believed that once visitors were at my website, reading gift info, they might hang around to read their stars and then would sign up and then – eventually – become a customer. Well, no, actually.

My visitor statistics indicate that the most-read items have been my gift news blog posts, and with the Google Panda updates, the Horoscopes page has fallen from the second-most visited page a year ago, to currently the 9th most-visited content on my website.

Over time, I have experimented with conversion by:

• placing a small subscription box on the top right of my home page (lackluster results)

• creating a pop-up box which appeared within about 60 seconds of you starting to read your horoscopes (this annoyed everyone, even me, so I removed it)

• adding the full-length newsletter subscription box down the right-hand side of the individual horoscope pages (that helped – kinda)

• adding the subscription box down each blog post and the blog itself (a bit more traction)

• creating a Christmas Countdown Calendar as a special incentive to sign up (that made little impact)

• writing a special “There’s one more step” type email to get visitors who hadn’t finished opting in to sign up (which works best if sent within an hour of their initial subscription).

Finally, I was sick of it. Tired of writing a newsletter. Tired of providing free content for no return. Google Panda updates rewarded me with more visitors but not more subscribers.

After all, the visitors weren’t fussed about exclusive content, they had all they needed, right there.

So, what to do? I can see from the statistics that many of the visitors who have been reading their horoscopes on my website for the last six years are repeat ones and therefore might like my writing style (and miss my information) enough to sign up.

Last week, I placed a Read More link under the first two lines of each Sun sign’s horoscope forecast which, if clicked, directed them to the newsletter sign-up page spelling out what they’ll receive within the next 5 minutes.

I worried about a backlash, howls of protest and abusive emails that they couldn’t just read their horoscopes without signing up anymore. It may still go south of course, but in the past week alone, I’ve had more 25 per cent subscribers sign up than I did for all of October.

So perhaps it pays not to give them everything upfront.

Have you done anything similar?

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Comments ( 3 )

  1. Elizabeth Ball November 26, 2012 Reply

    Update: since introducing this update 3 weeks ago my subscriber numbers for November are quadruple those of October.

  2. Jordan Elpern-Waxman December 6, 2012 Reply

    How well have the new subscribers converted to paying customers relative to historical subscriber conversion?

  3. Elizabeth Ball December 9, 2012 Reply

    Good question Jordan! Unfortunately I don’t know the conversion rate for earlier subscribers to customers as on my database I converted those who had subscribed originally into "paying customers" without recording the original date!
    I also have those who bought the product and then subscribed afterwards but my conversion rate from subscribers to paying customers since I made the changes on 8 November has been about 10%.

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