If you’re around digital marketing for very long, you will hear people say to start building an email list as soon as possible.
I totally agree – even for niche sites.
This post is about building a highly focused email list of 567 in 7 days…
…for a niche site that was brand, spanking new with ZERO backlinks, and no organic search traffic.
The disclaimer is that it cost about $267 in Facebook ads, which is about what I normally allocate for some content or help editing videos
- About 7,200 visitors
- 567 subscribers
- About a 7.88% conversation rate
- $0.47 per email
- 298 Pins
- Over 3,000 Facebook interactions
- 292 Facebook comments
- 1423 Facebook Shares
- 1478 Facebook Likes
This post isn’t intended to be totally comprehensive. I just want to cover the high level details to get you moving in the right direction.
Why not go into all the details?
There are full courses on some of the topics. The amount of material is pretty darn intimidating, and for those areas I will omit the details. They are mainly around the nuances of setting up, running, and optimizing Facebook ads.
Here are some of the details about the site:
It was brand new at the time of the case study. There was a decent amount of content but only about 5 of the posts are set up for consumption, i.e. only about 5 of the posts have images and affiliate links.
No link building was done. Nothing. No blog commenting or anything. Those backlinks will come in due time but there were not any backlinks in place at the time.
The site was indexed by Google for about 20 days at the time.
1. Create the Content
The content needed to be shareable and I hoped that it would have somewhat of a viral component. I took a look around Buzz Sumo in the general topic of the niche but I came up empty.
It was about 10 days before the Super Bowl. My wife thought I should be able to tie that in…so I did what any smart man does, and I listened to my wife.
I only had a few days to get the content done so I decided to go with a list post with curated content. This is done really often with big media sites like Huffington Post & Buzz Feed.
I recall that I used to be pretty scared to post other people’s content but it turns out that people are thrilled to be referenced. As long as you give them credit where it’s due and provide a backlink to their post, page, or website, they normally won’t mind at all.
With that in mind, I put together a list of 20 sources that I could refer to in the post. They all had some very nice looking images within the post that I used & linked back to the site.
I wrote 2 to 3 sentences about each of the reference articles with my own thoughts and observations. It wasn’t anything too involved and the full post took about 2 hours to create.
After I had the list of posts, I created a PDF of the post as the lead magnet. It wasn’t a content upgrade at all and that may have boosted conversations. Given the time constraints and the topic, I decided that a simple PDF would be fine.
If someone wanted to download the PDF of the post, they would need to provide their email address. The PDF would be sent to them via email.
2. Setup Email Service & Setup Email Capture On Your Site
I use Aweber for my email service. I already have an account there so I just created a new list.
The post had a few points of contact that offered the content in a free PDF download…
I have it set up so there aren’t any field asking for your email address or anything. There is just a button that says something about downloading the free PDF.
When the visitor clicks the button, a pop up prompts the visitor for their email address. Thrive isn’t required and you can just use the stock Aweber forms. They are totally fine.
Or, you can use Lead Pages if you have them. I find Lead Pages expensive so I’ve never used it even though so many people swear by it.
Next, I used SumoMe for the other email capture methods on the site. SumoMe is free and works on any website, not just WordPress.
If you use the WP plugin for SumoMe, I hear it may slow your site down a bit… I use the script version and it takes under a minute to install in your html <head> section.
Once SumoMe was installed, I enabled the List Builder, Scroll Box, and the Smart Bar.
The List Builder is a popup message that prompts the user for their email address.
The Scroll Box spawns a window on the screen whenever a visitor scrolls down the page to a specified amount, like 60% down the page.
The Smart Bar is their take on the “hello bar” at the top of the web page.
I also enabled the Share app (also in SumoMe) to make it easy to share the post. There are a couple of settings to tweak for each of the SumoMe Apps, and they are all very straightforward.
Be sure you link up Aweber for each the List Builder, Scroll Box, and the Smart Bar.
Double-check that you are actually adding the email to a specific list on your Aweber account, too.
3. Setup Facebook Ads
Setting up Facebook ads for the first time is very intimidating. My very first campaign was a total flop, and it was just to get some Likes to my page.
The positive thing is that most hosting companies will give you a code to get a $50 Facebook ad credit.
You need to have a Facebook page setup for your website. It only takes a few minutes and it’s free. You should make sure to add your profile picture and cover photo for the page.
Once I created the page and uploaded the images, I was ready to create the ad image. I like to use 3 or 4 different images for ads. It’s not a true split test but Facebook will show the different images and determine the best performers.
(Note: The ad image should be 1200 x 628. It does not have to be but that’s the recommended size.)
The images should be distinctly different in style. I add some text to the image but only in moderation because you can only have about 20% or less text on your image.. My images always require some tweaks.
The screenshot below shows how some ads just do better than others. Check out the Click-Through Rate (CTR)…
There are 5 ads listed here – I will talk about the two inactive ones in the next section.
I moved on to create the ad. In this case, I need to optimize for conversations. This tells Facebook that the ad should favor users that convert when they click on ads.
That means that I needed to install a conversion pixel on the “thank you” page to let Facebook know that the person was a conversion. The conversion pixel is easy to install if you can easily get to the html <head> on your thank you page.
Next, I move on to the targeting which is probably the most important part of setting up the ad. Facebook is great because you can target your audience like nowhere else.
It’s really amazing.
I thought about my target audience and the avatar for that ideal website visitor. Upon some investigation, I found that I could target about 700,000 people by targeting about five interest areas.
In hindsight, I probably could have targeted a much smaller group considering my overall budget. A benefit of targeting 500,00 – 1 million people is that you have a very big target audience to scale up your ad.
Three of the interests happened to be people specifically interested in the topic. That was a HUGE win. If possible, look for interest groups like this because it will make your job much easier.
Now that the targeting was done, I moved to the copy of the ad – that’s just the text for the ad. Luckily with Facebook ads you only have a small number of characters that you can use.
I keep it pretty simple…here is an example:
Let’s say I’m targeting people interested in yoga in a city called Springfield. The headline would be, Do You Like Yoga?
And the next line would be, Check out the Premier Springfield Yoga Studio.
Each of the ad images should have the same copy. This is very important so that you can see which image performs best and to do that you need the copy to be identical.
I set the budget to be $50 per day on the first day to get the ad in rotation quickly. The next morning I changed the budget to be $35 per day which is closer to what I wanted to spend.
4. Run Facebook Ads
Once the ads start running, Facebook will optimize the audience based on the conversion rate performance. During this period, the cost per conversion can be volatile.
It’s stressful. I learned about Facebook from Digital Marketer, and their Facebook ad expert says to just ignore the ad for 3 to 5 days. Don’t check the stats in that early period because you might be tempted to tweak and change things before the Facebook algorithm has time to optimize.
And, Facebook was doing a great job optimizing.
The average cost per conversion was about $0.75, then $0.60, then down to about $0.45.
I was amazed! I was used to paying about $1 -$2 for each conversion.
After 4 days, there was one clear winning image. The idea is to use that image for a couple new ads while changing the copy to attempt to optimize the ad.
This was a mistake in this case because the ad was not going to be running for long enough to optimize. You can clearly see the traffic impact when I made the change was made.
The traffic and conversions dropped right when I made the changes to the campaign. And the cost per conversion went up.
I am pretty sure that if I would have left the ad running as it was that the cost per conversion would have been about $0.40. Instead, it finished at $0.61 per conversion as reported on Facebook.
Overall, the cost per conversion was about $0.47 so it was still very good. That was thanks to the virality of the post.
The niche is far from internet marketing with a demographic that is happy to Share and Like Facebook posts. So, I made it very easy to Share and Like on Facebook, or to Pin on Pinterest.
My previous research with Buzz Sumo told me that Twitter, Linkedin, etc… were not very popular in the niche. I didn’t even have buttons for Twitter since I wanted to focus on virality.
Mistakes & Takeaways
Overall, here were the stats for the campaign.
The bad part is that I knew that it would be hard to get a return on this in the near term. I treated this as a case study and way to get experience over something that I expected to make money from immediately.
The good part is that I have an email list of 567 people that are interested in a specific topic. That is valuable without question.
I can also get traffic to my site without relying on Google traffic while the site is still young and in the “sandbox.”
There have been a few sales through the Amazon affiliate websites at this point but nothing significant.
I didn’t set up the List Builder app of SumoMe properly. I linked it to Aweber but I forgot to configure the list to add new subscribers to.
I was able to correct that by downloading the CSV from List Builder. Then, I created a support ticket with Aweber to import the subscribers without sending them a confirmation email.
You can see when Aweber approved this & 200 people were added to the list in one day, February 13.
Takeaway: Double check the configuration for the email capture.
Aweber Support was very helpful and they helped me import the subscribers with minimal effort.
I changed the ad set by attempting to optimize the copy writing. It hurt the conversion rate rather than improved it.
Normally, I would find the best performing image and then test some different versions of the headline to see if some minor change would make an improvement.
The day I made the change the performance of the campaign declined and each lead cost more.
Facebook allows you to create custom audiences using a tracking pixel. If someone reaches your website and is logged into Facebook, then they are added to the audience.
It is completely anonymous so you can’t see any individual in the audience. However, you can target that audience later.
I added a tracking pixel to the entire site so that I can target the audience with ads. That’s really powerful because I know a topic they are interested in AND they are familiar with the brand.
There is no cost to build a custom audience so why not do it. I plan on running a contest for this rabid fanbase & I have a custom audience with 30,000+ people. (I don’t know how it’s 30,000 since the site did not get that many visitors but that’s what Facebook is reporting…)
Takeaway: Always use a tracking pixel for future campaigns.
Always offer some kind of a lead magnet or content upgrade for subscribing. It’s “common knowledge” and we know that we should offer something to a visitor in exchange for an email address.
But it is easy to ignore this best practice…so even in this case where I offered a PDF download it was effective.
I used to have a “Subscribe Here for FREE” style optin box on some other niche site. It didn’t work well at all. There was no value offered to the visitor so the conversion rate was practically zero.
Takeaway: Always offer something in exchange for the visitor’s email address.
Overall, I see the massive value in building an email list for a niche site. Facebook ads are a viable way to drive targeted traffic to your new site.
Offering something of value to your visitor will improve your optin rate. And, that will entice the Facebook traffic to click on your ad.
Keep your ad copy clear, concise, and simple. Avoid “click bait” type headlines since they might not be well received by the audience. (Or, you should be aware of the risk in doing that.)