How to Build Your Email List: The (Better Than) Ultimate Guide
Its not like or follow. And its not even add to cart, buy now, or confirm purchase.
The most profitable online click is subscribe.
The most profitable online click is subscribe says @iconicontent. Click To Tweet
Because, as McKinsey & Companys much-cited study revealed, email is a staggering 40 times more effective at acquiring customers than Facebook and Twitter combined:
91% of all U.S. consumers still use e-mail daily, and the rate at which e-mails prompt purchases is at least three times that of social media (and) the average order value is also 17% higher.
But that was in 2014. Certainly the landscape has changed?
Nope. As marketing automation platform GetResponses 2016 State of Email points out:
For every $1 invested, email marketing generates an average return of $38.
For every $1 invested, #email marketing generates an average return of $38 via @getresponse. Click To Tweet
Thats a 3,700% ROI, which explains why according to the same report 57% of marketers planned to increase their email marketing budget in 2016.
Of course you knew all that already. What you probably dont know as well is how to build your email list.
Good news, thats exactly what this post (as well as this handy downloadable checklist) contains. To do that, well break this down into three main categories:
OptionsContent offersNon-content offersPleasure buttonsPainful buttonsShort formsLong formsMulti-step formsOn siteLanding pagesEntry pop-upsExit pop-upsScroll boxesSidebar sign-upsIn-line sign-upsHeader sign-upsEnd-of-post sign-upsContact sign-upsOff siteTwitterLinkedIn and MediumFacebookOptions to build your email list
Most of this checklist focuses on the details: the types of forms, where to use them, and how to optimize each one. But all the forms in the world wont do you a bit of good if your offer isnt compelling.
1. Content offers
Content offers also known as lead magnets, carrot content, or bribe-to-subscribe offers provide immediate, tangible, and concrete value to your subscriber. This free content could be how-to guides, reports, webinars, white papers, e-courses, or even discounts and coupons.
The ultimate goal of your opt-in content is to improve your subscribers life by solving a problem. To drive this principle home, I like to frame my content offers in theological terms:
What hell does this content saved from? What heaven does it delivered unto?
What hell does this #content saved from? What heaven does it delivered unto says @iconicontent. Click To Tweet
Creating click-worthy content can be overwhelming. Thats why you should go small. SmartBloggers The Quick and Dirty Guide to Creating Your Bribe to Subscribe in Record Time offers a fantastic overview of how to create content offers fast:
Instead of trying to tackle all of your audiences problems, youll narrow them down to just one specific problem.
And to make it super easy, well only consider problems that fit the following template:
I want (goal), but (obstacle).
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
13 Ways to Get More Opt-Ins From Your Content2. Non-content offers
The need to create content offers is passed around online like gospel. Its one of those principles where repetition equals truth. Except that it doesnt. Test for yourself. Some products and industries simply do not require gated content to get visitors to sign up.
Rebel Growth host Borja Obeso recently told me about his own shocking discovery on this front:
Ive been preaching for years that people should provide something in exchange of asking for a sign-up, and they should.
But in some of the industries we target with Creativiu (a site that offers on-demand online creative classes), it works better to mention the overall benefits people will get from being a part of our community. We tested countless bribe-to-subscribe offers, mostly offering people entire courses for free. Then we made this offer:
To my surprise, the plain test absolutely destroyed all the others.
While the opt-in box says get exclusive content and tools, notice that no specific content tactic is being offered: no e-book, no checklist, no webinar, no white paper, no report. Just a generic well send you information in the future. Thats why it fits the no-content offer template. The lesson? The only way to find out if your audience will respond to content versus non-content offers is to test them.
3. Pleasure buttons
What makes a seductive, click-worthy button? Two things: happiness and fear. Lets look at happiness first.
Even though I opened this article by stating that subscribe was the most profitable button online, using the word subscribe is notoriously lame. Submit and sign up also suck. Instead, you should:
Use first-person language at least try sign me up or send me updates.Use active language give me access or start discovering today.Detail the payoff Make me a better marketer.
Create button copy that shows the value of your offer. My favorite formula is Joanna Wiebes I-want strategy:
Write button/CTA copy that completes this phrase: I want to ________________. The underlined part becomes the button copy.
Compare these two buttons:
Image source: Copyblogger
Notice how the second button completes the I want to with end my scheduling hassles. It identifies a problem and offers a specific, desire-based solution.
Pleasure buttons are also a stellar place to get playful and clever like Unbounce did on its presidential marketing teardown post:
Image source: Unbounce
4. Pain buttons
At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum is fear the most dominant human emotion. The key is to create an opt-out button (basically a close-the-pop-up button) that hurts.
Again, Joanna Weibe explains:
When a visitor is presented with an opt-in form, its so often the case that said opt-in form has just one button, and that button is there to be clicked if you choose to opt in. If you choose not to opt in, you do not have to click a button to state your preference; you simply X out, click out, or otherwise ignore the opt-in button.
Most of our opt-ins are active and opt-outs are passive.
A pain button eliminates the passivity of opting out by giving the viewer a clear choice. Heres a fabulous example from Joanna herself that catapulted her site from daily double-digit sign-ups to triple-digit subscriptions:
One of my favorites comes from KlientBoost:
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
How to Create Persuasive Content: Lessons from Aristotle5. Short Forms
Sign-up forms with as few fields as possible are the low-hanging fruit of building your email list. Content Marketing Institutes most prominent email opt-in is a single field:
So are the vast majority of email sign-up forms, like these from Shopify and Salesforce:
Naturally, statistics abound on why less is more:
Image Source: HubSpot
The oft-cited Imaginary Landscapes saw a 120% increase in conversions by reducing the number of fields from 11 to four.
6. Long forms
Shopify and Salesforce both have single-field forms as the leading edge of their sign-up strategies. But neither stops there.
With Shopify, as soon as you go to Shopify Plus, the companys enterprise-level platform, the fields increase from one to six:
Salesforce adds more fields for its industry report sign-ups:
What explains the radical difference in the same companys website forms? Value and qualification.
With the long forms, the visitor seeks something with more value. The bar for access is raised for that greater value.
Long forms also are a preliminary step toward customer qualification (i.e., identifying high-quality leads). The forms also allow the company to know more about their subscribers to better tailor its communication.
7. Multi-step forms
Multi- or two-step forms are tricky even in just understanding the terminology.
Double opt-in often refers to the two-step process required by most email providers for someone who signs up for your list. In addition to the original sign-up, the subscriber must confirm from a subsequent email.
Although the names are used interchangeably elsewhere, what Im talking about here is different. Multi-step forms require a user to take two or more actions to subscribe before the confirmation email arrives. As a simple example, take Leadpages subscription process:
It starts with a single button that doesnt ask for information.A pop-up appears with the email submission field:
Why require two or more steps?
As Daphne Sidor explains in Everything You Need to Know About Capturing Leads With Opt-in Forms:
With a two-step opt-in form, you make the first request in the form of a call to action on your page, whether its a text link, an image, or a button. Once someone clicks, they can easily fall under the sway of behavioral inertia: the principle that once you start down a certain pathway, youre likely to continue. One yes leads to another, until visitors have completed the process youve set up.
Breaking up forms also allows you to more easily integrate long forms into your process. Investor Carrot, which builds and maintains real estate investor websites, recently released data on its adoption of the multi-step process. First, it broke the standard lead-generation form into two forms. Second, it included a whopping 12 fields for the second form.
What happened? The two-step opt-in process improved conversions by 46% with dramatically improved lead quality.
Build your email list on site 8. Landing pages
These standalone web pages should do one thing and one thing only drive action. Some best landing-page practices from the pros include:
Match the headline of your ad to the headline of your landing page.Make your call to action big and post above the fold.Keep it clear, simple, and focused.Use one call to action. You can have multiple buttons but only one goal for each page.Use videos, which have been shown to notably improve conversion.Craft compelling copy to tell a story instead of stating facts or just selling.
The best practice ignored by the clients I see is the number of CTAs. If the pages goal is to collect email addresses, visitors shouldnt be able to do anything else on the page no header navigation, no links for further reading, no social icons, no products nothing!
If you have multiple buttons on the landing page, every single one of those buttons should drive your visitor to the same action. One of my favorite examples of a single-goal-focused landing page comes from curation and clipping tool memit. While the page contains numerous buttons with varying CTA copy, each and every one drives readers to the next step in memits process: downloading the app.
Image source: memit
9. Entry pop-ups
This pop-up form activates when a visitor enters your site. This type of form often blocks the view of the majority of the screen, forcing engagement.
Just remember, visitors will do one of the following:
Comply and supply informationClose the pop-up and ignore the CTAGet annoyed and leave
The first lesson here is about timeliness. SumoMes Noah Kagan demonstrates the sweet spot for email gathering based on time on page:
Image source: AppSumo
To increase the success of pop-up forms, have them appear five seconds after the visitor arrives on page.
To increase the success of pop-up forms, have them appear 5 seconds after visitor arrives says @iconicontent. Click To Tweet
Also, do not be afraid to show the same pop-up to the same person multiple times. A one-display-per-day rule is optimal. After all, if a person reads more pages on your blog without being bombarded with pop-ups and comes back the next day, she is more likely to subscribe.
Finally, with all pop-ups, be sure you have both a happy button and a pain button.
10. Exit pop-ups
These opt-ins generate when your visitors mouse moves toward the back or close buttons. Exit pop-ups are last-ditch efforts to engage a potential subscriber and prevent the loss of a good lead.
This example from Picreel, which is in the business of building exit-intent pop-ups, is spot on. Since I was on the site Picreel knew I was interested in exit pop-ups. But instead of going for the feature, Picreel goes for the benefit:
Pop-ups both entry and exit can be awkward and sometimes annoying. But they work. CrazyEgg compiled data from four sites and found staggering results:
Nikki McGonigals pop-up drove 1,375% more sign-ups than her sidebar alternative.Darren Rowses light-box earned 400 new subscribers a day.Ask-Leo.com increased its email conversions by 1,000%.Mamas Lebanese Kitchen saw sign-ups 10 times greater than the pre-pop-up, opt-in rate.
When creating exit pop-ups, be honest and conversational in your copy. Level with your visitor and admit that the exit pop-up is exactly that. Here are some good examples based on Picreels own optimization advice:
Keep it simple: Dont load the pop-up with images and text. Stick to one driving goal and get rid of everything else.Ask questions: Going so soon? Heres the guide that keeps 15,000 visitors coming back each day or Love dressing up? Join our emails to get the latest fashion news.Be unexpected: Use words, questions, and offers that visitors dont expect from an exit pop-up: You probably hate pop-ups and this one sucks. But my mom and your financial adviser just called Dont load pop-ups w/ images & text. Stick to 1 driving goal & get rid of everything else via @Picreel_ Click To Tweet11. Scroll boxes
Scroll boxes are the polite form of pop-ups. Instead of consuming the screen they appear unobtrusively.
Not all scroll boxes are created equal. Not by a long shot. Sean Bestors article makes the data-driven case that the top 1% of scroll boxes are responsible for 25% of all emails collected. Sean also shares the common denominators from the top performing:
Location bottom rightAppearance 47% scroll depthDesign light with a picture12. Sidebar sign-ups
Sidebar forms are ubiquitous. Often built into web templates, theyre incredibly easy to implement. Just be sure that your sidebar form collects data and doesnt distract from more useful forms. They are two kinds of sidebar forms:
Anchored and static:
Image source: Social Media Examiner
Sticky or scrolling forms appear once a visitor passes a certain point on your page:
Image source: Marketing Tech Blog
13. In-line sign-ups
In-line opt-ins are the equivalent of the impulse buy. They work best as part of the natural flow of the text in articles or other long-form content over 2,000 words.
Once youve provided value, the in-line opt-in functions as a means to act now. Think of in-line forms like a conversational aside, Oh, by the way, if you like what youre reading now then youll love the other stuff we do. And to get our other stuff, just sign up here.
For instance, in its previously mentioned presidential marketing article Unbounce includes an in-line sign-up after the introduction and another in the middle of the 6,000-word article:
14. Header sign-ups
Header sign-ups are incredibly simple. They can host a variety of CTAs. Problogger uses its headers to collect emails, promote its podcast, and advertise its events.
The big-dog provider is Hello Bar, but there are plenty of alternatives especially on WordPress.
WP Notification Bar offers extensive customization that naturally includes email sign-ups but also countdown clocks and referral messages to welcome visitors from specific sources:
15. End-of-post sign-ups
End-of-post forms cater to your most devoted readers the visitors who have consumed your content in its entirety. Theyre invested. Moreover, they probably are looking for more.
An end-of-post opt-in strikes while the lead is hot. Heres a general one that can be used at the end of almost any blog post:
16. Contact sign-ups
Do not overlook the obvious. And dont underestimate the converting power of contact pages, about pages, and in-depth contact forms.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Fewer fields mean greater conversion power. On average, asking visitors to complete three fields results in a 25% conversion rate, compared to six or more fields, which see a 15% conversion rate.Mobile design is paramount. With 81% of smartphone users accessing the internet, if you havent tailored your contact form to fit smaller screens, youre missing out.Ask good questions. Instead of simply leaving the message field blank, spur the response with engaging questions that relate to the kind of product or service you offer.Create drop-down options to anticipate email segmentation based on your most important demographics.Build your email list off site
Just when you thought wed covered every place to put an email list sign-up form now its time to go off site.
Twitter lets you collect email addresses with a single click, and its free unless you want to connect to your email marketing platform. All you have to do is set up a Twitter card through the Twitter Ad page:
Tweet it. Pin the card to the top of your profile.
18. LinkedIn and Medium
Publishing content off site is always risky. On the pro side, your content is in front of a larger audience. On the con side, youre operating on borrowed land. While you might get new LinkedIn or Medium followers from a great post, you cant convert those off-site readers into profitable email list subscribers without forcing them to leave behind the platform itself.
Now you can. Meet Rabbut. Originally created as a competitor to Hello Bar, Rabbut lets you add sign-up forms to LinkedIn Pulse and Medium. Heres what the form looks like for an article republished by Sujan Patel on LinkedIn:
With just republished content, Sujan has collected roughly 400 new subscribers with a 4.8% conversion rate overall.
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
How to Get 200+ New Subscribers From 1 LinkedIn Article19. Facebook
I saved Facebook for last not because it isnt valuable, but because advertising on Facebook is fraught with challenges. Unlike Twitter, LinkedIn, and Medium, in order to make Facebook work well as an email collection tool, youre going to have to pay.
You can do this in one of two ways lead or traditional Facebook ads. Facebook lead ads let you create a complete sign-up process on its platform so your audience never leaves the native environment. Staying native might be an advantage, but the customization options are incredibly minimal.
Given those limitations, traditional Facebook ads that drive users from Facebook to your landing page are more powerful. Heres a great example from Foundr Magazines Free Instagram Masterclass:
Nathan Chan shared the data behind this sequence with me:
All told, Foundr has been able to cut its cost per lead to less than $1.
Start building your email list
Its like Joe Pulizzi says, Once you build an audience (of email subscribers), anything is possible. And that little parenthetical notation is vital.
Email is hands-down the most profitable marketing channel there is. And building your email list is non-negotiable.
Thankfully, you dont have to get overwhelmed by all the decisions and methods outlined above. All you really have to do is just get started with a few of them, track your progress, and try alternatives as you go.
Share this image on your site Just copy and paste code below
<script src=//my.visme.co/visme.js></script><div class=visme_d data-url=4doq1n4z-how-to-build-your-email-list-the-better-than-ultimate-guide-3 data-w=800 data-h=5900></div><br /><br />
Download or print a handy abbreviated version of the checklist made by Visme.
If youre already running some of these approaches, then identify a handful of new approaches and get testing.
Of course, the best way to end a post all about email sign-ups would be to include one:
Want daily tips, insight, and advice on how to improve your content marketing programs? Subscribe (yes, its a lame word but you get the point) to CMIs free newsletter.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute