December 03, 2013
Case Study

Email Marketing: Copyblogger's email list grows by 400% using free paywall to access

SUMMARY: Frustrated by the email conversion plateau of traditional methods, online content marketing website Copyblogger launched a free paywall, "MyCopyblogger," with the goal of allowing registered members access to consistent and deeply valuable content.

With the goal of increasing its list and nurturing leads, see how MyCoppyblogger increased email sign-ups by 400%.

The attached paid training program, Authority, had thousands of members after less than two months.
by Courtney Eckerle, Reporter


Email marketing is the highest-converting sales channel online, but practices are constantly shifting.

Online content marketing website Copyblogger saw email opt-ins as the key to achieving success, but having the 500,000 unique monthly site visitors sign up became increasingly difficult.

The challenge driving a website and content redesign was simple, according to Sean Jackson, Chief Financial Officer, Copyblogger Media, was, "How do we get more of these 500,000 plus unique monthly visitors into a relationship with us so we can communicate over time?"

Copyblogger wanted to improve its email conversions, but didn't trust that traditional methods, such as simply offering a newsletter, would work. The team wanted to offer more perceived and actual value than those traditional methods.

The solution came with the idea of putting premium content behind what Copyblogger has termed a "free paywall" with the creation of MyCopyblogger.

Taking an email spin on the system magazines and newspapers use for paid subscription to its online content, prospects were driven to become users of MyCopyblogger. Instead of paying for access, users simply give their email address to gain access to a protected library of premium content.


Brian Clark, Founder and CEO, Copyblogger Media, has been in email publishing and marketing for 15 years, and has seen the major evolutions of email marketing.

"From the beginning when anyone would sign up for anything — that was the 90s. Then, I saw how things really got tougher with spam and spam filters, even for legitimate publishers, and the introduction of social media and people saying email is dead," he said.

Email has endured, and proven itself as a critical marketing tool, but since Copyblogger speaks to other marketers, its arena is one of the most competitive.

"You're not talking to people who don't know what you're doing. So, we've always constantly tried to increase the value," he added.

Through the goal of consistently increasing value, Clark became fixated on the idea of having a registration-powered content library concept, which manifested itself in MyCopyblogger.

In May 2013, Copyblogger launched the MyCopyblogger redesign, turning its most valuable real estate — the homepage — into an engine that drives email sign-ups. Visitors were encouraged to access premium content by registering with their email address.

Besides giving an email address, it is free at the basic level, and allows registered users to access 15 high-quality e-books and a 20-part email course on smarter online marketing.

MyCopyblogger was designed to deliver more value with a nonpublic place for registrants to visit after trusting Copyblogger with their email address. It is similar to social media, Clark said, where "you don't get access without registration."

While "evolving email marketing beyond the inbox," for this project, Copyblogger had a main objective to increase the amount of people who flowed through MyCopyblogger to build up the email list.

Step #1. Use the email strategy to bring prospects into the pipeline

When prospects register with MyCopyblogger, they gain access to an online space with a large library of content that is updated and sent out over time. Registered users are brought back into the membership area every time the team releases a new piece of content along with notification by email.

"We tried to tie MyCopyblogger to that concept [of registration] as opposed to an opt-in to a newsletter. I think it's a subtle distinction, but I think it actually matters, especially having a private place that they get to interact with, as opposed to just waiting for things to show up in their email box," he said.

Merging the registration process with email updates, MyCopyblogger pilfers social media ideas for advanced email marketing. This complimentary partnership helps to ensure Copyblogger is supplying value.

It's an ironic friendship, according to Clark, because social media was meant to be the downfall of email, but "who started doing some of the most aggressive email marketing out there? Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn."

"I think it would have been overkill a few years ago," Clark said.
But now, the idea of registration suggests a higher value to people, and Clark said there is a certain subtle, but powerful cache to the idea of offering exclusive access.

Instead of the typical view of email marketing of "let me throw things at you," the concept is "let us invite you into our place," Clark said.

Step #2. Provide value in exchange for an email address

When Clark started Copyblogger in 2006, "[blogs] had all these silly rules, like you could never write over 250 words, and you had to post every day, and it was supposed to be like a diary, not like a book," he said.

"I teach people to write, and yet, I've never technically written a book. But, I've written probably four or five books between the blog and our premium content," he said.

There is a constant battle to provide more value and higher perceived value, Clark said. This is especially true being in such a competitive space. He prefers to go out of his way to provide value first, without asking for anything in return, to build up trust.

"I felt that for us this was the right time to do this both as an example, and for our own business. Building up that trust and affinity and how the registration will help to do that for the long term," he said.

According to Clark, the overall strategy involves creating really high-quality tutorial-type blog content that is shared on social media. This is a strategy that has been built up over the years.

With email marketing and marketing in general, "you have to figure out some way to get people to the site, and when they're there, they have to be impressed that you're delivering them more value than what you're trying to take away," Clark said.

Step #3. Build the infrastructure for MyCopyblogger

MyCopyblogger dates back several years as an idea, Clark said, but between now and then, a software within WordPress was being built to support it.

"We actually built software for WordPress that allows you to create these kind of registration back-ends, whether it's paid or free, it's a paywall. In this case, [for MyCopyblogger] we don't charge money — we charge an email address," Clark said.

Copyblogger's development team built a software solution called Premise, which began as landing page software, but then was updated to include membership capabilities and payment processing for premium members.

Copyblogger has since sold the software to the public, but the team was always building it with the goal in mind of using it for this project.

"We needed it to be powerful enough to build MyCopyblogger the way I wanted it, so instead of doing custom code, we just built the software to our specifications, and then we used that to build MyCopyblogger, and then we released the newest version to the public," Clark said.

The interesting thing, Clark added, is that the software is essentially "point and click" with very little coding. It was created mainly by Chris Garrett, a Copyblogger designer. Clark was sure to point out Garrett "is not a coder, which is amazing."

Alongside MyCopyblogger, a new paid training program called Authority was launched. Premium content that had been developed for other programs was brought into MyCopyblogger so people could pay to have access to it.

It is built off of the same Premise software, both the free side and the pay side, which "comes back to that sense of place, because when you're in the free side, you can see all the pay stuff, you just can't access it," Clark said.

An email offer was sent out promoting Authority, and Clark said he wondered if the email offer would convert as many people as simply having it hosted within MyCopyblogger, but he said "they're about neck-and-neck."

Step #4. Update and repurpose content

When it came to the actual building and launch, Clark said the hardest part was getting all of the content repurposed and in-line with MyCopyblogger.

"There was a redesign, but there was also a conversion of a lot of our content, a lot of updating, editing, bringing forward to 2013, and then transforming what had been a series of blog posts into e-books," he said.

MyCopyblogger offers access to 15 e-books and a 20-part Internet marketing course, as well as a roundup of the freshest Copyblogger content. The subjects covered are:
  • Copywriting 101

  • How to Create Compelling Content

  • How to Write Magnetic Headlines

  • Landing Pages

  • Content Marketing

  • Content Marketing Research

  • Email Marketing

  • Keyword Research

Additional editing was especially important to convey the value of the content, and Clark added "since we've been doing this for seven-and-a-half years, we had a ton of that Cornerstone Content."

Step #5. Promote to subscribers with unique email content

Previously, to drum up email subscribers, Copyblogger would do an end-of-the-week blog post that described what the newsletter was about, and encourage readers to sign up.

"That was always effective. But, it was somewhat redundant because the message was pretty much the same every time," Clark said.

With MyCopyblogger, an announcement was sent out to the general list, and because there are 15 e-books, there were 15 unique email promotions sent out. Copyblogger sent out one of these a week, usually on Friday.

"So, instead of always talking about the same newsletter or course, we highlight one e-book a week, and since there are 15 pieces of content, that is an over three month strategy where you're never technically repeating yourself," Clark said.

Copyblogger has been careful about suppressing these sends to ensure that people who opted-in to MyCopyblogger or upgraded to Authority aren't being sent these email pitches.

"You don't want to send irrelevant messages to people you don't have to. That's the great thing with email marketing and marketing automation that we're moving into … but, at a minimum, don't pound people over the head who've already taken the action that you want them to," Clark said.

Step #6. Use SEO strength to drive list sign-ups

Copyblogger is ranked second behind Wikipedia in organic search for "copywriting," and is on the first page of Google with the rest of the site's Cornerstone Content — SEO Copywriting, Content Marketing, Landing Pages and Email Marketing.

The Copyblogger SEO strategy "wasn't any kind of black hat thing," Clark said, but very usability-oriented.

Because of building up the SEO of its Cornerstone Content, all the social and search traffic is being driven to convert on MyCopyblogger, which Clark said is "why we saw such a dramatic rise in our email list."

Clark said Copyblogger is on track to build an 180,000-person list in one year because it transformed the conversion pathways of the site to aim toward opting-in, combined with MyCopyblogger.

"All of those things were one concerted effort. I always say … this was the plan for it to work this way, but you still love to see that it actually works," Clark said, adding that $300,000 in Authority sales was accomplished in the first month because it is connected to MyCopyblogger.


MyCopyblogger is the result of a theory that Clark said many marketers are starting to realize and adopt.

"The more you give online, the more you get back," he said, adding that far too often, the opposite mentality pervades marketing and sales in more traditional environments.

Since the realization that content marketing can improve many, if not all, aspects of a business, including growing email lists, marketers are starting to see the possibilities of a symbiotic relationship.

"If you give people what they want and that aligns with your business goals, what you're trying to accomplish, then it's a win-win," he said.

The results Copyblogger achieved were:
  • The free subscription page averaged a 67% conversion rate through the first seven weeks.
  • First week list growth was 930% higher than the lowest Internet Marketing for Smart People (IMfSP) week's growth — a previous Copyblogger 20-part course and newsletter.

  • First week's growth was 300% bigger than the best week's IMfSP growth — closer to 400% if you include new paid subscribers.

  • Only 6% of the free membership traffic and 16% of the paid Authority opt-in page traffic was new to the site — everyone else was a returning visitor.

  • The most visited page on Copyblogger right now, besides the main landing page, is behind the paywall, with almost a third of all traffic logging in after arrival.

Clark said, "We give people a ton of value, and we're achieving our business goals not only with the new Authority, but all our software, all our hosting. That becomes our primary sales channel."

That is certainly worth 15 books and all of the other content and email marketing put into launching and maintaining MyCopyblogger, he added.

Jackson, as CFO, agreed heartily, and said June is historically the worst month for Copyblogger.

This year, however, "[June] was one of our best months, with revenue up in every product category. For the year, we expect an overall increase of revenue across all product lines of $600,000 due to the change. This is the kind of thing that pleases the CFO," he said.

"I just say — use us as an example — that, yes, it does work. We're not kumbaya necessarily. We are a business that's in it to make profit. But, we do that by giving people what they need, solving their problems, and satisfying their desires," Clark concluded.

To enter a subject line contest between MarketingExperiments, sister company to MarketingSherpa, and Copyblogger, please visit the MarketingExperiments Blog.

Creative Samples

  1. Copyblogger homepage

  2. MyCopyblogger landing page



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