Why a Focus on Subscribers, Not Web Traffic, Transformed My Strategy

focus on subscribers

Many of you have noticed a dramatic difference in how my blog posts are being delivered to you. In fact, some people have asked me … “where’s your blog?” Today, I will expose a flaw in my business and why a new focus on subscribers instead of web traffic resulted in the new blog delivery system you’re seeing today.

This is my story (and maybe it’s your story too?).

The complacent strategist

I had become lazy.

Prior to the pandemic, business was coming so easily to me that I really didn’t need to focus on the nuts and bolts of my digital strategy. As my personal brand rose, opportunities poured in. It seemed like I didn’t need to worry about marketing.

I recognize the irony. I’m on a lot of “best of” lists as a digital marketing thought leader, and here I am, ignoring my digital marketing. What an idiot.

But the post-pandemic world is an era of unintended consequences. The dynamics of my customer base changed, and I needed to change with them, fast!

The right measure drives the business

In his famous book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins emphasizes the importance of choosing the single right measure for a business. It drives behavior up and down the value chain, so it is a big deal!

100 percent human contentLike nearly every other digital marketer on the planet, I was obsessed with web traffic. And it drove me NUTS!

You have to understand that I come from a manufacturing background. When there is variability in a manufacturing process, we wanted to know WHY. We wanted to hunt down the root cause and improve it.

But the internet world is aggravating and often defies statistical logic. For years, there would be wild swings in my web traffic, and each time I asked my web guru why, there would be a shoulder shrug and a puzzled look. It could be anything. A little change to the Google algorithm. Unexpected traffic from links. The inevitable decline in traffic to popular older posts (and I have a lot of them!).

I even hired experts to help me sort through the data. The work involved in tracking down attribution exceeded any benefit. Over time, I just gave up on the idea of assigning meaning to web traffic.

It seemed like I had a rudderless ship.

I felt nearly helpless trying to understand a key metric for my business. Truth is, nobody understands the internet. I needed to reflect on what Jim Collins said and come up with a new measure, the right measure.

Focus on subscribers

When business slows down each holiday season, I use the downtime to reflect on what is working and not working in my business. Last year, realizing that I had the wrong metric was only the beginning.

  1. Subscriptions to my blog and podcast were stagnant. Part of this is due to what I call the “physics” of subscriptions. The larger your subscriber base, the harder it is to grow. You can read a detailed analysis about this: surprising math behind a growing social media community
  2. My entire website was sub-optimized for subscriptions.
  3. I had numerous Excel spreadsheets of various customer groups. Too much manual labor!
  4. By focusing on traffic instead of subscribers, I stupidly ignored the fact that subscribers will be more likely to hire me or buy my books and online classes one day.
  5. My email delivery system was badly outdated and poorly managed.

I felt ashamed by how I had overlooked so many digital marketing basics. But the good news was, I had an obvious focus for the coming year!

The new plan to focus on subscribers

My first realization was that I had to abandon my attention to web traffic. I know that sounds weird, but it is absolutely not the right measure for my business, and all it caused was stress. I have not looked at web traffic trends to my site in at least six months.

My key business metric had to focus on subscribers. Subscribers are future customers.

My immediate need was to turn the ship around and start attracting new subscribers. Here was my plan:

  1. Invest in a comprehensive email management program. I was able to do this through the guidance of email genius Robbie Fitzwater and his company MKTG Rhythm.
  2. Focus on subscribers and their needs in my content plan. I know … that sounds so obvious. But recently, my writing tended to follow my whims instead of reader needs. An example of this change was a comprehensive post I did about how to design an AI marketing strategy. This was a lot of work and not my favorite topic, but it was a post that needed to be written right now. So I’m doubling down on more relevant and timely content for you.
  3. I went through my website looking for opportunities to encourage subscriptions, including an unobtrusive pop-up ad, which I had previously resisted.

Those are the main pillars, and I am already seeing encouraging results. Last year, nearly every month registered some small net decline in subscribers. This year has had a positive gain every month.

Yes, this means something for you!

This is a long way to explain why the blog posts being delivered to you look different. The new format is a result of my strategy, and in particular, the new email system.

So, you can expect even better content in a fresh new format. I’m just beginning to turn the ship around and there will undoubtedly be more ideas and innovations coming to you soon!

If you would like to help me envision a better future for this blog, please fill out this five-minute survey!

I never take you for granted. Thank you for spending time with me and my content! I hope you enjoy the new format coming to your inbox.

Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak at your company event or conference soon.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram.


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