If you’ve spent much time browsing the internet lately, you will have no doubt come across a blog post or two from popular social media sharing tool Buffer.

They are one of the biggest success stories in content marketing, and frequently get over 1 million pageviews per month on their blog. They have over 70,000 followers on Twitter alone, and their posts are often shared more than 10,000 times across social media.

Being a social media marketing company experiencing so much success in social media, you’d think that social would be the focus for them.

Yet it isn’t, their focus is on growing their email list.

In this post, we show you why Buffer is focusing on growing their email list and breakdown how they manage to add more than 1000 new subscribers to their email list each week.

Why Buffer focuses on email marketing

Despite being a social media marketing company, the content team at Buffer have chosen to focus their efforts on growing their email list.

Why? Because Buffer’s team are focused on growth, and email is a much more effective channel for driving people to their website and getting them to sign up for their product than social media is.

For starters, email has much greater reach than social media. While Facebook boasts over 1 billion active users per month and Twitter claims to have 255 million, research from Radicati suggests the total number of worldwide email accounts was 3.9 billion in 2013, and projected to be 4.9 billion by 2017.

To put this in perspective for you, there are 3x more email accounts than there are Facebook & Twitter accounts combined.

From a marketing perspective though, its the statistics on reach and engagement that show the real story. Did you know that organic reach on Facebook (I.e. the number of your fans who actually see your posts in their Newsfeed) is only 6%?

On the contrary, open rates for email marketing messages are generally in the 20 – 30% range, meaning your message is 5x more likely to be seen through email than Facebook.

Similarly, click through rates from email are generally in the 3% range, while click-through rates on Tweets are generally in the 0.5% range. This means you are 6x more likely to get a click-through from email than you are from Twitter.

From looking at these statistics, it isn’t hard to see why Buffer have chosen to focus their efforts on growing their email list.

But how have they managed to attract an astronomical 1000+ new subscribers each week? Let’s dive in and take a look.

How Buffer builds their email list

Buffer adopts a simple formula for growing their email list:

Amazing content + prominent subscribe opportunities = huge email list.

While this formula may make it seem quite simple to grow your email list, there are a lot of things we can learn by taking a deeper look at Buffer’s playbook.

Part 1: Creating amazing content

The first part of their approach to building their email list is creating amazing content.

This part is critical, as without awesome content to offer their readers, people would have no desire to be on their email list and no amount of clever subscribe box placement or trickery would help.

To ensure each piece of content they publish is great, they focus on a few key areas:

  • Extensive research – Kevan (Buffer’s content creator) will spend on average 6-8 hours writing a single blog post over a period of 3 days. He’ll spend the first day researching and pulling information and sources into a document. He’ll then spend the second day turning all that information into a coherent blog post before spending a few hours on the 3rd day editing it into a finely tuned piece of writing. It’s a lot of work and a big commitment, but it’s what makes their content so great.
  • Telling a story – Buffer know that telling a story through your content can increase readership by 300%. Most of their content is extremely well-researched and backed by science and psychology, so they tell stories throughout their content to keep it interesting for their readers.
  • Creating a unique visual for every post – Buffer tries to create at least one unique visual for every post that they create. They know that the brain processes visuals 60,000 faster than text and that 65% of people are visual learners, so by adding unique visual content to their posts they help their readers really understand the points being made and ultimately educate them better.

By investing the time into creating great content that both engages and educates their audience, Buffer creates desire within their audience that means when a reader is presented with a subscribe box, they are adequately motivated to sign up.

Part 2: Showing prominent subscribe opportunities

It was only in recent months that the content team at Buffer shifted their focus towards building their email list.

As a result of this shift in focus, they overhauled their blog’s design and increased the number of subscribe boxes from 1 to 5.

They also added another 4 subscribe opportunities across their different social media channels, including their Twitter, Facebook & SlideShare accounts.

As a result of this increase in subscribe opportunities (from 1 to a total of 9), they were able to double the number of new subscribers they acquire each month from around 2,500 to over 5,500.

But before you go and add subscribe boxes everywhere, it’s important to know that not all subscribe opportunities are created equal, and some were hits while others were not.

Below is a breakdown of a typical week and how each of the different sources contributes to overall list growth.

Slideup box

Buffer’s best-performing email subscribe opportunity is the slideup, which brings in a little more than 400 new signups each week.

The slideup comes up from the right-hand corner whenever a new visitor scrolls 60 percent of the way down the page. It looks a bit like this:

How you can implement this: Plugins like SumoMe allow you to easily add a slideup box to your blog or website and integrates directly with Campaign Monitor to send new subscribers to your chosen lists.

If you are looking for a more advanced setup, then you can try the Dreamgrow Triggered Box which allows you to write your own HTML and CSS to make it look and perform however you choose.

Hello Bar

The second best performing email subscribe opportunity for Buffer is the Hello Bar, netting them 350 or more new subscribers on an average week.

Buffer have used the Hello Bar for many years, primarily to drive traffic from the blog back to the main Buffer product site in the hope of converting them into paying customers.

However, when their priorities for the blog shifted, they changed the HelloBar on the majority of pages to an email capture form and it worked incredibly well for them, quickly becoming the #2 email capture opportunity on the list.

How you can implement this: The Hello Bar is a free tool offered by the kind folks over at Crazy Egg. It can be easily installed on a WordPress blog by installing the plugin, or you can add some simple javascript to your non-Wordpress website to install it.

Hello Bar integrates directly with Campaign Monitor to pass any email addresses you capture straight to your chosen lists, and you can even A/B test different copy and colors to improve its effectiveness.

Feature Box

First made popular by blogger Derek Halpern, the feature box sits atop your blog homepage and presents visitors a prominent subscribe box and some copy on the benefits of subscribing to your list.

The theory is that on most blogs the homepage is one of the most visited pages, so having a subscribe opportunity above the fold on the homepage is a great way to get it seen by a large number of potential subscribers.

For Buffer, this proved to be true. Their homepage is one of the most visited pages on their blog, so by placing a feature box on the homepage they were able to grab another 150+ email address each week.

How you can implement this yourself: If you are a WordPress user, Plugmatter offers a tool that allows you to easily add a Feature Box to your blog or website. The plugin comes with a number of customizable templates and integrates directly with Campaign Monitor, allowing you to automatically send all new subscribers to your chosen lists.

Of course, if you have some more advanced coding and design knowledge then you can create your own customized feature box to suit your website. To get your newly captured email addresses into your Campaign Monitor account, you can use the API or embed one of the subscribe forms.

Sidebar

Unfortunately these days, most people ignore the sidebar as mainstream media sites have conditioned readers to think the space is full of ads and not worthy of their attention.

In a recent redesign of their blog, Buffer actually removed the sidebar from the blog in favour of a wider content layout, but before they did they were receiving around 150 new email subscribers through the subscribe opportunity in the sidebar.

How you can implement this: One of the easiest ways to do this is just to design a nice image and put it in your sidebar. When someone clicks on the image, you can direct them to a dedicated subscribe page or trigger a lightbox to appear so that they don’t have to leave the page they are currently on.

On my personal blog, I achieve this using Pippity. Whenever a reader clicks the subscribe image in the sidebar a Pippity lightbox appears giving them a place to enter their name and email. Pippity integrates directly with Campaign Monitor, so any emails go straight into my subscriber list.

Twitter Lead Generation cards

As mentioned before, you are 6x more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign than you are from a tweet so it makes sense to try convert your Twitter followers into email subscribers.

Twitter lead generation cards provide an incredibly easy way to make this happen.

When the Buffer team originally set this up, they sent a tweet out to their followers containing the card and then pinned the tweet to the top of their Twitter profile. The result? They received 182 new email subscribers that they could send their latest content too.

How you can implement this: Setting up Twitter lead generation cards is quite easy and you can see a comprehensive, step by step guide here. Best of all, they can be integrated directly into your Campaign Monitor account so that any subscribers you gain automatically go into your chosen list.

Postscript

Direct marketers have known for years that the P.S. line is one of the most-read elements of direct mail pieces, yet it is far less common to see it used in digital content like blog posts or emails.

The guys at Buffer however, are putting the P.S line to good use to build their email lists.

By adding this little P.S line at the bottom of each of their blog posts, they are able to capture an additional 20-30 email subscribers each week.

How you can implement this: Adding a P.S line to the bottom of your blog posts or marketing content is very straight forward, the (slightly) more difficult part is linking it somewhere.

Just like a sidebar CTA, you can link the P.S line to a dedicated subscribe page or use a tool like Pippity to create a lightbox that pops up when somebody clicks the subscribe link.

Facebook page

With Facebook limiting organic reach more and more, it makes sent to try and convert some of your Facebook followers into email subscribers.

As part of their renewed focus on growing their email list, Buffer decided to add an Email Subscribe tab to their Facebook page to see if they could get people to convert. The results? 1 new email subscriber per week.

Given that Buffer have just short of 30,000 ‘Likes’ on Facebook, this might seem surprising. However when you take into account studies that show 90% of people who like a page will never return to it and less than 1% of fans ever engage with a brands updates on Facebook, it makes a bit more sense.

How you can implement this: Even though it hasn’t worked that well for Buffer, you could easily experience different results.

If you are a Campaign Monitor customer, you can use the native Facebook Subscribe Form application to set this up on your own Facebook page. It’s free to use and setup instructions can be found here.

SlideShare

For those of you who may not know, SlideShare is like YouTube for powerpoint presentations. You can upload presentations you have created and share them with SlideShare’s audience to help you get more exposure.

And if you have a pro account, you can enable an email capture form that appears after a viewer has seen a selected number of slides.

Given that Buffer have uploaded several presentations to their account and amassed a small following, it makes sense to try to convert these people into email subscribers. When they turned the email capture form on, they were able to generate 257 new email subscribers in a period of 6 weeks.

How you can implement this: If you have a SlideShare Pro account, follow the instructions here to setup an email capture form within your slide decks.

Unfortunately, SlideShare doesn’t offer any direct integrations but you can easily download the leads you capture as a CSV by following the instructions found here. Once you have all your email addresses in a CSV file, you can simply import them into your Campaign Monitor account and start sending.

Qzzr

Recently, the Buffer team started experimenting with using Qzzr to embed quizzes into some of their blog posts.

After a user has completed the quiz, but before their results are displayed, Qzzr displays an email subscribe form which be can used to convince people to subscribe to your email list.

By leveraging this functionality, Buffer have been able to add an extra 345 email subscribers to their list.

How you can implement this: If you have a Qzzr pro account, you can add email subscribe forms to the end of your quizzes by following these instructions.

Unfortunately, Qzzr doesn’t offer any direct integrations but you can easily download the leads you capture as a CSV file. Once you have all your email addresses in a CSV file, you can simply import them into your Campaign Monitor account and start sending.

How you can grow your email list like Buffer

The formula for growing your email list is easy; Offer people amazing content that gives them a reason to subscribe, and create numerous, prominent opportunities for them to do so.

While the formula itself sounds easy, in practice it can be a little bit more difficult.

Creating great content takes a lot of work, but high-quality blog posts aren’t necessarily the only form of ‘amazing content’ you can offer.

Amazing content is defined by the recipient, not by the marketer. Special offers, discounts, sneak peeks, new products and more can all qualify as amazing content if that’s what your specific audience is interested in.

Then, once you’ve got that part of the equation down, the next step is creating numerous, prominent opportunities for people to subscribe.

Tools like HelloBar and SumoMe make it really easy to create fixed header bars and slideups, and they all integrate directly with your Campaign Monitor account to drop the captured email addresses straight into your chosen lists.

In Conclusion

With organic reach on Facebook decreasing and Twitter showing poor click-through rates, those who want to grow their business should be heavily investing in building their email lists like Buffer do.

By creating awesome content and leveraging tools like SumoMe and HelloBar to create multiple email subscribe opportunities, you too can accelerate the growth of your email list.

Your turn: What has been the most successful method for capturing email addresses for your business? Share your story in the comments below.

  • George

    I love the sumo me plugin for wordpress, on our website it converts at about 2%

  • Rachael Kearney

    Lots of great ideas here, especially for subtler positioning of sign up prompts. I use Pippity on my portfolio site, but I’ve not seen great conversion, I reckon mainly because it’s a pop up. This is a WordPress plugin that you can also use as a Hellobar, that you mention. No unexpected flashes!
    I’ll try that and also the PS line is a good suggestion. Cheers

  • Simon Cave

    Awesome! I’ve been looking for a way to create Quizzes for years! Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Brad Mcghee

    Great blog post, Will definitely apply these story telling techniques to future emails!

  • Riteway Service Co.

    Awesome! I’ve been looking for a way to create Quizzes for years! Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Maxine Postains

    nice!!

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