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Six Ways to Grow a Subscriber List

  |  January 7, 2004   |  Comments

It won't happen overnight, but it will happen if you follow these guidelines.

I recently lunched with a friend who is preparing to launch his first newsletter campaign. He had some questions about how to build a subscriber base. As we spoke, I realized many of you might have the same questions. In response, some insights on growing a newsletter subscription list.

The first thing I told my friend (and he wasn't thrilled to hear it) was one of the most important lessons in building a subscriber base: Unless you've got a major brand and a big budget to spend on this initiative, you must have patience. In e-newsletter publishing, patience is a virtue few of us nurture. But a good subscriber list doesn't happen overnight. You can build a list quickly, but not a quality one.

Quality Counts -- Big Time

A major part of newsletter planning is having deep working knowledge of your target marketplace before thinking about almost any other strategy element. You have to know whom you want to reach and what their informational needs are. Be prepared to fill those needs.

If you pay attention to who your readers are and plan to attract only those readers who are directly interested your services or products, you can build a publishing strategy that will enable you to:

  • Profile audience segments efficiently.

  • Gain valuable marketplace intelligence through data mining.

  • Follow evolving trends and movements.

  • Serve the profile characteristics within your planned content categories.

  • Individualize communications and incentives effectively.

A very important clarification that may come as a shock: You don't want, or need, to add everyone and his brother to your list. In this case, bigger is not better. In fact, you want to weed out individuals who don't meet your own defined stringent criteria for receiving your newsletter.

Getting Stringent

We've discussed this before, so I'm sure you've got your stringent criteria identified by now. Quick review: Start by identifying the key audience segments or people most likely to buy your products or services. For instance, in the HR marketplace, segments might be determined by position (corporate HR, small business management, independent HR trainer, etc.). Your segments might be further defined by categories, such as customer, prospect, influencer, or channel/reseller.

The next step is to develop audience profile fields for each segment. At the outset, perhaps 5 to 10 specific areas of interests, job function, or characteristics that can provide you with insights that will influence strategic marketing decisions down the road. In HR, these might include concentrations such as leadership development, hiring systems, or workforce retention.

Build, Build, Build

Once the above basics are down, you're ready to build (or augment) your reader base. Tips to grow your list:

  • Create an incentive for members to join. Make the newsletter sign-up box clearly visible on your home page. Don't bury it through a link to another page. Keep it "above the fold."

  • Create a subscription form on your Web site. Set up strategic alliances with complementary companies to cross-promote each other's mailing lists.

  • Get current subscribers to refer friends or colleagues. Ask them to forward your newsletter to colleagues with similar interests.

  • Create a coregistration using a coregistration network or similar complementary publication.

  • Create a pop-up window with a subscription box. Pop-ups (and pop-unders) do work and will get more people to subscribe. Employ these carefully so you don't annoy site visitors. Boxes should be intelligent enough to pop up once, not every time a user visits the site.

  • Optimize your newsletters and its key topics with search engines and crawlers so people conducting searches on topics related to your products or services will find your newsletter.

Pay attention to your readers, work hard to continually add to and clean your subscription list, and produce a focused newsletter based on their information interests. Your subscriber list will grow. Good luck, and let me know how you're doing.

Kathleen is off this week. Today's column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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Kathleen Goodwin

Kathleen Goodwin is the former CEO of IMN (formerly iMakeNews), specializing in customer acquisition and retention through permission-based e-newsletters. For nine years, she was vice president of marketing for Ziff-Davis' publishing division, where she oversaw the marketing of all print publications and their early online siblings. She also serves as an advisor to early-stage companies and has been responsible for several successful new-business launches.

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