April 14th, 2014

Best Practices in Growing your Email Subscriber Base

How can I legitimately maximize my email mailing list size?  Maybe I should just buy a subscriber list, that seems easy and quick!

Growing an email subscriber list is major concern for anyone doing email marketing, especially those just getting into it for the first time.  Most succumb to the slick sales pitches of those selling mailing lists … list of thousands to millions of subscribers.  Here we will provide you with some guidance on how to grow your list properly and enhance your email marketing campaigns.

What is wrong with my purchased list?

Where do you think the “subscribers” to these lists came from?

Depending on the vendor, these list could be any of:

  1. Addresses “Scraped” from web sites
  2. Addresses copied from public directories and contact lists
  3. Lists of addresses and contacts purchased from other companies or organizations

Clearly in all of these cases, there is no way that the people on the list could have opted into being on that list, let alone to receiving email from someone purchasing this list.

Slightly less shady but equally poor lists can arise from:

  1. Opting people into lists where they may “distribute them to third parties”.  E.g. having people opt into receiving email from any unknown person.  This is often done via fine print and sometimes even without informing the user.

Again, there is no way the poor person involved can legitimately opt themselves into receiving email from unknown third parties and then not be expected to complain about it as unwanted spam when it does come in … as how is such a person to differentiate that spam from other spam? Using such a list is a guaranteed way to generate high rates of complaints that your mailings are spam … and a good way to get yourself and your server black listed.

In short, never send email to a purchased email list.  In fact, use a purchased email list for sending email is against the acceptable use policy for all legitimate email marketing vendors.  Avoid them like the plague as their use will:

  1. Generate a very, very low rate of return
  2. Generate a very high rate of complaints and bounces
  3. Cause your outbound email server to be grey or black listed
  4. Be detrimental to the successful deliverability of future marketing email messages that you send
  5. Be a poor return on investment.  The vendors that sold you these lists will not help you once they have your money.
  6. Cause your account to be terminated by your email marketing provider
  7. Tarnish your domain’s mailing reputation … so that delivery is a problem even if you change vendors.

Just don’t do it.

How else can I get subscribers?

There are many ways to legitimately and organically grow your subscriber list in a way that is consistent with all applicable laws and that will ensure that your subscribers actually want your messages (and that is key to getting a positive response from your mailings, isn’t it?)

Add a “subscribe” page to your web site

Make a nice page on your web site where users can subscribe to receive information from you.  Some email marketing tools, like Spotlight Mailer, provide code that you can drop right in to automate this process with minimal work.

Once you have such a page, make access to it prominent from everywhere on your web site, from mailings that you do, from your email signature, etc.

Have a visible and always accessible sign up box on your website in header, sidebar, or footer area.

Include a checkbox to sign up on any website form where you collect user data

This allows users to opt into your list when they are actively interacting with you. Be sure not to “pre-check” these so that people are not opted in if they are not paying attention. That is bad form and against certain laws.

Use a 2-step double opt-in process to join your lists

I.e. you system should send an email confirmation message where subscription is only activated if subscriber clicks on a link in the confirmation message so they actively choose to join and receive you emails. Many email marketing programs, like Spotlight Mailer, can do this automatically.

This double opt-in ensures that your mailing list consists of valid email addresses approved by the people receiving that email. It stops people from adding others addresses or invalid addresses to your list … both of which can affect your spam and deliverability statistics.

Offer incentives for customers to sign up

E.g. “50% off your first purchase when you join our mailing list!”

Putting these kinds of offers out through social media, your web site, and other venues, can drastically increase your mailing list subscription rate.

Provide access to valuable resources

You can offer access to resources such as case studies, downloadable whitepapers, special offers, and other benefits, in exchange for signing up to join your list.

Have different lists for different purposes and provide users an option to choose which lists of yours they wish to join.

Don’t forget to manage your lists appropriately

As your list grows, be sure you manage it to optimize your deliverability and reputation and to abide with best practices and acceptable use policies.  This includes:

  1. Automatically manage unsubscribes. CAN SPAM sets rules on how unsubscribes must work
  2. Automatically manage bounced email
  3. Automatically manage feed back loop complaints

See also: Key Ingredients for Good Deliverability.


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