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How to Build Your Email Contact List

How to Build Your Email Contact List
Credit: one photo / Shutterstock

Building an effective email marketing contact list is critical to the success of your company's digital marketing efforts. Email marketing gives you the opportunity to directly reach your consumers with less competition and digital white noise.

However, since consumers are growing numb to promotional campaigns, it is essential that you employ the proper techniques to build and nurture your contact list. The process of generating a successful list is twofold: You first have to get people to want to receive your emails, and then you have to keep them engaged so they want to keep getting them.

A study conducted by Mailchimp showed that the average email open rate in 2018 was less than 21 percent and click-through rates were even lower. With such low rates, it is essential that your business has several prospects to make your email campaigns worthwhile.

This means how you go about obtaining your addresses and what you do once you have that contact information is imperative. There are right and wrong ways to do it. First and foremost, it is important that you only send your emails to consumers who have voluntarily signed up to receive communications from your business. Sending marketing emails without that consent can be detrimental to your business, as it will likely result in unhappy consumers and potentially cause your emails to be filtered as spam.

How can you get customers to sign up for your emails? And what can you do to make sure they never click that "unsubscribe" button? Here are seven tips for building an email marketing contact list to grow your business.

Editor's note: Need to revamp your email marketing strategy? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors that can help.

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Offering customers multiple calls to action (CTAs) to sign up for your email list is a good way to ensure more people voluntarily offer their information. Placing an opportunity in an immediately visible place is wise, but you should also cover your bases and place additional CTAs in alternative paths a customer might take to arrive at your webpage. These also serve as a reminder to those website visitors who skipped by the first CTA. Don't overdo it, though; try to keep your CTAs to just two to four spots on your website, such as these locations:

  • Your homepage
  • The sidebar of a blog post
  • Your "about us" or bio page
  • The bottom of otherwise dead pages
  • Your contact page
  • Your site header
  • A pop-up

No matter where you put your email capture, use a double opt-in process. A double opt-in sign-up means your email service provider will send a confirmation email to new subscribers to ensure they want to be on your list. This strategy ensures that your customers know you are using permission-based email marketing and prevents bots from adding random email addresses to your list. [Need help with email marketing? Check out our best picks for email marketing software.]

You will collect email addresses more quickly if you give customers a reason to sign up. The Radicati Group statistics report estimated that the number of emails sent per day will exceed 293 billion in 2019, and that number is expected to increase to 347 billion by the end of 2023. Why should a customer read your promotional email when there are dozens of others to sift through in their inbox? Answering that question is key to a successful email marketing campaign with a healthy contact list and open rate.

If you want customers to invite you into their inboxes, you need to offer an incentive that will prompt them to share their email addresses. The most effective incentive will depend on your type of business. These are a few examples:

  • A coupon for a free drink or dessert at your restaurant
  • A discount code for their next purchase online or in your store
  • Free shipping on an online order
  • A promo code for a free product included with purchase
  • An e-book, workbook, app or other resource
  • An online workshop or training course
  • An exclusive newsletter

These incentives don't have to cost you much money, but they do need to offer real value to your email subscribers if you want to generate email sign-ups.

Customers are more likely to sign up for your list when they aren't distracted by other possible actions. This makes landing pages a valuable tool for capturing email addresses. A landing page is a webpage with a single goal or CTA. In the case of building your email list, a landing page is designed to persuade website visitors to sign up. 

You can use landing pages anytime someone is directed toward your website from an external source, such as a mention in the media or your bio that appears on another website. You can also create them for ad campaigns or social media click-throughs.

When customers click a link to learn more about your business, they are taken directly to a landing page that encourages them to sign up for your list, usually by offering an incentive relevant to the original ad or website that directed them there. If you create different landing pages for different sources, you can customize them to generate more interest. Customers who click on an ad for a product, for example, can be taken to a different landing page than those who found you mentioned in a media feature.

Custom landing pages allow you to take advantage of segmenting, a strategy that divides up your email list based on customers' characteristics and interests. By addressing customers' specific interests and needs, segmented email campaigns can generate higher click-through rates than emails sent to a bulk list. Since Campaign Monitor's survey reported that 21 percent of marketers didn't use segmentation in 2018, implementing segmentation in your email campaign can give you a leg up on a fifth of the competition.

Social media is extremely important to advertising these days. The PwC Global Consumer Insights Survey found that 37 percent of consumers find purchase inspiration through their social media channels. Chances are you have already started growing your social media presence for your business. But have you thought about using social media outlets to get more email sign-ups?

Including email sign-up locations on social media and blog posts increases your chance of capturing promising leads. In social settings, you can ask for email multiple times in multiple places, as not every customer will see each sign-up form. This expands your reach to a larger net of potential customers.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter allow you to communicate with your consumers in a casual, entertaining way. When posting on these outlets, share your free incentives in return for your consumers' email addresses. Since 58 percent of consumers prefer visual-first content, couple your incentives with photos or video for further engagement.

When someone signs up for your email, they are already interested in your business. They have offered you a way to contact them because they are excited about some aspect of your business, products or services. It's important not to waste that opportunity to make initial contact.

This is the point when it makes most sense to persuade them to use the incentive you offered, visit your store, make a purchase or otherwise interact with your business. However, many businesses collect customer emails, then fail to do anything with them for weeks.

To capitalize on customers' excitement, use your email service provider to set up a series of messages that will automatically be sent to new email subscribers. This series is usually called an autoresponder sequence, welcome sequence or email sales funnel. It is generally 3-7 emails long, spaced out over several days or weeks.

The goal of an autoresponder sequence is to guide new subscribers back to your site, encourage them to connect with you on social media or share more about why they should trust your business. An email sequence that is automatically triggered by email sign-ups can increase your click-through rates and nurture an ongoing relationship with new subscribers.

You can also use welcome emails to guide customers in an introductory purchase. These offers, known as tripwires, are very low in price, often less than $10 or only the cost of shipping. Their value is in creating a relationship. Many consumers prefer to buy new products from a brand they already know or have purchased from. If customers make a tripwire purchase at the end of a welcome sequence, they are more likely to make a larger purchase in the future.

Pop-ups and subscription landing pages should result in a quick sign-up process for the consumer. When requesting a consumer's contact information in a sign-up form, it is essential to keep your subscription questions to a minimum. When you ask for too many details, you risk scaring away potential subscribers. Since your users are already taking the time to subscribe, you should streamline the process for them.

You can reduce the time it takes to subscribe by only asking for a name and email address, or just an email address. The more questions you ask, the higher your bounce rate will likely be. However, it's worth noting that users who take the time to complete longer forms are typically more serious about your product.

You will receive more leads when you only ask for a name than when you ask for a name, email and phone number. However, if you have already created an extensive contact list and are looking to grow it by serious leads only, consider adding more inquiry fields.

Building your email list doesn't just mean getting customers to sign up. You also have to keep them on the list, which means reducing the likelihood that customers will unsubscribe.

Your autoresponder sequence is your first opportunity to create positive expectations around your email marketing. If you want to reduce the number of customers who unsubscribe to your mailing list, create an autoresponder sequence that offers real value and leaves customers looking forward to seeing your email in their inbox.

The frequency of email marketing is also key to building your email list. Many customers unsubscribe from a business's emails because they are too frequent. However, if customers don't see an email from you for months at a time, they may forget who you are and unsubscribe.

To maintain your list, email subscribers regularly enough to keep them interested, but not so frequently that they feel spammed. This will depend on your business and your customers, and you may have to run several test campaigns to determine whether customers respond best to an email every week, every other week, every month or only when you're having a sale. 

Running test campaigns may be extra work, but it is worth it. Email is one of the most valuable forms of content marketing you can use. In 2018, email marketing earned $38 for every $1 spent. Taking the time to build and maintain your list will pay off when you have the opportunity to market directly to your customers, with no middleman.

When building an email list, there are a few approaches that you should avoid. First and foremost, don't spam. With anti-spam laws in place, it is important to provide your audience only with useful content. Be very clear in what you are offering, and avoid the temptation to sell in every email. By sending entertaining and educational emails, you will provide value to your audience, resulting in an easier "ask" when you finally send sales emails.

Another strategy that typically doesn't work is buying contact lists. Avoid buying a database of email addresses, as they will not be targeted traffic leads. Sending emails to a bulk contact list of the wrong target audience will land you in the trash folder. If you are put in too many of these, you may be reported as spam. Another way to avoid being filtered as spam is to use a third-party email client like MailChimp, Constant Contact, SendGrid or Litmus. Using your own email service like Google, Outlook or Yahoo to deliver bulk emails can cause your emails to be filtered as spam.

List building is an ongoing practice. Don't ignore your list once you collect the email addresses you need. By closely managing your address list and pruning it for bounced emails, you can ensure your conversion rate remains high and your unsubscribe rate remains low. If your unsubscribe rate increases, analyze who is leaving and why. From there, you can use what you learn to enhance your email marketing campaign and build a positive online reputation.

Additional reporting by Adam C. Uzialko and Chad Brooks.

Skye Schooley

Skye Schooley is an Arizona native, based in New York City. After receiving a Business Communication degree from Arizona State University, she spent nearly three years living in four different states and backpacking throughout 16 different countries. During her travels, Skye began a blog at www.skyeschooley.com. She now resides in the arctic tundra that is the northeast coast, writing for Business.com.