Most Internet businesses understand that a thoughtfully planned, smartly executed, permission-based email program can drive traffic to their Web sites or stores, increase sales, reinforce brand position, and (ultimately) be a stepping stone toward long-term customer loyalty.

In fact, according to a recent report by Internet Retailer, 68% of online retailers surveyed said they would invest more in email marketing this year than they did during 2004.

Organizations serious about improving their email programs, especially their subscriber opt-in rates, should allocate marketing and development resources toward improving their Web site's onsite registration process.

Onsite registration—the steps taken to opt in to an email list, and the messages received during the process—is arguably the most important aspect of any successful email program. It's during this process, the very first email customer touchpoint, that companies have a chance to stand out from their competitors by communicating value proposition, establishing sincere concern for subscriber privacy, and showing respect for users by providing control over the type and frequency of the emails received.

If you're ready to turn your Web site into an email opt-in machine, consider implementing some of the following enhancements.

  1. Include an abbreviated registration form or prominent sign up graphic on every page of your Web site to increase newsletter visibility. Many companies rely on a small link in the footer of their site to promote their email newsletter. The problem is, unless users actively search for this link, most will never see it. Worse yet, some online companies provide access to email registration only when a customer makes a purchase. That's a big mistake. If you're spending marketing and production dollars to create, code and send emails, it only makes sense to maximize the number of people who have access to the final product.

  2. Communicate what you're going to do with the user's personal information. If you do not sell or share your email list addresses (and it's my opinion that you should not, but that's an issue for another article), then convey that clearly, in a visually prominent place and include a link to your entire privacy policy. This is particularly important as legitimate marketers fight to be perceived as trusted partners in a permission-based communication relationship, rather than evil spammers who have nothing but poor intentions.

  3. Explain the benefits of becoming an email subscriber. It's no secret that people respond to offers at a higher rate when you give them a reason to do so. Will you be sending new product updates, pre-sale announcements, product tips or other relevant and useful content to your email subscribers? Whatever your particular emails will offer, make sure to use benefits-focused copy to effectively communicate the value add.

  4. Provide monetary value to encourage registration. One sure-fire way to increase your onsite subscription rate is to give something of perceived value away as an incentive for registration. Enter subscribers into a pool to win a shopping spree on your site. Give away a promotional code to be used for a one-time purchase with free shipping. In either scenario, you'll come out ahead, since what you're giving away will come right back to you in purchases made on your site with the promotions.

  5. Allow subscribers to choose the frequency of email delivery. The verdict is still out on how often is too often to email your subscribers. The fact is, "too often" is subjective—some users like daily emails while others want weekly, and still others expect that you'll email them no more than once per month. Giving the subscriber control over delivery frequency allows you to stop guessing and start listening to your customer's preferences.

  6. Require users to type their email address a second time and validate the match. It's just a simple fact: People mistype their emails on occasion, so it's best to catch it right away. In fact, this really small enhancement can result in a big difference in the growth of your list over time. If mere 2% of all users make a mistake when typing their email addresses, that's 100 out of 5,000 who won't receive your emails. Why lose any?

  7. Use double-opt-in to verify new subscribers and build a cleaner list. Double-opt-in is the most secure form of opt-in and has several benefits, not only for your subscribers but also for your bottom line. Requiring confirmation will ensure that the email address being registered really belongs to the person registering it. This can save your email from getting reported by unsuspecting recipients as spam—a costly result that's very challenging to reverse.

  8. Thank your customers for their registration. It may sound incredibly obvious, but I still come across Web sites that don't provide a "thank you" page at the end of the email registration process. And we all know that a simple "thank you" can do a whole lot for your reputation. While you're at it, include a couple of other elements on this page such as a "Refer to Friend" option to encourage folks to share your site with other interested parties. Also, make sure to include links to any pages that you would like users to visit after they register as a way to direct traffic through to the most valuable parts of your Web site.

Following these best practices as you redesign your Web site email registration process will very likely result in higher email opt-in rates. Of course, as your list grows, you'll have numerous opportunities to optimize your email program through list segmentation, personalization, sequential messaging, and landing-page testing. That's where the real fun begins.

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Linda Schumacher leads the Data Strategy and Analytics practice at Qualified Digital, a team of passionately curious digital experts. Reach out to her if you’re wondering how best to leverage digital data to make better business decisions. She can be reached at