There’s an action that almost every blogger wants his or her users to take. Most of these bloggers use a single word to convince readers to take this action. They use this word because other bloggers use it.
A week and a half ago I had a sudden realization. Subscriptions generally cost money. Think about that for a second. It’s jarring, especially if you’ve spent the past few months or even years incessantly asking your readers to subscribe.
What Does It Mean to Subscribe?
Here are the definitions of “subscribe” from two online dictionaries.
Dictionary.com: “to pledge, as by signing an agreement, to give or pay (a sum of money) as a contribution, gift, or investment.”
Merriam-Webster.com: “to write (one’s name) underneath.”
Are you being completely clear with your word choice? When you ask your readers to subscribe, are you asking them to do the virtual version of writing their name underneath? Or are you asking them to agree to pay you a sum of money?
You want your readers to sign up for a free service because every time one of them does, your blog becomes a little bit more valuable (and you get a small ego boost). You need to make it absolutely obvious to these people that it costs nothing more than a few seconds of time to get valuable content delivered directly to them via RSS or e-mail.
The percentage of readers who misunderstand what you mean when you ask them to subscribe is largely dependent on your niche. Readers who know what RSS is probably aren’t confused by the terminology, but most web users have no clue about RSS (as Brian has pointed out here and here).
I’ve found that a good measure of reader savviness is a blog’s split between RSS and e-mail subscribers - the higher the percentage of RSS subscribers, the more savvy the readership. I write a blog about entry-level jobs for new college graduates. Despite what you might think of the younger generation, the vast majority of my site’s visitors are not familiar with RSS. 55% of my subscribers get my daily posts through e-mail.
From what I’ve heard from other bloggers this is well above average, and I believe that my percentage of e-mail subscribers would be even higher had less savvy readers not been scared off because they thought “subscribing” would cost them money. These are the readers who think of magazines when they hear “subscribe.”
They think of paying to get something.
Great Theory! Now Back It Up
I use Google Analytics’ outbound click tracking on my blog so that I can analyze the subscription behavior of my readers. This method misses RSS subscriptions from the address bar, but the people who subscribe in that way are probably the most savvy readers and are basically irrelevant to this case study.
Most of my subscribers use one of the two large buttons on my site. The buttons used to include the text “Subscribe by E-mail” and “Subscribe by RSS” along with appropriate graphics. After I had my epiphany, I switched the text to “Get Jobs by E-mail” and “Get Jobs by RSS.”
The above graph shows the trend in clicks to my RSS feed and e-mail subscription buttons for the 8 days prior to the change and the 8 days after the change. My subscription rate has increased 254% since I made the change, and 66% of the new subscribers are e-mail subscribers.
This is in line with my hypothesis that the people who misunderstand the word “subscribe” are the same people who will choose e-mail over RSS. Although they may not be web savvy, these readers are extremely valuable. It is essential in all copywriting that you avoid unclear jargon, even if it’s not jargon to you.
Words Make All the Difference
OK, so I haven’t proven that my readers actually associated the word “subscribe” with paying money. The only way to prove that is by surveying readers.
But I believe I have shown that very small changes in word choice based on well-thought-out theories can have a significant influence on the actions that you urge your readers to take. Whether or not my theory on the connotations associated with the word “subscribe” is accurate is irrelevant. It’s results that matter, and changing one word on my blog has given me outstanding results.
When readers visit my site, I now invite them to “Get Jobs by E-mail.” Brian encourages readers to get “E-mail Updates,” and he did this way before I submitted this article to him.
How will you alter your word choice to increase your subscription rate?
About the Author: Besides writing about entry-level jobs on One Day, One Job, Willy Franzen also consults with employers on how they can use social media and the Internet for more effective recruiting.
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