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What’s an email subscriber worth?

August 5, 2013 by

To build an effective audience you need a way to keep people updated on your latest content. You don’t want to rely on them remembering you and coming back—those are just drive by visitors—you want subscribers.

There are plenty of platforms to stay in touch: Twitter, email, Facebook, YouTube, and RSS all have ways for you to gather subscribers. Social media is hot, so you should focus there, right?

Actually no.

If you want really high numbers to claim you have a huge following, maybe Twitter and Facebook are the place to go—but I want to build an audience that buys products.

Conversion rates by referrer

My friend Ryan Delk at Gumroad has aggregate data from thousands of sellers ranging from ebook authors (like me) to famous musicians using their platform, the result is some really interesting stats.

To me the most interesting was conversion rate by referrer. Meaning, what percentage of the people who come to the sales page actually purchase?

  • YouTube: 2.2%
  • Twitter: 5.4%
  • Facebook: 6.3%
  • Email: 9.4%

Already email is the clear winner at nearly double the conversion rate of Twitter. If one platform is twice as effective, isn’t that where you should spend your energy? But that’s only a partial story.

What we really want to know is how valuable a social media follower is compared to an email subscriber. For that I pulled some data from my own campaigns.

Here are three campaigns with some pretty typical numbers for me (I’ve had click rates as high as 55%, but that isn’t as common:

Email:

  • 28% click rate from 7,024
  • 35% click rate from 5,655
  • 25.4% click rate from 6,928

Averaging those we get a 29.5% click rate. With a targeted list that actually wants to receive email from you, this is considered good, but not too hard.

Let’s compare that to Twitter:

Tweets:

  • 2.7% out of 4,300
  • 3.2% out of 4,200
  • 2.4% out of 5,400
  • 5.1% out of 4,600
  • 2% out of 4,800
  • 3.2% out of 4,200

Averaged that comes to a 3.1% click rate—and that data comes from my tweets with the best click rates. The popular tweets that get retweeted by accounts of over 100k followers often as little as a .1% click rate.

Let’s say we have 1,000 Twitter followers and 1000 e,mail subscribers?. How much more are the email subscribers worth?

Well, if we post a tweet and send an email, 31 people will click the link in the tweet and 290 subscribers will click the link in the email. Just based on that our email subscriber is worth 11x a Twitter follower.

But our end goal isn’t clicks, it’s purchases. Using the data from Gumroad we know that referrals from Twitter convert at 5.4%. So of the 31 that make it to the sales page 1.7 will buy. We can’t even get two full sales out of 1,000 followers.

Email converts on average at 9.4% on Gumroad, so out of the 290 people that make it to the sales page 27 will buy.

Let’s review those numbers:

  • 1,000 Twitter followers -> 31 clicks -> 1.7 sales
  • 1,000 email subscribers -> 290 clicks -> 27 sales

When we factor in the final conversion rate an email subscriber is worth roughly 15x as much as a Twitter follower!

That is consistent with plenty of real life examples I’ve seen. There plenty of times that sellers with a few hundred email subscribers have out sold celebrities with well over 10,000,000 Facebook and Twitter fans and followers.

But that’s still not the whole story.

When you build an audience on another platform, you don’t actually own them. Facebook could change their news feed algorithm so that your content isn’t shown as often (that happened recently to fan pages) or your chosen platform could die out. Where would you be now if you had built your following on MySpace?

Or what if RSS was your main source of contact with your audience? When Google Reader was shut down many sites lost 70% of their RSS subscribers (I lost 78%).

With email you own your audience. If one marketing platform doesn’t work for you, export your email addresses and find a new provider.

Now we shouldn’t entirely discount Twitter. It’s a great platform for helping content go viral—when that happens. I’ve had one blog post continue to gain traffic from Twitter, and I used that to collect as many email subscribers as possible.

I love interacting with friends and followers on social media, but when I need to make money for my business, I focus on email.

Note for the skeptics: When I first ran these numbers I came to the conclusion that an email subscriber was worth 27x as much as a Twitter follower. Just to be clear of any bias I redid the numbers choosing my best performing tweets and my lower performing emails. So that 15x number quoted earlier is very conservative.

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