Whenever I set someone new up with WordPress and sometimes with clients that have been using WordPress already, questions about subscribers, users, and mailing lists arise. I thought I would quickly write a post detailing the differences and what each type of user or subscriber can be used for.
WordPress Users and Roles
First off, by default WordPress allows users to register on your site (I usually turn that off right away). A lot of sites do want users to be able to register, like if you have a forum, multiple authors, or if you want people to register with you to leave a comment. Those users can have several roles.
The roles in WordPress are:
- Super Admin
Usually, new users are given the role of “subscriber” at first. Subscribers can really only manage their profile, read posts, and leave comments (you can allow guests to leave comments too).
Apart from leaving comment spam and taking up database space, they really don’t hurt or help your site much. Having visitors of course is the point of the site and helps your site, but letting them actually register is the part that isn’t that important. A lot of sites no longer even allow comments, which perhaps I’ll write about another day.
Now that we’ve detailed the subscriber user role in WordPress, let’s look at the Jetpack subscribers (or blog followers).
Jetpack is a very popular WordPress plugin from the company automatic (which is run by the creators of WordPress). It adds all kinds of functionality to WordPress, including keeping site stats that show in your dashboard and allowing users to follow a blog.
To follow a blog, you just have to be a WordPress member and the ability to follow a blog needs to be there. For instance, if you own a blog you can turn on the subscriptions feature of Jetpack by the subscription widget or through the comment section.
Once you allow subscriptions to your blog, you can check your stats by going to the dashboard > site stats and at the bottom is a subscriptions area that shows followers and comments (you can see an image of this at the top of this section).
People that subscribe through Jetpack get notified when a blog they are subscribed to writes a new post (they first have to follow and opt in). You also can transfer followers to a new WordPress blog if you want to. Unfortunately, transferring followers into a mailing list is difficult.
Mailing List Subscribers
Running an actual mailing list is great if you want to actually own your list and be able to do whatever you want with it, including moving it to another company or sending marketing materials.
There are a lot of ways to run a subscription mailing list. I usually recommend MailChimp which is free for up to 2,000 subscribers. I also like to use SumoMe (which works with MailChimp), which has a WordPress plugin that will show your subscribe form either as a top bar, popup, or scroll box, or all three.
SumoMe seems to convert really well (I’ve typically run at 2 – 5% conversion rates). That is a lot better than just having the list on the page somewhere, like the footer or sidebar. I think that is because users are forced to see the subscription box and can interact with it more. You also can add some sort of reward for subscribing which greatly increases your conversion rates typically.
Other mailing lists software I’ve used include Constant Contact, Aweber, MadMimi, and a few CRMs. I really prefer MailChimp, but they can get expensive for some things and for large lists, plus you need to pay for features like drip campaigns (although you usually pay for that elsewhere too).
Mailing lists are great for owning your list, but it actually can take a bit more work to set this up and to run it. If you want to actually update people when you write a post, you need to go in and do that manually. You also could write weekly or monthly emails. If you are going to run a mailing list, I think drip campaigns are really the way to go as it is just easier and it feels like more interaction for the end user.
Hopefully this post helps to explain the differences between the WordPress user role of subscriber, Jetpack’s blog followers, and mailing list subscribers. They are all slightly different things and all serve their own purpose. Perhaps this post will help you figure out which one is right for you.