Do's and Don'ts: Building e-mail lists

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Growing an e-mail list is no easy task - marketers must not only be patient, but also adhere to increasingly-stringent opt-in and opt-out laws. Despite privacy concerns, building an e-mail list organically allows marketers to track customer behavior as well as target customers based on buying habits. DMNews asked two experts for their two cents on how to care for your growing house file and encourage those all-important opt-ins.

Loren McDonald

VP, industry relations, Silverpop


DO: Focus on quality

There is no "quick" button when building your e-mail house file. Consumers and business prospects are becoming increasingly selective about whom they want to form e-mail relationships with, and, therefore, are likely to opt in to those sites and company e-mails that are highly trusted or offer a compelling value proposition. Be patient: Focus on building a high-quality list rather than going overboard on incentives or using vague language or hidden pre-checked boxes that automatically opt people in to your list. Over-aggressive list-building approaches will almost certainly lead to increased spam complaints and result in blocking or filtering by ISPs and network administrators.

DON'T: Ask for too much information up-front           

Many marketers mistakenly try to pre-qualify someone out of the start gate, when the recipient merely wants to download your whitepaper, receive your newsletter or try out your software. Assuming your company has relevant content and offers, an e-mail opt-in is the beginning of a potential long-term relationship. If you ask for too much information during the initial opt-in process, consumers will either bail without completing your form or provide false or misleading data to get what they want from you. Require information that is critical to your ability to segment your list and deliver more compelling content and offers. Use surveys, preference updates and behavioral data over time to build out profiles and more actionable data on each subscriber.

J.D. Peterson
Director, product management, Lyris

DO: Keep the incentive train rolling

Growing an email list isn't just about getting new subscribers, it is about keeping them around once they opt-in. Marketers are increasingly doing a good job with the initial offer, but then the excitement fades away once the newsletters start arriving. Keep the incentives going. The best way to keep momentum up for your campaign is to make sure you are always sending compelling and relevant content that directly helps and informs the reader. Beyond that, try an ongoing contest for the member base. Another option is to use the old television stand-by of the cliffhanger, i.e., “stay tuned for the conclusion on next week's episode.” Previews and trailers have a long history of success in film and TV and they can help keep your email list strong too

DON'T: Forget to test!

Before marketers send out direct mail pieces such as postcards, they can physically hold it in their hand and confidently know they are seeing exactly what the end recipient will see. With e-mail marketing, too often people hit the send button without this same level of confidence. It is critically important to test your e-mail and understand how it will render in the various relevant e-mail clients. Would you stay subscribed to a list if the message you receive is illegible or the format severely broken? Would you forward it to your friends encouraging them to sign up? Of course not. Simple rendering tests can alleviate these problems and ensure that your members are seeing precisely what you intended them to see.


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