How I Increased My Subscriber Rate by 10x Overnight

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A few weeks ago I explained how I migrated my Feedburner email subscribers to a newsletter service. Since then I’ve been busy experimenting and optimising my new mailing list to continue growing my sites into the future. After implementing a couple of popular techniques I saw my daily subscribers dramatically rise from around 10 per day to a healthy 100 per day, so I thought I’d share these tips to help others grow their audience.

AWeber daily growth graph

A little background…

I own and create content for two design blogs. The first, Blog.SpoonGraphics is home to my Illustrator & Photoshop tutorials, as well as a range of inspirational showcases and free design resources. You’re reading my second blog right now here on Line25, this site has a specific focus on web design and is home to HTML/CSS tutorials and roundups of cool website designs and trends.

RSS Subscribers breakdown

As I described in my Feedburner to newsletter post, I wanted to begin growing my subscribers beyond RSS due to the demise of Google Reader and the possibility that Feedburner will follow a similar fate. I signed up with AWeber and spent many hours creating my custom email templates, which was actually one major advantage of a newsletter service as opposed to Feedburner. Customising the appearance and content of your emails not only improves the user’s experience, it also results in more click throughs and engagement in your broadcasts.

At first I just switched over my Feedburner email subscriptions signup link to an AWeber form and saw my daily subscriber rate average at up to 10 per day. It wasn’t until after I had a chat with fellow design blog owner and all round nice guy Tom Ross that I realised I could drastically improve this figure. Tom gave me some fantastic tips and techniques and after implementing them I saw that 10 subscribers per day figure rise to between 80-100 per day! If you’re looking for some email marketing consultation of your own I’d definitely give Tom a recommendation, otherwise I know he has some great projects of his own in the works, so check out his website to keep up to date with his online ventures.

Sign up form placement

Initially I only had a sign up form on my subscribe page, but one obvious step to increasing the number of sign ups is to put your form right in front of your users in various places on your site. I created 3 more sign up forms and placed in them in the following areas:

Sidebar signup form

Sidebar sign up form

Despite having a link for users to subscribe by email right at the top of the page, I didn’t have an actual complete signup form visible on the page. Tom recommended I revised the layout of my sidebar menu and use the prominent space for an eye catching form to greet new visitors.

End of post signup form

End of post signup form

One of the forms that has proved really effective on my sites is the placement at the end of every post. New visitors who have stumbled across your content and made it all the way to the end of the article have a high potential of wanting to stick around for more, so it makes sense to prompt them with the option of subscribing with a conveniently placed signup form.

About page signup form

About page signup form

Your about page is probably one of your least trafficked pages, but those who are browsing it have a particular interest in you, your website or your company. A strategically placed signup form slap bang in the middle of your bio is really effective to recruit those interested to receive more of your content. Despite having much lower display rates, my about page signup forms have amazing conversion figures (30x higher than the other forms!).

Free gift incentive

The additional sign up forms on my site no doubt prompted a decent number of readers to sign up, but the one technique that really boosted my daily subscriber rate was the creation of a free gift. Everyone loves freebies, and the offer of a gift to every new subscriber is enough to grab the attention of the average viewer and give them the incentive to subscribe for more. Sure, some people will sign up just to get their hands on the free goodies and have no interest in your new post notifications, but every day you’re growing your audience with people who had an interest in your site, who would have otherwise left and never returned again had it not been for the free gift hook.

Free web shadows pack gift

My Blog.SpoonGraphics site has been around since 2007 and during that time I’ve posted numerous freebies such as Photoshop brushes, textures and vectors. It would take a visitor ages to dig through the archives and download all this stuff, so I used this as an opportunity and created a bundle of my design resources as my free gift. For Line25’s free gift I was a little stuck for ideas, so I browsed the stock resources websites and gained inspiration from the most purchased items lists. Presentation is key, so I spent time mocking up the products and creating eye catching banners to tie the free gift promotion to the sign up forms.

How to set up a free gift download with AWeber

After all the hard work of creating your free gift and its promotional material the actual process of adding it to your mailing list is pretty simple, you essentially just create a special page on your site containing a download button and set this page as your mailing list’s opt-in success page.

AWeber's success page field

In AWeber, this option is found under List Settings > Confirmed Opt-In. It’s the Success Page field right at the bottom of the page. Users will be automatically sent to this page once they’ve clicked the activation link in their email.

Button wording

Split testing Download Now vs Get Email Updates

Recently I’ve been playing around with a split test of one of my signup forms. With the free gift being featured alongside the ability to receive new posts by email I wondered if there would be any difference in performance between the words “Get email updates” and “Download now!”. I expected the “Download now!” button to be more effective at attracting signups purely for the free gift, but the results were pretty extraordinary! The split test was run for around 40,000 impressions and during that time the “Download now!” button achieved 3 times more signups than the words “Get email updates”. It would be interesting if there’s any way to keep an eye on unsubscribe rates relative to each form to compare the quality of subscribers, but at the end of the day it’s 3x more people who are potentially viewing your content.

Final words

These tips are really just scratching the surface when it comes to growing an email list, but they’re all effective techniques that could be implemented by any website owner to optimise their email subscription signups. Most importantly these techniques aren’t deviant or intrusive, and help grow your mailing list with true followers who have a long and happy experience receiving your free content. While newsletter services do incur monthly fees, the ability to convert this investment into additional traffic and readership is definitely worthwhile.

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Written by Iggy

Iggy is a designer who loves experimenting with new web design techniques collating creative website designs. You can follow Iggy on Twitter.


  1. Rahat Bashar says:

    I moved to Aweber 4 months ago and was really impressed.

    I think you should also try these methods and see if you get more subscribers.

    – Instead of the word “subscribe” use the word “Sign Up”

    – Instead of the word “Get” use “Receive”

    So it would be something like “Sign up to receive your free bundle”

    Also you should try popups. And trust me, it’s not as spammy as most people think it is. You can control how many times a person views it as well as when it appears (such as 20 secs after a person has landed onto your blog)

    I use ninjapopups:

    By trying both these methods, I’ve seen my email list quadrupole.

    • Thanks for the tips! I can see more split tests being conducted in the near future.

      I’ve never been keen on the idea of popups but no doubt they work really well. That Ninja popups example looks great.

  2. Ahmed Ali says:

    Hi Chris,

    I think MailChimp is better than Aweber. I remember signing up with Aweber and then cancelling it just minutes later.

    The main problem was that I had a very big list of subscribers and in order to add them, Each subscriber had to receive an email to confirm the subscription before I can use it with Aweber.

    Did you face similar problem when you imported your list?

    • Tom Kulzer says:


      Your import confirmation statement isn’t entirely true. If you’re moving an existing list from somewhere else and can show a proper audit trail the list can be imported to AWeber without confirmation.

      See the note on section 3:

      Great post Chris, lots of good actionable tests for others to run. Be cautious with the “download now” text on the button to set the right expectations with visitors that the link will be emailed to them. Otherwise you’ll get tons of bogus email entries and have a list full of junk.

      • Ahmed Ali says:

        Hi Tom,

        I have personally used it and if you can read the link you posted completely it says.

        ” If you’re transferring your subscribers from another email marketing service, it’s a good idea to make sure that your subscribers know they’ll need to confirm to continue getting your messages, and make it clear to them the benefits of staying on your list. You can even offer a reward for confirming!”

        And This one…

        “Note: When you perform an import, a confirmation message is sent out to the list that you add, so make sure that the confirmation message is something that they will recognize and respond to.”


        • Marc says:

          I can back up what Tom has said to be true. Over the past year I moved two lists from MailChimp to Aweber (one had 10,000 subscribers and the other had around 1,000 subscribers) and in both cases I was able to import the list without forcing subscribers to opt in again. I contacted Aweber and asked about moving from MailChimp. I had to give them access to my MailChimp account so they could validate that the list was double opt-in and that it was in good standing with not too many spam complaints. I don’t think you can do this without getting some help from their support staff, but it is possible and I know other people that have done it too.

  3. “Inbound” tactics are one of the leading ways to gain more traffic and views. The “free gift” tactic is a perfect example on how most blogs get solid followings. All blogs from Smashing to Awwwards to CoDrops offer freebies or tutorials.

    Most corporate places do this with e-books, case studies, white papers and infographics.

    Good article Mr. Spooner.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your methodology – simple, useful tips!

  5. I currently use MailChimp, because of it’s “forever free” plan and am completely happy with it right now. I’ve been wanting to give Aweber a try. Maybe once my email lists grow above the free plan’s subscriber amount.

    This post really kicked me in the butt to actually make the time to work on a freebie for my subscribers.

    Thanks for writing up this post, Chris! Very helpful!

  6. Pieter Brink says:

    Chris – Thanks for sharing these insights!

  7. Samy says:

    Good article. I liked the background information. Thanks for that ;)

  8. Avangelist says:

    I think you could use 2 carrier pigeons with a line running between them with a floppy disk attached with your free gift pegged to it and you would have had the same increase.

    What I would like to read is your update in 2 months time as to how many unsubscribes you have got now that everyone has gone through the painstaking exercise of giving away their email address in order to get something for nothing.

    • Most software houses that allow you to install software for a limited trial runs the risk of someone using it once for a quick job and never buying it.

      But the benefit to the company is that they now have more potential customers than they would have had without the trial.

  9. Sagi says:

    Hi Chris,
    Great article!
    I wanted to ask a bit about your opinion of Mailchimp vs. Aweber.
    I use Mailchimp on the 2500-5000 subscribers plan. It’s $50 in contrast to only $30 on Aweber.
    Although I was wondering:

    1. How do you see the Aweber interface? Mailchimp with the new drag & drop interface is awesome. I bet Aweber is more complex on the longrun for maintaining templates.

    2. What’s your spam numbers? Have you researched that before in comparison to Mailchimp?

    3. What are your thoughts in general about the comparison of the two?

    Would love to hear your input on those.

  10. Ian Harris says:

    Good stuff! I do alot of this practice with my own sites

  11. svetainiu kurimas says:

    I use Mailchimp, and love it. I reccomend it.

  12. Bedros says:

    Great post!

    I use Mailchimp, and I can easily say that it is the most user friendly option I have used ever.

  13. kavin brown says:

    i use mainchimp and i think it is the best which i have experiened that and it is easy and just awesome web development thank you for your artilce. . .

  14. Ramesh Patil says:

    wow that pretty good news, congrats for your success.

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