Every 17 years, Western Pennsylvania where I make my home gets *invaded*.
These nasty-looking bugs the size of your thumb called 17 Year Cicadas crawl up out of the ground and start buzzing around everywhere.
Unfortunately they're slow, clumsy fliers. When you're out driving around, they splatter on the windshield.
It's not so bad when you're puttering around the neighborhood.
At highway speeds though, those bugs are strewing their guts all over the window every few seconds.
There's a useful analogy here to what happens as your email list growth picks up speed.
As an example, let's talk about the list-building efforts of subscriber Hrag, who runs a coffee shop in San Francisco.
He recently ran a giveaway that netted him 600 subscribers for $300.
Not a bad result at all. Any time you can add subscribers to your list for less than $1, that's a win in most niches.
He's a little worried about these new subscribers though:
The main thing I'm looking for is understanding what percent of these contestants will end up buying something from me in the future.
I think my issue is, I don't have benchmarks, which makes it hard to know if I'm doing well or not. Budget isn't an issue for me, I could spend $5k if I knew I would get 10,000 quality subscribers. I hate junk subscribers, because all they do is suck up bandwidth (I use MailChimp for my newsletters).
Here's the typical path that a lot of online entrepreneurs follow with growing their email list:
Things start off S-L-O-W at first.
You're getting just a trickle of traffic to your blog, and you're adding maybe 20-30 new subscribers a month.
During this “new list” phase, everyone who signs up for your list is SUPER interested, just because they had to scour the Internet in order to stumble across you and get on your list.
You see sky-high engagement. You send an email, and 50-60% of people open it. 20% of people will click any link you send out.
Metaphorically speaking, you're driving around the neighborhood at 5 miles an hour.
You've been going so slow, you don't have the opportunity to hit many “bugs” (i.e. less engaged subscribers).
Months go by, your traffic grows.
Now you're getting 500 signups a month.
To your shock and horror, though, you see your engagement start to drop off.
Now a good open rate is maybe 35%.
Is my email list dying? you start to wonder.
You're just picking up speed.
And as you do, you're gonna “hit more bugs.”
You're going to find that you get more subscribers who are only casually interested in what you have going on.
Now let's say you do some big promotions.
You start running pay-per-click ads on Facebook.
Maybe you do a giveaway like Hrag.
Now instead of getting 500 signups in a month, you get 500 in a few DAYS.
What's going to happen?
Effectively you've just bolted a jet engine on the back of your car, and you're streaking down the highway at 300 mph.
You'll have bugs slamming into your windshield faster than you can count 'em.
Whenever you accelerate your list growth like this, you're going to pick up some “junk subscribers” like Hrag is wondering about.
There's no avoiding it.
And worrying about those low-quality subscribers won't get you anywhere.
The thing you need to concern yourself with is:
Am I making progress toward my destination?
Am I picking up enough *good quality* subscribers in the process
to make my efforts and expense here worthwhile?
That's all that matters.
Because if you are, it's easy enough to scrape the bug guts off your window later.