Growing an E-Mail List: Five Practical Tips

When is enough enough? Never, if you’re growing an email list. You always want to bring in new opt-in subscribers, enough, at least, to replace the email addresses lost each month (via hard bounces and unsubscribes). Hopefully you bring in more, so the list grows. Most organizations can quote a net monthly growth rate. Here are some tips for deeper analysis and really identifying where you can boost opt-ins.

Web Site Conversion

People visiting your Web site are natural candidates to sign up for your newsletter. How many of them do? What’s considered a “good” conversion rate? Based on past experience, I consider a 5 percent conversion rate average, 15 percent pretty good (but you always want to boost whatever your conversion rate is). Know your conversion rate, but don’t ever assume it’s enough.

Contests and Other Incentives

Although contests and incentives can significantly boost growth rate, be sure you’re getting qualified prospects, not just serial sweepstakes entrants or people looking for the freebie. Look at the email opt-in rate. As a guide, I consider 45 percent opt-in good; I’ve seen rates as high as 60 percent.

Down the road, look at this group’s unsubscribe rate. If it’s significantly higher than that of your control group, you may decide the short-term boost isn’t worth the long-term decline.

Online Advertising

If you promote an email newsletter on your site, basically you’re advertising. A great thing about DoubleClick’s conference earlier this month was the dual focus on email marketing and online advertising. Although absolute clicks and conversion percentages should be higher when advertising on your own site (most data out there is for third-party ads), you can still pick up pointers to increase performance.

DoubleClick reported rich media ads are generating four times the click-throughs of standard display ads. Four times. Image what testing a rich media ad on your Web site could do for opt-in email list growth.

I always shied away from rich media. I had concerns about slower dial-up connections. But there’s good news on this front: Nielsen//NetRatings recently reported 39 percent of U.S. Internet users are on broadband connections. Some of my clients are testing Flash ads for email acquisition. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Rich media ads tend to cost more. Be sure the lift justifies the cost. Ensure not just click-throughs but also subscription conversions grow. (DoubleClick reports on average, post-impression activity/sales from rich media ads are about twice that of non-rich media.)


How many people land on the sign-up page for your email newsletter but don’t complete the process? Decreasing the abandon rate is a quick way to improve list growth. A 30 percent or less abandon rate is considered very good; if over 50 percent of visitors leave before they complete the process, you’ve got a real opportunity to grow your list by decreasing the abandon rate.

Common ways to decrease the abandon rate include:

  • Request less information. Limiting sign-up information to 5 to 7 items is an old-time standard I still try to adhere to.

  • Remove intrusive questions. Things such as street address, phone number, household income, or business budget tend to make people abandon (or lie). Either way, it’s lose-lose. Don’t request information unless there’s a good reason. Does it directly tie to the offer?

    This holds especially true for contests. Even if you deliver the prize to a physical address, don’t ask everyone for this information. Save it, and ask just the winners.

  • Ensure there’s no disconnect between the ad and the landing page. You may want to add some rich media to your landing page to keep with the ad’s look and feel. In addition, the page should mirror the Web site’s look and feel.

Keep At It!

There are so many factors in email acquisition campaigns: offer, copy, design, placement, the sign-up page itself. Don’t give up if you don’t see tremendous results right away. I’m a big fan of testing different approaches to see what works. Even small increases help you move in the right direction. Give it a try, and let me know how you do.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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