12 Ways to Organically Build Your Email List

Anyone can buy an email list. Well, that is, anyone with lots of cash. But, I’ve seen enough email list purchases in my time as a marketer to know how much of a cash-suck it is for the results that you receive. You might go from 0 to 100,000 subscribers overnight, but you’ll be surprised how many of those email addresses are deactivated, disengaged, or, even worse, spam traps. If you’re just starting your email program, you’ll find that it’s very delicate and any black marks on your sender reputation can be decimating for the future of your email marketing strategy.

Another thing you’ll find after buying a list is that you aren’t seeing the engagement that you want. You should always be tracking your engagement (opens, clicks, etc.) against some kind of industry benchmark (Google that and you’ll find dozens), but with a purchased list, you’re not going to initially see the open rates and click-thru rates that you want. That’s because this audience is being force-fed your content and is, likely, not targeted very well – no matter what email list sellers tell you. It’s like paying people to be your friend. If you’re cool, then you shouldn’t have to pay them. If you’re not cool, well, then stop being a jerk.

Now, I’m not saying to never buy an email list. They can be great supplements to your existing lists and a good starting point if you literally have 0 subscribers. But, if you aren’t actively working to build your subscriber list organically, your purchased email list is going to turn over quick.

Why organic?

Organic email subscribers are people who have made the personal decision to sign up for your email program on their own. That means that they are going to be the most interested and engaged with your email content (over purchased subscribers), generally. Hopefully, you have communicated the benefits of your email list in your efforts to grow your list and they have responded to your pitch positively; so, keep giving them the benefits that you promised and you’ll see continued engagement and growth.

Building your organic list

So, how do you build your organic email list? Here are 12 ideas:

1.    Register products: If you are a product company, create a registration program in which customers can register their products with you. If you offer a warranty, this is a good way to leverage that for email list growth. Give people a reason to register: activate warranty, receive special promos / coupons, exclusive content, etc. Create a registration card you can put in the packaging and share the registration link with those who have already purchased (via social and other channels). We are currently running a program like this with a client and have seen surprising responses so far.

  • Pro tip: In the registration form, this is a great opportunity to ask the ever-important Net Promoter question: “would you recommend this product to a friend?” Google it.

2.    Run surveys: If you aren’t poised to run a product registration program (maybe you’re a services company), set up a customer survey and ask your owned audiences from other channels (direct mailing lists, social media, etc.) to respond to the survey. Surveys are always great ways to validate / enhance your approach, find new customer pain points / motivators, and more, but in this case, it’s a great way to also capture email addresses.

3.    Host giveaways: Create a giveaway of a product or a discount on service. If you develop a landing page and collect entries for the giveaway, you can require an email address. Just make sure you let them know that they are also signing up for your email programs, in addition to the giveaway. Promote your giveaways on social media and other places, but always lead to the same form (you can put the form on different landing pages if you want to determine which channels led to the most sign-ups). Get other influencers, like Instagrammers and successful bloggers to help you promote your giveaway.

4.    Offer incentives: Make sure you’re giving people what they’re looking for with your email or marketing automation program. Clearly communicate the incentives they receive from your program and deliver on them. Make sure the incentives are real: content, coupons, promos, early access, etc.

5.    Leverage your website traffic: Put a small email sign-up field in your footer or as a pop-up (or scroll-triggered box). Don’t forget to add a checkbox to your contact form and other forms on your site. Anytime you ask for an email address, be sure to let people know the benefits they will be receiving for signing up (e.g., sign up for exclusive content and coupons, etc.).

6.    Opt-in for exclusive content: Create great content and require email sign-ups to download it. Don’t do this with all of your content, because you’ll see a drop in engagement, but you can create special pieces of content like eBooks, white papers, case studies, a free tool, and more (those are typically referred to as “gated” offers). You can even offer “free vs. upgraded” style content to drive to more email signups. In your blog, write “lite” versions of articles and request email sign-ups to get the full and more robust articles.

7.    Leverage your owned audiences: Ask your other lists and followers to subscribe to your email program. Use social media, tradeshows, events, direct mail, and phone lists to ask for sign-ups from people who already engage with your company. On Facebook, you can create a “sign up” button on your profile page that will allow users to easily sign up for your email lists.

8.    Encourage sharing: Include “email to a friend” and share buttons on your emails. Make it easy for them to recommend the list to their friends or colleagues.

9.    While they’re sharing, get those delicious referrals: You can create a referral program that can give current email subscribers a bonus of some kind for referring a certain number of friends. This is usually done with a website widget after an online purchase, after getting a signup or following some exclusive content. The widget can track how many people are referred and automate dispatch of the bonus (whether it’s more exclusive content or a coupon code with a percentage off their next order).

10. Have a baller Preference Center: It’s mandatory to have the “unsubscribe” option loud and clear in your footer. But, so many companies only have the one option of “opt out of all communications.” This will lead to more opt-outs. Be sure to give your doubters options: segment the opt-outs based on the email program, give them a “break” option that lets them opt out for a certain period of time, allow them to reduce the number of email communications they receive from you, etc.

11. Name drop: Find another organization with which you can partner on a giveaway, webinar, event, or other tactic. Leverage their existing lists to drive sign-ups to yours. Find a known industry expert, a tangential product / service company, or even a celebrity and get some of those sweet, sweet signups. Form a partnership as guest bloggers, giveaway coordinators, or more. Don’t forget that many Instagrammers are part of a larger “tribe” (that’s a group of people who are partnering on Instagram and sharing each other’s content). If you can get in with a tribe, you’re reach just grew tenfold!

12. Create amazing email content: If you’re content is great, people will share it and your list will continue to grow. This is the most important way to grow your list and ensure that people are less likely to opt-out of your list. Great content. Great content. Great content.

Email program pro tips:

  • Don’t forget to always be CAN-SPAM compliant. There are a myriad of rules when it comes to compliancy, but the biggest one comes to permissioning. Always employ a double opt-in approach. When someone signs up for your email list, you should be sending him or her an automated message that allows them to double opt-in. It might deter a few subscribers, but it will ensure that you are compliant, and that the right subscribers are on your list (which will show better engagement metrics, too).
  • When you ask people to sign up for your email, newsletter, or marketing automation campaign, you promise a certain type of content with a certain frequency. Make sure you fully build out your email or marketing automation strategy beforehand to ensure that you can continually give people the stuff for which they have signed up to receive. Never break your promises. Also, be sure not to let too much time go between sends. You don’t want people forgetting who you are and why they signed up for your list! Email subscribers aren’t your mom; they aren’t going to forgive you for not calling them often enough. Also, call your mom. She loves you and you don’t call her enough.
  • Marketing automation should be a no-brainer when you’re considering an email marketing program. Whether you are simply deploying newsletters as an ongoing communication tactic or if you are trying to fill that sales funnel, marketing automation should be employed to continually target your content, keep people engaged, and keeps those leads good and warm for your sales team.

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