I have had many big failings during the initial decade plus of having a music blog.
Prominent among them is that I relied exclusively on earned traffic — I leaned too much on organic traffic and was entirely at the whim of search engines like Google and their ever-changing algorithms.
I focused too much on churning out such a high pace of fresh, original content that burnout was inevitable.
I failed to be strategic about what I was looking to build.
I didn’t develop traffic that I owned.
This is all quite embarrassing. After all, my career is digital marketing and I do a fair share of creating strategic marketing plans for others. While at an e-commerce company, a core focus and win of mine was growing an email list from 8,000 to 100,000 subscribers. Over that time, I grew last touch attribution revenue from email from around $15,000 per year to over $700,000.
I have no excuses as to why I didn’t plan more strategically when it came to the FensePost Music Blog. However, I do think I fell into the common trap when it comes to content creators, be it blogs or YouTube Channels or whatever platform(s) to which they post: I viewed content output as the key to success.
It’s the classic quantity over quality trope. And while you can surely note that a high output can over time lift quality as you hone your skills, finding a good balance is needed.
As I’ve recounted over the past several posts here, this time around is quite different.
Strategy is at the forefront, and the output is quite a bit more feasible. Similarly, I’m not putting all my eggs in one basket per se. At the moment, the focus is trifold:
- Blogging: Two regularly scheduled posts per week to the FensePost Vinyl Blog (currently at around 11am Central on Thursdays and Sundays)
- Vlogging: Two regularly scheduled posts per week to the FensePost YouTube Channel (same time as the blog, same content as the blog but recorded to video)
- Email: One email per week to the new email list.
Today, I want to dig into that last one a little. Here are 5 tips when looking to build a loyal email list.
1. Put Effort into List Building
As I mentioned above, building an email list is OWNED traffic. People opt-into your list for some reason or another. They have agreed to receive messages from you.
In February 2023, I finally started testing out ways to grow my list.
First I tried a pop-up, but that didn’t seem to gain traction.
Next I tried a widget in the side bar of the blog that linked over to an opt-in page. I tested a lead magnet: Andy’s Top 5 Common Sense Tips for Buying Records Online. That gained a handful of followers, but not many. Maybe a dozen or so.
I created a saved block with a similar message that I dropped at the bottom of each new post with similar results. A trickle–a new subscriber here and there.
Finally I tweaked the hook. Record collectors and music fans probably don’t want to be told common sense tips, but they do want to get hand-selected recommendations at good prices.
That was my new hook: Get Andy’s Curated Vinyl Picks. I updated the sidebar widget with the new message and edited the saved block to match.
The leads started flowing in far faster than I anticipated. In four months, between February and May, I had only added about 20 people to the list. As soon as I made that last edit, it took just three more months to get my first 1,000 subscribers.
The key: don’t give up. If you aren’t getting the results you want, adjust and keep trying. Eventually, it’ll click.
2. Build Trust Through a Welcome Series
When the list began gaining traction, I knew I needed to provide them some context of what they could expect moving forward. People signing up don’t really know me; if my goal is to position myself as a go-to when it comes to introducing people to great music and vinyl records, I need to continue to earn their trust.
You can start this using an automated Welcome Series. These automations are triggered when an action takes place; in this scenario, it’s when someone first subscribes.
I crafted 3-4 simple emails and got it activated.
Now, three months later, I’m looking at the results and feel they could be better. I don’t think the messaging is landing as well as it could. So, this week I went back to the drawing board and put together 5 new emails that tell the story of my music journey from one of personal music discovery to collecting vinyl to sharing and championing the artists I love.
In each email, I focus on one or two key stories and center it around a band that has influenced my journey.
I hope to activate this campaign within the next week.
The new series will run for a month or two, then I’ll probably step back in and adjust again based on what’s working and what isn’t.
3. Be Consistent in Your Outreach
It’s common to worry about sending too many emails. The thing is, these people have requested emails from you. And yes, some will unsubscribe or even complain. Don’t worry about these; they’re not your target audience.
When I first joined the e-commerce company overseeing their marketing department, ONE email was sent to the list each month on average.
I remember it being my first or second day, we were sending out that month’s email, pushing fall and halloween products. The designer hit send, and I settled in to familiarize myself with the company’s Analytics profile. Pretty quickly, I saw a few orders come in. The immediacy of the results was FUN to watch!
I went to the management team and said that we need to be sending out more emails, and that growing our list needed to be a bigger focal point.
We went from one email a month to one a week.
The majority of revenue attributed to email that year took place in the 4th quarter after I joined. Over the next few years, email revenue from last touch attribution skyrocketed as did the number of subscribers on our list.
4. Have a Goal & Be Strategic
It doesn’t matter what your goal is, just have one and own it. Start with ONE goal, though your overall strategy could be multifaceted.
Each email you send should have a purpose: build awareness, drive traffic, increase followers on a specific platform, generate revenue.
With my Welcome Series automation, my primary goal is to build awareness and set the stage for what subscribers can expect.
While in the Welcome Series, subscribers will not receive the emails I send out on a weekly basis; I don’t want to convolute the message or the story journey I’m taking them on.
Each weekly email will also have a purpose. I plan to give subscribers a little extra. The content will be quite consistent with one of the posts I share on FensePost and on YouTube, but it’ll include additional information or it’ll be crafted slightly differently. My hope is to see the engagement grow and begin cultivating bigger fans.
Ultimately, I’d like to see these start generating affiliate revenue through my Amazon Associates account. But for that, I need to build trust and demonstrate that my overall goal isn’t to sell through Amazon, it’s to highlight the best deals regardless of what site they get it from. This is something I’m establishing in the Welcome Series — I’ll link to Amazon, Discogs, label websites, and even Bandcamp pages.
5. Follow My TARR Method
TARR is something I’ve been putting together over the past few months. It’s likely you’ve seen something similar; even Darrel Eves and his book The YouTube Formula references something similar.
TARR stands for Test, Analyze, Revise, Repeat.
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
No matter what you’re doing, you should always be testing new things. Do what works, but don’t get stagnant. If you aren’t getting. the results you want, try something different. Make little changes so you can track the results and better attribute the results of the test to that change.
Alternatively, if things really aren’t performing up to par, you could make a radical change. This is the path I took while testing out list-building methods. I changed the entire hook and call-to-action (CTA).
If possible, A/B split test. This allows you to randomly split your list in two and send two different messages. You can test things like subject lines, CTAs, messages, images, and more. Some email platforms will allow you to split test a small subset of your list with a specific goal in mind, and it’ll send the rest of your list the winning version.
Right now with my current subscribers, I’m starting to focus my testing efforts on affiliate revenue generation. What works? That’s what I’m trying to find out…
As you test, be ready to analyze the results. Did the test provide the result you wanted? If not, did it perform better or worse than what you were doing before?
Analytics is often the last thing creatives enjoy looking at, but they are crucial to success. If you ignore your analytics, you are blind to your successes and failures.
On my YouTube Channel, I am using analytics to see what videos are performing better than others. Noticing success when posting a video relating to current events (the death of Andy Rourke, bassist of The Smiths, back in May 2023), I created another to see if it would perform just as well (the death of Neal Langford, original bassist of The Shins just last month).
So far, it’s generating quite a few views, telling me that if I can leverage current events in my content, it’ll perform well.
Revise what you do based on the analysis from above.
If the test led to results that performed worse, scrap that change. Sure, it may be worth running the same test a few times to confirm the results (I’ll go into that in a second), but be prepared to let it go and try something else.
If it performed better, repeat a few times to verify the consistency of that change. Why? Because it could be the thematic element of the content itself that yields the improvement in results. If it continues to perform better, make it part of how you do things.
In the Analyze section above, I mentioned testing content that leveraged current events. After posting the Neal Langford video, I noticed it seemed a bit slow in generating views. Digging further, the clickthrough rate was abnormally low.
I am continually testing the thumbnails I’m using. My first thumbnail on the Neal Langford video flopped — it wasn’t enticing those on YouTube to click despite clear similarities to the one I used on the Andy Rourke video, which did. I immediately pivoted and created a new one, and the clickthrough rate went up almost 400%.
As noted in the first part of TARR, don’t get complacent. ALWAYS be testing. Once your change has been implemented see what else you can try.
In the last section covering my TARR framework, I jumped back and forth between using examples from list building and email campaigns to YouTube content and strategy. This is because I wanted to demonstrate that even if you’re focused on one thing, like an email list, you can use this framework in other areas of your content creation as well.
And, of course, if your overall content strategy includes multiple platforms, there will likely be a fair share of overlap.
Ultimately, the takeaway should be that building an email list is important if you want to create raving fans. It’s an audience you OWN as opposed to one you pay for (through ads or other paid methods) or one you earn from a third party (SEO, social media, etc. where you rely on the platform to get you in front of new people organically or even existing followers).
Earned audiences are captive audiences, and while you do rely to an extent on the platform at hand (email), it gives you leverage to cultivate those who subscribe and helps you build a more cohesive brand.
Ultimately, I’ll create a list for this blog as well, but I’m still honing in on an overarching strategy for what I’m hoping to accomplish here.