How to Optimize E-Mail List Growth, Part 1

Seems everyone I talk to lately — my consulting clients, prospective clients, colleagues, and acquaintances — is looking to grow her in-house email list. Thank goodness! A healthy and growing house list is one of the most valuable assets a business can have.

What surprises me is most organizations wanting to grow their lists focus on trying to drive more people to their Web sites. They ask about ads in email newsletters, renting outside lists, and striking co-registration and partnership deals. They overlook the most critical key to list growth success: the effectiveness of their sign-up or registration processes.

Two key metrics are involved with this aspect of list growth: conversion rate and abandon rate. I’ll cover conversion rate first: how to calculate it, things to take into consideration, and ways to improve it if it’s low. Next, I’ll tackle abandon rate, a much overlooked but valuable metric that reveals the effectiveness of your registration process.

Before we jump in — when growing your list, look at quality as well as quantity. That should be very clear upfront. Hordes of people who aren’t your target audience aren’t worth as much as a small quantity of qualified people. Your registration process should balance quality with quantity issues.

Starting Point: What’s Your Conversion Rate?

Here, your conversion rate is the percentage of unique visitors who supply their email addresses and opt in to receive email from you. It’s not unusual to get the majority of traffic from first-time visitors. Many won’t ever visit again. By asking for an email addresses, you can “push” messages to them, start building a relationship, and hopefully entice them to return to the site (if that’s a goal).

What’s a good conversion rate? It varies from industry to industry. It’s based on what your goals are and what sort of traffic you get. In a perfect world, you’d want everyone who visits the site to register and tell you who they are so you can target your best prospects with email (and possibly ignore those who aren’t good prospects).

A side note: Do some traffic analysis to adjust for anomalies. I worked with a business-to-business (B2B) magazine whose readers are toy retailers. Although most of its traffic occurred during business hours, we saw some spikes in late-night visits. On further investigation, we found these were very, very short visits. Almost no one ventured past the home page, and most didn’t spend more than a few seconds there. We finally determined this late-night crowd was likely made up of consumers seeking adult toys and “playthings” (if you get my drift), not our target market of professional toy retailers. This type of traffic should be omitted from your conversion rate equation. They’re not good prospects and you don’t care if they register (in any case, we didn’t want them mucking up our list).

A key to increasing your conversion rate is to look at the offer and how it’s presented. Some tips:

  • Registration is a value-based transaction. You’re asking a visitor for something of value — her email address and permission to communicate via email. Offer value in return. This could be information provided via email, such as discounts, special offers, interesting editorials, or something else — a special report, a gift, or entry in a sweepstakes or drawing.

    The more relevant the offer to the desired relationship, the better. More than one marketer has gotten burned going with a great offer (“Win a new car!”) to build a list, only to find registrants only wanted to win a car and weren’t good prospects. “Free seeds” is an example of a logical, relevant offer from a gardening company.

  • Copy is king. Spell out feature/benefit/advantage in your offer copy. Use reader-centric words such as “you” and “your.” Make it sound valuable to them, it’s not all about your company. Be specific. Rather than saying “Sign Up for Our Free E-mail Newsletter,” explain what they get. “You’ll receive exclusive discounts only for email recipients,” or “Information to help you stay ahead of your industry — and your colleagues.” Make it relevant and personal.

    Another way to entice sign-ups is to provide a field where they can type their email addresses (often default copy reads “your email address here” or similar). People recognize this as a sign-up method. Adding it makes the call to action (“give us your email address”) very clear.

  • Don’t forget delivery mechanism and placement. Put some thought into delivery mechanism and placement. Pop-ups can be a good way to invite registrations, but not as your only method. Many users (and ISPs, for that matter) now block them. If pop-ups are only way to learn about registering on your site, they may be missed.

    Incorporate a sign-up mechanism directly in your Web site. Ideal locations are top right or top left of the first screen, either as part of the top banner or just below. These are areas the eye naturally gravitates to. This should appear on every page of the site, in the same location, and with the same look and feel.

    Be judicious when using a registration pop-up. One publisher has had tremendous success with a pop-up that appears as users leave the site, rather than while they navigate within it. Visitors aren’t repeatedly clobbered, which gets annoying fast. Work with your tech staff so visitors who already registered won’t continue to see the pop-up. This can be done with a cookie to minimize the distraction.

Next: Abandon Rate

The other key metric for registration optimization is abandon rate. I’m surprised how few organizations even look at this valuable metric. Next time, how to calculate it
— and what to do when it’s high.

In the meantime, feel free to email questions, thoughts, or comments.

Jeanne

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