Posted: Fri 24th Jan 2020
Email is an important marketing channel. Small businesses benefit from direct communication with customers. Relationships are built over time and you can learn more about your audience.
Growing an email list from scratch is tough. We've looked at the key tactics to win over new subscribers by breaking down the techniques small business owners can use to build their database from scratch or improve existing lists.
Use website pop-ups
We've all become used to website pop-ups asking for email addresses. This is because they are effective and relatively easy to set up.
You can add pop-up plugins to your website. These connect to tools that manage email lists like MailChimp, Constant Contact, Gmail and Shopify.
Intrusive pop-ups can frustrate users and cause them to leave a website immediately. So, it's important to set the conditions in which pop-ups are shown.
For example, you might set them to appear once a user has viewed more than two pages of your site, scrolled through 60% of an article or been on the site for a certain number of seconds. You can limit the number of times people see a pop-up, such as once a week.
Increase the number of CTAs on your website
Small business websites are normally the main channel for generating email sign-ups. However, a website's design often fails to make subscriptions a priority.
Look for opportunities to give the sign-up box more prominence and add calls to action (CTA) which ask the user to sign up.
Minal Patel says:
"I have a bee in my bonnet about this. Web designers always tuck email sign-up boxes away in the footer of websites. But who scrolls all the way to the bottom? Or, sign-up boxes get hidden on the contact us pages. Again, not everyone goes there."
She advises putting sign-up boxes on every page of your website. If that's not possible, you can follow her approach and include it in the navigation bar. Minal uses 'weekly marketing tips' as the sign-up button text.
"The top third of any website is the most valuable 'real-estate' as it's where we 'hook' our website visitors and engage with them."
Great places to add email sign-up CTAs
There are lots of places where customers engage with your brand. Use the following to encourage people to sign up to your emails.
Articles provide value to visitors. You can capitalise on this engagement by including a CTA in the middle or at the end of the article.
Try adding an email CTA to flyers you include with products or at the till. As it's not digital, it's helpful to have a simplified URL to direct your customers too, such as greatproducts.com/email.
Your email signature
People who you exchange emails with know you and have already engaged with the brand. That makes them ideal targets for potential email subscribers.
Include a newsletter sign-up CTA on presentation slides. People in the audience are interested in what you have to say – it's an ideal opportunity to sign them up.
Social media accounts
Post about your email newsletter and include a CTA on your social profiles. Facebook pages include a "Sign Up" button that you can link to an email sign-up form.
Offer value to people who sign up
Our email boxes are inundated with messages from people trying to sell stuff – why should people sign up to your particular list?
It's important to convey the value your user will receive from subscribing. Options to add value to subscribers include:
Social media consultant Keri Hudson recommends using competitions to gather data.
"Use a simple landing page, an easy mechanic such as sweepstakes, targeted advertising and an exciting prize to draw users in. Ask entrants to submit their email address and opt into social and email marketing during the entry journey."
Keri notes that due to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), you can't force users to give over their data to enter. Make sure you give them a good reason to opt in, by promoting the benefits of your content with a strong and clear CTA.
Ask subscribers to promote the newsletter
Make sure you include a link to subscribe in your emails. This may seem counter-intuitive when the people receiving emails are already on the list, but they may forward it.
The CTA can make this clear: "If you've been forwarded this email, it's great to meet you. Click here to subscribe if you want weekly advice on staying fit."
Small businesses benefit from word-of-mouth promotion. People love to talk about the companies they love and will do that online too. Ask subscribers to forward the email to encourage this.
Capture email sign-ups at events
Use an iPad, phone or clipboard list to capture email addresses, or ask people for their business cards.
Minal Patel recommends offering delegates something to incentivise sign-ups. Prize draws are common at trade shows. Other options include e-book downloads, a short email course or a tips sheet.
Work on the text you use for your CTAs
The text that asks people to sign up has a big impact. A well-thought-out call to action (CTA) can dramatically increase the number of sign-ups you receive.
It tends to be a one or two sentences demonstrating what users get from signing up, and how often you send emails.
Kathy Ennis recommends being clear about what you want people to do and keeping CTAs short, sharp and to the point. CTA buttons could include 'Get your copy', 'Download' or 'Join', for example.
Minal Patel stresses the need to think like a potential subscriber and demonstrate the value you're providing.
"When I ask, I say: 'Join my email list for weekly marketing tips or weekly marketing tips by email.' You know you're going to get marketing tips and you'll get them weekly. Telling people what they'll receive and how often puts their minds at ease."
Try making the CTA relevant to the area of the site it appears in. For example, you can reference the type of content covered in the blog it appears in.
There's plenty of opportunities to experiment with the copy you use. Email pop-up tools tend to offer A/B tests, which compare two versions of the same pop-up with different text. A popular tweet promoting your list could help indicate what text will work best on your website.
Improve your email sign-up form
We've covered lots of ways to drive people to your sign-up form. It's important to make sure you don't lose them at this crucial step.
Asking for too much information will put people off, particularly if it includes personal details. Don't collect any information you're not going to use. Try to strike a balance between getting data to help personalise emails and having an onerous sign-up form. Make as many fields as possible optional.
Explain why you need any additional information: "Tell us your favourite shopping departments to get personalised suggestions," could work as a CTA.
Create amazing email content
Every tactic you use to build your list relies on having high-quality emails. If they aren't great you'll lose subscribers or see low levels of engagement.
Kathy Ennis knows the importance of relationship building and what happens after someone subscribes.
"A massive list is not the answer; an engaged list is. Setting up a well-crafted series of automated emails to new subscribers is essential if you want to ensure that any list building activities actually contribute to building a list that has a positive impact on business growth."
Building an email list may seem like a daunting task but small businesses have an advantage. Large companies tend to give little thought to the process, covering their websites with annoying pop-ups and spamming people who subscribe. You have the opportunity to put personality into your email content and sign-up campaigns.
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