It may seem old school in our social media-driven, interconnected digital age of communication, but the fact is, creating an opt-in email list is one of the smartest, easiest, most affordable, and, yes, most powerful ways to not only connect with people today, but to get them to convert into paying customers.
In fact, email marketing to a humongous list can launch your small business into the stratosphere.
But let’s note this up front: When we're talking about email campaigns and list building, we’re not talking about a list of a couple hundred email subscribers, or even a couple thousand; that won’t cut it if exponential growth is your goal. Instead, what business owners want is a list of tens of thousands or more. Create that and send them your best emails and you’re on your way to small business success.
And note too—we are talking about creating your own list. Buying someone else’s list can be expensive and is, in any case, a waste of money. People do not like, and do not respond, to being sent offers they did not really sign up for. If you want to boost your list growth, it's better to cultivate a following that wants to interact with your business. That way, they're less likely to unsubscribe to your list and more likely to become customers.
So, let’s find out how to create that blockbuster list, and the first secret is this: You will want to cast as wide of a net as possible by utilizing as many of these ideas as feasible.
Ask Web Visitors to Opt In
First and foremost, getting website visitors to fill out your opt-in form, that is, to give you their email address once they get to your landing page, is the foundation of a very powerful marketing campaign. It creates a rare relationship in the world of business and marketing. When someone opts-in (for your free newsletter, for notifications about your sale, to get a free doodad, whatever) they are giving you permission to contact them again. In fact, that is the whole point. That is why they are opting in. They want, nay expect, to hear from you.
Do you see what a remarkable thing that is?
How often do people, especially people who may not even be paying customers, ask you to stay in contact with them? That’s right. Not often. But when they opt in, that is exactly what they are doing. This, my friends, is a solid marketing strategy.
Think about what it would mean if you had an email list of 5,000 people. Or 50,000 people. Or what about 500,000 people? (I will tell you how an entrepreneur did just that in a moment.) Being able to email that many people about your sale, or new product, or new book, is really an amazing thing.
It is, in fact, marketing gold.
Your basic email signup form—“sign up for our free email newsletter”—is a nice start, but it is not the heavy duty list building strategy that we need if what you are looking to do is to create a massive email list.
To be the sort of newsletter that people clamor to sign up for, that they like and forward on to their friends, yours needs to really dial in to your target audience. It must be not just good, but exceptional. It needs to be engaging, well-written, valuable, different. The content has to be top-notch. It has to have a great name/title, with intriguing subject lines and valuable, interesting, actionable content.
Here are some pro tips:
- Be insightful. Yes, interesting, high-quality content is a great start, but beyond that, work to give readers that something extra, that unique take that sets your newsletter apart from the hum-drum.
- Make it easy to read. These days, no one likes reading long paragraph after long paragraph. Break it up. Use numbered lists (like this one!), bullet points, bold and italics to make your content more digestible. If it's easier, come up with some solid formats and turn them into templates you can populate.
- Make it personal. Pretend you’re writing to an actual person—a friend even—and use a tone that’s conversational and jargon-free. You can even include your own email signature. This will help your readers feel more connected to your brand, and more willing to stay on that email list and even recommend it to a friend.
Think about all the newsletters you wake up to on your personal email. Now think about the one or two you actually read. Why do you read them? Whatever the reason, that’s the ticket. That’s what you want to emulate.
A great example is from the one and only Tim Ferris. He sends out his e-newsletter every Friday, cleverly called “5-Bullet Friday.” Tim says it is “the five coolest things I’ve found (or explored) that week.” It’s effective because it’s different—five bullets, not about the same old thing, but those things Tim finds fascinating.
Harness the Power of Popups
As indicated, newsletters are just the start. The key is to use a variety of opt-in tools if you want to get a lot of opt-ins, such as, for instance, popups.
Why have popups on websites become so ubiquitous?
Because popup forms work.
On average, a popup (e.g., opt in to get a discount, or see more content, etc.) has a conversion rate of 3.09 percent. If you are already getting a ton of people to your site, a popup would be a fantastic way to turn them into a valuable contact list.
Popups on homepages are common of course, but also consider using a popup as people exit a site. A “special guide” or discount could definitely entice people to stick around and opt in. Here’s an ecommerce example: One company added a lead capture popup (i.e., a popup designed to get those people who are most likely to buy to opt in) on their checkout pages. Shoppers were offered one last chance to opt in. If they did so, they would get a 10 percent discount upon checkout.
It boosted opt-ins by 8 percent.
Check out this popup from YourGuitarAcademy. It’s simple, colorful, and valuable. It works because it’s graphically pleasing, short and to the point, and offers free perks.
Run Frequent Giveaways
What are the two most powerful words in advertising?
“Free” and “Sale”.
Given that, it is no surprise that one of the best ways to get people to opt in is to give them what they want: Something for free, or at least for less. However, if you decide to go with this strategy, you also have to get the word out about it. A giveaway won't be successful if no one enters it, after all.
Advertise your giveaway—whether you're an in-person or online business—wherever you can. Put up signs in your store and tell your customers about it at checkout. Social media platforms are a great place to advertise too, since you can narrow down who sees your ad based on key demographics.
Need ideas for a giveaway?
A contest: Opt in and enter to win. The contest would of course be related to your business/site. A restaurant could offer free cooking lessons to the winner. A pet store might feature the winning “cutest kitten picture” in a future ad.
E-book: Personally, content marketing in this way is something I have used to great effect on my own site to get potential customers to opt in. Free ebooks are fairly easy to create, do not have to be long, and as long as they are about subjects that your people want to know more about, your tribe will happily opt in to get them (especially if they are free).
Read more: How many times has this happened to you? You are reading an article, just getting to the good stuff, and suddenly it’s obscured? Opt in to read the rest for free, or to get that case study.
Interact with your content: Have them opt in to be able to comment, or share, or get the free coupon.
Check out this example from 23 City Blocks Catering. They had a promotion in which they gave away “a magical prize” for 23 consecutive days. It’s great because it is interactive and the prizes are things people would want.
Seth Godin wrote a book a few years back which he gave away for free called The Idea Virus. The idea behind The Idea Virus was that you can massively grow your following/tribe/influence if you take your best content and make it free. Seth tested it with that book and he says that it really worked.
The key for us, insofar as creating a huge list goes, is that if we package our best content in creative ways, getting new customers to sign up to get it should be a no-brainer.
For example, what about creating a free webinar? Above I mentioned the entrepreneur who created an opt-in list of a half a million people. Below I detail how he did it, but suffice it to say, that his main tool was a free webinar. He packaged his best content in a valuable form and gave it away.
Other forms could be a video, or a Facebook Live or LinkedIn event, a podcast, and so on.
We have a great example from SCORE—one of the country’s leading small business associations. It regularly gets thousands of people to attend its free webinars. Of course, you have to opt in to attend. SCORE’s webinars are a great opt-in tool because the organization attracts top talent to present and the topics are almost always valuable…and they’re free!
Send out Notifications
This is a strategy that really works on ecommerce sites. Customers can be encouraged to opt in for any number of desired notifications: sales, coupons, opportunities to get reward points, etc.
Create Loyalty, Rewards and Referral Programs
These sorts of programs can definitely entice people to give you their email address, but only if there is real value in the program. “Real value” means members-only benefits like special sales, free gifts, exclusive events, private content, and so on.
In a recent blog, we discussed why referral programs can be such a valuable marketing tool. There are many reasons for this, but basically they are a two-fer. Not only are they a modern form of word-of-mouth advertising, but a well-designed program gives the referrer benefits they otherwise would not normally get. And because of that second point, they will happily opt in.
For example, Auto Zone offers a $20 reward after five qualifying purchases. Why does this work? People love to get free stuff, that’s why.
The Big Idea
Last year, I was on Facebook one night and saw another one of those infamous Facebook ads, except this one really caught my attention. It was an ad for a free webinar that promised to help me create a “massive email list.” Despite my skepticism, I was intrigued enough to click on it. I opted in in order to watch it (see?) and ended up watching the whole one-hour free webinar. This entrepreneur talked about how he had created a list of 500,000 and how that list was one of the keys to his business success.
One important caveat is that he used that list wisely. He offered them tons of valuable, free content. New ideas. Growth strategies. And because of that, his open rate and clickthrough rates were very high. Accordingly, when he launched a new product or had a special or whatever, he could write to that list and because he had created such goodwill, they listened.
Imagine having 500,000 subscribers wanting to hear from you. Now that is a lead magnet! That is digital marketing on steroids.
The essential idea of his lead generation, email list building strategy was this:
Create a valuable freebie that would be of interest to potential new subscribers. It could be a webinar, an e-book, a whitepaper, etc.
Next, and this is key: you need to advertise that freebie on social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter—or wherever your customers are.
The ad (like the one I saw on Facebook), has to offer that free thing. You can then have people opt in at this point to get the freebie. The key is that the freebie has to be something they really want. I wanted to learn how to create a huge list so I opted in, but it could be almost anything.
For example, Mashable offered free notifications for when the in-demand PlayStation 5 would be available. In this case, free notifications gave readers something they really wanted—early access to PS5 and so opting-in was something they would happily do.
Does this strategy work? You bet. I grew my list from a few thousand to 40,000 in a few months.