Best Practices for Building Your Email List
The best email marketers use the power of words and images to draw a response from their subscribers. Their persuasive qualities lead to sales, registrations, downloads and a host of other positive actions that can make any email marketer’s heart jump. All of which is utterly meaningless if you don't have anyone to mail to.
The mailing list is the most important element in the success of an email campaign. If you can convert visits to your website into a lasting relationship via email, the chances of retaining a customer are much greater.
Considering all the emails that get sent daily (estimated at 294 billion by Radicati Group), it's become increasingly difficult to push through all the noise to get people to opt in to your mailing list. Even when you do get new subscribers, you'll also always have those that unsubscribe. If you're unlucky, those that subscribe and those that unsubscribe balance each other out. Your list simply doesn't grow.
Sure, it’s tempting to buy or rent a large list and blast out an e-newsletter to it as opposed to growing it yourself. But you might be doing more damage than you think. In order to retain subscribers, you need to engage those who want to hear from you (as in those who've opted in to your email program). A permission-based list built by yourself always yields the best results since you're providing content that's relevant and of interest to recipients. Due diligence must be given to key principles and practices that help build a responsive list of addresses.
List building starts with permission
You don't actually want the biggest possible list of email addresses. You want the biggest possible list of email addresses for people who have asked to hear from you. A main reason people report email as spam is because they never asked to receive messages from the mailer. Spam reports are a major factor used by webmail services and others to tag "bad" senders, potentially leading to outright blocking of all that sender's emails.
What constitutes effective permission?
A key to email marketing success is identifying the kind of emails consumers find valuable. Email marketers offering no value get no response (other than the unwanted kind, such as subscribers opting out or marking their emails as spam).
While acquiring permission is important when building an email list, there's disagreement about how effective permission is defined. How do you collect email addresses? Here are a few tips to help you out:
1. Offer a sign-up form on your website and blog for your e-newsletter. The ideal time to ask someone for their email address is when they've declared an interest in you and you have their attention. The very obvious and most important example is when someone visits your website. Therefore, feature a newsletter sign-up form in a prominent position on every page of your site, including text that:
- describes the benefits of being a newsletter subscriber;
- clearly states that this is a sign-up form for getting email; and
- indicates how often email will arrive.
This sets appropriate expectations and ensures the subscriber is giving you express permission to send them marketing emails.
Here a few things to consider when designing your newsletter sign-up form:
- Layout and design. Experiment with font types, sizes and colors, background highlighting, and form layout.
- Social proof. Does telling people how many others have already signed up lift conversion rates? What about adding testimonials from satisfied subscribers?
- Incentives. What about rewarding subscribers for joining your list — e.g., offering access to a free e-book or coupon?
- Position. Does placing the form work better on the left-hand side or right-hand side of the page? Top or bottom? Should a subscription form pop-up automatically when a visitor has browsed a certain number of pages or spent a certain amount of time on your site?
Another common tactic is to use a two-stage sign-up form. After simply submitting an email address, subscribers are invited to fill out a more detailed second form on a subsequent confirmation page.
Double opt-in is ideal, but if you’re using single opt-in a best practice is to send an immediate welcome email following sign-up. If a “back to sender” email message comes back, indicating an invalid email address, you can immediately delete the address for good list hygiene. It also provides those rare few who were signed up unwillingly the chance to immediately unsubscribe.
2. Integrate sign-up capabilities to use with website interactions. If the ideal time to invite someone to join your list is when they've shown interest in your brand, it makes sense to build a sign-up opportunity into transactional forms and processes. For example, whenever people do the following:
- register on your website;
- register for an event or webinar;
- go through the payment process for a product or service;
- provide information to get access to content such as a catalog or whitepaper; or
- enter an online competition or complete an online survey.
3. Encourge engagement via social media. Consumers interact with your company online outside of your website. Encourage social media contacts to sign up for your email newsletter, which provides a better and more effective context for direct promotional efforts. Here are some examples:
- a tweet inviting followers to sign up to see the next publication of your newsletter;
- using Twitter to promote the online version of your mailer; and
- embedding your email sign-up form on your Facebook page.
This approach must give your social media contacts a compelling reason to open another channel of communication with you. Ensure your emails contain information or offers that are only sent to email subscribers. Exclusivity is a powerful incentive to join a list.
4. Work with partners. Find related businesses whose products or services are complementary to yours and ask if they'll add your newsletter to their opt-in form. Do trade offers. Add an additional check box to your sign-up form so people can subscribe to your list and your partner's list at the same time.
5. Build your list offline, too. Invite consumers to subscribe to your email program in your brick-and-mortar stores. Let them sign up right then and there via a printed-out subscription list or collect their details via your point-of-sale system. Ask customers if they'd like to subscribe to your newsletter via telephonic transactions (best you use a double opt-in for that).
Do the same when exhibiting at a trade show. Word-of-mouth is one of the strongest marketing mediums. Talk to people to let them know you have valuable information to share. Include subscription information on your business cards. But remember, just because someone gives you their business card doesn’t mean they want to be subscribed.
The only way to keep subscribers on your list is by providing them with relevant, valuable content. Ultimately, the quality of your mailing list (having engaged, interested and interactive subscribers) means much more than the size of it.