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E-Business Secrets

How to get 700,000 paid subscriptions to your site
High conversion rate means more subscribers, increased revenue

By  Brian Livingston May 21, 2002  

I was a moderator last week at the Global eSubscription Symposium in Salt Lake City, sponsored by Sandlot, an e-commerce service provider. In this issue and coming issues of E-Business Secrets, I'll reveal to you the best information I learned from my private conversations with the symposium's featured speakers.


One of the best stories is provided by Tom Stockham, president and CEO of MyFamily.com. His business has some 20 million people who've registered for free, and currently has 700,000 paid subscriptions from 450,000 unique users.

MyFamily.com helps people conduct research on their family tree, also known as genealogy. The company sells subscriptions to four large databases of information:

1. The American Records Collection, which is subscribed to by the largest number of customers, is a mammoth database of births, deaths, marriages, and the like.

2. The Census Product contains images of government census records going back to the 1700s.

3. The U.K. and Ireland Records Collection is primarily of interest to families with backgrounds in the British Isles.

4. The Historical Newspapers Collection allows researchers to find references to specific times and places.

Access to one database costs $79.95 per year, billed quarterly or annually. (Stockham says the company doesn't do much price testing, but the price has risen over the past two years from $59.95.) Once you've subscribed to one database, the others can be added to your subscription for another $29.95 to $39.95 per year.

MyFamily.com is getting better at both converting visitors into registered users and converting registered users into paying subscribers. Stockham says growing the number from 500,000 to 600,000 subscriptions took his company 100 days. But the most recent 100,000 subscriptions took only 60 days to acquire.

MyFamily.com attracts visitors to its main site as well as the sites of its subsidiaries, Ancestry.com and RootsWeb.com. Once a visitor completes the free registration form, the company sends the person five e-mail messages in relatively quick succession to urge them to subscribe. These e-mails are heavily personalized. A person named Bill Pearson, for example, would receive an e-mail saying, "We've found a lot more information about the Pearson family since you last visited." The e-mail concludes with a link that, if clicked, takes the user directly to a page with genealogy information about Pearsons.

If the individual doesn't become a paid subscriber after receiving the initial round of messages, the e-mails slow down to "a couple of times a year," Stockham says.

To attract new visitors, MyFamily.com pays for almost no advertising offline, such as in newspapers or magazines. Instead, it advertises online in pay-per-click venues such as Overture.com and Google.com. The company pays for very few online banners, preferring text ads. But banners are prominent on the MyFamily.com site itself to encourage visitors to become free registrants.

These "internal" banners must work well, because 14 percent to 20 percent of new visitors sign up for free registration on a typical day, Stockham says. This high conversion rate, turning anonymous Web site visitors into registered members, is key to the MyFamily.com business model.

Because genealogy is America's second most popular hobby, Stockham says, MyFamily.com and its related sites benefit from a great deal of spontaneous traffic from people using search engines to find out about their family history. He adds that Americans' No. 1 hobby is gardening. So perhaps that means there's an even bigger market opportunity just waiting for someone.


http://www.myfamily.com http://bri.li/?4e5c


http://www.sandlot.com http://bri.li/?61e4 (requires Acrobat)

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If you often need to mouse around the screen of your Palm or other PDA -- but you instead pull out the stylus because there is no mouse -- you should know about the new Targus "stick-on mouse."

This "device," if that's the word, is a small, flat, rubbery panel that fits over the Graffiti area on the bottom of a PDA's screen. The little gizmo is dominated by a round "rocker" that moves the cursor. But there are also a handful of buttons for various commands.

The Targus PDA Mouse prevents you from writing text with a stylus, but if you have one of the portable keyboard accessories made for PDAs, you can put Targus' "stick-on mouse" on the keyboard instead of the screen. It lists for $19.95.


http://www.twomobile.com http://bri.li/?756c

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1. Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo escalate gaming price war

http://www.news.com http://bri.li/?424

2. Hotmail changes user settings to "opt them in"

http://www.eastsidejournal.com http://bri.li/?80c

3. Britannica ends free info, gets 45,000 paid subs

http://www.contentbiz.com http://bri.li/?bf4

4. Business 2.0: How winners succeed against Microsoft

http://www.business2.com http://bri.li/?fdc

5. Postal service learns what works in online auctions

http://www.auctionbytes.com http://bri.li/?13c4

6. "Haggling" site challenges eBay's bidding model

http://ecommerce.internet.com http://bri.li/?17ac

7. LookSmart fees and policies garner more criticism

http://www.promotionbase.com http://bri.li/?1b94

8. How to measure performance of Web services you use

http://www.aspnews.com http://bri.li/?1f7c

9. HTML tips: Make your site easy to use for everyone

http://www.webmasterbase.com http://bri.li/?2364

10. Study shows how to avoid "Internet Death Penalty"

http://www.newsbytes.com http://bri.li/?274c

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Here's a great example of the Internet at work -- very educational, yet wacky at the same time.

NASA performed experiments in which water balloons were popped in zero-gravity environments to see what would happen to the water. The justification for this, taxpayers will note, was to find out whether it's feasible to rapidly deploy liquids in zero G by breaking membranes.

The result is an incredible series of short videos, each one less than 25 seconds in length (because that's how long a high-flying airplane trajectory can create weightlessness). When a balloon is popped in zero G, its water doesn't splash all over. Instead, the liquid blob is malformed temporarily, but then surface tension (or something) causes the water to pull back together into a sphere, hanging in midair. Amazing to watch.


http://microgravity.grc.nasa.gov http://bri.li/?c38c

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E-BUSINESS SECRETS: Our mission is to bring you such useful and thought-provoking information about the Web that you actually look forward to reading your e-mail.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: E-Business Secrets is written by InfoWorld Contributing Editor Brian Livingston (http://SecretsPro.com). Research director is Vickie Stevens. Brian has published 10 books, including the following:

Windows Me Secrets:

http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/?0764534939

Windows 2000 Secrets:

http://www.amazon.com http://bri.li/?0764534130

Win a gift certificate good for a book, CD, or DVD of your choice if you're the first to send a tip Brian prints. Mail to: Brian@SecretsPro.com.

Brian Livingston is publisher of BriansBuzz.com. Send tips to him at brian@briansbuzz.com.

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