5 Keys to Building a Quality Email List

Content Takeover Email MarketingIt’s a given that email marketers want to grow their lists, but bigger isn’t always better. A low-quality list – low open rates, lots of bounces, and a helping of spam reports – can ding your sender reputation, making it harder to get your emails into inboxes.

In a survey by BlueHornet and Ascend2 of marketing, sales, and business professionals, more than two-thirds said that growing and maintaining lists is very important to the overall success of their marketing programs. It’s also a top challenge for them. Ninety-five percent said that their email list growth is a measure of success for marketing programs, but 74 percent said their email lists were growing slowly or not changing at all.

One reason for that could be that even the best list can shrink close to 30 percent each year, simply because of subscribers changing their email addresses. So, you need to expand your list by at least that much just to maintain your database.


Your individual list growth rate is calculated by taking the number of new subscribers and subtracting the opt outs, then subtracting the invalid addresses and dividing by your previous list size.

But remember, this is not just a numbers game. If you’re not building healthy relationships, you’re not building your list effectively. Here are the five keys to growing a quality email list.


1. List Hygiene

This was the most challenging aspect of growing and maintaining the email list for approximately 40 percent of companies surveyed by BlueHornet and Ascend2. It’s important to have one hygiene strategy for new customer acquisition and another for ongoing maintenance.

For acquisition, one of the most common problems, typos in the email address, is easy to fix. It’s also one of the most important. Invalid email addresses can enter your database when a would-be subscriber mistypes the email, which happens up to 20 percent of the time. To fix this, you can use a real-time validation service that integrates with your Web form to verify address at point of acquisition. Algorithms recognize typos such as .co instead of .com and deliver a message to the user asking for a redo. Another tactic to keep invalid addresses out of your database is to implement a double opt-in process that sends an initial verification email to your subscribers.

For maintenance, you should focus on re-engaging inactive subscribers. Segment your list to find customers who haven’t engaged with your program and send them a winback email (or series) to regain their interest. Change the tone, in your subject line and snippet text, to gain lapsed subscribers’ attention and win them back. For example, Dell Direct emails with the subject line, “Is it something we said?” A more personal, emotional subject such as this can encourage re-engagement.

2. Streamline Website Opt-In

Website traffic can drive valuable leads to your onsite registration, and is one of the most effective acquisition strategies, but it is also one of the most difficult to pull off. Keep it simple: The opt-in process must be seamless and very easy to complete. To optimize your existing website opt-in experience, be sure you locate the signup box in an upper corner of your pages where it won’t be missed – and make sure the field is long enough for even the longest of email addresses. In addition, only require a few fields of information; you can entice your subscribers to provide more information later. Sixty-one percent of the companies we surveyed require two to four fields for onsite registration.

Be sure to test the number of fields you are using to identify those from which you gain the most value. Don’t forget to design and optimize your emails for the mobile experience. According to our research, 76 percent of consumers use their smartphones to sort emails before viewing on a computer, while 80 percent of non-optimized emails will be deleted without being read. Even worse, 30 percent of consumers will unsubscribe if those emails aren’t readable on mobile.
Over time, keep testing different registration strategies to see what really works for your audience.

3. Provide Relevance and Value

You need to prove that it’s worth it for someone to provide their email address during the opt-in process itself. Be sure to tell them all the reasons they should sign up for your program on the opt-in form. Entice them with a special or limited-time offer exclusive to subscribers. Give them access to behind-the-scenes information or advance notice on news and events.

In addition to thanking your subscribers and personalizing your welcome series with their names and method of signup, use the welcome funnel to request more information that will customize their experience. For example, acquire subscribers’ location by asking for their favorite stores or their ZIP codes.

A preference center is an excellent way to acquire useful data while letting customers craft their experiences with your brand. In your welcome email, invite subscribers to visit your preference center and incentivize them to indicate the topics and products they’re interested in. If you can give them control over frequency, even better.

4. Focus on Social Sharing

Social media sharing is the second-most effective acquisition tactic, but it’s also the second-most difficult to execute. Social acquisition allows you to not only acquire new subscribers but also engage existing subscribers and incentivize them to share with their friends. In doing so, you are not only increasing the lifespan of current subscribers but also increasing your reach. Let your social advocates grow your database for you. As you build your list via social channels, pay attention to the behavior of social engagers to ensure they are truly valuable to your list. Create testing for them specifically in your email program.

5. Leverage Data for Targeting and Optimization

Simply tracking opt-in and opt-out dates will help you understand your typical customer lifespan. This is different for various market sectors and also for individual businesses. Tag subscribers at the point of acquisition, by source, so that you can provide a welcome experience tailored to that channel and better understand the most effective tactics for acquiring high-quality subscribers. Analyzing the subscriber lifespan will provide insight into the parts of your email program that should be optimized to maintain and grow your list. For example, if your average subscriber opts out after seven days of acquisition, you may need to revise your welcome experience or the offer you used for acquisition. If subscribers’ lifespans typically stretch to several months, consider implementing a brand loyalty program to keep them engaged even longer.

To dig deeper into our survey data and these tactic for building a quality list, check out the full report or listen to our on-demand webinar.


These five keys will let you maximize the growth of your email list while maintaining its quality.

Use your initial list growth rate as a benchmark for your optimization efforts, and monitor it regularly to identify testing and improvement opportunities. For example, if you see a low increase in growth month-over-month, focus on improving your initial acquisition methods. If the number of opt outs rises, optimize your content to see where you can be more relevant and give more value.

Don’t forget to pay attention to your long-term list growth objectives, even as you capitalize on these short-term opportunities.

BlueHornet*Sponsored content in collaboration with BlueHornet. Views expressed in this article are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect ClickZ’s opinions.

**Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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