“You’ve got mail!” Remember that? It may take you back to the 1998 romantic comedy featuring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, but it’s also the infamous greeting from AOL’s email feature in the early 90s. (Fun Fact: the man who did the voiceover for the famous greeting is now an Uber driver in Ohio.
Alas, email marketing is considered one of the very first digital marketing tools available. Before the creation of business websites and social media, there was email, and the strategy is still very much alive today. It continues to be a proven method for reaching prospects and cultivating long-term relationships with customers, and it has one of the highest ROIs across online marketing channels. This is why we (along with the rest of the digital marketing world) continue to analyze best practices for improving your email strategy.
Here, we’ve dug into the basics of growing your email list and maintaining an engaged subscriber base.
1. Make it impossible to miss.
Give your audience as many opportunities as possible to opt-into your email list. Put the form on every page of your website (above the fold!), and especially on your blog. The Skimm features one of our all-time favorite opt-in forms.
Pro Tip: Utilize lightboxes or pop-up windows asking if the user wants to sign-up for your emails. Test them out by giving it a 15-45 second delay, and set it to appear only once per session. Keep an eye on your bounce rates to see just how effective these lightboxes are; strive to add to the user experience, as opposed to disrupting it.
2. Make it clear what people are signing up to receive.
Set expectations for what the subscribers are going to receive from you at the very beginning, and they will be much more receptive to opening and engaging with your emails in the future.
Pro Tip: We strongly suggest using a double opt-in system, in which each subscriber receives an email immediately after signing up asking them to confirm their subscription. Also give them the option to remove themselves from your list if they accidentally signed up.
3. Keep it super simple.
Don’t ask a potential subscriber to click multiple times to complete your opt-in form, and definitely don’t send them to a separate page. The form boxes and “submit” button should be on the same page, right on your website or blog.
Pro Tip: Explore the use of sticky blog widgets. Using a simple WordPress widget, you can create a signup form that follows the user as he or she scrolls through the page.
4. Ask a maximum of three questions.
People are shy about sharing too much information online, and they also don’t want you to waste their time. Include a max of three questions on your opt-in form. For B2B companies, ask for their name, email and company name. For B2C, ask for their name, email and an additional demographic piece of information such as age, state, gender, etc.
Pro Tip: Take advantage of opportunities for subscribers to give you more information about themselves later. For example, in the confirmation email that is part of the double opt-in strategy we mentioned above, you could prompt the subscriber to answer a few more demographic questions then. You can also ask for more info in the three part welcome series, introduced later in the post.
1. Write stellar content.
The best email lists are built internally, as opposed to being bought or rented. This ensures your subscribers are engaged and genuinely interested in your brand. The best way to gain these subscribers is by creating relevant, compelling and useful content that drives traffic to your site and/or blog and empowers people to give you their contact info. Check out what we’ve written in the past about writing compelling content.
Pro Tip: Use locked content. This is when you limit access to additional content until the reader signs up for your email list. Once again, be creative with the content, use compelling language and take the time to create this subscriber-only content so the reader sees the value in giving you their contact info.
2. Free tool or service.
A common tactic among B2B companies is to create a free, yet exclusive, tool or service that is offered to your audience in exchange for signing up for your email list. Some examples of these include free reports, webinars, online courses, PDF checklists, etc.
Pro Tip: These offers should have their own unique landing pages that explain exactly what the tool or service is, why they would find it useful, and what it means that they’re inputting their contact information. Make it clear that they are not only signing up to receive the free tool or service, but they’re also signing up to be on your email list. Check out HubSpot’s offer for a free e-book for a stellar example of a unique landing page.
3. Discount code.
For B2C companies, offering a discount code on products or services can be an effective tool for gaining more email subscribers. This is especially effective for people who might not be quite ready to commit at that moment, but have interest in your products. You can introduce these discounts directly on your site, or you can test an exit popup that only displays as the user is about to leave your page.
Pro Tip: Ensure that you offer the discount code as soon as they’ve submitted their details, either on the webpage or in their inbox. This will gain the subscriber’s trust and get them used to receiving emails from you.
4. Implement a solid welcome series post sign-up.
We recommend implementing a three-part welcome series after someone new signs up for your email. Mailup said it best when its team explained that first impressions are important, but the second and third impressions are what reinforces our opinion of that person. They pave the way for the type and frequency of interaction we want to establish with them, and the same goes for email. Using an email automation system, here’s an example flow that you can follow for a three-part welcome series:
Triggered Message #1
Time: Within 24-hours post sign-up.
Content: Thanks for signing up, here’s some blog content, links to social media (B2B); links to best-selling products (for B2C).
Triggered Message #2
Time: 2-3 days post sign-up.
Content: Access to exclusive content: 5 must-read pieces or editor’s picks (B2B); specific product discount for email subscribers (for B2C).
Triggered Message #3
Time: One week post sign-up.
Content: Invitation to download long-form content, attend an event, or participate in a webinar (B2B); share the experience with friends, which provides an additional discount (for B2C).
Growing your list is great for your business and can create a very effective way to communicate with potential and current customers, but not if your list is full of subscribers who don’t want to hear from you. Now that you have a solid strategy in place for gaining subscribers, let’s focus on how to successfully engage them. Remember, it’s more beneficial to have one engaged user rather than ten disengaged users.
As you begin collecting key demographic data about your subscribers, it’s important to use that information to send hyper-targeted content. You can segment by age, location, gender, how long someone has been subscribed, whether or not they have made a purchase, etc. The more granular your segments are, the more personalized your campaigns will be. However, be wary of going overboard — you want to ensure that your segmented lists still have plenty of volume. Check out Kissmetrics’ blog for 10 quick and easy segmentation strategies.
While your number of subscribers may be growing, the same might not be true about your open and click-through rates. Grab the attention of your unengaged users with a re-engagement campaign. Segment your list to create a group of people who haven’t opened your emails in a few weeks or months and create a compelling campaign geared just towards them. Use this campaign as an opportunity to provide additional discounts, exclusive content and ask for feedback. Also make sure to give your subscribers the opportunity to unsubscribe if they no longer want to hear from you.
The final step in maintaining a good email list is to remove subscribers who aren’t engaging with your emails at all, even after you tested a re-engagement campaign. Quality over quantity, friends. Strive to maintain honest, clean lists and you will see positive results from your email strategy. Do this regularly to ensure everyone you email has a valid email address and actually wants to hear from you. Your subscriber will thank you, and so will your manager!
Take advantage of this tried and true platform and have some fun testing out various email strategies. These are just a sampling of the tactics you can begin implementing today to grow your email list and keep your subscribers engaged. Attack your email strategy from as many different angles as possible. And always remember, email marketing is an ongoing process of testing, analyzing, and iterating to consistently improve your results.