Behind the scenes of FFG

Bienvenidos, bonjour, and welcome.

I’m here at the FFG headquarters, which is roughly defined as “somewhere in or near metro Atlanta”.

As part of the celebration of the upcoming one year anniversary for FFG, I thought I’d “open the kimono” and show you how FFG operates behind the scenes. What goes into a FFG email?

Sourcing the deals

1. Submissions from the community

When I first launched freefoodguy.com, I had a vision that someday, the community would grow large enough to have a steady, self-sustaining flow of inbound free food deals. I would be the humble curator and distributor of our communal brilliance, and just another submitter of deals. Ideally, there’d be so many community submissions that, on any given day,

In the beginning, I was the source of the vast majority of free food deals. Now, I’m happy to say, ~80% of free food deals come from the community, and I think by the end of year 2 we’ll have close to 100% of free food deals sourced from the community!

The submissions, sent via the form at www.freefoodguy.com/submit, come to me as emails and are also accessible on a dashboard on the website.

2. Coupon Sites/Forums

There are a few subreddits dedicated to free stuff, like /r/freebies, which occasionally has free food deals as well. Sites like likeacoupon and RetailMeNot are also sources, although the average post is pretty low quality/spammy, so there’s a lot of wading through junk to find the good stuff.

3. Organic Discovery

The remainder is free food opportunities I organically discover. Sometimes, I learn of the opportunity through an email from a restaurant’s email list, or a sign or poster I see at a restaurant. Whenever I see any type of promotion or discount, however temporary, the gears immediately start turning in my mind.

Writing the Emails

I use MailChimp to manage the email list and send out emails. I’ll typically compose the email within Mailchimp (though occasionally, I’ll do it within Microsoft Word). Mailchimp has a paid feature that automatically determines the send time to maximize the open rate—that is, it figures out when people on the list typically open the email, and will send the email around those times. This optimization isn’t on an individual basis, but rather for the whole list—so everyone receives the email at the same time.

I usually defer to Mailchimp on sending times unless there’s an urgent, soon-to-expire deal, in which case I’ll send it out right away. Mailchimp also provides stats on open and clickthrough rates, so I know you all find the emails worth reading or are ignoring them (and adjust appropriately).

Posting and Sharing

If I’m not feeling too lazy, I’ll also create a blog post for each free food deal. The site is hosted by Bluehost and powered by WordPress. First, I find a photo for the post, download it, then upload it to the site. I then write the post, which I try to keep as short as possible—the more fluff, the more distance between you, the reader, and the free food. I add the appropriate tags and categorization, and post!
For any time-specific deal, I’ll add it the Free Food Calendar, and schedule a reminder post on the FFG Facebook page. The Facebook page is linked to the FFG Twitter page, so when I post something on Facebook it is auto-tweeted as well.

I post in the FFG Instagram account more-or-less at random. I just linked it to the FFG Facebook page, so ideally this automation should take care of all the crossposting (does auto-crossposting to Facebook automatically autopost to Twitter? We shall see…).

Stats on Stats on Stats

Website traffic: This has fluctuated wildly in the last few months, but the steady state amount of traffic seems to have settled between 10-30k hits per month, (300-1000 hits per day), generally on the lower side of the range. This is a huge jump that began in early 2017; in 2016, the average was 1-3k per month. So these days, we sometimes get as many visitors per day as we did per month just a few months ago.

Mailing list: There are currently ~6500 subscribers, growing at a rate of between 10 and 50 subscribers per week, unless a post or the site goes viral, in which case there will be a large influx of subscribers and website visitors for that week. The email open rate 41.8% –this has trended down from around 50% when the list first started, but still well above the industry average of ~8%–and the click rate (the proportion of people who click a link in an email) is 5.8%, which has remained reasonably stead and is above the industry average of 1-2%.

And that’s how the (free) sausage gets made.

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