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How to Set Up and Grow an Effective Email List
Despite the rumors of email’s demise, a good mailing list is still one of your most powerful assets and it is especially important for those practicing content marketing. According to the Harvard Business Review email is not dead, it’s just evolving. Despite the many options with social media, it’s email that people trust and depend on to connect them with the businesses they like. In fact, according to Demand Wave’s 2017 State of B2B Digital Marketing report, 63% of marketers claim email marketing and SEO are the top revenue drivers.
But for content marketers, who are struggling in a content-cluttered environment to get their content seen by their audience, growing a mailing list may mean the difference between life and death. Indeed, in a marketing epoch defined by content shock, building an audience is everything. Moreover, as I’ve written previously on this blog, organic reach on social and other domains is radically shrinking, making it more important than ever to to “own” your own audience, rather than merely rent it.
Email gives you a way to acquire new customers and stay in touch with the customers you already have. When prospects and customers sign up for your list, they’re demonstrating an interest in your product or service and their willingness to hear from you. This is called “permission marketing,” which replaced the way marketing used to be done: interruption marketing. As I have suggested in my summary of Seth Godin’s work in my 2016 Summer Speed Reading List, permission marketing has three characteristics which distinguish it from interruption marketing. With permission marketing, communications are:
While email marketing over the years developed a bad reputation from spam bots, hacks, and dubious marketers who used to buy or rent email lists, best practices around email marketing now encourage you to use opt-in or “sign up” techniques to grow your email list, which is essentially giving your audience the ability to volunteer to receive communications from you. When email marketers only send communications to those who have opted-in to receiving communications, they are engaging in permission marketing--which will allow them to nurture relationships with prospects and customers in an authentic manner that increases trust, deepens engagement, and strengthens brand loyalty.
What does this all translate to? You guessed it: revenue. According to InfusionSoft, one of the top 5 marketing automation platforms, Researchers predict email promotions can boost customer acquisition by 7 percent per year and increase sales. But email marketing is just as effective for retention marketing as it is for acquisition marketing. Your business depends on customers, and taking care of your customers is the best investment you can make. Through highly targeted, relevant, personalized and anticipated email messages, you can build customer loyalty with special offers and rewards through effective email nurture campaigns.
The fact that people opt-in indicates they want to hear from you, and when asked how they want to communicate, email was the most popular choice by far. At 70%, email was three times more popular than social media and preferred twice as much as television ads. The method that came in second, at nearly 50%, was postal mail. Since snail mail can be expensive, email is the clear choice.
How to Set Up Your Mailing List System
You want to use an email marketing service in order to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act. A service will make sure you meet the requirements with everything you send out. A service also provides additional features that help your marketing efforts. You can post to social media, share with others, build an archive, broadcast your posts, do split testing, and review metrics. Options and pricing vary depending on the specific service you use.
How to Select an Email Service
I’ve used email marketing services and marketing automation at every level—small business, mid-size, and enterprise. In my current company, I use Oracle Eloqua and I’ve used Marketo and HubSpot at two previous companies. Oracle Eloqua has a lot of muscle under the hood and should only really be used for large enterprise companies who have global email programs. HubSpot is very reasonably priced and has the most user-friendly marketing automation and email marketing service for companies that are 150-1000 employees. I was able to easily integrate my email campaigns, corporate blog, and social media via closed-loop reporting with a click of a button.
For lynnlangmade.com I’ve set up a very simple email service via MailChimp. The primary reason I chose it was because of the “free” plan, which allows you to send upto 12,000 email to upto 2000 contacts for free. It’s the best service you can use when you are a solopreneur or a very small business or startup. However many of the other small business email marketing solutions I’ve listed below are feasible even for those companies with the leanest budgets. I am particularly impressed with ConvertKit’s ability to create content upgrades and incentives with email signup forms.
Design the Signup Form
Once you have decided on the service you want, it’s time to set up the account. The first step is to design a signup form for your website. You can either embed a form or add a pop-up or lightbox. The pop-up has been controversial and Google is now penalizing pages or sites that use pop-ups on mobile that block or obstruct content. So why use them? In spite of the complaints, they are still highly effective at converting your audience.
Between the two styles, people respond better to the lightbox, or hover, form. These can be timed to appear after a delay, and the right timing can increase acceptance.
The best advice is to consider your customers and monitor your results to see if it’s worthwhile for you.
Design the Signup Process
A good rule of thumb is to keep your sign-up process simple, however you should design the form to meet the particular goals you have.
If you are merely trying to grow your subscriber base, use as few form fields as possible. Just name and email, or even just the email. You’ll get more people to respond if you don’t have a long list of items they need to complete. You want to reduce any barrier to entry.
You can see my own email list form as an example here. My goal is really just to increase the audience of my blog, not to sell or pitch anything, so my subscribe form only has one field!
(If you’ld like to subscribe, feel free to scroll all the way to the bottom of this blog OR add your email to the signup form I have on the top right of the blog :) )
Your email subscription conversion rate can be influenced by the quality of your free incentive and how much trust you have built in your audience. If your offer or incentive is of high-value, your audience will be more willing to answer questions or fill out more form fields. If the incentive is customized based on their answers, they’ll understand the reason for the additional questions and comply.
However, if you’re actually using your mailing list for bottom-of-the-funnel demand generation campaigns, you will need more information about your visitor and thus more form fields. To meet the goal of getting enough information to make it possible to follow-up with your lead, best practices suggest no more than 7 fields as there is a significant increase in form abandonment after 7 fields and generally speaking the more fields you add the lower your conversion rate will be.
Conversion Rates By Form Length
The ideal form length varies between 3 and 7 depending upon your business and industry:
Give some thought when crafting your free incentive. It’s yet another opportunity to show your knowledge and that you understand what your customer needs and wants. Make sure it’s useful and relevant. Consider it a test. It’s one of the ways your subscriber decides if your company is the right choice, so pull out the stops to provide something that will make their decision easy.
Once your subscriber signs up, they receive several emails consecutively. Each of these is an opportunity to reinforce your brand and add a personal touch.
Depending on your service, they will get some or all of the following:
Sign-up “thank you” page: This comes after they have subscribed, to let them know they’ve signed up successfully. Alternately, you can send them to your website “thank-you” page.
Opt-in confirmation email: This is not always used but is highly recommended. It’s part of permission marketing and ensures they were not signed up by someone else, or by mistake.
Opt-in confirmation “thank you” email: If you use the confirmation email, then this follows to let them know they’re all set and will begin to receive emails. As with the sign-up thank you, you can send them to your website “thank-you” page if you’d rather.
Final “welcome” email: This one is also optional but recommended, especially if you have offered an incentive for subscribing. With this email, you can provide additional information about your company and encourage them to take another step by including links to pages within your site.
It takes a bit of work to structure each of these, however, when you realize you have four opportunities to share information about your company or product directly to your customer, it’s easy to see the worth.
What Content Should You Send & How?
After you have the initial email service setup and you’re ready to start sending email, the inevitable question is “What content should I send and how?” The incentive for subscribing should be something that relates to your business and demonstrates your expertise. But more important than that, the content should be useful and/or valuable to your buyer. Your email and content should be selected to match the particular stage your buyer persona is in their journey. Developing clearly defined buyer personas and an audience segmentation will be critical for setting up your email or blog newsletter or email nurture track.
Let’s start with the email itself. Your email copy and subject lines should be concise, personal, and relevant — get to the point as quickly as possible. Seriously, this is not the time for you to start writing your magnum opus. No more than 3 sentences with a bulleted list of benefits or key takeaways. Steer clear of overwrought industry jargon and try to write an email that sounds like a human being wrote it. Mix in something quirky or cute to increase engagement.
In terms of the content you’ll be sending with the email, as I’ve explained in my Buyer Persona Boot Camp, you need to actually interview everyone in your company who touches the customer as well as actual customers to develop effective buyer personas. Once you’ve created those buyer personas, you then need to develop a rigorous audience segmentation (aka content segmentation), which will help you determine exactly what content your audience should receive at their particular stage in the buying cycle — the right content at the right place and time.
Some examples of content you’ll want to send if you are not simply automating a blog newsletter are:
Guide — 10+ pages or longer providing really helpful content on a problem your audience has
Ebook — depending upon whether your buyer is at the consideration or decision phase, you’ll want to send a ebook that is 20+ pages or longer and jam packed with visual aids
Report — a benchmark report or third party analyst report are great options and have enormously high engagement and conversion rates
Kit or bundle — why not put together a bundle of 3 or 5 of your best assets? Your audience will love it.
Giveaway — Include a link to a limited or exclusive promotional offer. Like the kit or bundle, giveaways tend to increase engagement and conversion.
Contest — What’s better than a giveaway? A contest that gives your audience something awesome but also includes gamification to increase engagement and conversion
Case study or video — It’s tough because your greatest challenge is to instill trust in your buyer and visitors are often annoyed when short case studies or videos are gated. I think you can gate these assets, but they need to be sufficiently complex enough or provide enough tactical information that they warrant asking your buyer to go through a gate
Method: Manual, RSS, or Autoresponder?
Now that you know what you want to send, how will you send it? There are two primary ways you can configure your email content. Either by creating one-off individual emails or by using your RSS feed to send your blog posts automatically. The advantage of RSS is that you do the work of writing the post once, and it appears on your site and is delivered to your subscriber.
A third alternative, using autoresponders, makes it easy to have a drip campaign, where emails go out at regularly scheduled intervals, determined by you.
I’ll touch briefly on manually sending email manually because there really isn’t much to it. You simply create the email in your email service, choose a segment or list and optionally attach it to a specific campaign if you’d like. Review it, test it, and then hit send. Really that’s all there is to it.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and basically allows your subscribers to receive new content directly in their email boxes. To set up an RSS campaign in most email services you go through a simple process:
Create the RSS Campaign by entering the URL of your blog’s (or other repeating content) RSS feed
Choose the list or “segment” of the people in your mailing list you want to send this content to
Name your campaign and review optional tracking options
Finally you’ll want to find a template or create one for the RSS campaign
Confirm the details of your campaign and review all parameters and settings
Send at least one “test” email and review
If everything looks good, start RSS
Please remember that these steps will change subtly between different email services.
Autoresponders are emails that are set to send automatically. For autoresponders emails, there are two basic types:
Time-triggered autoresponders: emails sent out in a particular sequence at particular intervals that you set based upon the day your audience opts-in to your campaign. In many cases, time-triggered autoresponders are the basis of what those in digital marketing refer to as an email “nurture” track.
Event-triggered autoresponders: emails that are sent when when a subscriber performs an action you specify, such as clicks a link, opens a message, changes personal information, or reaches a goal
By configuring a basic nurture track using buyer personas and an audience segmentation, you can leverage both time-triggered and event-triggered autoresponders to create highly anticipated,personalized, relevant email campaigns that will guide your buyer to a purchase decision or perform an action you want them to take.
How Can You Track Engagement & Measure Performance?
One of the greatest benefits of using an email marketing service is you have metrics on your campaigns and your recipients. With social media, you can post your content, but you don’t know who is seeing it which any degree of specificity. This becomes a larger problem when you realize how many of your posts were missed by your followers due to constant algorithm changes by Facebook, LinkedIn and even Twitter.
With email, you know who has received them, who opened them, and who clicked through to your website. Also known as “attribution” in marketing, marketing automation allows for detailed analytics that gives you greater insight. For example, merely by running an email performance report, You can see what is working with your subscribers and tailor your efforts accordingly.
You can also do A/B testing, where you split your list and try a different subject line or content to see which works best so that your emails will get the highest possible Open Rates and Click Thru Rates (CTR). These metrics help you know and understand your customers, their likes and dislikes, with better insight.
With closed-loop reporting, marketing automation in tandem with CRM makes it possible for you to understand which content asset as well as which email in a specific campaign was the first micro-conversion leading to a deal or purchase.
Every service has metrics, but specifics can differ. The common ones are:
The percentage of emails sent
The percentage of emails actually delivered
The percentage of emails that were opened (Open Rate)
The percentage of recipients who clicked a link (CTR)
The percentage of recipients who click through after opening (CTOR)
Benchmarks reports on the above - how do your email campaigns compare with industry standards?
New subscribers and unsubscribes, with the reason (if they offer it)
Number of ISP complaints
Your list growth over time, identifying spikes and flat lines
The device or email client your subscribers use to view the email (mobile is increasing)
The country in which they are located
And many more
Once It’s Started, How Do You Grow it?
I’ll start with the obvious. Before anyone can subscribe to your mailing list, they have to know your website or blog exists. So even if you develop the best free incentive to subscribe, if no one ever visits your site you’ll never be able to grow your list. You have a subscriber form on your website, so it’s logical that the more people you can bring to your site, the better the odds they will sign up.
Here is a quick list of things you can start doing today to increase your mailing list:
Leverage Your Email Service or Marketing Automation for Maximum Growth
Email Segments: Take advantage of your email service or marketing automation segmentation. Develop multiple email segments to send highly targeted content to your buyer personas.
Nurture Tracks & Autoresponders: Deliver highly targeted and personalized email sequences based upon time-based and event-based triggers.
Social Sharing Buttons: Encourage your subscribers to share your emails on their social networks by include social sharing buttons in your emails.
Create Phenomenal Emails & Content
Kickass Emails: Write engaging email and include links to valuable content.
Kickass Content: Develop original, useful, and inspiring content targeting your specific buyer personas. As I mentioned before, the quality of your content determines how interested your visitors will be to hear from you on a regular basis. If they look around your website and see a wealth of information useful to them, they’ll subscribe.
Quantity of Content: Increase the quantity of content throughout your site, not just your blog. The more of it you have, the more your site will come up in search.
Share and Promote It Everywhere:
Social Media Amplification: Use your social media networks to drive traffic to your website, but don’t neglect the chance to capture subscribers on social media sites. Facebook, for example, has a tab where you can sign people up directly with one click. You might wonder why you need to do this if they are already following you on Facebook. The advantage of adding them to your mailing list as opposed to liking your page is control. You don’t control who sees your posts on Facebook, and if they get tired of Facebook or choose to hide your posts, you will have lost that connection without even realizing it. With them safely included on your mailing list, you can communicate with them as long as you are in business, or until they opt-out.
Content Syndication: Although not free, using a content syndication services like Outbrain or Taboola can really drive traffic to your site.
Communities, Groups, and Directories: Repost your content with links back to your site in communities, groups, and directories focusing on your industry.
Email Signature: Add the link to your mailing list sign-up in your email signature. Think about how many emails you send daily. Each one of those is an opportunity when you include a subscriber link.
Create New Offers & Special Demand Generation Campaigns
Contests or Special Offers: Create a special contest and make subscription a requirement for entry.
Discounts and Coupon Codes: Provide a discount off a key service or product for subscribing.
Free Service, Swag, or Product: Offer something valuable for free with subscription.
Social Media Paid Campaigns: Run paid social media campaigns to gated content.
Retargeting: Run retargeting campaigns to convert visitors who did not convert initially on your site.
Optimize for Search Engines and Conversions (CRO)
Keywords: Include keywords in all of your content and especially in landing pages with gates or opt-in forms to increase organic traffic to your site.
Mobile optimization: Optimize your size for mobile and take advantage of AMP.
Opt-In Website Promos: Provide opt-in forms in strategic locations throughout your site — not just on the home page or on the blog, but on key areas where visitors engage with deep, tactical content.
Landing Page & Forms: Optimize landing page and form fields throughout your site to increase conversions.
CTAs: Include CTAs in content throughout your site, not just on landing pages. In particular, include a CTA to gated content.
A/B Test: A/B Test copy, images, and forms on emails, website pages and landing pages to increase conversions.
What Not to Do
Instead of recapping what I’ve already communicated in this post, I thought I might give this post a little twist by closing with some advice on what you shouldn’t do. Sometimes the best advice is actually proscriptive. As I mentioned earlier in this post, the one thing you absolutely want to avoid is buying or renting a list. Repeat after me: “I will never EVER buy or rent a list.” Repeat it like a mantra the next time you are tempted to destroy everything you’ve built with permission marketing best practices. Sure it might be tempting to suddenly add thousands of contacts to your mailing list, but you will pay for it in spades with lower Open Rates, lower CTRs, and generally lackluster engagement. Sometimes you pay for it with mass unsubscriptions or actual ISP complaints by your audience. If your engagement rate continues to dwindle, your sender score may be docked and ISPs may automatically block your email server. The bottom line is that renting or buying a list violates the principles of permission-based marketing, and most email marketing services will not allow you to import vast numbers of purchased names or if you do, you will have to pay for them with a hike in your email marketing service premium.
Sure, it takes longer to build your mailing list the old-fashioned way, but the success lies not in the quantity of names you have, but in the quality. Since your ultimate goal is to increase business, it makes sense to focus on people who are likely to do business with you.
So if you follow these 4 basic tips in this post, you should not only be able to set up your email list fairly quickly, but you should also be able to grow it fast too. Happy emailing!
Please leave a comment if you have any questions about how to set up or grow your mailing list :)
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