How to Gain More Subscribers (Even with Low Website Traffic)

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What if I told you you could get 2 new subscribers for every 50 website visitors without an extra effort?

You’ll go about your day doing client work, writing, taking a nap. But your list will grow, adding at least several new email addresses from people who want to hear from you every day.

No popups, welcome mats or slide ups.

Wouldn’t it be a dream come true?

“Yeah, right…”

You think I’m making this up? Here are my stats.

I get about 100 visitors from search every day (and about 150 overall).

Daily organic visitors (July 16-21, 2018)

Stats: Traffic last week

But before you laugh at this number, I’d like to tell you that about 6 of them subscribe, getting me around 40 juicy subscribers just from search every week.

Number of new subscribers a day (July 16-21, 2018)

Stats: Subscribers last week

Raise your hand if you want 40 subscribers a week!

But ok, maybe you don’t have 100 daily visitors, which is fine because – did you know? – most of the freelancers get about 20 daily visitors and are struggling to get traffic and gain subscribers for years.

I, too, used to have fewer website visitors. For example, in October 2017, it was just 50 a day. Yet, I would still get 2 subscribers a week, and while my organic traffic grew, so did my list.

Growth of subscribers (October 2017 – July 2018)

Subscribers growth

Want to gain more subscribers on autopilot like this? Here’s how you can replicate this strategy for your business website.

Icon Secret Billionaire

The Secret Billionaire’s* method of gaining more subscribers

* – “Billionaire” because you’ll have a ton of subscribers; “secret” because no one will suspect that looking at your website traffic.

Main idea:

With a usual lead magnet, you’re trying to persuade your website visitors (who, mind you, came to your website to just read an article or check you out) that they need “this awesome ebook”.

But your visitors weren’t planning to download anything. So, no wonder this tactic isn’t very effective!

What if you showed your lead magnet to someone who’s already looking for something to download?

Using the Secret Billionaire’s method:

  • you create a page that targets people who are already looking for a download
  • include your lead magnet into it
  • and make it rank in search to attract those download hunters.

They need it. You have it. And to get it, they’ll happilly give you their email address.

Here’s how to make this magic happen.

Icon plan

Phase #1: Plan

– Planning is boooring!
– Not as boring as your non-existent subscriber numbers.

Uncover keywords with potential

Do keyword research to find out keyword(s) in your niche that indicate that people are searching for something to dowload.

Examples: [keyword] + PDF, template, checklist, worksheet, mind map, roadmap, blueprint etc.

If you’ve never done keyword research before, I’d recommend this great article by Andy Crestodina that will tell you all you need to know in plain language.

The main idea for your lead magnet depends on your target audience.

But if they normally don’t have time to read blog posts or to download things (for example, middle size business owners or agency managers),

…then target people one level lower in this food chain – someone who may get your content in front of your target audience (for example, on social, because they are colleagues or friends with your ideal clients).

Don’t shy away from the keywords with low volume

You need to be realistic regarding what keywords you have a chance to rank for. I love this cheat sheet that gives you an idea what you can aim for depending on your Domain Authority*:

How to decide if you have a chance to rank for a keyword
How to decide if you have a chance to rank for a keyword with a certain search volume (Source)

* – Domain Authority is a ranking score from 1 to 100 developed by Moz. It predicts how well a website will rank in search. To find out your DA, install Moz Bar Chrome extension and navigate to your website.

It’s ok if your keyword has as few as 50 searches a month. You’ll also rank for a bunch of relative keywords that you may not have uncovered in your research because of their low individual search volume.

My main lead magnet is a website checklist. The main keyword I targeted with it has 50 searchers per month. But as my DA grows, the page start ranking for the closely related keywords with higher volume. In June, I already got 604 visitors from search for it.

Make sure you can “outcreate” the top runners

After you have some keyword candidates, do a Google search, check out the top 3 results, and decide if you can create something much better.

This is important, because this strategy only works if you can provide an impressive resource that either doesn’t exist yet or is much better than what’s currently there.

Brush icon

Phase #2: Create your lead magnet

Offer a ton of value without an opt-in

– Huh? How am I going to get email addresses without an opt-in?
– It’s magic!

Create an impressive post where you offer a ton of value around your lead magnet and make this information freely accessible without an opt-in. Then, make your freebie a cherry on top of the cake – something that makes the information the post provides easier to use or offers a bonus on top of it.

Why not just put everything behind an opt-in?

Because you need your page to rank in search. And for this, you need it to have a lot of relevant text.

My ultimate website checklist is so long that it’s difficult to use it to actually review your website. So, as my lead magnet, I offer a handy PDF download that contains the same information but in a compact printable format and with check boxes.

About 15 visitors out of 100 are happy to leave me their email addresses for it. BUT!

But for this to happen, your page needs to blow the socks off your website visitors.

5 must-have features of a highly effective lead magnet

5 features of a highly effective lead magnet

Make sure your lead magnet is:

  1. Targeted, so that your new subscribers will also be interested in the rest of your content.
  2. Ultra-helpful, to demonstrate your expertise in solving the problems of your audience.
  3. Easy to consume, so that your audience doesn’t feel overwhelmed.
  4. Actionable, to make sure they implement it and see real results your free advice brought them.
  5. Impressive, to make sure your new subscribers will recognize your name next time it pops up in their inbox.

Take your time

Spend as much time as you need to create something outstanding. This method won’t work with an XYZ ebook or a meh PDF with the info one can freely find on Google.

For my three main lead magnets, I spent on average 10 weeks per freebie.

Icon arrow up

Phase #3: Make it rank in search

– Something tells me that’s even more work!
– Haven’t you heard that it’s not work if you love what you do?

Your lead magnet is ready. Now it’s time to show it to your future subscribers.

But even if you’re targeting perfect keywords, ranking for them won’t be a piece of cake, especially if your website has a low domain authority.

That’s why you need to direct a lot of things you do on your website and outside it towards helping your lead magnet pages rank.

Show Google your authority on this topic

  • Write more blog posts around the topic of your lead magnet(s) and link from those posts to your lead magnet page(s).
  • Find pages that already have a high page authority and add an internal link from them to your lead magnets.
  • Write guest posts on a closely related topic.

Get other websites to link to you directly

When you publish a guest post, don’t link to your homepage from your author byline. Link to your lead magnet page.

Link to one and the same lead magnet from your guest posts till you get it to rank on position #1.

Get more eyeballs on your lead magnet

Put it in front of more people to increase the chances for someone to link to it on their own:

  • Feature your main lead magnet on your homepage
  • Share it on social
  • Make it your pinned post
  • Create a resources page on your website that features your main lead magnets and link to that resources page from the navigation
Icon woman

Phase #4: Make your new subscribers remember your name

– Wait… Why do I have to still do stuff after they gave me their email address?
– Because their email address alone isn’t what you want.

You may feel tempted to put your feet up when your page(s) start to rank. Yay, you’re getting subscribers on the daily basis!

But do you want more subscribers? Or do you want more subscribers who’re genuinely interested in what you have to say?

Your newsletters may drown in the flood of other emails in their inboxes. Or they may fail to remember who you are and why they subscribed in the first place, and just delete your email.

That’s why you need to deepen the connection with a new subscriber so that they’ll remember your name and look forward to your emails.

Create a “thank you” page

When they confirm their email address to download your lead magnet, redirect them to a “thank you” page that has your photo on it and ask them to do one more thing. For example, connect with you on Twitter, fill out a one-question survey, check out your most popular post, etc.

Thank you page example
Create a “thank you” page asking your new subscribers to do one more thing

Link to a freebie within a freebie

On the last page of the PDF you send them, feature another resource or an ultra-useful post that is related to the PDF they downloaded.

“Now, why would I do that? You already got their email addresses!”

Because you’d like to impress them even more so that they remember your name.

“Seriously, I can barely get people to download one freebie. You think they want to download two?”

Believe it or not, 12.8% of my subscribers have downloaded more than one freebie. Those subscribers are also much more engaged than the ones that downloaded none or only one freebie.

Share and newsletter engagement of subscribers based on the number of downloaded lead magnets

Subscribers engagement rates depending on the number of downloaded lead magnets

Side note: Notice how many subscribed without any “bribe” – 14%! And no, I’ve never used a pop-up on my website. They subscribed using a static footer opt-in just because they liked my content.

Create a welcome email sequence

Next week when you send your usual newsletter to your existing subscribers, don’t send your new subscribers the same email as to everyone.

Instead, create a welcome email sequence that is tailored to show the new folks your most helpful side.

Important: Reintroduce yourself in email #1 including your photo as your new subscribers may have forgotten who your are but they may remember your face because they saw it on your “thank you” page or on social. Use your photo in every newsletter you send out (because people forget stuff).


Phase #5: Enjoy steady flow of engaged subscribers

– Finally!
– Yay! You totally deserve it!

Ok, now when your lead magnet page is ranking higher and higher and you have workflows in place to make your subscribers remember you, you can put your feet up.

Dog sleeping on a beach
Put your feet up and enjoy a steady flow of engaged subscribers (Source: Giphy)

“Oh, this is too complicated!”

If gaining subscribers was easy, you won’t be reading this post because you would already have thousands of emails on your list.

Yes, it’s more complicated than trying the latest trick to get you a million of subscribers within a week. But unlike those shortcuts, this method also delivers guaranteed results, and after initial effort, you’ll be gaining new subscribers in numbers even big websites would be lucky to have.

Sure, it takes time. But think about what you were doing a month ago.

And now imagine where you would have been today if you started following a clear plan to gain more subscribers four weeks ago.

Struggling to grow your email list?

Feeling stuck? Have questions about getting more business through your website? I’ll answer all your questions during a Skype consultation.

Schedule a Session


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  1. Hi Gill,
    Thank you for your post, really helpful. Especially the tip to share your checklist before the opt-in so you have the relevant text on your website as well. But your checklist is an image, how does that rank for search?

    1. Hi Jos. Glad you found this helpful. My checklist is not an image. It’s a whole blog post that includes an image. You’ll see more text after the image:

      Having lots of relevant text in your lead magnet is a must to rank in search. But having a cool image gives you some additional brownie points. Think Pinterest and ranks in image search.

  2. Hm… There are always more ways that lead to Rome. You have done an excellent job with your top-tier-content. Yet simple ebooks may still perform well, if they are smart enough. I know of one guy who has an ebook called ‘The five places on your website you should put your giveaway’ – or something to that effect. I daresay he is doing well. May be just BECAUSE it is just a small and simple thing, and it uses curiosity.

    My own ebook still performs OK, too. I still get around 150 new subscribers each month – about the same amount leave. And that little book only took a few hours to write, off the top of my head. It actually was the very first thing I wrote when I decided tot start my current website. It’s just 10 tips to blog better, yet I have never seen cause to improve upon it. We have tested a few other ebooks, but this one outperformed them all.

    But I am way more lazy than you are. And I started earlier – there is more content around. You, however, are taking the hard and narrow path. I applaud you! Eventually, if you keep it up, you will get famouser and famouser πŸ˜‰ I however will stay as I am (perfectly contented).

    1. “Famouser and famouser” πŸ˜„ Thank you, Kitty! As they say, your words in God’s ear!

      Sure, there are more ways to gain more subscribers. And if you already have a method that works for you, you should absolutely continue with that.

      Yet, as you’ve mentioned yourself, you started earlier, when ebooks were still not that popular. Plus, you write in Dutch, and there are way few people doing what you do than people doing what I do.

      But to be honest, I can’t imagine someone starting from scratch (no visitors, no followers on social – nothing) in a saturated niche to achieve anything with a simple ebook. Plus, “offer an ebook as your lead magnet” isn’t really something everyone can replicate. It may work, or it may not. But the method I describe is something that everyone can repeat for their business.

      Plus, my lead magnets aren’t only for getting subscribers. They work in many ways for my business that an ebook won’t be able to do. Think backlinks (=> higher rank in search) and important people on social taking you seriously (=> their endorsement => more clients).

      I know for sure there is no way I could have achieved what I achieved within those 18 months with a simple ebook. So I thought I write this method down for everyone who tried other, easier methods of gaining subscribers but hasn’t had much success with it.

      1. For sure! I am only saying that well chosen, fun e-books may still also work. Les well, but still. And that not everyone has to spend 10 weeks researching for a giveaway like you did. Even though I applaud you! It is the best way to go.

        You have very specific capacities that not many beginners have. So not everyone will be able to emulate you. That’s all.

        1. Of course! I think we agree on this, especially on my, as you call it, inimitablity :D. It’s certainly not some quick trick.

  3. Hi Gill,

    Excellent post. I have been long wanting to know the ways to increase my subscribers which seems to be a real tough job. I am happy to have landed in your page. You have explained things well in details which I am sure should be helpful for me for my future endeavors.

    Thanks you for sharing this post. Have a good day. πŸ™‚

  4. 10 weeks per freebie? No surprise mine doesn’t sell πŸ™‚

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge this post, it’s very helpful to make the right choices.

    1. Hi Ida,

      Yes, unfortunately, in this world saturated with content a simple ebook doesn’t cut it anymore. It was tough to stay focused and patient for the 10 weeks but I can’t be happier about the results.

      Thank you for stopping by and happy to hear you found my post useful!

  5. Gill:

    All the stuff I’m working on but in an organized beautifully written postβ€”excellent!

    I’m soooo relieved that I’m not the only one spending time (feel like the turtle content creator in the bunny race sometimes) on planning and creating quality content assets.

    Still, I better bookmark this and refer to it often (and for a few different projects, too) since, yes, your post, and you, are so helpful.

    Thanks, Gill! I’m so pleased we’ve connected and thanks for the Twitter fun with Henneke and Henrietta this week, too:)


    1. Hi there, Sue-Ann! πŸ˜‰

      Thank you so much for your kind words! Glad to hear you enjoyed the post.

      Re being “the turtle content creator”: I feel you. I used to feel like this all the time. It’s quite hard to stay focused and work for weeks on one piece and not give in into instant gratification of pressing the “publish” button on some quick post.

      But I kept telling myself that quick posts don’t do much for my business and reminding myself how disappointed I felt those couple of times when I published something quick and it didn’t do anything for my blog. So, as I’m a highly pragmatic person when it comes to seeing results, I now find it easier to stay patient and stick to my strategy.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      P.S. Haha. Yes, our #mugshot battle on Twitter is fun! Be prepared for the next round later this week! πŸ˜‰

  6. Helpful as always Gill!!
    I have a method that is working for my online store at the moment. I have a range of freebies, like worksheets and samples of my goal planners.

    I have these set up as products that cost nothing. But shopify always asks them for their address and that can’t be changed. So I not only have people’s emails, but their physical address.

    I’m thinking about starting a physical newsletter and sending it out to people.

    I know your focus is online, but have you come across any tips on direct mail?

    1. Hi there, Steph πŸ™‚ Glad to hear you found this helpful.

      Re worksheets and goal planners: Yes! This is exactly what I’m talking about. Your site is about meeting your goals. And what people need to achieve that? Planners and worksheets – stuff they can’t but download. So, great thinking there! πŸ˜‰

      Re physical newsletter: What a wonderful idea! I recently read an article about marketing that said one should definitely send more physical mail because people are over the moon when they receive it (and will remember your name or respond to your calls to action).

      I haven’t heard of anyone starting an actual newsletter, though. Theoretically, it’s a great idea. But I’m wondering whether it won’t be too expensive.

      How about a postcard for their birthday (if you have that data), for a particular holiday (New Year’s seems neutral) or just for the beginning of summer?

  7. Hi Gill,

    This is a refreshing strategy to read, and I’m glad you’re benefitting from your hard work now. The fact that you took 10 weeks to develop your lead magnet speaks volumes for the high-quality PDF documents you create.

    Thanks for your sharing your slow-burner auto-pilot strategy.
    – David

    1. Haha, yes, slow-burner is the right word for it. Thank you for your kind words, David. Glad to hear you found it useful πŸ™‚

  8. Gil, your posts are amazing. This one comes at a good time too. Thank you for sharing your strategy. Your website checklist is one I’m keeping to work through. BTW, I love your Linkedin website tips. I’d like to try borrowing your format for online course tips. I imagine your website tips drive some traffic to your site as well. And of course you’re also using Henrietta’s magic mug πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Gay,

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment! It put a smile on my face πŸ™‚ Glad to hear this post reached you at the right time. Haha, yes, the magic Henrietta mug also helps, but I’m trying to use it in the most difficult “writing cases” only to preserve its magic powers.

      Re my LinkedIn tips: Happy to hear you found them useful as well! They don’t drive traffic to my website though, as I don’t share any links to my blog posts with them. I take a shortcut and go right after new subscribers. Each tip has a link to my “subscribe” page, and it brings me a couple of new subscribers every day.

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment 🌻!

      1. Hi Gil, thanks for the tip on your tips πŸ™‚ Good to know they serve for list building. On this topic, I have a question around number of optins. Can you have too many? How many is a safe number? For example, I’ve read about using content upgrades for popular blog posts. The number of strategies seems a bit overwhelming. I suppose it’s a matter of trying one or two to see what works. I also have questions around managing lists once you start to build them. Is that a topic you might write about…perhaps one for the Henrietta mug? 🌻

        1. Hi Gay,

          You mean the right number of opt-in forms, right? There is no right fits-it-all number. I would suggest trying one form per strategy to make sure you don’t waste your efforts.

          As you say yourself, the number of strategies is overwhelming. But not only that. Even if it worked for someone who wrote that blog post, it doesn’t mean that it will work for you. You need to think what the conditions for that strategy to work are and whether they apply to your business and audience.

          For example, growing your list with popups that will be only effective under certain conditions, and just slapping a popup on your website won’t magically grow your list even if you just read a case study that shows they work.

          It also holds for content upgrades. Some people report they are effective. I found they aren’t by far as effective as what I described in this strategy. I created two upgrades for my popular blog posts, but not many people download them. Which is understandable, as they weren’t looking for any downloads in those cases.

          What I would suggest doing is this: Select 1-2 strategies that appeal to you and think them through “on paper”. Can you think of reasons why they won’t work for you? Can you see strong reasons why your readers will want to opt-in? Then decide whether to apply them or to look for a better strategy.

          Hope this helps!

          Re managing your email list: Another good question, but the one that’s impossible to answer in a comment. I’ll see if I can indeed write a post about it, as I have a couple of tricks up my sleeve there as well (thanks for the idea!).

          P.S. I have another post about lead magnets that discusses the 3 ways to grow your list (without popups), apart from what I talk in this post. Maybe you’ll find it helpful as well:

          1. Hi Gil, yes I meant the right number of optin forms. Good to know your experience with the content upgrades. I dislike popups so won’t be slapping one up πŸ™‚ … although confess the research almost convinced me to.

            Happy at the thought you might write about managing an email list. I haven’t seen much written on that topic but since I have questions, I’m sure others do too.

            Appreciate your time…and now I’ll go read your other post on lead magnets. Thanks for the link and answering my questions.

  9. Over to you! Are you getting enough subscribers? What methods to you use to grow your list? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!