An email list can easily become one of a business' most valued assets, but many companies fail to maximize their mailing list signups.

Here are five ways companies can ensure they're driving as many mailing list signups as possible.

Include a signup form on every page

One of the most effective ways to drive mailing list subscriptions is to invite users to subscribe on as frequent a basis as possible. A dead simple way to do this is to include a signup form on every page of your website.

Location can vary; some sites feature signup forms in headers, sidebars or in the middle of page content, while others place them less conspicuously in page footers. Obviously, the more prominent the positioning, the more likely it is that users will see the form, so as a general rule, footer signup forms don't work as well.

The New York Times includes signup forms for its email newsletters in article content.

Make sure the call-to-action is descriptive if not compelling

The appeal of signing up to your mailing list might be obvious to you, but is it obvious to your users? A compelling call-to-action is an incredibly important factor in driving mailing list signups, but far too many companies still use weak calls-to-action like "sign up for our email list."

Calls-to-action should always describe the value provided. For example, "sign up for our email list to receive exclusive offers" or "sign up for our mailing list and get early access to special events" is a reasonably strong call-to-action.

High-end retailer Barneys New York might have a well-known brand, but its call-to-action on the email signup form below leaves a lot to be desired.

In some cases, it can be worthwhile to employ calls-to-action that encourage users to subscribe with a direct incentive. For instance, some retailers offer the promise of a coupon in exchange for a signup ("sign up for our email list and receive 25% off your next order").

Incentive-based calls-to-action can be incredibly effective, but it's worth monitoring retention of the segment of subscribers who signed up for an incentive to ensure that the incentive is driving quality signups.

Bloomingdale's describes why shoppers should hand over their email addresses, and offers them an incentive.

Avoid the dreaded popup

Most users agree: popups are annoying. So don't be lazy: if you can avoid using them, do it. Enough said.

No-no: the Boston Globe wastes no time displaying pop-ups.

If you use the dreaded popup, do it right

To be fair, popups, however annoying, can be effective, which explains why they're still in use despite the fact that they're widely panned. But if you're going to use them, be smart about how you use them. The timing and associated value proposition both need to be right.

Many publishers, for instance, hit users with a popup the minute they land on an article page after clicking on a link shared on social media or found through a Google search. This is bad form and generally not very effective in large part because it disrupts the user experience before it even begins. Additionally, in cases where the user is not familiar with the publisher or not a loyal reader, the publisher is asking the user to give up something of value (his or her email address) before the publisher has delivered any value to the user.

A better approach is to employ popups based on behavior. For instance, a publisher might display a popup to a user who has read multiple articles across one or more sessions. Or, a publisher that limits users to a set number of free articles each month could give users who have hit the limit access to an additional article if they subscribe to its mailing list.

Use transactional emails

Transactional emails offer great opportunities to convince individuals to subscribe to your mailing list, but they're often under-utilized. For example, retailers frequently invite customers to subscribe to their mailing lists as part of the checkout process. There are a number of reasons that customers don't, but that doesn't mean that they should give up. Instead, transactional emails, such as order confirmations and shipping notifications, are the perfect place to include additional invitations to sign up. 

The great thing about transactional email calls-to-action is that you will likely have more information about the customer that can be used to more effectively encourage a signup. For instance, a retailer might incentivize a signup with a coupon offering a higher-than-normal discount if a customer placed an order that was well above its average order value.

For more advice on email best practice:

Patricio Robles

Published 5 April, 2017 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2495 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

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Joe Buzzard, Content Marketer at Copoet

Great article Patricio. I feel pop-ups get a bad rep for this kind of thing to be honest. They're very effective - it's just that people abuse them. And if you're assaulting your visitors with a pop-up as soon as they click through to your page then your doing spam, not pop-ups.

Fortunately Google's pop-up penalty seems to be intended to curb that though.

As with most of marketing, it's all about timing.

3 months ago

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Joe Buzzard, Content Marketer at Copoet

*you're doing spam. Damn autocorrect.

3 months ago

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Jonny Stewart, Head of Ecommerce at Elemis

Has an email signup popup ever made you leave a website?

I suspect you just quickly close it and carry on. As long as you can prove against a control there is no detrimental effect on browsing behaviour, then why not take the gains, even if small? Done well you can still pick up a worthwhile % of visitors with a popup...

3 months ago

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