Digital MarketingEmail MarketingKick-Starting List Growth: A Case Study

Kick-Starting List Growth: A Case Study

If harvesting and appending are no-nos, how can you dramatically speed up your e-mail address acquisition?

One of the hottest topics at the ClickZ E-Mail Strategies Conference this week was growing email lists. Methods discussed included harvesting (don’t do it!), appending (not the way to build a permission-based list), marketing to third-party lists, and buying search engine keywords, to mention just a few. But there’s another, often overlooked, way to grow your list: optimize your registration process.

As frequent readers know, this isn’t the first column I’ve written about this topic. This time I’m sharing a recent success story I helped one of my clients achieve, and I’ll include practical tips you can implement right away to help increase your list growth.

The Client

The client is a large company with dozens of brand-name consumer products whose names you would recognize. The company also has dozens of Web sites to support these products. That said, the tips I’m going to offer will work just as well for lesser-known organizations (I’ve used them in those circumstances as well).

The Long-Term Goal

The long-term goal is to triple the size of the company’s current permission-based email database over the next 12 months.


In analyzing the situation, I identified two opportunities: Very few Web site visitors were clicking through to registration, and, of those who did, very few were actually completing the registration process. If we could just pump up these figures, we would be able to meet our goals without driving any additional traffic to the Web sites.

I’ve covered these two metrics recently in “How to Optimize E-Mail List Growth, Parts 1 and 2.” Part one looked at converting Web site visitors to registrants; part two dealt with reducing abandon rates. Feel free to check these out for background information.

Results (Compared to Prior Month)

The company saw a 300 percent increase in email address collection with permission to communicate via email.

Yes, that’s right. We had three times as many people sign up to receive email from my client than we had the prior month. We basically tripled our monthly acquisition rate overnight.

Keys to Success

Value proposition. Consumers are bombarded with email these days. Even if you eliminate the unsolicited email we all receive, you’ll probably find many things you opted in for you just don’t have time to read anyone. Years ago a “free email newsletter” was something just about everyone would sign up for; not so anymore. You need to make the case to get people to sign up to receive your email — you need a value proposition.

The value proposition we used had two components: one short term, one long. In the short term, we offered an “instant win” contest. At the end of the registration process, we told you if you were one of that day’s five instant winners (the prize was valued at $100). In the long term, you’d receive email updates on new products, retail events, future online promotions (such as the instant-win contest), and other information.

Are there downfalls to a contest? Yes. You might attract only people who are interested in an instant win. That said, we felt we needed to kick-start the acquisition process, and this was an effective way of doing it. The prize consisted of some of our client’s products, so we’re hoping the audience we attracted has an interest in our products, not just in winning. Time will tell.

Limiting data collection. The original registration was heavy on data collection, perhaps one reason people were leaving before completing it. When I walked through it for the first time, I expected to be done each time I hit the “submit” button at the bottom of a page, only to see another page with more questions before me. In addition, just about all the questions required answers — so there were no “shortcuts” for getting through this process.

For our initiative, we pared the data collection down to the bare minimum. This is not easy to do. You need to balance the level of knowledge you need to provide targeted information via email with the registrant’s attention span and willingness to provide personal information.

We looked at what was being asked and compared it to what we’d been using to target — that was the first cut. It went on from there. We ended up removing a number of data points the client had used to categorize visitors; instead, we asked people to self-identify themselves within one of four “types” of Web site visitors. This approach is more direct, more accurate, and less cumbersome for registrants. Paring down what you ask for is difficult, but done strategically it can have huge payoffs.

Viral marketing. We included a strong viral marketing component in the campaign, encouraging those who had played the instant-win game to tell their friends about it. There were an average of five winners a day, so there were always new chances to win. Across the sites, 10 to 15 percent of those who played the instant-win game used our “tell-a-friend” mechanism to tell someone else about it. We believe this viral effort pumped up our acquisition of email addresses even more — and viral marketing will continue to play a role in acquisition as we go forward.


Was the campaign a success all the way around? No. Our conversion from Web site visitors to email registration only increased 5 percent — we feel we can do better. Additionally, we’d like more folks who go through registration to give us permission to communicate with them via email. We had a 500 percent increase in the number of folks who gave their email addresses during registration, but not all gave permission to communicate with them via email (hence the 300 percent, not 500 percent, increase in permission-based email addresses).

That said, any work you do online is a stepping stone. This was my first initiative for this client, and it generated enough email list growth to get us about half the way to our goal — not bad for a single first project. We’ll be using what we learned to move forward, and I’m confident in a year we will have tripled the company’s email database and have a thriving relationship marketing program executed via email.

Was this column useful? Are there things that would have made it more valuable for you? Please let me know so I can tailor future articles.

Until next month,


Don’t miss ClickZ’s Weblog Business Strategies in Boston, June 9-10.

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