Nathan Thompson

How Tim Ferriss Turned 300k Inactive Email Subscribers Into Raving Fans

October 12th, 2015

How does one end up with a list of 300k inactive users?

Between his bestselling 4-Hour book series, popular 4-Hour Workweek blog and investing in and advising top tech companies such as Uber and Twitter, it’s difficult to deny that Tim Ferriss knows a thing or two about optimization. Collecting nearly 300k email subscribers since he first set up his blog for The 4-Hour Workweek in 2007, Tim hadn’t sent a single email. However, he revived the email program one test at a time over the past year, and we interviewed him to discuss his recent successes.

The first question: with his ability to continually try new things and drive results, why would Tim let such fertile testing ground go to waste?

“I assume that since I have a lot of emails, I don’t want more emails. Therefore I’m not going to email my audience,” Tim said.

He explained that he later decided his reason to email people didn’t have to be building up his list, or putting them into a sales funnel.

“I realized the tools of my trade that I used to reach my audience like Twitter, Facebook, the blog, etc. were being crowded out in various ways. In other words, whereas I could hit 80% of my fanbase very easily two years ago, it’s very difficult now to alert them to the fact that I have a new blog post. Readers were missing things that were time sensitive. So I really viewed email as, in a world where email addresses change less frequently than physical mailing addresses, just a great way to simply ensure my fans get the content they want to get from me. That’s it,” he said.

Here I have captured some key steps and extra insights Tim and his team took to avoid disaster when emailing and engaging a list of this magnitude for the first time.


Step #1. List hygiene

Even if you’re an experienced email marketer, it’s not every day you send out to email a list of 300k subscribers for the first time. And, unfortunately, just emailing the list, including an unsubscribe link and hoping for the best won’t cut it with a list of this size.

For this part of the process, Tim and his team took several actions:

First, they turned to a third-party list cleaning and validation service to remove any bogus email addresses likely to cause issues. These services ensure each email address actually exists, is accepting emails and checks for damaging (but deliverable) addresses including spam traps, honeypots, frequent spam complainers and disposable domains, among other issues.

Second, the team chose an email send provider (ESP), knowing they lacked a mailing reputation with the ISPs.  Because of this knowledge, the team knew going with an experienced ESP ensured that the team could utilize the ESP’s sending domain for DKIM authentication for maximum deliverability. (DKIM is an email validation system designed to detect and ultimately protect against spoofing, and is often used as a component in spam filtering.)

In addition, the ESP handled hard bounces not eliminated by the cleaning, complaints from users and email deferrals (emails that are temporarily refused by a receiving server).

Thirdly, the team segmented the emails by year of acquisition and throttled their sends to ensure they could identify problems with the data early and avoid blacklisting and other deliverability issues.


Step #2. Initial sends

Even with a freshly cleaned list and respected ESP in place, there’s no guarantee an email send will result in engaged users, a concern Tim was very cognizant of and vehemently working to resolve.


“When I realized that I was sitting on several hundred thousand emails, I realized a few things simultaneously. Number one, before I emailed anyone in my audience, I wanted to take their temperature and see how they would respond to it, which I did with a blog post. The blog post, and the comments in that blog post, put everyone on alert that I was considering emailing and was likely to email. Number two, it allowed them to vent any concerns [and] frustrations and provide suggestions,” he said.

In addition to the blog post, Tim’s team launched a “pre warm-up” campaign — essentially a highly personalized email from Tim explaining to subscribers that they were going to receive ongoing emails from Tim.


The email explained how they opted in (many of the older subscribers likely forgot), what would be sent to them, what type of content to expect, frequency of sends and the privacy policy. It also enabled users to opt out from future mailings if so desired. Finally, a pre-header with a clear reminder statement and unsubscribe button rounded out the warm-up email.


Step #3. Test email elements

There were seven main elements that were tested on Tim’s site that got progressively more aggressive and complex.

1. Subscription form location

The team suspected that the header would get the most subscriptions, but wanted to test how the sidebar or footer would affect conversion rates on the same form.

The header gave an average of 1.45% versus the footer at 0.18%, and was crowned the winner.

2. Subscription form style

For this element the team wanted to answer the question: How does a black and white form compare to a color form?

They found that the color form performed moderately better than the black and white form.

3. Variance on call-to-action button on form

Here the team wanted to answer: How important is the call-to-action? Does it make a difference if it says “Sign Up For Free” versus “Get Free Stuff”?

The winning variant was “Go VIP” with a conversion rate of 1.01% versus the worst performing “Get Free Stuff” at 0.78%.

4. Use of downloadable assets as incentive

The team wanted to answer: What kinds of incentives do we need to give people to give us their email address? How much could we boost the conversion rate by if we gave away an e-book for instance?

They found that the audiobook conversion bumped the conversion rate up from 0.75% on the control to 0.87%.

5. Using Tim’s face on the copy

The team knew that using photographs of people has a great effect on making testimonials more believable and in improving conversion rates — but how does it affect newsletter subscriptions?

They found that using Tim’s smiling face helped increase conversions from 0.72% on the Control to 0.92%.

6. Using different types of forms

The team wanted to answer: How does a pop-up form affect conversion rates? How about a slide up form when a user scrolls down? How about delaying the length of time before a pop-up appears?

The slide-in form from the bottom of the page gave a conversion rate of 1.26% while a pop-up, even on a slow three minute timer, gave a 1.26% conversion rate.

7. Testing a more aggressive pop-up

While they knew they didn’t want to have this as the permanent call-to-action, they also wanted to know what the “sweet spot” was for displaying a pop-up.


It turns out — the sooner it appears, the better the conversion rate:

  • 15 seconds = 2.19%
  • 30 seconds = 2.15%
  • 60 seconds = 1.89%

Results and key takeaways

The result of all this hard work? Initial sends showed 50%+ open rates on newer data and ~24% open rates on older data. Outstanding numbers, especially considering some of the subscribers had been on the list since 2007.

In addition, Tim continues to test his email subject lines, frequency and time of sends, email capture forms and messaging, which, to date, has resulted in nearly 60,000 additional subscribers added since the initial campaign.


Key takeaways:

  • List cleaning and validation can help to avoid not just inactive email addresses, but also to avoid the type of deliverable but damaging email addresses that are likely to hurt deliverability and prevent a healthy relationship with the ISPs
  • Utilizing an ESP’s sending domain can further improve deliverability and ensure maximum deliverability to those major ISPs using DKIM as part of their spam filtering (Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, Fastmail, etc.)
  • You can potentially minimize complaints using a highly personalized “pre warm-up” campaign to remind users who you are, how they ended up on your list and what they can expect to receive moving forward
  • Continuing to test and optimize those aspects of your email most closely related to user engagement is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy, growing list


To read more details about Tim’s successful campaign and learn what the team is testing to continue to see nearly 1,000 new subscribers daily, check out our case study.


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Daniel Burstein

Value Proposition: How a local business doubled its space in 9 months

October 8th, 2015

There are really only two types of marketing.

There’s “Let’sThrowEverythingWeHaveAtTheCustomerAndSHOUTITREALLYLOUD!” marketing. The value for the customer is not very clear with this method, but if the company buys enough TV spots, throws some huge incentives in the mix and pays high enough affiliate marketing commissions, it will move some product.

As for a sustainable business with reliable margins? Well, the marketer running these campaigns will be long gone by the time those topics come up.

And then there is …


Value-based marketing

This type of marketing is harder. Way harder. It involves discovering what customers really want, creating products and services with true value for the customer and clearly communicating those values.

You can see this battle most clearly in marketing for local businesses. I was thinking of this topic when I flipped through our local copies of Money Pages and Mint Magazine. These are essentially coupon circulars with local businesses and some national brands filling every inch of the space they bought with ink, shouting at the customer, practicing “Let’sThrowEverything …” — well, you get the idea.

Flipping through these circulars, I have no idea why I should go to one tire shop over the other or eat at one restaurant instead of the other. They’re all the same. The only question is — which will shout louder to get my attention or offer a bigger discount?

Read more…

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Selena Blue

Content Marketing: How to break through the clutter and connect with individuals

October 5th, 2015

“One of the most important things to remember is that the people you’re trying to reach are being freaking bombarded all day long,” said Mel Robbins, best-selling author, top TED speaker and CNN commentator.

Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content, MarketingSherpa (sister company of MarketingExperiments), sat down with Mel at the MarketingSherpa Media Center at &THEN to discuss how marketers can use content marketing to better connect with customers.

Mel began by talking about breaking through the clutter. She said the average full-time professional receives 173 emails a day. What does that mean for you?

“Your message has to resonate immediately, and it’s got to be important to the person who’s getting it,” she said.

Those two points carried on throughout the interview as she went on to discuss how marketers should package their content, as well as how they can best connect with their customers.

Read more…

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Kayla Cobb

Testing and Optimization: Welcome send test results in 46% open rate for CNET

October 1st, 2015

One of the most discussed sends in email marketing is the welcome email — and for good reason. This first email often acts as the first point of direct contact a customer has with your brand, so the pressure to make it as perfect as possible is there. That’s where testing comes into play.

In her session at MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015, Diana Primeau, Director of Member Services, CNET, spoke on the importance of testing her brand’s welcome and nurturing series as well as how the brand utilized segmentation to create a more personalized content series. Described by Erin Hogg, Reporter, MarketingSherpa, as a “mentor and teacher here at MarketingSherpa,” Diana has spoken at several brand events and has an impressive amount of experience when it comes to testing.

[Note: MarketingSherpa is the sister company of MarketingExperiments]

The typical CNET user is someone who is interested in technology and wants to research certain technology to reach a buying decision. According to Diana, CNET is the largest tech site in the world, and the site sees over 100 million unique visitors every month. CNET also has a large newsletter portfolio, which includes 23 editorial newsletters that are hand-curated by the brand’s editors, two large marketing newsletters and three deal space newsletters.

“I feel pretty fortunate. I get to play in a pretty large sandbox,” she joked.

One of the most dynamic tests Diana presented during her Summit 2015 presentation tested CNET’s welcome series against five different treatments. This test was conducted with an A/B split design, and the changes to the treatments were made according to three factors:

  • Content
  • Subject lines
  • Advertisements


Watch the video excerpt below to learn how these drastic changes compared to Diana’s original hypothesis of including as much information for the user as possible.

Read more…

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Ken Bowen

Nonprofit Testing: How one small change led to 190% increase in clickthrough

September 28th, 2015

As marketers, we all dream of expensive radical redesigns of our websites that check off every item on our wish lists. Over the years here at MarketingExperiments, though, we have routinely discovered that with a proper understanding of customers, the smallest changes can often yield the biggest results.

A recent test from our friends over at NextAfter demonstrates this fact.



As Tim Kachuriak, Chief Innovation and Optimization Officer, NextAfter, noted when he joined us for our August Web clinic, Personalized Messaging Tested, NextAfter works exclusively with nonprofit organizations to discover what truly makes donors give.

Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) is one such organization that NextAfter has partnered with to help answer this question.

In an earlier experiment with DTS, Kevin Peters, Vice President, NextAfter, had found that visitors arriving at the organization’s primary donation page were highly motivated to give. He discovered this by testing two forms of the page.

The first version of the donation page cut immediately to the chase, asking donors to “make a gift online.” The second version of the page posited that perhaps DTS was asking too much, too soon, and prefaced the “ask” with copy highlighting the unique value proposition of DTS. Quotes from well-known figures in the Christian community were also leveraged to build additional credibility. 

Read more…

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Scott Snodgrass

Now That’s What I Call Marketing: Optimize your website to hit the right notes with prospects

September 24th, 2015

Optimizing a webpage, let alone a website, can feel like a daunting task. With so many areas of opportunity, you may wonder where to begin.

To help guide you in the discovery of your perfect landing page, I present “Now That’s What I Call Marketing!”

Each track represents a different page element to be considered when optimizing your webpage, pitfalls to avoid and tips on reaching your potential in these areas of opportunity.

Read on and learn how to tune up your site.



Track #1: Give me one reason to read your headline

“Give me one reason to stay here, and I’ll turn it back around.  Because I don’t want to leave you lonely, but you got to make me change my mind.” -Tracy Chapman

Tracy’s words ring true when it comes to headlines.

Headlines are your first impression. Better make it count. A bad headline can confuse and worry a visitor or, worse, cause them to hit the back button. A good headline is the golden opportunity to initiate a conversation. Catch your visitor’s interest enough to continuing reading your content and set the expectation for the rest of the online experience.

To help you do that, check out last month’s MarketingExperiments Web clinic, How to Write Headlines that Convert, and keep in mind some advice from Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS, on headlines. To sum up, a really good headline should answer three questions for every visitor:

  • Where am I?
  • What can I do here?
  • Why should I do it?
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