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List Growth: Optimizing Your Online Email Sign-Up

  |  March 5, 2012   |  Comments

Small changes you can make to your sign-up page that can dramatically increase your monthly list growth. Part one in a two-part series.

How effective is your online email sign-up? Here's the first part of a case study showing how simple, inexpensive changes to a client's sign-up page took it from less than a 10 percent conversion rate to a 45 percent conversion rate. Read on to see the issues I identified on their original page. In my next column, I'll discuss the changes we made that provided the boost in conversion rate.

In a column last month, I talked about the "honeymoon effect." I presented a case study showing that subscribers who recently opted in to a list open and click more than those who have been with you for a longer period of time. As a result, the more new opt-in subscribers you add each month, the higher your overall open and click-through rates will be - and the healthier your list.

Opt-in is the keyword here. You won't necessarily get these results if you're adding names to your list without permission. You've probably got an email opt-in on your website already, which is good. Today we're going to talk about small changes to it that can dramatically increase your monthly list growth.

This case study is based on work I did for a B2C newsletter, but the results can be applied even if you're B2B and aren't offering a newsletter (but if you aren't, you should see my recent column on the value of including editorial content in your email mix).

I always start with the numbers. Looking at the website analytics, I learned that 91 percent of the people landing on this sign-up page did not go on to the "thanks for signing up" page - meaning that they didn't complete the newsletter sign-up. That's nine out of 10 people that were interested in getting the newsletter but abandoned the page without opting in.

Further analysis showed me that:

  • 19 percent of the visitors exited the site from this page
  • 72 percent clicked from this page to visit other pages on the site instead of completing the sign-up

Website exits suggest that the visitors didn't find what they were looking for on this page, that the promise made in the call-to-action that got them there was not fulfilled. It's also frustrating to see website exits - it means that someone who was "this close" to signing up for the newsletter left and may never return to the website.

The visits to other pages tells me that there are distractions on this page, distractions with links that are pulling people away from this sign-up page and back into the site at large.

When I looked at the sign-up page (a wireframe of the original page appears below), the creative supported what the analytics were telling me.

Figure 1: Wireframe of Original Newsletter Sign-Up Page*

When people land on this page, the portion of the page "above the fold" is what appears in their browser. While people scroll a lot more than they did in the 1990s (when the World Wide Web was a new experience for people), their willingness to scroll to look for content is directly proportional to their interest in finding it.

I never want to count on people being so dead set on finding my content that I make them scroll for it. But that's exactly what the original page did.

Look at where the sign-up fields appear - just below the fold. This is the most important part of the page, but it doesn't appear in the prime real estate, which is above the fold. Roughly 10 percent of visitors were interested enough to scroll to find these fields - but over 90 percent weren't.

Now look at what does appear above the fold, in the page's prime real estate: much of the content is advertisements (in yellow on the wireframe).

Advertisements have no place on your sign-up page. Ads are created to grab the viewer's attention and, usually, get them to click to a different page to learn more. This is in direct conflict with your goal for this page - to get visitors to provide their email address and other information and click to get on your email list. If you have advertisements on your sign-up page, you are potentially shooting yourself in the foot!

Notice that both of the top ads were promoting the email newsletter that you can sign up for on this page - the call to action is to click through to sign up. Visitors to this page probably got here by clicking on one of these banners on another page. And if they click on one of these banners here, the page will refresh and they'll see the same thing. This is at best silly and at worst confusing for visitors; it's not a good experience.

Next let's look at other places on the page where people have the ability to click and go elsewhere (purple on the wireframe).

While I'm a big fan of search, breadcrumbs, and navigation, they don't belong on your sign-up page. They are distractions from the task at hand, just as the ads are. Suppress them here and then show them again on the thank you page, after the visitor has completed the sign-up.

There were two other purple boxes on the original page that needed to be addressed. The first was at the top right. This particular client is a large organization and they offer multiple email newsletters. Each has its own sign-up page and this box featured the name of the other newsletters with a link to sign up. This can be very confusing for visitors and drive them to click through and leave the page for the newsletter they wanted to sign up for.

At the bottom of the right column there's another box with links to other sections of the website. This is one more temptation that can cause people to click away from this page without filling out the form.

This is the first step to improving your sign-up performance - identifying and closing exits. In my next column, I'll show you the wireframe for the revised page and discuss other tweaks we made to content, which resulted in conversions going from less than 10 percent to 45 percent.

Until next time,


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Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.

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