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Jan 28, 2009
How To

10 Proven Low-Cost Tactics for Boosting Email Opt-In Lists

SUMMARY: An opt-in list is the cornerstone of an email marketing strategy. But the pressure on marketers to do more with less in 2009 means that low-cost techniques to grow your house list will be paramount.

Here are 10 proven tactics culled from hundreds of past MarketingSherpa Case Studies to gather more opt-ins for your email marketing campaigns. Tactics include how to:
o Boost referrals
o Establish co-registration barters and other marketing partnerships
o Optimize your registration pages
o Use offline channels for email address collection
Recession-squeezed marketing budgets mean that lower-cost tactics, such as email, will be even more important this year. So, maintaining growth in your opt-in list will be a key to the success of your email campaigns.

“Growing our opt-in list is a huge part of why we feel our email program is so successful,” says Jeremy Farber, President, PC Recycler, who will talk about opt-in growth on a low budget at Sherpa’s annual Email Summit in March. “We’re a small company, and our biggest challenge is getting people to know we exist. Once they find out about us, there’s a good chance they’re going to use our service, so we take every opportunity to begin emailing them.”

Here are 10 tests and tactics that can increase your opt-in rates and make your email database work harder for you. We culled them from several years’ worth of MarketingSherpa Case Studies on developing your own strategies for growing your house email database.

Low-cost Tactics for Opt-in Growth

Tactic #1. Increase incentive for referrals

Many marketers use an incentive, such as a discount coupon, to encourage customers to recruit new opt-ins to their email newsletters and promotional messages. Is your existing incentive enticing enough?
Matt Lindenberg, Assistant Director, Marketing,, recently saw a boost when his team doubled the incentive they offered for referrals.

The team’s standard welcome email for new opt-ins offered a $5 discount on the first purchase by any new customer referred by that member. In addition, the existing subscriber would receive a $1 discount on a purchase each time a referred customer made a purchase.

In 2008, they increased the first-time purchase discount to $10. Existing opt-ins still received their own $1 discount on each order from their referrals.

Result: Percentage of new customers tripled to 11%.

Tactic #2. Highlight relevance in co-registration placement

Co-registration deals are a tried-and-true way for email marketers to grow opt-in lists. Making the most of co-registration deals requires you to find relevant partners and present your offer in a compelling way.

Here are two tips for optimizing your co-registration placement, based on an analysis of the best performing co-registration deals MarketingSherpa offers partners on our own newsletter sign-up form:

o Tip #1: Match the type of content being offered.

If you’re promoting an email newsletter, find co-registration deals with other editorial newsletter providers. Likewise, if your offer is for a promotional email service, such as weekly special offers or coupons, find a co-registration partner with a similar email program.

The worst-performing co-registration offer during MarketingSherpa’s email newsletter sign-ups was for our own SherpaStore Alert promotional email. Newsletter readers were clearly more interested in editorial content.

o Tip #2: Shorter copy works best.

The lowest-performing co-registration offers on our newsletter signup page were those that had more than two sentences of text. Keep your offer short and use language that clearly describes the benefit subscribers will receive, such as:
o “Discover how to…”
o “Exclusive offers…”
o “30-second news on…”

Tactic #3. Create co-branded sweepstakes

Expand the reach of sweepstakes and contests used to grow lists by recruiting partners to share the promotion with their own customers. In exchange, you can trade opt-in checkboxes on one another’s sites.

Marketers at eBags and USAToday have seen strong results from co-branded sweeps that involve non-competitive partners who target the same core audience. By pre-screening the partners, you can target higher-quality opt-ins.

Here’s how the technique works:

- One or more of the partners create a promotional offer, such as the chance to win a free trip or free products.
- The partners promote the offer to their house lists and website visitors, and include a checkbox to opt in for email content from all of the contest sponsors.
- Short, clean registration forms increase participation. For example, USAToday achieved an average 50% rate by asking only for an email address.
- Prepare a new welcome email to send to new opt-ins immediately upon registration. That way, you can quickly begin a relationship with them (especially if they registered from a partners’ website).

Tactic #4. Combat email address typos

If your hard bounces on welcome emails to new opt-ins are rising (we’ve heard reports of them jumping as high as 20%), you may be experiencing a rash of email address typos in your forms. Here are four tests to conduct to capture email typos before they enter your database:

o Test #1. Use a quality-assurance pop-up.

Some ESPs offer a javascript validation alert box that displays the customer’s email address as entered, and allows them to confirm or correct it. The separate validation step can work better than having customers enter their email address twice in two separate boxes – many people simply cut and paste the same (often misspelled) address in the second box.

Phil Nadel, President, Gulfstream Internet Group, which owns phone-cards marketer PhoneHog, achieved a 12% lift in name-capture conversions using the pop-up.

o Test #2. Pre-populate the email address box on second page of registration.

Marketers at some retailers, such as Patagonia, capture opt-ins with an email address box on the homepage. They then take customers to a separate landing page to enter additional personal information, such as name and ZIP code.

By pre-populating the email address form on the landing page, and making it the central focus of the second sign-up page, these retailers are giving customers an eye-catching way to check their spelling.

o Test #3. Require customers to manually re-type addresses.

After capturing an email address from the homepage, you also can use the longer landing-page form to display the address customers have entered and require them to manually re-type it into a separate field.

Nathan Decker, Ecommerce Director, Evogear, saw a 4.7% decline in invalid addresses using this two-step process.

o Test #4. Use automated system to flag common misspellings.

Working with your ESP or Web programming team, you can analyze your database for common misspellings of popular email domains and ISPs. For example:

When a customer makes one of those common mistakes, you can program your form to highlight the error and ask them to correct their spelling.

Tactic #5. Test a delayed intercept for opt-ins

Pop-ups, overlays and slide-in screens are techniques that can request opt-ins from visitors who land on your internal site pages from a search. But the interruption can cause a jump in your bounce rates that must be justified by an increase in conversions.

Leo Notenboom, Owner,, worked around that dilemma by testing a version of an overlay screen that appeared only after a visitor spent at least one minute on the site. Here’s how they planned the test:

- Based on Web analytics, the team knew that the average visitor spent about one minute on a site page.

- They created three A/B tests that served an opt-in request as a “hover box,” which appeared in the same browser window. The tests compared how long to delay the opt-in request:
o 60 vs 75 seconds
o 60 vs 45 seconds
o 60 vs 30 seconds

- The opt-in form requested three pieces of information:
o Name
o Email address
o “Where you heard about Ask Leo” (optional)

The 60-second delay for the opt-in request performed best, delivering an average 1,000% increase in daily opt-ins.

Tactic #6. Test additional locations for opt-in checkboxes

Your homepage and email subscription tab are obvious places to request opt-ins. But you also can add opt-in boxes on high-traffic Web pages.

- Study your traffic logs to find alternatives to the homepage where visitors typically enter your site, or pages they visit immediately after the homepage. Common locations include:
o Product pages
o Contact Us or About Us pages

- Include an opt-in checkbox on these high traffic pages. When possible, make the offer relevant to the page in question. For example, an opt-in offer on a product page can promote a new product alert service.

- Be sure to include a link to your privacy policy.

Tactic #7. Test small tweaks of registration form

Multivariate testing of your opt-in registration form can uncover changes that will increase your conversions to email subscribers. If you don’t have the budget for multivariate testing, you can still perform targeted A/B tests of key elements of your registration page.

MarketingSherpa in 2007 identified five small registration page tests that are worth the time and effort:

o Test #1. Offer type

Test different offers, such as coupons and discounts for B2C, or free white papers for B2B. Also test an offer versus no offer: The Motley Fool achieved better results with no offer than it did when offering a free eBook.

o Test #2. Image of the offer

Best practices for landing-page design call for including a hero shot of the product that the customer will receive. For an email newsletter or promotional message, test whether a thumbnail image of a sample email moves the needle.

o Test #3. Amount of information requested

In general, shorter registration forms work better than longer ones. So, test the required fields you need for your email opt-ins.

o Test #4. Description of what will be sent

Generic terms, such as newsletter or sales alert, might not mean the same thing to all customers. Test whether a more descriptive term can convey more meaning and generate more interest. Consider phrases that convey:
o Frequency (monthly, weekly, daily)
o Exclusivity (private sales, members-only discounts)
o Excitement (Hot products, limited-time)

o Test #5. Submit button copy

“Submit” can be a scary word, but it’s often the word found at the bottom of an opt-in registration form. Test alternatives, such as:
o Join
o Sign up
o Register
o Subscribe

Tactic #8. Use telesales and customer service reps to collect opt-ins

Put your inbound call center representatives to work for your email programs by training them to ask for email opt-ins during calls.

Bell Canada used this technique to help grow their list from 40,000 names in 1998 to more than 2 million names in 2006. Here are tips for managing the process.

- Include an “ask for email opt-in” screen as a standard question that reps must ask all customers who call with an inquiry.

- Write a script that allows the reps to describe what customers can expect by opting in.

- As with an online registration form, include a separate checkbox that a representative must click to confirm opt-in.

- Send an immediate welcome email to telephone opt-ins and, if possible, include links relevant to the topics discussed on the call.

Tactic #9. Print an opt-in URL on receipts for POS registrations

Asking for email addresses at physical store locations can be difficult to manage. Soliciting handwritten entries or asking cashiers to enter information at the point-of-sale can lead to typos and other database headaches.

Instead, try using a self-service model that lets customers enter their own information through a custom URL on a sales receipt. William Lawrence, Chairman, Bubble Car Wash, grew his team’s house list 71% using this technique. Here’s how they did it:

- The team modified their cash register software to check whether a customer’s name was already in the database.

- Customers who had not opted in received a printed sales receipt with a URL to register for email communications.

- The URL asked customers for:
o First and last name
o Email address (with a confirmation slot to help ensure the address is correct)
o Physical address
o Phone number
o Make, model, year and color of vehicle

- The request included an offer for a free premium car wash as an incentive for registration.

Tactic #10. Add change-of-email address form to site

Customers need a little prompting to remember to update their subscriptions when they change their email addresses. Rather than wait for a previously valid email address to bounce, place reminders throughout your site that ask customers to report a change of address.

Marketers at placed a simple note on high-trafficked pages of their website in response to the possible demise of a major personal email provider. The note asked: “Is your email changing?” Schwab provided a link to the account management section of their page. They captured additional new email addresses beyond those from the troubled provider.

Useful links related to this article:

Focusing on Referrals, Abandons Helps Eretailer Grow List, Bolster Sales

New Co-Registration Test Data: 7 Lessons to Improve Your Opt-in Rates & Grow Your List

SherpaBlog: Recession-Beating Marketing - Glories of Opt-in Checkbox Barters

How to Get (And Track) a High Volume of New Opt-Ins: Lessons From's Email Newsletters

Overwhelmed by Opt-in Typos? 4 Ways to Fix Misspelled Email Addresses

How to Get 1000% Increase in Opt-ins –Test Results

Grow Your Opt-In List More Quickly & Easily

How to Grow Your List to 2 Million Opt-Ins -- and Which Tactics Give You Higher Quality Names

Stop Bounces with Sales Receipts, Build List 71%

Schwab Research Reveals Email Alert Subscribers Place Five Times More Trades

See Also:

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