Having an email list is one of the most important things you can have when you’re running a digital business.
I didn’t really see the benefit for a number of years and it felt like the LAST thing I needed to worry about (email sounds SO boring!) But the thing is, I eventually came around to realize if I didn’t have an email list, I could lose everything.
If Google, Pinterest, Twitter, or Yummly decided to one day close shop, I would be left with nothing, as would so many people who make money online. Of course we don’t expect Google or Pinterest to out of business completely, but in reality, their algorithm changes can make it feel that way!
But if I had a massive email list I would still have access to an ultra-targeted audience. I would be able to make affiliate sales, sell my own product, and maintain some level of income.
Aside from any doomsday scenarios, having an email list is beneficial in many other ways.
Top 5 Benefits of Having an Email List
Direct communication: Email marketing allows you to directly communicate with YOUR audience, providing a way to share updates, promotions, and sell your own products.
Increased engagement: With an email list, you have a captive audience who has already shown interest in what YOU have to offer. This makes it easier to engage with them and encourage them to take action such as making a purchase or sharing your content.
Cost-effective: Compared to other forms of marketing such as paid advertising, email marketing is relatively inexpensive yet still highly effective in reaching and engaging with your target audience.
Increased website traffic: By including links back to your blog within your emails, you can drive more traffic back to your site and increase overall visibility. You can give yourself a boost by sharing a roundup of recipe links to further drive ad & affiliate revenue.
Greater control over your audience: Social media algorithms are constantly changing, making it difficult to reach audiences. With an email list, you have more control of your reach.
Overall, having an email list provides numerous benefits for building a loyal following of engaged subscribers who are more likely to convert into customers or advocates for your brand.
Now that we’ve covered the benefits, let’s talk about why it’s not easy to build an email list, especially for a food blog.
First, Let’s Talk About the Root of the Challenge
Gaining subscribers for your email list can be a challenge.
The advice I received as a budding food blogger was, “Just offer a freebie!”
At the start of my blog journey, I did offer a freebie. I typed up a 4 page, single spaced, e-book all about my BEST baking tips, and my subscriber count was DISMAL (I’m talking double digits for a couple of years) 😖
Here’s a huge reason why that didn’t work for me and it could be the reason it’s not working for you.
Food blogs are very transactional.
These days, readers are notorious for complaining about content length and how they just want us to give them the recipe. They click on the link and typically hit that ‘jump to recipe button’ as fast as humanely possible. They grab the recipe, exit off your page, and rush to the kitchen to get cooking.
Despite all the effort you put into the copy of the blog post, it’s often not read, so it can be very hard to connect with the reader, unless you have a strong & loyal following.
If you do, that’s great! 🙌
But many of us don’t, and it could be due to the transactional nature of a food blog.
So back to the idea of that freebie offering.
Considering that most people landed on your singular, recipe page from Google, Pinterest, Facebook, etc., they are not going to be as invested of your blog and your mission. The advice of simply ‘offering a freebie’ is not always helpful, unless your freebie is absolutely irresistible. 🤔 And coming up with an irresistible offer can feel IMPOSSIBLE!!
What Worked for Me -
Looking back, I can see that the issue with my blog was two fold - I had poor brand loyalty because the majority of my traffic came from Pinterest (very transactional) and my freebie was not solving any issues for the reader. Most people who were visiting my blog were great home bakers and they didn’t need tips!
One day, I had the idea to start hiding 2-3 of my most POPULAR recipes behind a subscriber wall. That’s right, you had to sign up as a subscriber to get that recipe.
Did it annoy some people and did I get crappy comments about it? Yes.
Did I quickly acquire a few thousand subscribers? YES!!!!!
I had finally found an awesome method for getting subscribers to my email list.
Obviously, a downside to this is that a portion of people unsubscribed once they got the recipe, but this will happen regardless of your offering. You will still have a portion of people who will stick and become long time subscribers.
I would wake up and see a couple hundred people a day during busy times of year. It was so motivating and a GREAT start for me!
Today, I no longer have blocked recipes as I was able to publish content with other valuable freebies & lead magnets.
Today, I have 9,000+ subscribers, and I’m pretty proud!
To avoid my mistakes, try to tackle email sign ups from both sides of the coin:
Here are some idea starters to grow your email list:
Here are some ideas for freebies that have been shown to have a high success rate in attracting email subscribers:
"How-to" guides: Offer step-by-step guides on very specific cooking techniques, meal planning, or other relevant topics within your niche. Avoid generic guides like, “How to Make the BEST Chocolate Cupcakes” - this format would work better to solve a problem, like, “How to food prep a week’s worth of dinners in 30 minutes”, or “Learn how to make your own wedding cake”
Cheat sheets: Provide printable cheat sheets or infographics on conversions, ingredient substitutions, or kitchen hacks.
Printables/Labels/Lead Magnets: Do you make food that can be gifted? Showcase your food as a gift in your blog photos for inspiration and create a label that can be downloaded upon signing up for your email list! Here’s an example of mine.
Printables needed to make the recipe: Does your recipe require a template? Make it available via an email subscription. Here’s an example of mine.
Resource lists: Create a list of your favorite tools or food-related products and share it with your subscribers. Works great for very specific types of culinary projects where you need a lot of tools (i.e. brewing beer, advanced gastronomy…make sure you add your affiliate links!)
Video tutorials: Create video tutorials on cooking techniques or recipe demos that are only available to email subscribers. I included full video tutorials as part of my subscription wall for recipes, which helped to retain subscribers.
Meal plans: Offer pre-made meal plans based on different dietary restrictions such as vegan, gluten-free, or keto diets - you can offer one plan or drip out a series over time to make the reader’s investment more appealing.
Challenges: Host a 7-day cooking challenge where you provide daily prompts and guidance for subscribers to try new recipes and techniques. Sally’s Baking Addiction has done this with her Beginner’s Guide to Yeast email series, and she runs monthly baking challenges.
Remember to tailor your freebie offers to the interests and needs of your specific audience and always provide high-quality content that offers value/solves a problem, and encourages engagement with your brand.
How to Optimize Email Sign Ups
Lastly, here are some tips for optimizing email sign ups from your readers!
Create plenty of opt-in forms: Place opt-in forms prominently on your website, including pop-ups, sidebar widgets, and near the recipe card of each blog post.
Share on social media: Promote your email list on social media channels and encourage followers to sign up for exclusive content and updates.
Collaborate with other bloggers: Partner with other bloggers in your niche to cross-promote each other's email lists.
Host giveaways: Run giveaways that require people to sign up to your email list in order to enter.
Master Your Mindset
Getting people to subscribe to your email list can be a journey and feel demotivating. You may need to test out a few different methods before you find one that sticks!
Remember: people will unsubscribe, but that is a good thing! They were never going to be invested in you, your content or offerings. Your end-goal is to retain a list of active and engaged subscribers.
Hopefully this gave you some fresh ideas and motivation to build your email list!