10 Ways to Build Your E-Mail List

One of the most challenging aspects of e-mail marketing is list development. Most companies seek size and quality in a mailing list, yet achieving even one of those traits, let alone both, can be a daunting, time-consuming task.

As an alternative, many businesses rent or buy lists. But this approach can be problematic because of the expense, the liability (not all purchased lists are legitimate) and a lack of specialty. Here is some advice to build your own robust list of qualified recipients:

Plan thoroughly. Many list-building programs don’t work because of a lack of planning and strategy. When conceptualizing your list, it’s important to identify your target audience and its interests as precisely as possible. This lets you cater to your members’ concerns, thereby improving receptiveness and limiting turnover among existing members.

Present a value proposition. Generally, people don’t subscribe to lists out of mere curiosity. That’s increasingly true in an age when e-mail overload makes people wary of giving their e-mail addresses. If you make it clear what a subscriber can expect to gain from being part of your list, you’ll collect a lot more addresses.

Don’t expect something for nothing. Focus on content, providing something of demonstrable value to your readers. Otherwise, you’ll lose members as soon as you get them and spend your time patching your list instead of building it. If you expect people to stay on your mailing list, you’ll need to provide them with critical information, discounts, special offers or giveaways. Consider including a free opt-in form on your site advertising the promotion as a way to encourage registrations.

Keep it simple. Make it easy for prospects to sign up for your list. It takes some convincing for most people to register, and even the ones who are receptive to the idea generally won’t go out of their way to join. You need to bring the information to the customer by placing a registration form in a prominent place on your Web site and referencing the newsletter in your other forms of communication.

Too much information. Don’t scare away prospects with prying questions. Collect the information you need for registration and basic analysis and leave it at that until you’ve developed a relationship with your members. Requesting sensitive information such as age and telephone numbers can deter people from completing signup.

Opt out or opt in? There are two common ways to sync your existing customer list with e-mail addresses gathered from a database: opt-out or opt-in e-mail acquisition. In opt-out formats, an e-mail asks recipients to reply if they don’t want to receive future mailings from an organization. If they fail to do so, the mailings continue, a practice many people view as coercive.

In opt-in scenarios, a company sends a message asking recipients to “opt in” or reply only if they wish to stay on the list. It’s a selective process that may cost a few registrants in the short term, but results in a more engaged, more responsive membership in the long run – and reflects well on your company’s business practices.

Guarantee privacy. These days, people live in fear of Internet piracy. Assure prospects that you’re not one of the predators stalking the Web and harvesting e-mail addresses for unscrupulous purposes. Broadcasting your commitment to privacy and refusal to trade or sell information will help establish trust and result in more registrations.

Micromanage. Building an e-mail list requires attention. If you don’t take steps to maintain your list, you’ll lose more registrants than you add. Monitor your list growth at least weekly, if not more often. Some list managers run activity reports daily to track performance and establish benchmarks.

Leverage the Web. Once you highlight the newsletter on your corner of the Web, search for other places on the Internet where you can advertise your service. Identify Web sites, pop-up windows, search engines, newsletters and other online spaces where you can promote your mailings.

Don’t forget the real world. The Web’s highly viral nature makes it an ideal place to advertise your mailing, but that doesn’t mean you should forgo real-world promotion. Brainstorm on offline methods to expand your list. Old ideas like placing a fishbowl on the counter for depositing business cards still work. There’s a reason they’ve been around so long.

Building a mailing list is like growing a plant: It requires time and care, but the results are priceless. If you use these techniques, you’ll reap the benefits for years.

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