Step-by-Step Guide to Email Marketing and Content Upgrades (Opt Ins) On Your Blog

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Creating an email list right from the start of launching your blog is a great way to engage with your audience. All you need is an email service and a form for your readers to provide their email address to gain access to a list of readers who wish to engage with you.

By providing a way to communicate directly with your readers by email, you can build your brand (that’s you) and, hopefully, grow your following for your readers to come back for more of your content.

What follows is some helpful tips and steps to take to grow your email list in a way that fits your niche and your blog audience.

Opt in forms section header image showing a cream colored, pop up opt in form with a green button.

Email Services

First, you will need to figure out who you will sign up with to collect the email addresses from your readers.

Email services (ESPs) allow you to create a database of people who sign up to receive email updates from you on your blog.

There are both free and paid services available, all with their own advantages and disadvantages.

When looking for the right fit for you, think about the following:

  • What is your budget? (free is fine to start!)
  • Are there other services you are looking for from the company? This can be anything from opt in forms to opt in landing pages to offering automated email flows (where you can send a welcome email and then others in a sequence without needing to do anything else).
  • Does the email service have email templates that fit you and your brand?
  • Is the service easy to use and understand? The last thing you need is yet another complicated system to learn!
  • What happens if you have an issue with your plan or service? How is their customer support?

Below is a list of email service companies this mama has actually used (and some thoughts on each):

  • Mailchimp: Free for the first 1,000 subscribers (email address sign ups). However, the forms (both opt ins and landing pages) are clunky and can be hard to use with limited customization. When you have the free plan, customer service is notoriously terrible. But, this service is an ok place to start for free.
  • Constant Contact: This is a company owned by Bluehost (a host company) and only offers a free trial. They have amazing customer service, proclaim to have a far greater ability to avoid spam filters (as told by their customer service). Note that if you sign up for the free trial, you will almost immediately receive a call from customer service to tell you about their service. While this may seem like overkill, their customer service wasn’t too pushy and offered to design the welcome email to match this mama’s brand for one site for free.
  • Mailerlite: Free for the first 1,000 subscribers. This has been the most user friendly and easy to understand services yet. The customer service is great and you can create email sequences with a visual editor (basically a flow chart).

Here are some other services that many bloggers suggest: ConvertKit and AWeber (both have free trials but are paid services).

Using opt in forms for your content upgrades (or general subscriber form) on your mom blog.

Opt In Forms

Opt in forms are the forms that a reader will fill out to join your email list.

There are different kinds of opt in forms that you will see described:

  • Pop Up (sometimes called a lightbox): a floating form over the content that you have to click to close either outside of the box or the close button (or both).
  • Full Screen: a form that takes over the full screen and can only be closed by clicking a close button).
  • In Line: this form appears before, after or in the middle of content. These types of opt in forms cannot generally be closed or removed.
  • Floating Bar: an opt in form that appears at the top of the bottom of the screen (either slides in or appears) and is persistent (meaning it stays on the screen) unless the user clicks to close it.
  • Side Bar: if your blog has a sidebar (like most blogs), this form appears there and is persistent (meaning it stays there, usually with no option to close it).
  • Slide In: this form is a bit of a combo of the pop up and the floating bar – a form slides in from the side of the screen (usually not full screen) and must be clicked to close.

Every blog and every niche is different. Just test out different types to see which performs the best.

Creating Opt In Forms

Before you decide on a service to create opt in forms, check to see if your email servicer can provide the forms you need.

If you need a different solution, here are some ways to create your opt in forms:

  • Thrive Leads (paid once): with a single fee, you can create as many opt in forms as you would like in any type with hundreds of templates to choose from and customize. They also offer the ability to a/b test a form to see which is performing the best. The absolute best part of Thrive Leads is the analytics on every form! You see how many impressions and how many conversions (how many people fill out the form) and it connects to nearly every email service provider.
  • MiloTree (paid monthly): with a small monthly fee, you can have a slide in that you can ask for subscribers on. It’s not very customizable, but you can also use the same service to ask for people to follow you on social media like Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (and the slide in can randomize what is displayed) with snapshots of your account as a visual. You will get analytics for each type of slide in.
  • WP Subscribe (free): If you don’t want to do anything fancy and aren’t currently worried about the design, this is a simple, easy plugin you can use for free. It has very little customization but may be a good starting point for beginners.

Here are some other popular opt in form services that this mama hasn’t tried:

Especially if you choose to purchase a plugin, make sure they support your email servicer!

There are also different ways that some opt in forms can be triggered to show to the user (for non-persistent forms):

  • Upon Entry: the form will show the moment the reader enters your site or page. Many bloggers are going away from doing immediate pop ups asking the reader to immediately opt in to the email list before they have even read your content.
  • Delayed: depending on the service you use, you may be able to set your form to appear after x number of seconds. Your analytics of how long a typical reader stays on your page(s) is a great indicator for how long you should set this for.
  • Scroll Depth: some services allow you to indicate that you want an opt in form to appear once the reader has scrolled a certain percentage down the page.
  • Exit Intent: if the user moves their mouse out of the viewable area on their browser, this can trigger an opt in to appear since it looks like the reader is ready to leave the article.
  • On Click: Some forms can be linked to buttons or hyperlinked text to bring up the form (like a pop up/lightbox).

Also depending on your service, you may also be able to add animations to your opt in forms (even if they are persistent). For example, once a form appears on screen, it can wiggle a bit or flip open to draw the eye to the form.

Form Fields

When you create a form, you will be able to set the fields that are required and/or not required for the reader to fill out. The most common fields are:

  • Email address (always required…for obvious reasons)
  • First Name
  • Last Name

Depending on what service you use to create your forms, there may also be the option to select specific topics or check a box to agree to receive email (for extra GDPR compliance).

It’s up to you what kind of information you want to collect and require.

The benefit of including a first name is the ability to personalize your emails to include the first name of the subscriber.

Single vs Double Opt In

When a reader signs up for your email list, they will either automatically be added to your email list (single opt in) or they will need to confirm their subscription from an email confirmation (double opt in).

The choice is up to you, though many bloggers choose double opt in to ensure all the email addresses on their list are confirmed as real (no typos) and to try to ensure they are GDPR compliamt.

Make sure you double check that your form AND your settings from your email servicer are set to double opt in if that is what you choose. Then, test this with your own email address in your opt in form(s).

Segmented Lists

If you have multiple opt in offers or many topics on your blog, you may want to create multiple lists for your subscribers.

For example, if you want subscribers who sign up for an opt in to receive a specific welcome email, you will need to link your opt in form to a specific list.

Or, if you have multiple topics on your blog and want to send targeted emails to people who sign up to receive information about Parenting (but not Recipes), you will need separate lists for each.

How you add a list to your service will depend on the provider you sign up for so, sorry, no how to possible. Just look for a how to from your provider.

Just make sure that if you want all your subscribers (no matter which opt in form they use) to receive your emails, you will need to include all your lists when you set up your email to send.

GDPR and Legal

GDPR is an European Union (EU) regulation that requires you to clearly indicate exactly what a subscriber is signing up for when filling out your opt in forms.

While this is only a requirement if you have site visitors from the EU, it’s very likely (no matter your niche or market) you will receive visitors worldwide.

So be clear EXACTLY what kind of emails your subscribers will receive by signing up. You can likely do this in a sentence or two.

To learn more about GDPR, see this post.

You are also required to include a physical address at the bottom of your emails through Federal law (the CAN-SPAM Act).

Most of us are not comfortable with sharing our personal addresses…but it is the law. You can look into getting a PO Box (even just a digital one) or a mail forwarding service through services like UPS if that’s the right solution for you.

ConvertKit does allow you to use their address in place of your own if you choose to go with their service (paid).

This act also states you must never mislead the email recipient on what the email contains in the subject line.

The additional regulations in the act should be handled by your email servicer (though you are still legally responsible for ensuring this to be true). It sounds scary, but so long as you include an address, don’t mislead your subscribers and provide a clear way to opt out of the emails, you are basically covered.

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Content Upgrades (Opt In Offers)

To help grow your email list, there are ways to encourage subscription by offering incentives in the form of content upgrades.

What are content upgrades?

Content upgrades are free or paid opt in offers that provide additional value to your reader.

Here are some examples:

  • A breastfeeding post with a free feed schedule printable.
  • A post about tantrums that offers a free printable with inspiration quotes or calm down tactics to remember.
  • An article about daily routines that offers a paid upgrade to receive a short course on getting organized for your day.
  • A paid course to learn more about talking to kids linked to a post about effective communication as a parent.
  • An article about self care for moms with a sign up to join a 5 day email string with helpful tips and practices.
  • A newborn post that offers a free ebook about caring for babies.

You can really do anything that adds value and content for your readers that THEY WILL ACTUALLY WANT AND USE.

There are tons of sites out there with similar content. So, what can YOU offer your readers that is unique and worth signing up for?

Creating Opt Ins

How you create your opt in offer depends on what you want to create.

But, here are some tools you can use for different types:

  • Canva (free and paid): most people can use the free version of Canva to create almost anything. They offer templates for tons of social media platforms. You can choose an 8.5×11 blank design and go from there or find a template that works better for you if you are doing printables. They also have lots of free (and paid) illustrations, images and design elements that will hopefully make it easy for you to find what you need. For most opt ins, you can just export the document as a pdf.
  • Google Sheets (free) or Microsoft Powerpoint (paid): all you need is a Google login to use this program. Just reformat the sheet to be 8.5×11 for printables and go from there. There are some design elements you can use, but you will have to rely a little more on finding items you can upload. Just save/print as a pdf.

Of course, you can also use Microsoft Powerpoint or something like Photoshop to create your opt ins if you already have them (both are paid).

When it comes to creating courses or ebooks, see this post for more information on potential tools to use.

Unlocking Content After Opt In

Now that you have a content upgrade, how in the world do you provide it to your subscriber?

Here are some ways to deliver your free content (paid content may have different methods depending on your checkout system or service):

Locked Resource Page

After a reader signs up to receive your content upgrade, you can send a link to a password protected page on your blog in the welcome email set up through your email service.

The benefit of having a resource page is to allow your subscribers easy access to ALL your freebies (though you can make one page for every downloadable if you want).

You will need to create a page and add a password to lock it (make sure to include the password in your welcome email!).

To add a password, just click on “Document” in the right panel in Gutenberg, then click on the default of “Public” for Visibility. Then select “Password Protected” from the three options.

Then, type in a password to send to your subscriber to enter the page.

That’s it!

The biggest issue is that when you go to the published page there is little to no customization you can do without help from a plugin like this one that allows you to add HTML to a field on your blog to add some contextual information.

Tip: If you get the plugin to help with your locked page messaging and don’t know HTML, just type out what you want (with links if applicable) in a post, switch to Code View and grab the HTML there!

When it comes to displaying your opt ins on your password protected page, there are plugins you can use (like Essential Grid) or you can just hyperlink to the uploaded document from your Media.

To upload the document to your blog, just go to Media and click “Add New”. Upload the document, then click into it to grab the URL.

You will likely want to include language on your opt in form (confirmation) that a link will be sent to the resource page after sign up so the subscriber knows how to access their freebie.

Link In Welcome Email

Just like using the URL from your Media for a resource page, you can grab that same URL and include it in your welcome email after a reader signs up.

If you have multiple content upgrades listed on your site, you will need to include all the links in the email or be more targeted and create a specific list for every opt in.

Immediate Access After Opt In

Some plugins or services will allow your readers to merely click a link after filling out your opt in form to download the freebie.

The only downside to doing this method is that if you have a double opt in set up on your forms, you may receive subscribers who don’t actually end up on your list due to transmission errors or typos.

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Email Address

While you can use a generic Gmail email address (or the like), in order to appear more professional and have a bigger chance of your emails not ending up in the spam folder, you will want to have an email address linked to your domain URL.

How you set up an email depends on your blog Host.

If you don’t like how your Host displays your email, you can link it to your Gmail account and be able to send and receive emails from your blog specific email there!

For what you should use for your email address, that’s up to you. Many bloggers use admin@blogname.com or firstname@blogname.com.

Email address section header image with a blue mail icon.

Email Content

Now that you have an opt in form and email service, it’s time to start writing some emails!

There s no right or wrong way to write your emails, but there are some best practices to encourage engagement and retain your subscribers.

Before you send your first email, make sure you comply with all the rules and regulations (Federal and GDPR for the EU).

Email Frequency

How often do you want to send your subscribers updates from your blog?

Most bloggers default to sending one email per week.

You can always test sending more emails, but the key is to only email amazing content every time. If you don’t, your readers may unsubscribe from your list because you may appear “spammy”.

There is some debate on what day of the week is the most effective (and time of day). Your own inbox may be a good indicator of both when you receive emails from lists you subscribe to and the most likely days you may actually open those emails.

Welcome Email (and Series)

When your reader first subscribes to your list, you will want to send a welcome email (which will be sent automatically for a single opt in or after a reader confirms their subscription from a double opt in).

To do this, you will need to set this up through your email subscriber as a “recurring” email (terminology may differ by your email servicer).

What do you include in your welcome email?

Well, that’s, again, up to you. But generally, you can share some of all of the following:

  • Welcome message with how being a subscriber will benefit THEM
  • A little about yourself and your blog
  • A link to the opt in (content upgrade), if applicable
  • Links to your most popular posts

In addition to a one-off welcome email, you can also send a series of emails usually referred to as a welcome email series.

Ongoing Emails

Depending on the frequency of your emails, you can send all sorts of emails to your subscribers (based on what your reader has agreed to receive from you on the opt in form).

Affiliate Links In Emails

It is ok to include affiliate links in your emails.

But be careful!

If your email is somehow flagged as spam through your email servicer, your account can be shut down and your email address added to a blacklist that many email servicers use to determine approval of new accounts).

To make sure you aren’t spammy, you can also link to an article that includes affiliate links or ensure that your email has as few affiliate links as possible linked within valuable content.

When this mama first started out, an ad was placed using HTML in an email without any other information (since it was included in the ad design). Instant account shutdown. It took a lot of jumping through hoops to get reactivated and removed from the blacklist.

Check the rules from your email servicer for specifics on what is allowed.

Email Replies

You may receive some replies to any email you send to your subscribers. It’s up to you on how you choose to respond. The replies will be sent to the email linked to the email sent.

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