In 1978 Gary Thuerk dubbed the ‘Father of Spam’ sent a message promoting DEC machines (an early computer system) to 394 recipients which resulted in many sales and the start of email marketing as we know it. Since then, it has come a long way and forms the back bone of many successful online marketing strategies.
The biggest benefit of email marketing is ownership of your subscribers which allows you to continue marketing to them at a very low cost. However, building subscribers in the first place is hard. People are more hesitant than ever to put their email address into a form and there are many companies vying for attention. Buying lists are a no-go both legally and in the results they generate, so what do you do?
Here are five steps I recommend you implement which will dramatically increase the number of email subscribers you have and start you on your way to a profitable email marketing strategy:
Step 1. Invest In High Quality, Valuable Content
Investing in high quality content which adds value to your target market is extremely important. What ‘valuable’ content is will depend on your industry and should be constantly tested. If you are in a service based industry then informative content which educates your readers (and proves your knowledge) will be valued. If you are a Daily Deals site however then having the best deals which are actually discounted and not repeated every week is valuable for your target market.
The content you produce should be used in a variety of ways to get it in front of your target market. This should include publishing on your blog as part of an SEO strategy, guest posting on targeted sites as part of a PR strategy, and a number of other ways to get people to your website.
High quality content is also important once you have the subscriber. If you email your subscribers low quality, sales focused content all the time this will cause them to unsubscribe. Creating content that your target market is interested in is key to keeping and converting them.
Whether you invest time and create the content yourself, or money on creating content on a regular basis it is one of the most integral parts of your email marketing strategy.
Step 2. Optimise Your Blog/Website
Now that you are regularly publishing high quality content on your blog and throughout the internet, you will start to attract visitors to your website. These visitors will end up there because they are interested in what you are producing so you have a great chance of converting them into a subscriber. It is important you ask these people to subscribe in multiple spots on your website.
As you can see on this website I utilise a number of strategies to encourage you to subscribe, some of my best are:
- Convincing Signup Forms – Too many websites go to the effort of having a subscription form, only to use copy such as ‘Join Our Newsletter’. Your signup form needs clear reasons why they should join; an example of this would be ‘Join 32,100 of your peers and get instant breaking news straight to your inbox’.
- Entry or Exit Popups – although everyone says they dislike popups, they work very well to pull in subscribers. To minimise the annoyance caused by popups ensure its easily closed and utilise cookies so that visitors do not see the popup on every page load (plus disable them for your email marketing!).
- Header Bars – placing a small bar at the top of a webpage with one line of copy and a CTA button which can be easily split tested is also very effective. To do this you can use SumoMe’s SmartBar or one from Hellobar.com which are very easy to setup.
- Splash Pages – A lot of the best content marketers now utilise splash pages which are shown to first time visitors of a blog. These pages are essentially a landing page pushing people to subscribe before they get access to the content they were after.
- Comments – ensure if anyone adds comments you get them to opt into your newsletter at the same time. These visitors will be your most engaged and signing them up is easy so this is a no-brainer.
Step 3. Offer Something for Free
The word ‘Free’ is very powerful and although overused, it still gets results. What you offer will depend on what your customers see as high enough value to let down their guard and give you their email address and other details. Common incentives are:
- Free Whitepapers/Ebooks
- Free How To Guides/Checklists
- Free Trials
- Free Downloads
- Free Membership Access
- Free Discounts (such as a 10% off voucher)
The free offer should be utilised in the strategies you implemented in Step 2 and pushed to your audience as much as possible. Whatever you decide to use you should test to see the effect on the conversion rate and your bottom line (as free items such as discount vouchers have costs) then make a decision about what you will use. If you want to take this to the next level I recommend offering different free items which are tailored to the page or location they are on, maximising the results. For example a ‘free moving checklist’ on an article about moving to a new house.
Step 4. Make Your Email List Profitable
There is no point building an email list if there isn’t a plan on how to turn that list into conversions. If you have installed conversion tracking you can do this by testing and fine tuning everything you send. Some companies prefer direct sales emails such as promotions, but this runs the risk of higher unsubscribe rates and annoyed subscribers – dangerous if you can’t keep investing in building your list. Some companies prefer the exact opposite, sending out content, newsletters or other helpful emails with no call to action at all, this can still convert as their relationship with the subscriber grows but can be a very long term approach. Another option (which is the one I recommend) is to use subtle upsells, for example sending out high quality content which relates to the business, and then utilising the last paragraph to push the lead or sale.
As your list grows and you find ways to convert your audience it is important you start to segment out your database which will improve the content and offers you can send out, maximising your results.
Step 5. Invest In Your Email List
Now that you have the basics right and are generating content, bringing people to your website and converting them into subscribers, you will be slowly growing your list and your results will be improving. This article however, is how to dramatically build your list, and to do this you will need to invest. In step 4 I mentioned making your list profitable – this is very important before investing more into your email marketing strategy as otherwise you will lose almost every dollar you spend. Firstly you need to work out what the lifetime value of having one email subscriber on your list is. This can be hard to do and every company will have a different value. Even if you are not 100% accurate with the value you use it is important to be close so you have some idea of what you can spend with a positive ROI.
Once you know the value of a subscriber (lets say its $5) you then know your break even advertising spend to gain a subscriber. Any advertising spend which costs less than $5 is profit. If for example you invested $1,000 in Facebook advertising which built you 1,000 new email subscribers, the value of these subscribers over their lifetime would be $5,000.
So where should you invest? All businesses and target markets are different so you should test every network and use conversion tracking to work out which are the most profitable for you. Where you can invest in marketing is limitless but some examples I have found that work well are:
- Google Adwords – target ads by specific keywords being used
- Facebook Ads – target ads by demographics and interests
- LinkedIn Ads – target ads by industry, role and even company
- Twitter Ads – target ads by demographics, interests or keywords
- Remarketing – target visitors who already know your brand, been to your website but have not yet subscribed.
- Outbrain.com – push your blog content out to established media websites as ‘Sponsored Content’.
To maximise your conversion rates from each of these networks, it is a good idea to use a landing or squeeze page which will give the visitor only one thing to do – subscribe to the list. Here is what Groupon use to build their email database which likely has a very high conversion rate:
You could also use a competition or giveaway with a prize that only your target market would be interested in winning – this can lead to very high conversion rates, especially if you also build a viral element into the competition such as extra entries if they share on social media.
When done correctly, email marketing can be a very profitable channel to have in your online marketing mix, and its ROI can be exponential. Email also has advantages over other channels as you own the list and can control what you do with it. Social media networks on the other hand can do what they want with your list, for example Facebook who now make you pay to market to your own fans. By utilising the 5 steps outlined above you will dramatically grow your list, and be able to make money off it for years to come.