A few years ago, I managed to get over 2,000 people onto a brand new email list for the site we just launched, from a single Reddit post.
Most of us know Reddit can be a harsh place, especially if you’re blatantly marketing or promoting your site.
What’s interesting is that in the post (shown below), I linked directly to a landing page that asked for an email before any information was given. But I didn’t get banned or flamed for marketing on Reddit, like you’d expect. In fact the comments were overwhelmingly positive, and of course, thousands of people happily gave opted in to our list.
In this article we’ll be dissecting this Reddit post and telling the surrounding story, including:
- Our offer and why the subreddit liked it so much
- How I got away with posting a link to an email collection landing page
- Why a normal “blog post” probably couldn’t pull this off
- How I added some “viral sharing” aspects to the post
Let’s start with the website we were building, so you can understand why marketing on Reddit is a great idea if done correctly.
(Note: If you want an easy way to capture more leads or emails from your current website, try Fieldboom.)
Why This Particular Post Was Created
Before the 2013 NFL season, a few friends from college & I wanted to create a fantasy football website….
….but nothing sounded like more of a drag than regularly creating player rankings, sit/start articles, and a weekly podcast that went out to no one.
At the time, I was a relatively new Reddit user but had learned enough to know that it can drive massive amounts of traffic and their users are a bunch of savvy, brutally honest people (internet anonymity really brings that out of us humans) not afraid to downvote you into oblivion if they feel you’re blatantly trying to market to them.
Having studied a bit about how to be successful marketing on Reddit, in addition to being naïve, I believed I could create something of enough value for fantasy football players to make for a popular post in the /r/fantasyfootball subreddit.
So I went for it.
The Post Itself
Quick note: Back in August 2013, a total post score of 189 was enough to be on the first page of all-time highest scoring posts for the subreddit….as Reddit has grown over the past 4 years, post scores are now significantly higher.
Anatomy of This Particular Successful Reddit Post
I believe the success of this post came down to:
- Giving the subreddit something it will find really valuable & worth upvoting.
- Using the post to show the value & work that went into what was being shared.
- A few “tricks” to increase virality and sharing.
So let’s break down each of these 3….
Giving the Subreddit Something Worth Upvoting
In my view, this is the most critical part of why the post was successful. If I had just posted yet another “how to” article on fantasy football and posted it in that subreddit, it would either have been taken down or just sat there with a handful of upvotes and barely driven any traffic back to our site. (And forget getting any email subscribers, much less 2,000 of them.)
Instead, I spent many hours and $300 to create a tool that was actually useful to this target audience. It was unique, useful, and free. That combination was critical to making this entire process work.
Here are the details of how I created this tool and why it was useful.
There is a method of drafting a fantasy team called ‘Value Based Drafting’ (VBD). You need a tool to help you draft this way and at the time you could only get access to one of these tools from one of a few paid subscription sites.
For example, here is a VBD feature on the site FantasyPros:
Pretty much every fantasy player wants an edge over their competition but only a small percentage of them are willing to pay for it.
It actually was a drafting strategy I had wanted to use in the past but I couldn’t justify spending money on fantasy football (outside of the league entry fees, of course). Now that we were trying to run and grow a fantasy football website, the perfect justification fell into my lap!
- Bought 3 different tools and analyzed the best features of each.
- Hired someone on Elance (now called Upwork) to be able to custom code an excel based tool that combined those best features.
To save on costs, I hired a Visual Basic coder from a developing country on the other side of the world. He was a talented coder but knew nothing about American football.
Because of that, we had to get on Skype several times to help clarify exactly what was needed to be done (it’s easy to take for granted all the abbreviations for player positions and statistics). Complicating matters, there were only a few hours each day where it was a sensible time for both of us to connect.
The total cost to check out those 3 tools & then create ours was around $300 (about $70 to access the 3 premium tools and $235 to create our own version).
Hindsight is 20/20: Connections to Now Famous SEO Strategies
At the time, I was an amateur marketer, so what I did was just create something I actually thought was pretty damn useful to the audience (fantasy football fans).
But, in hindsight, there are two famous strategies in the SEO world that have put a name to this technique that are worth mentioning:
(1) Rand Fishkin “10X content”
In one of the best Whiteboard Fridays from Rand Fishkin of Moz, he describes how to create a linkable asset by making something 10x better than anything else on that topic.
(2) Brian Dean’s Skyscraper Technique
Similarly, in arguably the most famous article on Backlinko.com, Brian Dean explains his Skyscraper Technique for making something better than the rest of the results on the first page of Google on that topic.
Of course, I wasn’t doing this for SEO, I just did this to build an initial audience via marketing on Reddit.
But there are themes in both of those articles that, looking back, were essential to making this post successful:
- Different in scope – It wasn’t a how-to article, it was an actual tool.
- Hard to replicate – Like I said, I had to buy 3 tools and hire a coder to pull this off.
- Inspire awe – All other value based drafting tools were paid. This was (as far as I, and the thousands of people in that subreddit were concerned) one of the only tools to do it for free. That’s pretty cool (for people into value based drafting).
You can read the comments in the actual post (linked above) to see the result of the above 3 factors, but here’s one with 13 upvotes and some unbridled (and NSFW) excitement:
Like I said, this was, in my opinion, the key to why 2000+ people were willing to give their email up — it was a hard to replicate, unique, and really damn useful tool for this audience.
Show Your Work & The Value Offered
Now let’s dissect the Reddit post itself.
The post starts off by saying how much time, energy, and money went into creating what is being freely shared in the post.
That is followed up with saying how this tool is as good as (if not better) than the premium, paid tools users familiar with VBD likely had heard of or used in the past.
The post ends with an explanation of what VBD is for those who were unaware of the draft strategy as well as an invitation for people to give their feedback, opinions, and questions on how to use the tool.
At the time 160 comments was a lot of comments for a post in /r/fantasyfootball (and both the comments as well as the ‘upvote %’ was overwhelmingly positive).
Tricks For Increased Sharing
First off, if the post required people to give their email and subscribe to get the tool, there is no chance this would have gotten any traction.
In alignment with the spirit of the post title, they were given the option to download the tool completely for free without giving anything in exchange.
For those that clicked the subscribe link, they were taken to this landing page:
As some of the comments indicated, people who opted in and entered their email seemed genuinely interested in what they were going to receive:
If I were doing this today, I would have had tracking on both links to know exactly how many people downloaded through the completely free option, how many people subscribed, and how many people shared after subscribing.
However, I did none of that. All I know is that our email list in Aweber went from 0 to about 2,030 after three days of posting this.
There were two “tricks” to help increase virality:
- Viral Sharing Plugin – At the time, I used a fairly sketchy WordPress plugin bought from the Warrior Forum that essentially created a “viral referral system” once someone subscribed via email:
Basically, after a user subscribed they were given a unique sharing link & told that if at least two other people subscribed through their link, then they would be given two other excels to help them dominate their draft.
(The two other excels were a ‘Bye Week Planner’ and a ‘Playoff Strength of Schedule Guide’)
- Saying who to share it with – We got subscribers’ brains jogging with who they could share their unique link with (as opposed to simply telling them to share it). Because sharing it with people in the same league(s) as them would eliminate the competitive advantage the tool afforded them, we told them to share it with “Friends, family members, and co-workers that love the game but aren’t in any of the same leagues as you!”
Even with #2 above, we see the highest voted comment was someone saying they weren’t going to risk sharing their unique link with anyone else, otherwise it could get around to one of their competitors.
Evidence-Based Post Title
Finally, I knew none of the above would make a difference if my title sucked, so I had a very specific and careful method of choosing the post title to maximize my chances of success.
I started by searching the all-time highest scoring posts in the subreddit’s history and looked at all the posts that had to do with the beginning of season draft.
I noticed titles that looked like this:
People came to this subreddit for advice to win a competition so titles that had “power” words with a connotation of victory did well.
Combining that with some old school direct response copywriting principles, we ended up with the post title:
“Free Value Based Drafting Tool – Dominate Your Draft”
In the end, it’s a pretty simple formula that first stated what was contained within the post and the associated desired outcome that would come with looking into the post.
Fantasy players who knew what Value Based Drafting (VBD) was instantly knew the tool was valuable and there was enough curiosity & strong desire in there to compel players unaware of what VBD was to check into it….
….especially after the more savvy ‘early adopters’ upvoted the post to the top of the subreddit.
While post scores were lower back then and there were less people marketing on Reddit, successful posts had longer staying power at the top because there was less ‘supply’ of submitted posts. This particular post was at or near the top of the subreddit for about 3 days.
In the hours and days following the post, I made sure to check in regularly to answer questions and respond to comments.
When it was all said and done, we gained a bit over 2,000 email subscribers before the NFL season had started & we had some momentum going into the fantasy season.
I had learned from the Warrior Forum (like I said, I was an amateur) how to build Facebook fan pages centered around a passion.
The first one I built was for teachers that had over 40k likes.
Using that experience plus a small ad budget, we grew this Fantasy Football FB page:
As of writing this, there are 6,665 likes on the page (with the vast majority of those coming from a month’s worth of ads where we were paid about $0.02 per like).
However, our engagement from the emails we sent and the posts we made on the Facebook page throughout the season were lackluster. NFL and fantasy related memes were a hit on the Facebook page but that was about it.
Beyond the VBD tool that was different & valuable, we failed to really differentiate ourselves from all the other websites offering weekly rankings, sit/start advice, and other fantasy related content. There also wasn’t a clear path to monetization for us.
We were committed to creating content for one full season but by the end of it, we decided the effort wasn’t worth it to continue for a second season.
As a result, we let the domain name lapse & we deleted the Aweber list with the subscribers we built through this Reddit post.
In hindsight, I would have liked for us to create at least one way to attempt monetization right off the bat to help concretely determine the value of what we were doing.
Nonetheless, the learnings of the initial growth and building the list from this single Reddit post remain invaluable. They can be used in a ton of other future website and business ideas.
- Take the time to build something unique and remarkable, even if it costs time and money
- Share it in a community where your customers hang out
- Be candid about why you’re asking for an email and give them other options
- Find ways to encourage sharing (even if the audience likes to keep things a secret for a competitive edge)
Hopefully you found this case study was valuable and you can use something learned here to have more success when posting on Reddit.
(Note: If you want an easy way to capture more leads or emails from your current website, try Fieldboom.)