Building an email marketing list is the first step in email marketing. Every organization has to build a list from scratch. Buying a list is a bad idea because the people on it won’t be prepared to receive your messages and will probably regard them as spam. Buying a list also violates anti-spam and privacy legislation in many jurisdictions.
Therefore, you’ll have to build an email marketing list yourself, prompting users to provide their names and email addresses, at a minimum.
The mechanics of list building are not terribly complicated, but it may take some trial and error to find the best methods for persuading your visitors to provide their email addresses. Yieldify provides an excellent guide to list building strategy. We’ll cover the technical methods first, then talk about incentives for list building.
Static embedded signup forms are the simplest, least intrusive method for collecting emails. You can place them anywhere you like, including headers, footers, sidebars, and splash pages. Here’s the one I use. If you like what you’re reading, use this form now to sign up for my newsletter.
Static embedded forms don’t interrupt reading, and they have little negative impact on user experience. Many visitors appreciate this low-key approach to list building. But these forms are unobtrusive, and some users may simply gloss over them without signing up.
To make your form more noticeable, use a dynamic popup form or overlay instead. You can create a form that will pop up on your visitor’s screen, drop down from the top, or slide in from the left or right. You can design your popup so that it appears instantly, after a specified delay, on specific pages, after your visitor has viewed a certain number of pages, or after your visitor has scrolled to a certain depth.
Look to your analytics for guidance in setting these values. Pages per session will tell you when your visitors exit the site. The time on page metric will tell you how long they dwell on particular pages. Design your popups with these values in mind. Naturally, you should adjust this value for specific page types. A home page popup should appear far sooner than a product page popup, where visitors typically linger before leaving the page or converting.
Exit Intent Popups
You can also create an exit intent popup, which appears when visitors indicate they are about to leave your site by moving their mouse cursor to the edge or corner of your page. These overlays are immune to popup blockers, but they don’t interfere with your visitor’s browsing cycle. An exit intent popup gives you one last chance to capture your visitor’s attention and, with luck, their email address. Conversion Sciences estimates that 10-15 percent of visitors can be saved with exit intent popups.
Besides list building, you can also use exit intent popups for cart recovery, redirection to other content, or special offers.
Popup Usage and Penalties
Popups and overlays are known generically as interstitials because they appear between user and content. Google has set some limitations on their use. You’d be well advised to familiarize yourself with the guidelines to avoid any penalties for improper use.
Popups have varying conversion rates, depending on the form copy, styling, device type, and incentives. OptiMonk has covered these stats in detail.
You can also entice some visitors into joining your list by turning the whole process into a game. Yieldify has a nice little write-up on this tactic. Examples include quizzes, tests, surveys, polls, spin-to-win (aka wheel of fortune) pop-ups, and scratchcards. Here’s an example of a mobile scratchcard from Coupontools.
Some forms of gamification include prizes, like discounts. Others include sweepstakes or product giveaways. You can see how gamification can help you build your email list. Make sign-up fun, and your visitors are more likely to convert.
Incentives for List Building
Gamification is a form of psychological reward, but you can also offer explicit material rewards to encourage signups. The list of rewards you can offer is quite large.
Discounts, special offers, product availability notifications, and referral discounts all have powerful effects when applied properly.
I won’t try to provide a comprehensive list of incentives here, but if you’d like to experiment, check out Beth Hayden’s suggestions at Copyblogger. I’m partial to cheat sheets and checklists myself, and if you’re looking for a good content calendar or website planning worksheet, please check out my offerings.
List Building on Social Media
Yieldify also has a lot to say about building your list on social media. The most straightforward method is simply to create a social media post inviting people to join your list. But you can also experiment with any of the following strategies:
- Embed Sign Up buttons in Facebook and Instagram posts
- Incorporate any of the gamification methods described above into your social media
- Use lead forms in Facebook ads
- Use lead generation cards in Twitter posts
Monitor your brand mentions to see who mentions you or shares your content on social media. If they haven’t already joined your list, this would be a good time to invite them.
List Building Offline
Building an email marketing list offline is also possible. The basic method is to use a paper sign-up list at any retail stores you operate or events you put on. If you can keep a tablet on hand for list signups, so much the better. The data entry can be time-consuming when you work from a paper list, and there’s a large margin for error in reading other people’s handwriting.
If you send out direct mail, consider incorporating a QR code into your mailer to make it easy for people to sign up that way.
When it comes to building an email marketing list, there are many options available. I hope this post gives you a good starting point.
Try some of these methods. Experiment to find the ones that are most effective for you. But by all means, build a list. Your organization has things to say and gifts to share. Email marketing can be an important addition to your marketing toolkit.
Just don’t make the mistake of building a single large, all-purpose list. People have diverse needs and interests, and it’s important to provide each individual with appropriate content. That’s where list segmentation comes in. We’ll talk about that in the next post.
In the meanwhile, leave a comment about your own email marketing experience, both as sender and recipient. What works for you, and what doesn’t work?