Is Twitter a waste of time for an email marketer?

Last week while we were recording the Entreprogrammers Podcast, John Sonmez hit me with a painful proposition:

Has my entire marketing strategy for my books been wrong?

Let me back up.

Over the last couple of months, sales of my two Sublime Text books have tapered off. I recognized the downward trend in April, and I decided to step up my marketing efforts, including:

  • Consolidating several old blogs to improve my search engine rankings
  • Experimenting with paid Twitter advertising
  • Promoting my email newsletter more aggressively
  • Increasing my email frequency (sending daily emails)
  • Posting more content on my blog
  • Promoting older blog posts on Twitter
  • Adding a special incentive to my most popular blog post to encourage email signups

This burst of activity has paid off big time–I’ve increased traffic to my site by almost 10X. Here’s a comparison between the first week of March and the week that just concluded:


But here’s the catch… I was selling more books in March than I am now. In fact, I’m struggling to even give away free stuff to convert visitors to my site to my email list.

John, Derick and I were kicking that around and trying to decide what is going on.

That’s when John dropped the bombshell on me:

Had I made a mistake by focusing a lot of my marketing energy on building a Twitter following instead of writing more blog posts to get organic traffic?

John theorized that most of my “increase” in traffic has come from my stepped-up promotion of my old articles on Twitter. If that’s true, it would make sense that I’m not getting a lot of email signups from the traffic to my blog, because these visitors already knew me, and probably most of them had already made a decision about whether to join my newsletter or not.

The question gave me pause.

If that was true, it meant I’d wasted a lot of time building my Twitter following when I should have just been blogging more.

After the call, I decided to dig into my Google Analytics and email signup stats and see what was working and what wasn’t.

The first thing I wanted to determine was where my email signups were coming from. I’m currently using three main techniques to collect email addresses:

  • Showing a “lightbox” popup to every new visitor to my site (organic and Twitter)
  • Offering a special incentive for visitors who sign up from high-traffic posts (organic)
  • Tweeting links to newsletter landing page three times per week from my @SublimeTxtTips account

Here’s how the numbers broke down:

  • Popup – 7 signups from all unique site visitors (1.24% conversion rate)
  • Special incentive – 33 signups out of 1,231 unique visits (2.68% conversion rate)
  • Tweeting about newsletter – 84 signups (33.7% conversion rate on newsletter landing page)

But, you might think, that makes perfect sense. After all, it sounds like I’m getting most of my traffic from Twitter, not from organic search. And Twitter traffic is low quality when compared to organic traffic, right?

Not in my case.

Here’s a snapshot of my traffic sources:


Almost 52% of my traffic is coming from organic searches. And more than half of those visitors are landing on a long, detailed blog post that provides a step-by-step walkthrough that solves a common problem people have with Sublime Text. The average time a visitor spends on that page is more than 7 minutes. It’s a content marketer’s dream come true!

And keep in mind that this is my best post ever. It currently receives around 5,000 page views a month–it’s definitely a high performer. But even with all that traffic and a tailor-made giveaway that appeals specifically to visitors to that post (one of my favorite features of LeadPages, I’m still getting many more subscribers from Twitter each week than from a blog that’s on track to receive 20,000 visitors this month.

Here’s a comparison of my traffic sources and how they convert to email signups:


So what’s the point?

Content marketing is all the rage right now. Just give away all your best content for free, and people will love you and throw money at you.

And that might very well be true in your market.

But don’t just assume that it’s the best approach, or the only one that will work.

For me, social media–Twitter in particular–has proven to be a more reliable source of new email signups than getting organic traffic through writing blog posts.

Kestrel Blackmore - June 10, 2014

Interesting Josh.

Before listening to the entreprogrammers podcast I’d never even thought of using twitter to get subscribers to your email list. So it’s good to hear that you believe it’s a valid marketing method.

But how about your dwindling sales. Any idea what is happening there?

    josh - June 10, 2014

    Not sure what’s up with my sales. The last couple of months (since my book launch) have been pretty lackluster. I did look back at sales from the same three months last year, and they weren’t great either. Then they took off in September. So there is probably a seasonal effect at play.

    Another factor is Sublime itself. Sublime fans are pretty nervous that it’s going to go the way of TextMate. It feels like the momentum is shifting away from Sublime… Hard to say for sure, though. I’ll have to see what happens when ST3 comes out. Hopefully that’s soon…

      Rob Yurkowski - July 28, 2015

      For what it’s worth, you usually get me on site through Twitter these days — a morning tweet will pull me in to read, but I’m off the site after that. Sublime isn’t in my interests (I’ve been vimfected), but marketing posts like this are. I’m getting your email course right now.

      I know that if you put out a -short- ebook on the topic, I’d be an easy conversion. I actually went looking to see if maybe you had put one out and I’d missed it, but I had to hunt for where your books are listed. You could be much more blatant in your header about the fact you’ve got a book for sale. Frankly, as a visitor to your site, I -want- to know that.

        Josh Earl - July 29, 2015

        Thanks, Rob! I’m mostly listing my books on this site as a credibility thing, rather than hoping to actually make sales.

        And Vim rocks! It was my first serious text editor, until I realized that I just couldn’t keep all the shortcuts in my head…

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