In the past 25 years, the internet has transformed the way entrepreneurs run businesses. Even as it’s increased reach, one significant issue with doing business online is establishing trust with your customers.
One way to earn credibility is by consistently adding value to the lives of your audience. And if you can gain access to their inboxes, you can regularly send value-adding content and build relationships with your customers. These days, your list is your livelihood in online marketing.
You might have already read basic list-building strategies like giving away free cheatsheets in exchange for email addresses. However, as more marketers adopt any given tactic, it stops working as well. There’s a term for this (even when it has nothing to do with banners): “banner blindness.”
If you recall, years ago, big loud banners caught everyone’s attention and were lucrative advertising techniques. But today, they are not only ineffective, but also obtrusive and loathed by most internet users.
Banner blindness is now starting to apply when it comes to building up subscribers. But if you use the right, cutting-edge techniques, you can still overcome “banner blindness” and build up a huge, engaged email subscriber list.
To battle this effect, we’ll look at some advanced and underused list-building strategies. You can grow your list at a much quicker pace by implementing them.
First, let’s understand banner blindness and how the phenomenon contributes to making overused email opt-ins ineffective.
What is Banner Blindness and How Does it Hurt Email Optins?
Every consumer has a limited attention span. In between juggling Game of Thrones and ordering dinner, if they visit your website, they usually, really don’t care about your free lead magnets. They focus selectively on your site’s elements as they relate to their own goals.
Banner blindness refers to a user’s tendency to ignore any content that resembles ads, even if that content may actually valuable to them. As consumers have learned to combat information overload, they’re now well aware that advertising can appear anywhere, in many forms besides the hated banner ad.
Here are three ad-triggering traits that might lead to your content getting ignored:
- It’s located where ads are usually placed;
- It’s close to ads;
- It has ad-like characteristics or animations.
When we’re talking about opt-ins, here’s how the phenomenon applies:
- If you place an email opt-in in the site’s right sidebar and at the top of the page, it’s likely getting ignored.
- Once a user sees an irrelevant item in the right sidebar, they will ignore the entire section.
- Using animated pop-ups can turn off your visitors and they’ll never consider your offer.
Here’s the kicker:
If a user has ever found an irrelevant offer in an opt-in, that experience influences their general web behavior.
For instance, suppose I download an ebook offered on a blog through the hello bar. Now, if it doesn’t meet my expectations, then I may stop looking at the hello bar section on other sites. It’s my defense mechanism kicking in to save my time and allocate it selectively on website elements only relevant to me.
In other words, one bad user experience can ruin precious estate for all websites.
Now here are two ways to work around banner blindness and convert more visitors:
- Make an offer that’s uncommon on the web, so that the user doesn’t have prior context.
- Craft super-specific, tailored lead offers that genuinely solve your audience’s problems.
To accommodate both of the above pointers, here are three advanced and underused list-building strategies that add genuine value to your user.
1. Ditch Your Website. Find Your Audience on These HUGE Sites
When you launch a new website, getting the first few hundred visitors is a challenge. Social media platforms have also limited the reach of updates with links, making it more difficult for beginners to find visitors organically.
However, your goal is building an audience and not generating traffic.
How about you put your best content where your target audience already hangs out?
Let’s flesh this out looking at one of the world’s biggest brands. Amazon is frequented by many hungry readers who use it as a “search engine” for books rather than as a book store.
If you can get your ebook on the store, then it’s equivalent to publishing a guest post at Amazon. Wouldn’t that be incredible for your brand?
Nick Stephenson built a list of 15,000 subscribers in six months by offering his ebook on Amazon. Since Amazon doesn’t share the emails of its buyers, here are a few pointers to get the strategy right.
- Consider Amazon as a search engine for books and not a bookstore. You need to find relevant keywords to rank your ebook for low-competition and high-volume keywords.
- While Amazon’s suggested keywords is a good place to start, tools like Kindle Samurai can speed up the process.
- The length of the ebook isn’t as important as writing useful content that solves a pertinent audience problem.
- To collect emails, you can link to a lead magnet (like an audio version of your ebook) before the first chapter of your book.
- Amazon doesn’t allow you to give your ebook away for “free.” The way around it is by publishing it at a competing store like Smashwords.com (or Google Play) at $0.00. Since Amazon always want to be the store that offers the lowest price, you can inform them about the price difference, and they will likely make it free.
Nick breaks down the list-building strategy in this podcast episode at Side Hustle Nation. When Side Hustle Nation’s founder tried this Kindle strategy, he faced a challenge with persuading Amazon to offer the book “free.” Eventually, he managed 327 new email subscribers.
Another platform with a lot of eager students is Udemy. A few years ago, I started my own internet marketing journey by educating myself with Udemy courses. It’s a course marketplace in various domains that allows anyone to teach and share their knowledge.
The first course that introduced me to the concept of “passive income” was a free course by Mike Omar. It was titled “Make Money from Home: How to Build an Online Business.”
I was blown away by the value in the course. It’s 11.5 hours, beginner-friendly, and full of actionable strategies. Although the course is a bit outdated by internet marketing standards, it has 132,684 students with a cumulative rating of 4.5.
Mike has nurtured the community by responding to student questions every week in the Q&A section.
In every lesson, Mike mentions his website and shows his homepage newsletter opt-in. After a few lectures, I happily gave Mike my email.
The email list serves as a sound affiliate income source as he recommends high-quality products to his subscribers.
The first step is planning your course by defining your course goals. Udemy will onboard you with a personalized dashboard and useful resources to create your course. It can take 30-45 days to build your first course, but it’s worth it.
If you are producing a course for the first time, refer to Udemy’s best practices and ensure you meet their video quality standards.
Another big website that’s frequented by over 30 million monthly readers is Medium. Jon Morrow recommends it as the place that new bloggers should use to test their article ideas.
One of the all-time top writers at Medium, Benjamin Hardy, takes it to the next level. His articles page on the website doesn’t contain any content. It consists of links to his top articles on Medium.
On Medium, Benjamin offers a cheatsheet that links to a landing page requesting emails.
See where this is headed?
So did Benjamin manage to build a sizeable list? Well, I emailed his office to find out. The response?
Benjamin has a subscriber list that tops 300,000, and while he uses a number of blogging platforms, they estimate about 90% of those subscribers are from Medium.
When he launched an online course to his audience, he generated $90,000 within seven days.
The caveat to the education list-building strategy is that your results will vary drastically. Most course creators won’t become bestsellers and most writers won’t get that much visibility. Still, even a decent level of success will improve your brand footprint.
2. Write a Case Study Guest Post Based on Real Experience
Some content creators are basically charlatans who write on subjects they don’t even have experience with. While data, science, and research are useful, nothing beats walking the path and sharing that experience.
Users crave authenticity, backed by data and science, where possible. Hence, case studies remain a popular type of content, with practical takeaways making them next-level content.
Let me share a couple of examples on how to wow your readers with case studies. Laura Lopuch conducted a cold emailing experiment that helped her 14x her copywriting business. Then, she shared what she learned and her results in a guest post at Copyhackers.
Her premise is counterintuitive: that “cold emails aren’t a numbers game.” Then, she neatly lays out how her 328 emails performed.
Moreover, instead of throwing fortune-cookie wisdom like “personalize your emails,” she shared her own successful emails and commented on why they worked.
She also covered how following-up is so critical and didn’t paint a rosy picture of it being easy.
The practical advice in the post generates trust. No wonder it got close to 500 shares and 89 comments. Here’s how Ahrefs rates the post’s performance.
With so many backlinks, the post will continue to drive evergreen traffic at Copyhackers and send visitors Laura’s way. Indeed, Laura emailed me some of the tangible benefits she’s received from the guest post:
That one post brought in $3,500, 20 new subscribers, new opportunities to be featured in other articles, and a “priceless authority bump from being associated with the awesome Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers.”
The second case study post example I want to share is the super valuable guest post by Ramit Sethi on his $5 million week. It’s rich in details showing a week-by-week breakdown of his email funnel for launching his online course.
It shatters conventional wisdom with actionable strategies that Ramit learned. I love his third counterintuitive lesson, “The CEO states the strategy, not the A/B test.”
Indeed, all the posts at the Tim Ferriss blog are great examples of epic guest posts. It’s because of his high editorial standards below.
You should approach guest posting strategically. If you are an expert on a subject, then pitch publications that have a significant overlap with your target audience.
Here are a couple of resources to ensure that you get guest posting right:
1. Guest Blogging: The Definitive Guide (Pay particular attention to the two bonus steps as they are critical to getting more email subscribers.)
2. How to Secure Guest Posts on Big Publications (Daniel DiPiazza breaks down how to get published at Time, Fast Company, Huffington Post, and more.)
3. Don’t Tell, Show Your Audience the Solution
A major content marketing goal is educating your audience and solving their problems. Now, the drawback of written content is the user still needs to take action. However, most readers are lurkers.
Indeed, the 1% rule is widespread in internet culture.
If your audience doesn’t follow your outlined steps, they won’t solve their problems. Therefore, they aren’t as likely to come back to your site or recommend your brand.
This takes us back to this copywriting adage: Show, don’t tell.
Instead of writing educational content, you can invest in technology. Create a tool that does the heavy lifting for your users and solves their problems.
For instance, Videofruit actively builds free tools for their audience of email marketers. They have dedicated a brand by the name of Growth Tools that develops free tools for getting more traffic and subscribers.
Would you mind sharing your email if it meant getting free tools?
When developing your first tool, don’t go fancy. Adam White built a Guest Post tracker with his friend. Its function was to track guest post submissions with simple features like sorting. In three months, the tool generated $1,100.
Want a simpler option?
You can create a calculator sharing direct results on a complex audience problem.
For example, Alcohol by Volume is a useful tool for homebrewers. Generally, a brewer would need to perform their own alcohol content calculations. The calculator provides greater convenience in the brewing process.
Here’s a breakdown of the tool’s performance.
The brand value you generate by developing a tool is invaluable. It becomes a linkable asset that you can even pitch to media houses.
The founder of Outreach Mama, Ajay Paghdal, found it difficult to attract qualified prospects for his company. Here’s how he worked around it:
How did they fare?
“Currently, both of these tools drive sign-ups daily to the newsletter, not only from organic traffic but also from getting picked up and written about on major authority sites like NeilPatel.com.”
How much money did Ajay shell out on these tools?
“Both tools each cost me less than $1,000. When compared to other avenues like long-term SEO campaigns or paid ads, it can be a really cost-effective strategy.”
When developing your tool, start by searching for programmers in your extended network. If you can design a mock-up yourself, you can attract local college students to develop the tool for cheap. The most expensive resort is posting a job on freelance platforms like Upwork. You can also create professional calculators here for $7-$15 a month.
Not too pleased with using tools as a list-building strategy?
Another option to “show” the way to your audience is by creating interactive content. For instance, you can quiz your visitors and give them personalized insights that apply to their situation. They also provide you with insights about your audience that you otherwise won’t get.
Ramit Sethi has put up a 7-question quiz for his visitors at I Will Teach You To Be Rich.
Once you answer these questions, you’re prompted to share your details.
Follow the six steps as outlined by Lindsey at LeadQuizzes to create a high-converting quiz.
4. Broadcast Live on Social Media
Did you know that brand audiences prefer live video over blog posts and social media posts?
It’s a terrific opportunity for you, as live video is an underused content format. It gets higher reach on social media than other posts.
Here are a couple of examples. The first is from Jon Loomer. He conducts live training for his audience of advanced Facebook marketers.
The second is Carol Tice from “Make a Living Writing.” She supplements her educational webinars by answering questions live.
Such question-and-answer sessions build a strong emotional connection between you and your audience. Additionally, you can retarget the audience that saw you live with a relevant offer to sign up for your list.
With marketing automation tools, you can also convert videos into evergreen webinars. Authority Hacker welcomes their visitors with a pre-recorded webinar that they brand as “free training.”
You can choose either of Facebook or YouTube for broadcasting live videos. YouTube gives you an additional benefit of serving as a search engine.
The subjects of your live videos should revolve around your audience’s pain points. One video per week is a reasonable frequency to start.
Hernan Vasquez uses live video to attract 150 new customers every week. You can emulate his three simple steps to start on the right foot.
To Avoid Banner Blindness, Focus on Value
Instead of falling for the latest tactics, smart business owners always fall back on first principles. In the case of list building, it equates to creating genuine value over being annoying and “forcing” users to give their emails.
I have shared three advanced list-building strategies with examples that can catapult your list growth.
If you feel adventurous, you can also experiment with getting rid of most of your email capture tools. Offering typically gated content without requesting an email can serve as a pleasant surprise for your visitors. Nat Eliason did it. Josh Frets is also doing the same at GuitarOS by offering his guitar skills assessment and other resources ungated.
It takes courage, but instead of aggressive tactics you will probably find it more effective to “create more value than you capture.”
Which strategy do you plan to implement on your website? Let me know in the comments.