Since joining Ghost, one of my focuses has been on our weekly blog newsletter. If you sign up, you'll receive all our latest blog content in an email every week.
I want to develop a tight-knit, friendly community around the Ghost blog and the content I'm producing. With email being such a personal medium, it seemed the perfect place to start building this community.
Initially I've been looking for quick wins. That is, any low-hanging fruit where I can make a small change to increase subscribers and engagement.
So far these are the changes I've been making, and a few I've got on my to do list.
1. Set up an autoresponder to engage with new subscribers
The first thing I noticed about signing up to the Ghost blog was that after I confirmed my subscription, nothing happened. I didn't know when I'd get Ghost blog emails or what they'd look like.
We automate the weekly newsletter using the Ghost blog's RSS feed, but I thought we could add a more personal touch with a friendly welcome email for new subscribers.
I set up an autoresponder—an email that gets sent automatically to every new subscriber. It looks like this:
I used this email to introduce new subscribers to some of our most popular content on the Ghost blog that they might not have seen. I included links to our five most popular posts, a short summary of what each post is about, and an image for each one to break up the text. For each post, I also added UTM parameters to the link so I could see how much traffic is coming from the autoresponder.
(In case you're not familiar with UTM links, they're just paramters that get added to the end of a URL so Google Analytics can tell you where those visitors came from. You can read more abut UTM links here and use Google's URL builder to create your own.)
I also suggested in this email that new subscribers could reply to it to tell me what they'd like to read more about on the blog. The bottom of the email reads like this:
We aim to publish three new posts on the Ghost blog every week, so there's plenty of new content to look forward to.
I'm always open to new ideas for the blog, so if there's something you'd like to read about, let me know. Just hit reply on this email, or reach out to us anytime on Twitter at @TryGhost.
Belle Beth Cooper, content crafter at Ghost
This leads into my second point...
2. Make your newsletter human and interactive by changing your "from" address
It's common to use an info@ or noreply@ email address as the address you send newsletters from. If you do this, you're missing an opportunity to interact with your audience. A generic "info" email address, or worse, a "noreply", indicates to the reader that you're not interested in what they have to say.
Using an email address with someone's name, like email@example.com, indicates that a real person sent the newsletter, not a faceless brand or company. And it shows the user they can reply to the email.
Remember, part of why email is so powerful is that it's intimate. Your newsletter is sitting in your reader's inbox, next to photos from their parents and KPIs from their boss. Using email makes you part of their lives unlike any other kind of marketing.
But if you use a "noreply" address, you're making it obvious that you don't belong in their inbox the way personal emails do. You're making your email stand out as a piece of marketing, rather than a personal missive.
Adding your name and your email address as the "from" details puts you that little bit closer to a real connection.
I changed our autoresponder to come from my personal Ghost email address, and to say "Belle at Ghost" as the from name. For the subject line I chose "A personal welcome from Belle Beth Cooper" to make it clear who this is coming from and what the reader will find when they open the email.
3. Track which pages people subscribe from most
I looked into a few ways of setting up tracking to see which blog posts encouraged people to subscribe most. One option is to add a hidden field to the signup form that you populate with the title of the page.
The signup form already contains a few fields like email address and username. After adding a new field called "source", for instance, you can edit the code for your form so the source input field says
<input type="hidden" instead of the default
This stops your subscribers from seeing (or editing) the field showing which page they signed up from. On each page you include your signup form, you can change the value of the hidden field to something like
The only problem with using this method is that you need to manually update the value for each page. I wanted to track every post on the Ghost blog to see which topics encouraging more newsletter signups, so this isn't really feasible. I've made a note on my to do list to explore options for automating the process of grabbing the current page's URL and inserting it into the value of the form's hidden field, but I'll need to get our developers involved so I've put that off for another day.
In the meantime, I've taken a more simple approach. Using Google Analytics, I've been tracking visits to our /thanks/ page, which new subscribers see after submitting their email address. Using a secondary dimension of "Previous Page Path", I can see which pages people were on last before they signed up for the newsletter, which popped them to the /thanks/ page.
To find this in your own analytics, make sure you have a confirmation page set up that users pop to after submitting their email address. Ours looks like this:
Find the URL of that page and just take the page slug from it. For instance, ours is blog.ghost.org/thanks/ so I just want the part that says /thanks. In Google Analytics, click on Behavior in the menu, then under Site Content click on All Pages.
In the search box at the top of the table of results, type in the page slug you're looking for and hit enter. In my case, I typed /thanks. This will filter the results to only show you visits to your confirmation page.
To find out which pages led to confirmation page visits, click on Secondary dimension above the Page column, and find Previous Page Path under Behaviour in the drop-down list. When you click on this, your second column will list the page your new subscribers came from before signing up.
4. Jazz up your subscriber confirmation page
One thing I noticed (and you probably did too) when tracking email signups in Google Analytics was how boring our confirmation page is. I haven't done any work to improve it yet, but it's on my to do list so I've started gathering research about how to make the most of this page.
In Pat's tutorial for signup tracking, he shows an example of his signup confirmation page. He includes a thank you message, a few pragmatic details like a reminder to whitelist his email address, and a single call to action. Pat's call to action is this simple sentence:
If you're interested in starting your own newsletter just like this one, please read my beginner's guide to starting a newsletter.
On the MailPoet blog, Becs Rivett Kemm suggests using the final confirmation page to point your new subscribers to your best content (this is the page they see after hitting the confirm link in their email). This approach might not work so well on the "thanks" page, since we ideally want to direct the reader to their inbox to click on that confirmation link ASAP.
I'm going to test this approach anyway, since I know I usually don't confirm subscriptions immediately, but spend more time getting to know the site and reading through the archives after subscribing.
According to Peep Laja at ConversionXL, the "thanks" page has two jobs to do:
- To confirm to customers that their registration or subscription was successful.
- To get customers EXCITED and HOOKED on reading your email, or browsing your site.
One of Peep's suggestions for working on step #2—getting your customers EXCITED and HOOKED—is to make the confirmation page more personal by adding a signature or photo. This is an obvious extension of the personalisation I've already added to our autoresponder, so it's another experiment I've added to my to do list.
5. Use straightforward subject lines
According to research by MailChimp, subject lines designed to grab the reader's attention tend to have terrible open rates.
Subject lines that focused on special offers like sales and gift certificates, or seasons, like "It's still summer in Tahoe!" did poorly in MailChimp's tests. Surprisingly, the best-performing subject lines included decidedly banal options like "October 2005 Newsletter" and "[COMPANYNAME] Sales & Marketing Newsletter".
The MailChimp team has some sage advice on creating subject lines that lead to opens:
This might sound dead-simple, but here you have it: Your subject line should (drum roll please) describe the subject of your email. Yep, that’s it.
When it comes to email marketing, the best subject lines tell what’s inside, and the worst subject lines sell what’s inside.
According to the MailChimp team, the difference in what works comes down to the expectations your customers have. If they explicitly signed up to receive special offers and promotions, they're already expecting the hard sell and will be more likely to click on the headlines that didn't perform so well in the research.
On the other hand, if you're sending a special offer to a newsletter email list, which by definition is designed to disseminate news, you're probably going to find those emails have a much lower open rate. Customers signing up for your blog newsletter expect to get new posts to read and learn from, not be sold on your product.
Our Ghost blog newsletter only ever includes content from our RSS feed, so I didn't need to worry about sending promotions to the wrong customers. I had a look at our subject lines, though, and noticed we're using the title of the first post in each email as the subject line.
One experiment I'd like to try is an A/B test of a simple "Ghost blog weekly" subject line versus the title of the first post to see which one garners more opens.
6. Use pinned tweets to get more subscribers
Although it makes most sense for our readers to sign up to our blog newsletter when they're actually visiting the blog, Twitter could be a potential source for subscribers, too.
Perhaps some of our followers only occasionally see our blog posts on Twitter, and hadn't thought to subscribe before. Or someone discovering Ghost for the first time on Twitter might scroll through our previous tweets, find that we write about topics they're interested in, and want to subscribe right away to get more good content in the future.
I hadn't thought of this option until I read a post by Noah Kagan about growing his email list. One day he posted a link to his email subscribe form on Twitter and gained over 50 new subscribers. From a daily average of 15 new subscribers, that's a big jump! When he posted the same link on Facebook he got an even bigger boost.
The lesson is super simple: don't assume that everyone who's in touch with you online has already subscribed to your newsletter (if they want to). It's worth checking now and then if you have new followers on social networks who'd be interested in getting your newsletter.
Noah went on to post a link to his email newsletter on Twitter and Facebook every month. I didn't want to post the same thing over and over, but this idea made me realise I could use Twitter's pinned tweets feature to keep a link to our email newsletter at the top of our Twitter profile all the time.
I did this months ago for my personal newsletter and I've found it's a really easy way to give new Twitter followers another option for keeping in touch with me. Here's the tweet I created for Ghost:
All our posts about writing, creativity, and marketing your blog in your inbox every week! Subscribe here: https://t.co/jbTEcRYvA6— Ghost (@TryGhost) September 3, 2015
The link goes to a simple sign-up form. All I had to do was tweak how it looked slightly, then copy/paste the link into a new tweet.
What to do next
Phew! That was a lot to take in. Let's distill it all into a simple list, so you can pick and choose the quick wins you want to go for, now that you know how each one works.
- Set up an autoresponder.
- Make your "from" address come from a real human.
- Track where signups come from in Google Analytics or via a hidden field in your signup form.
- Improve your subscriber confirmation page.
- Use straightforward subject lines.
- Use pinned tweets to get more subscribers.
Have you got any other ideas for quick wins that I've missed? I'd love to hear them—leave me a comment below.