Why a Good Email List is the Lifeblood of Your Business

email marketing

With all the hubbub about Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or whatever other new social media kid on the block, it’s easy to forget about the online marketer’s standby: email.

If you’re new to online marketing for your business, all of that aforementioned hubbub might make you think setting up a Facebook page (or a Twitter or Instagram account, or some other social media account) is more important than email. But nothing could be farther than the truth.

Why make email a part of your marketing strategy?

On the most basic level, the numbers are wildly in email’s favor. If you combine the number of users on Facebook and Twitter, and then multiply that number by three, email still has it beat, with a total of 3.9 billion users in 2013 and a projected user base of 4.9 billion by 2017. Internet users (including marketers and business owners) tend to think that once a tool is older, it stops working…but that’s not necessarily the case, and nowhere else is that more true than email.

Email stays the same. Email isn’t going away anytime soon. Social networks, on the other hand, regularly appear, die off, and modify their algorithms. Remember MySpace? Friendster? Even aside from social networks straight-up dying off, they can change their algorithms in potentially disastrous ways. Businesses are still reeling from Facebook’s constant algorithm changes, which put organic reach as low as 6% in February of 2014.

By contrast, email open rates vary wildly by industry, but are typically in the 20-30% range, which makes email three to six times more effective than Facebook at actually reaching people.

Email is also highly segmentable. Want to segment your email campaigns by the reader’s birthday, date the reader signed up for the list, where they live, their time zone, or their past purchasing behavior? You can do that with email, creating hyper-targeted email campaigns that are likely to get better results than broad blasts. By contrast, you can’t get that advanced level of segmentation on social media, unless you’re using remarketing combined with social media advertising. Which, of course, is money out of your marketing budget.

On the other hand, with email, you can segment and target to your heart’s content without incurring extra charges.

Three common tactics and best practices

Okay, you’re convinced to make email marketing a core part of your online marketing strategy. But where do you start at?

Landing pages

A “landing page,” also called a “squeeze page,” is a page that has one sole call-to-action. All distractions are removed–there’s no sidebars, menus, or footers involved. The single purpose for the landing page is to get the user to take a specific action; sometimes it’s signing up for a webinar or buying a product, but in this case, it would be signing up for your email list.

Of course, landing pages are only one part of a strategy. Creating a distractionless landing page and putting an email opt-in form on it isn’t going to do anything in and of itself. For a landing page to be any good for your email list, it also has to have:

  • A compelling reason for someone to sign up for the email list. Whether people who sign up for your email list get access to exclusive content, discounts, early bird offers, or something else, the landing page needs to clearly state the benefits of signing up to the list in a compelling manner. Of course, for that to happen, you need to have an overarching strategy for your email list and know why people are signing up for it.
  • People actually landing on it. Again, there are several different routes you can choose to take here. You can drive traffic via social media. You can link to the landing page at the end of a blog post (or the beginning of one). You can optimize the landing page for search engines and drive organic traffic. Which route is best for you is going to depend on your overall marketing strategy.

Increasing the number of signup forms

The Buffer team experimented with their email list-building strategies and found that the biggest difference was caused by increasing the number of sign-up forms on their site. Their core idea was “make it ridiculously easy to sign up” and apparently, it paid off: their number of new signups doubled in thirty days.

It used to be the standard to put just one sign-up form on the upper-right or left-hand corner of your blog sidebar and cross your fingers, hoping for the best. But that’s not the best choice for good results. Especially because sidebars are where ads traditionally go, so online readers have developed sidebar “blindness” to some extent–their eyes slide right over the sidebar without really seeing it, because they expect ads or other promotional material to go there. There’s also decreasing attention spans, mobile browsing, and a host of other factors involved.

All in all, it’s a good idea to have at least three opt-in forms on each page or post. Which leads us to…

Header and “end of post” sign up forms

Using tools like HelloBar and Magic Action Box, you can add email opt-in forms to the top of every page on your site and to the bottom of your pages and blog posts. If you add these two tools (and both come with a free option, so there’s no reason not to) to your standard sidebar opt-in, you’ve already tripled the number of opportunities people have to sign up for your email list and made it far easier for them to notice the opt-in forms.

You can go further and add elements like a scroll box (using this free plugin, or SumoMe’s scroll box feature), feature box opt-ins on a homepage, an email sign up form in the very bottom footer of your site, and so on…but just adding a HelloBar and sign-up form at the end of your blog posts can make a huge difference.

Don’t be aimless

Putting a focus on email marketing as part of your overall strategy is a good first step, but don’t stop there. It’s not enough to just aim to collect as many email addresses as possible–instead, you need to be addressing these issues, too:

  • How are you tying email marketing into your overall content and marketing strategy?
  • Are you collecting the right kinds of email addresses? This is one of the issues that can come up with an overly-aggressive list-building strategy. Pop-up boxes might convert really well, but they also might not be collecting the right type of email. Getting someone to put in their email address doesn’t necessarily make them a potential customer or client.
  • How often are you planning on emailing people–and with what?
  • Going back to the commentary on item #2, how can you “screen” for people who are going to be a great fit for your products/services and make sure that those are the people signing up for your list?

Any one of these could be a blog post (or several blog posts!) in and of itself. (And they might be–just another reason to come back to our blog!) It can be overwhelming to try to consider all of them, but your best bet is to experiment on a smaller scale at first and keep monitoring your metrics.

Some of these (figuring out whether you’re collecting the right type of email addresses, for one) are going to take longer to figure out and could involve professional assistance, but here’s a few places to start for smaller experiments:

  • Try emailing people twice a week for a few weeks in a row, then drop it down to once a week, and see what happens to your open and click-through rates.
  • See what happens when you include a full blog post in an email, instead of including a teaser that entices the reader to click-through and read the rest.
  • Design and send an email marketing campaign that uses the specific targeting and segmentation mentioned earlier, and see how that performs compared to an email that’s sent to your whole list without any targeting.

Want some more reading?

This is just scratching the surface–email marketing is a huge topic. If you’re looking for more reading to help you out with your strategy, here’s a few resources: