• Last updated: Aug 16, 2017
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A fresh look at the art of organic list growth...

1) Don't ask for too much data, too soon

The key goal of list growth is to get people to sign up in the first place. Once you have them on your list and with it the permission to email them, you have the lifetime of that subscription - which could well run into years - to engage, convert and deepen your relationship with that recipient.

Asking for too much data too quickly is an obvious friction that can deter would-be subscribers. If they want all this stuff before I even sign up, they might think, what will they bombard with me once I'm on the list?

So keep your initial signup friction-free. An effective tactic here is to use a two-step, progressive approach. Screen 1 asks for the most basic data, and gets you subscribed. Screen 2 is an optional form asking for more data and preferences, but it should be very clear to the new subscriber that there's no need to complete this to get on the list.

2) Make sure your email sign-up is everywhere

You want your email marketing program to be the number one way customers and prospects interact with your brand online. And, of course, we all know the value of an organically grown list over an acquired one. So you'll want to make it as easy as possible for people to sign up to your emails by incorporating your email signup into every possible brand touchpoint.

Build your email sign-up into your web design template so it appears on every page of your site. Add it to your Facebook page as a custom tab; to your Google plus, YouTube, Twitter and other social pages; to your point of sale materials; to your till receipts; as a QR code to your print collateral that can be scanned to opt in to your list.

Monitor which touchpoints generate the most signups, and tweak your promotional approach accordingly.

3) Front-load your sign up message with benefits

Users may read only the first two or three words of a piece of content signposting such as a call to action to sign-up for an email newsletter. So those first few characters better contain something that will grab their attention instantly. Addressing this behavior can be as simple as flipping your message around so it leads with the part users are likely to care about. Rather than 'Sign up today for offers and discounts', start with: 'For exclusive offers and email previews of new products, sign up to our e-newsletter'

4) Reassure people about the use of their data

You don't need to reproduce a whole chunk of your privacy policy at the point of signup. But you can add a line, in simple language, in your own tone of voice, that reassures people that you understand their concerns, and link it to your full policy.

5) Remove all the frictions - put your process to the test

To minimize friction and maximize subscription uptake, you need to make the whole signup process as simple and straightforward as possible. Ask people from outside your company to try to sign up - interns are great for this - and act on their reactions.

Was the call to action easy to find? Did the process feel like hard work? Was there an obvious benefit to signing up? Were the instructions clear and simple to follow? Did the process engender trust? Did it look easy to unsubscribe if you wanted to? Was there a warm thank you message at the end of the process, with some ideas about where to go next? Making tiny tweaks to your sign-up micro-content and testing iteratively for improvements, informed by such feedback, can yield significant returns.

6) Be realistic about what data you ask for - make it a fair exchange of value

We all hate the feeling of being pumped for irrelevant data when we just want to carry out an otherwise straightforward interaction with a brand, such as signing up for email newsletters or registering with a website to make an online purchase. When asking for data - even at the second stage of a progressive sign-up - you need to create the perception of a fair value exchange. Users know their data is valuable, so the more you ask for, the more you need to offer. If you want more than the basics, you need to trade something more in return, such as the promise of access to email-only special offers.

7) Be up front about frequency

Emailing erratically is one of the quickest ways to get your emails marked as spam. When a subscriber receives an email out of the blue after a long gap, they may forget they signed up to it in the first place, and think the worst. Emails have to be sent regularly to get on to a recipient's radar in the first place. So we recommend sticking to a regular frequency and signalling this up front - even by something as simple as talking about your 'weekly newsletter'.

8) Use some peer pressure

We all know that social compliance is a powerful nudge factor in marketing. If you already have a sizeable list, why not make the most of it and encourage prospects not to miss out? Eg 'Join 375,000 other shoppers who already enjoy...' or 'Find out why 70% of sustainability professionals already subscribe...'

9) Explore the possibilities of pop-ups and light boxes

Though it's received wisdom to disdain pop-ups and light boxes they could be one of the most effective ways of increasing your email subscribers. Around a minute after visitors hit your site is thought to be the best time to show the pop-up. Ask for the basic data, and make sure that they don't appear too often, say once a week maximum. Email sign-up light boxes have been credited with as much as a fourfold increase in list growth, so consider the impact that would have on your email program before discounting them as intrusive.

10) Give people something to do next

If someone has signed up to your email, you know you have engaged them with your brand or your content - momentarily at least. Make the most of that window of attention by giving some interesting options with the best chance of sustaining that interest - a link to your best deals, for instance, or, for more content-led newsletters, a selection of your most-read content items.

Further reading: Balancing list growth against your need to know more A fresh look at winning trust