From 0 to 26,000 newsletter subscribers in 7 months

Jakub Linowski is a UI designer who runs GoodUI.org, a site that lists some interesting principles and guidelines for designing a good user interface that is both easy to use and has a high conversion rate. He launched the site in April 2013, and by October had amassed over 26,000 subscribers to his list. During his interview with Justin Jackson on ProductPeople.tv, Jakub and Justin deconstruct how he did this and how you can too.

These are the 4 most important takeaways on growing your list, content marketing and conversion optimization:

Traction

  • Jakub launched GoodUI in April with a post on Wireframes. With only 18 shares on Twitter and 1 comment, it didn’t spark much of a conversation. On May 11th he posted GoodUI to Hacker News. No comments. No points. A flat launch.
  • With a little bit of luck, Smashing Magazine picked it up and tweeted about it on May 15th. 149 retweets. 225 favourites.
  • They Tweeted about it again on the 5th of June with 139 retweets and 217 favourites.
  • And again on June 28th with 132 retweets and 257 favourites.
  • On July 5th it was posted it Hacker News again by someone else. This time with over 100 comments and 528 points.

Takeaway: Dont’ be afraid to post the same content more than once, like the team at Buffer. You can hit multiple timezones, reach any new followers who haven’t seen it before, and it can drive more traffic than the original share. Just because you don’t get traction once, doesn’t mean you won’t next time.

GoodUI-1

Content

  • The content is to the point. It tells you what to do, why you should do it, and how to do it.
  • GoodUI uses purposefully sketched out images because sketching emphasises the concept clearly, gets straight to the point instead of going into too much detail. Rand Fishkin from Moz loves visual assets because they are a small, concise image to visualise an idea. If applicable, use visual representations of concepts.

Takeaway: The only way to get picked up by sites like Smashing Magazine is to have amazing content that makes them look good for sharing to their readers. Get to the point as soon as possible. Use simple language, make it clear enough that people can understand it quickly and apply it straight away.

Polarization

The comments/conversation on Hacker News quickly focused around two points of controversy.

GoodUI-2

  1. The big fixed footer at the bottom with a prominent Call To Action. People found it distracting and argued whether this was good UI or not, and if not, how can he declare himself an authority on the topic.
  2. The guidelines are all just Jakub’s personal hypotheses, and they might not work in all situations. The comments were about people trashing the site, deconstructing and arguing over its merit. People can provide plenty examples of when doing the opposite of his suggestions have resulted in better conversions.

Takeaway:

“Study the top stories at Digg or MSN.com and you’ll notice a pattern: the top stories all polarize people. If you make it threaten people’s 3 Bs – behaviour, belief, or belongings – you get a huge virus-like dispersion.” – Tim Ferriss

In his book ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’ Ryan Holiday says:

“A powerful predictor of whether content will spread online is valence, or the degree of positive or negative emotion a person is made to feel. Both extremes are most desirable than anything in the middle. Regardless of the topic, the more an article makes someone feel good or bad, the more likely it is to make the Most E-mailed list.

Have an opinion, and stick to it. Make sure your content strikes a nerve with readers. Find the right frame, the right angle, and package your content in a way that will make people share or comment because they strongly agree or disagree.

Conversion Optimization

The goal of goodUI was to convert as many people onto a mailing list as quickly as possible. Judging by that goal, the controversial footer was a clear success. In the first 3 months, around 20% of all unique visitors entered in their email address (myself included). At the time of the interview (in October), he had 26,000 subscribers. That number is now over 34,000 (January). Not many people have grown a list that big on their own, let alone in such a short time frame. If you look at the call to action in the footer:

  • It promises to deliver good content by telling you exactly what you’ll get: “I’ll share ideas on how to improve customer conversion and ease of use”, and when: “Receive an update twice a month”.
  • Originally he had 3 sign up fields, but he found removing one of the fields helped to increase conversion. Removing unnecessary steps will improve conversions.
  • “34,000+ people have already subscribed” is great social proof. This creates an aspect of trust, and also touches on peoples ‘fear of missing out’.

Takeaway: Despite receiving so much criticism for his footer, it worked extremely well for him. Be humble. Don’t assume unpopular ideas are bad until you’ve tested and measured the hypothesis. While such a large footer might not be best-practice, it’s helped him achieve a high conversion rate.

Next

Of course, sign ups are never the end goal. Growing the list is just the top part of the funnel. The next challenge is to provide ongoing quality content for the audience, find a way to gain value from this (monetize the audience), and find the balance between the two. He could build a product around the content, funnel it into his consulting business, turn the content into a book, a poster, a Udemy course, or try many other experiments. Whatever he does, the work he has done so far will guarantee that a large audience will hear about it.

  • http://justinjackson.ca/ Justin

    Wow! What a great summary Ryan. Really love the key takeaways.

    • https://ryangum.com/ Ryan Gum @ Postify

      thanks Justin for doing productpeople.tv, I get so much value out of every interview.

Shares