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How to Grow a Healthy Email Subscriber List

If you want to maximise your conversions, you need to keep customers engaged. Customers who regularly encounter your products or services are more likely to buy them, and may even become brand evangelists—promoting you to friends and colleagues.

The single best way a small business can keep customers engaged is via regular email contact. Email is up to 40 times more efficient than social media for small businesses; social media is vast, and to occupy a regular place on customers’ timelines usually involves a dedicated social media team. An email-based newsletter on the other hand is highly targeted, and requires just a few hours work per week.

An email list of interested customers is a goldmine of potential revenue for a business, and for many websites is the primary metric against which the success of a website is measured—attract subscribers with a website then long-sell products via email, is a fruitful business model.

But a long list of email addresses is only valuable if they are genuinely interested customers. To grow a healthy list, you need to attract the right customers, and that means a healthy signup form.

5 Ways Encourage Users to Opt-in to Your Newsletter

Our brains are very fast. They are capable of processing information and making decisions in milliseconds. Often, we make decisions so quickly we think of it as a gut-reaction. It feels instinctive, rather than logical.

Decisions that are logical and balanced, we refer to as “macro-decisions” but fast, instinctive decisions that we make in milliseconds are considered “micro-decisions”.

Ever hit the back button on your browser in less than a second? Most of us do it multiple times a day. Those are micro-decisions. Something in our experience teaches us to treat the current event identically to a past event; the first time you closed a pop-up window you probably read all of the message and then carefully tapped the close button, now you flick them off like a game of whack-a-mole.

When people choose to purchase via a newsletter, or even to unsubscribe from it, those are multi-stage macro-decisions—you have time to make your case. But newsletter signup forms are micro-decisions—the user will react instinctively based on context.

By utilising best practices, following familiar design patterns, and keeping your signup simple you’ll encourage healthy signups.

1. Use the Appropriate Type of Form for the User’s Journey

There are two basic kinds of newsletter subscribe form: the pop-up, and the inline form.

Pop-ups are superficially effective for driving conversions. However, pop-ups that interrupt a user’s current task are terrible for UX.

The question to ask yourself when considering whether to use a pop-up, is how relevant is the value proposition of your newsletter to the user’s current goal.

If a user is simply browsing your site, then a pop-up asking them to subscribe to your newsletter is premature. If, on the other hand, the user is about to purchase from your site, then a pop-up offering them a discount if they subscribe to your newsletter is likely to be welcome.

If you know, for certain, that opting into your newsletter list will benefit the user in their current task, then a pop-up may be appropriate. In all other cases rely on an inline form and trust the user to take action if they wish to.

2. Make It Clear What Your Users Are Opting Into

An effective newsletter subscribe form isn’t just about numbers; 100,000 signups per week is meaningless if there are also 100,000 unsubscribes. For a newsletter subscription form to be successful you need to subscribe the right users.

The right users are the customers, or potential customers who will pay for your product or service. To attract them, you need to make sure that your value proposition is enticing. Will you save them time? Will you increase their wealth? Will you make them happier? What benefit will they experience by signing up to your newsletter?

Grant your users the curtesy of making an informed decision by being clear what they are opting into. Does the newsletter come out daily, weekly, monthly, or infrequently? Will it contain offers, case-studies, product news, technical advice, or a combination of them all?

Your signup form should include Just-in-Time (JIT) text. JIT is a message clarifying the conditions under which you are sending out your newsletter. It can be as short as “Infrequent product updates, unsubscribe at any time.” It’s a good idea to include a link to your privacy policy for users who want it.

Transparency not only encourages wavering users to subscribe, but it reduces the number of people who will subsequently unsubscribe (or worse, mark your newsletter as spam) and helps keep your list healthy.

3. You Don’t Need More Than An Email Address

The first rule of any form on the web is to only ask for information you really need. The easier it is to fill out a form, the more likely it is a user will choose to opt-in to your newsletter.

You do not need to know the user’s name, age, marital status, location, or gender. (Users tend not to fill out other data, in any case. Numerous business’ email lists contain names such as “Mr. Mind Yerbusiness” and “Dr. What Ever.”)

If you’re being transparent about what the user is opting-in to, you remove the need for a marketing confirmation checkbox (because the user is explicitly granting consent by supplying their email address).

There is also privacy to consider. Personal information like gender is a protected category under regulations like GDPR and the even more stringent CCPA. By associating even just a name with an email address you potentially expose your customers to more convincing phishing attacks. The best way to protect your customer’s data is not to have it in the first place.

All you need to send an email, is a valid email address.

4. Don’t Use Dark Patterns For Your CTA (Or Anywhere Else)

Dark patterns in UX are ways to persuade customers to do something they wouldn’t normally do.

I recently signed up for a newsletter (naming no names) that offered me 10% off my first order. “Awesome!” I thought, only to discover that the 10% discount couldn’t be used with any other offer, including the free shipping that is supposed to apply to every order; which meant the discount code would actually cost me money. Guess who I won’t be purchasing from… Make offers enticing, but be honest, don’t try to trick users into thinking you’re offering more than you are.

One of the most insidious dark patterns is Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). FOMO is a stick, not a carrot. For example “Find Out What 250k+ Designers Already Know” implies that the user is lacking something; it is intended to inspire fear and uncertainty. Consider a more positive message, such as “Join 250k+ Designers Just Like You” which is inclusive and welcoming.

Make Your Unsubscribe Process Bulletproof

You want users to unsubscribe easily. Users who don’t want to receive your email anymore will remove it from the inbox in the simplest way possible—if unsubscribing is difficult or impossible they’ll delete it, or mark it as spam, which will diminish your sender reputation and increase the chances of email apps treating your mail as spam by default.

However, there’s a gotcha in email unsubscribes: if your subscriber has forwarded your newsletter to a friend or colleague, and that person taps “unsubscribe” the email address that will be unsubscribed is the original subscriber’s.

To counter this problem, ensure that the unsubscribe link takes the user to an unsubscribe form (you can pre-populate the email input) so it’s clear which email address is being unsubscribed. Then, send a confirmation to the email address that has been unsubscribed to let that user know they’re unsubscribed; include a “resubscribe” link so they can undo any accidental removal.

How To Grow a Healthy Email List

It’s easy to grow an email list, but it’s hard to grow a healthy list. A healthy list is a list of customers who want to hear from you, and are actively engaged with your product or service.

As with all things: quality beats quantity. 100 subscribers who read your newsletter, pass it on to their friends, and are building a relationship with your brand, are far more valuable than 100,000 who tap “delete” without opening.

A healthy email list starts with a newsletter subscribe form that is honest, appealing, simple to say “yes” to, and easy to decline if a user changes their mind.