Email List Growth: 5 Essential Tactics

Email list growth is a proven means of generating revenue, but most companies do so at the expense of their site’s user experience. Here are 5 essential tactics for growing an email list without disrupting a site’s conversion rate.

Email is a proven, cost-effective means of building brand and generating revenue. Email campaigns outperform social media at delivering qualified leads, and the return on investment potential makes email list growth a requisite activity for most companies.

But you already know all of that.

We rarely find a CMO or online marketing manager who disputes the wisdom of including email campaigns in the marketing mix. What we do find are questions about effective ecommerce email list growth tactics and how to optimize email list building to boost sales and conversions.

If you want field-tested tips on how to get better results from your email list growth efforts, there’s no better place to begin than at the foundation.

Budget Intentions for Email List Growth Marketing for 2016
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Focus on the Correct Subscribers

There’s something more important in every email you send than your subject line, your content, or your call to action. The primary determining factor in increasing conversions through your email list, the wildcard you have the least control over, is the recipient.

Before deciding how to grow your email subscribers, you should be asking yourself the following questions to ensure you are focusing on the correct recipients:

  • Whose inbox will that email be delivered to?
  • How did you obtain the address in the first place?
  • Is that person a current customer, a prospect… how is the reader related to your business?

Some say the most important consideration for an ecommerce mailing list is the size of your list. Adherents of the “sales is a numbers game” philosophy operate via “churn and burn.” Online, they tend to rely on disruptive tactics like pop-up subscribe forms, sensational headlines, and clickbait opt-in offers.

But while those tactics can and do build email lists, in the end they diminish confidence in the brand and result in high customer attrition rates. They are conversion rate killers.

Let’s look at how to build an email list you can be proud of. We’ll do that with a strategic focus on quality and results.

You want the best list, not the biggest list.

Do it right, and you can have both.

The Quick Way vs The Correct Way

Here’s a sure way to build a huge email list quickly: give a 50-dollar bill to everyone who signs up. You can grow a list as large as you want (and can afford) with minimal effort.

Of course, your list will consist of people looking for free 50-dollar bills. You’ll still need to qualify respondents to find out which are legitimate prospects and which aren’t.

A better way to build your email list is to qualify as you go. Make appropriate offers of specific interest to your most qualified prospects. Your email database may not grow as quickly like that, but it will be a much higher converting list, and the pruning will take care of itself.

Email List Growth Tactic #1: Determine Who Should Be on Your Email List

What is the purpose of your list? What do you want it to accomplish?

Take a few minutes to really roll that question over in your mind. Jot down every potential benefit you hope to gain from your email list. Then identify the top three.

If one of your primary desired outcomes from your email list growth tactics is to generate leads, for instance, then your next step is to define the characteristics of a “lead” for your business.

This exercise can be a “lights on” experience. You may mentally acknowledge the importance of quality over quantity in list building, but not yet have moved that idea from head to heart.

Everything you do in your email campaigns – from signup to follow up – should be aimed at speaking directly with the consumers who constitute your desired audience.

Who should be on your email list? It’s a critical consideration. Make sure you and your team have clearly identified who you want to attract – and why.

Once that’s set, you’re ready for the next critical task in email list growth.

Email List Growth Tactic #2: Decide on the Best Channels for Growing Your Email List

The best place to gather names and email addresses for your list is always in one spot: wherever you are.

The best place to gather email addresses for your list is always in one spot: wherever you are. Share on X

Every point of customer contact – whether in a retail store, on your website,  or during customer service contacts – or anywhere else – should be viewed as another opportunity to build your list.

Make list building a part of company culture. Know who you want to invite to the party and get those invitations out. Make it an ongoing process. Keep it up until it becomes a habit. Few actions cost less and deliver more than this.

For now, let’s focus on growing your list online. After all, most or all of your list building activities will feed right back to a website page. Growing your email database is, for the most part, a digital activity.

Email List Growth Tactic #3: Place Your Opt-in Messages Where and When the Visitor Needs Them

Here’s where most companies drop the ball.

Most need only a little customer-centered reflection to determine the attributes of someone who would be a prime candidate for the email list.

Deciding how to configure the best opt-in process to get that person to act, though, can be tough.

Site designers, content writers, and brand managers all normally come to the table with different theories and agendas. The result is often pretty (courtesy of the designers), rife with marketing lingo (writers), and product-centered (management)… but ineffective.

Here’s the number one rule: keep the process focused on your ideal prospect.

Smart digital marketing managers focus on optimizing the website’s contribution to the bottom line. They make it easy for the right people to make the right choices – whether that’s asking for more information via an email opt-in or moving straight to the Add to Cart button.

Help your website visitors, certainly, but stay out of their way. When you get right down to it, the experience onsite shouldn’t be a whole lot different than the experience in-store.

A perfect example is MasterCraft’s website, where our research into the top three things consumers wanted to do led the site to be helpful while also providing a way to grow email subscribers:

MasterCraft Website CTAs

Where to place your opt-in form

Options here are fairly limited. Standard web page sections are headers, footers, sidebars, and body.

Delivery methods can include:

  • Inline forms
  • Separate opt-in boxes
  • Tabs in the menu
  • Pop-ups
  • Slide-ups
  • And dedicated landing pages

However, it’s not just the presentation method that’s important, but the timing of the presentation.

Should website visitors be greeted with a pop-up form within a certain number of seconds after arriving at your site? Should the pop-up be dependent upon certain actions the visitor takes? And the most important question: should pop-ups be used at all? (Hint: probably not.)

Is it best to reserve the list invitation for checkout time? Or maybe visitors could be offered the chance to get on the email list after reading an article?

To answer those questions, keep the process focused on your ideal sign-up. Your job is to put yourself in that person’s shoes and deliver options accordingly.

Email List Growth Tactic #4: Make Your Website Customer-Centric

You may already be serving up information designed specifically for each visitor. The more personalized you can make each person’s experience, the better control you have over the outcome.

Many companies, though, have yet to granularize the process beyond the collection of statistical data. If you need help with working out the technology required to vary the onsite experience according to what you already know about the visitor, let us know. We can help you get unstuck.

Count the Cost

Everyone who comes to your site does so at a cost. You probably don’t charge admission to your site, but there are still costs associated. At the very least, those who visit are investing their time. When you ask that visitor to part with an email address, the cost increases. Ask for a phone number and the cost gets even stiffer.

Your prospects are just like you. They will pay the cost if it is justified by the return. Since quality and quantity are related, but independent, you want to adjust the perceived cost and perceived value of the action you want visitors to take. Higher cost lends itself to higher quality. Lower cost tends to increase quantity. At both ends of the spectrum, sufficient value must be present.

Again, design your opt-ins for the particular types of people you want to attract.

Build Trust First

Depending on how familiar the visitor is with your brand, you may already have earned considerable trust. Even so, make sure to continue nurturing that trust on your website. Each visitor should feel that you are being honest and helpful – that you have his or her best interests in mind.

That’s one reason why our team normally doesn’t advocate using pop-ups. Unless a pop-up is expected and welcome, it will likely be seen as intrusive and obnoxious. Those are not the attributes you seek. (For a fun look at how pop-ups can appear to prospects, watch this: Trying to Shop.)

You should also make sure your content delivers on the headlines you use and that any ad copy driving visits to your site accurately portrays what the visitor will find on arrival.

Look at every message and graphic on your site, and ask yourself one thing: Does this build trust?

Look at every message and graphic on your site, and ask yourself one thing: Does this build trust? Share on X

Be Entirely Transparent

When you ask something of a visitor, make sure you are absolutely clear about what you want, why you want it, and what the person will get in return.

Make it your aim to destroy any opportunity for confusion to enter the journey your visitor has embarked on. Make that journey simple, pleasurable, and rewarding.

Your signup forms should require only enough information necessary to make sure the registrant receives the special benefits you have promised to provide.

Remember, keep the perceived cost versus the perceived value always in mind.

Here is a great example from The Honest Kitchen, another of our clients:

The Honest Kitchen Email Signup Example

Know Where You Are on the Journey

Highly motivated customers show up, click on “Buy Now,” and provide payment information. Your job, for those people, is to make buying easy to accomplish and stay out of their way.

Other visitors to your site are looking for a product or service you provide and want information to help make an informed decision. Your job is to provide easy access to the information desired and guide them down the path to placing an order.

Many come to read an article or otherwise learn something from or about you. Your menu structure and internal linking will help facilitate that process. Your job is to be helpful and friendly.

Don’t use the same opt-in message or form for everyone. Not only will varying the method of email address acquisition help you determine the effectiveness of each, it will allow you to meet people where they are.

Make each touchpoint a natural part of the prospect’s journey. Make joining your list an obviously good thing to do – something that stands to benefit the visitor a whole lot more than it will benefit you.

Email List Growth Tactic #5: Iterate Your Way To Success

Email list building has plenty of moving parts and requires regular maintenance. It’s not a once and done exercise. Stellar results require a determined and iterative effort.

You can learn from the experiences of others, but you can’t optimize your list building process without testing to see what works best on your own website for your own customers.

That bears repeating: you can learn from the experiences of others, but you can’t optimize your list building process without testing to see what works best on your own website for your own customers. And that is an iterative process:

  1. Use the first four tactics to develop the system you think will work best
  2. Test that system
  3. Formulate theories about the results and make the indicated adjustments
  4. Test again
  5. Repeat the process

Tactics that lead to conversions reveal the facts.

The rest is theory.

Email List Growth: Summarizing the 5 Essential Tactics for Growth

Think of someone you would consider a prime prospect for your company. Mentally put yourself in your prospect’s shoes and set aside a few minutes to consider your website through that person’s eyes.

Do you feel welcome and valued on the site as soon as you get there (or is a pop-up making a rude introduction)? Can you easily find what you’re looking for? Is accurate, necessary information readily available?

Do you have ample opportunity to request more information or contact customer service? Do you feel like you’re in control of the journey, or does it seem the company is trying to push you into a box?

Is it apparent that the cost of your visit is far outweighed by the benefits? Is it easy to see that the company is genuinely concerned about you and your needs?

Are navigational aids conveniently-placed and easy to understand? Are you convinced you’re in the right place to get what you need, and is it easy to place an order?

Once you have the answers to questions like those, you’ll have the insight you need to deliver a world-class visitor experience and build an email list you can count on.

Remember: It’s not about you. It’s about them.

About the Author

Jon MacDonald

Jon MacDonald is founder and President of The Good, a digital experience optimization firm that has achieved results for some of the largest companies including Adobe, Nike, Xerox, Verizon, Intel and more. Jon regularly contributes to publications like Entrepreneur and Inc.