Note: this post is a work in progress
Email signups are arguably one of the few assets a recipe site can own and develop, and as such, are a key part of running a food blog.
However, current practices fall short in a number of ways.
Rather than look at how other "food blogs" operate, what if we stepped back and looked at the wider food-industry publishers as a whole? Are there insights we can pick up? Best practices that we're not aware of?
As it turns out, yes.
In order to comply with modern best practices for pagespeed and user experience, it looks like we'll be changing our recommendation to integrating a "subscribe" button into the Modern Menu
This button then gets linked to a dedicated newsletter sign up page (eg. https://feastdesignco.com/newsletter) so that you can:
- remove user-unfriendly (intrusive) newsletter pop ups
This change is designed to:
- improve pagespeed by decreasing DOM nodes
- improve accessibility by removing poorly-implemented newsletter forms (basically all of them)
- improve user experience by removing annoying pop overs (which can also cause penalties if poorly implemented)
- improve sign up rates by creating a "subscribe" button that is available 100% of the time on the page when they are ready to subscribe, not randomly somewhere in the content or via an intrusive popup when they're not ready
- improve sign up rates by offering different options for the reader to sign up for, per Matt Molen's method, instead of just "get random recipes in your inbox"
Sign up rates
Anecdotally, pop over sign up forms perform 200%-300% better than forms embedded into content.
This is such a massive difference, that it's clear that readers pay little-to-no attention to in-content forms.
By making the "subscribe" button sticky, prominent and available at all times, we're guaranteeing that the reader is able to subscribe when they're convinced you can offer them long-term value.
This doesn't happen on first page load, and it doesn't happen after an arbitrary number of seconds after page load. The current setup just isn't user-focused.
It happens when some part of your content triggers a desire to stay connected with you. This varies from person to person, and isn't something you have complete control over.
You need to to present them with the sign up option when they are ready for it, and the best way to do this is to have it constantly available.
Unfortunately, we're not aware of any newsletter/email company that has light weight, performant pop overs or sign up forms. More often than not, they're extremely bloated.
This is further compounded by the fact that Google appears to be scoring sites for pagespeed as a whole as well as individual pages.
Even if you optimize your top content and achieve high "Lab Data" results on a specific page, the "Origin Summary" shows whether your domain as a whole performs poorly using real-world Google Chrome data.
Page Experience ranking factor
The page experience algorithm change coming in 2021 will specifically penalize mobile interstitials. While this has been a ranking factor since around 2013, it appears to be receiving additional attention with this announcement.
Interstitials are things that pop over content on the first page load - newsletter sign ups are the biggest offender in this category.
The reason behind this: nobody wants to sign up for your newsletter before they've even read a word of your content.
And you don't want to share your email with any companies/sites either, before you know whether they're offering high quality content.
Aside from Google's upcoming page experience algorithm change, pop ups are just a terrible user experience. They get in the way of 100% of your readers, despite being something that less than 1% of users actually want.
Yes - newsletters are a critically important asset for recipe sites. As noted above, it's one of the few things you actually own. As a site owner, getting sign ups is necessary.
However, you do need to acknowledge that it has a negative overall affect on user experience. This falls into the same bucket as ads - which are necessary for revenue, which lets you continue to operate a site, but let's not pretend that they're pleasant.
When should you start using newsletters
Despite the obvious benefits of using one, we recommend people add newsletter sign ups only after they're seeing 1000+ visits per month.
This is because signing up for services and integrating them into the website is a complex process that detracts from the two most important things when starting:
- writing high quality content
- building backlinks
The traffic levels in the first year of building a recipe site are so insignificant that putting off newsletters has basically no long-term effect. Anything less than 1000 visits per month over the course of a year is meaningless compared to 10,000+ visits per month you should be above by year 2.
For context, you need 25,000 sessions/month to qualify for an ad network, which is what provides the income to actually pay for the monthly fees for a newsletter service.
This is why, much like ads, we recommend avoiding newsletters until they can make a meaningful difference.
Given the issues with pagespeed and user experience above, I think the best solution is to:
- incorporate a link/ability to have a sticky newsletter in the Modern Mobile Menu so that it's always accessible to the reader as they're scrolling down the page
On first reading this can seem like a backwards move, but it it supports multiple factors:
- improves user experience by removing interstitials that get in the way of content
- improves user experience by making the sign up accessible during the full reading experience
Having a dedicated newsletter sign up page also introduces new opportunities.
Your audience has a diverse set of needs and wants, and only presenting them with the option of "sign up for emails about new recipes" meets only a small fraction of those.
Instead, you can present multiple opt-ins for different purposes:
- to be notified of new recipes
- to be opted-in to an email series about a particular topic such as:
- diet 101 / intro to your niche
- cooking skills or techniques
- repurpose your existing content into an email series such as "top 5 vegan breakfasts"
While "get my latest recipes" may only be attractive to 0.1% of your readers, you can attract an additional 0.1% through additional lead magnets. Having 4-5 different offers can increase your sign up rates by 400%-500%.
This is something that's still not fully utilized for recipe sites. People come to your site looking for a specific recipe, not to just see what you happened to cook last week.
These are the same reasons we dropped support for the blog page and turned the Modern Homepage into a category-based display instead of "recent posts". People are interested in topics, not chronological content.
The great thing about creating email series around specific topics is that it can be done in a way that's cyclic. An email series about "top 5 best drinks for summer" is useful every summer.
Promising someone "I'm going to send you a new drink recipe to try every Friday, all summer" is timely, and offers a clear value proposition.
Or "I'll send you a new vegan breakfast recipe every day for a month" is a great offer for someone who is exploring a vegan lifestyle.
In theory, you have to set these up once and they're generating useful content forever.
Check out Matt Molen's course and services.
Google uses a dedicated newsletter subscription page coupled with a floating button for their web.dev site: