A myriad books and articles have been written lately about the validity of opt-in lists, which are advantageous both for click-and-mortar and for brick-and-mortar companies.

Once you have targeted names in your company-managed list, you can cross-sell and up-sell those existing and potential customers your offerings—a proven less-expensive way of increasing revenue and creating customer loyalty.

We know some tried-and-true tips and tricks for building your list. There are five key points to consider and five glaring points to avoid when creating opt-in lists from the very beginning.


1. Know how to reach your target audience

Spend some time in market research to find the top 10 places to reach your target audience in the next three to six months. Then work backwards with how you get the email addresses of those candidates.

For example, an email campaign to a list of target email addresses (e.g., purchased from a trade magazine) can have a trackable link back to a signup page. An affiliate listing should mention that you have an opt-in list, and preferably an opt-in signup from the affiliate site. Your booth at an event could have a PC that will allow a quick signup (or, worst case, have a clipboard signup sheet or a fishbowl for business cards.) A radio spot can list your homepage URL.

Remember that part of your marketing budget should cover various outbound ways of reaching your customer—just make sure that once they know about you they know how to opt-in to your mailing list.

Although it will cost you to get those names the first time (through various targeted and brand-awareness campaigns), the results are a true company asset.

2. Make it easy for people to join

Have a very visible location on your homepage or jump page for signups. Evaluate whether it can be on every page of your Web site. And, of course, make it easy for people to opt out or unsubscribe.

Chances are you won't get many sales anyway from those who don't want to hear from you and can't figure out how to stop your communication. Also, simple and easy-to-understand subscribe and unsubscribe mechanisms add credibility to your company brand.

3. Know where to go for "seconds"

Once participants enter just their email address, you should confirm entry, and request (or force-ask) a limited number of demographic questions, such as company name, industry, physical location. This will help you understand where people are coming from, so you can trend-analyze where future marketing efforts should be targeted.

4. Create viral opt-in lists: Content is king, knowledge is power

One of your best target audiences for helping you expand your opt-in list is your existing opt-in list. Make it easy for those recipients to forward your communication to their peers, who will request to be on the list. I've subscribed to about 70% of my lists because a friend forwarded it to me. Why do they forward it? Because "Content is King, and Knowledge Is Power."

However you want to say it, your readers are opting in not to hear a sales pitch but because they have a need. They need to learn something, save time, save money, or be shown something they may want. They also love sharing this knowledge with others.

Therefore, you need to invest time in research what they want to know more about, and potentially how your offering will fit the bill. You could be showing them the latest in workout gear that uses a new high-tech fabric, so explain why this fabric is better. Or you could be listing killer statistics about how your product has saved others time and money (a success story).

When you write the content, put yourself in the reader's shoes and think, "Why am I not hitting the delete key right now?"

5. Create compelling messaging

Where to find your target audience is just one part of the exercise. How to acquire them is all about compelling, clear, concise messaging. What are the three salient points that will get that first-time exposed potential subscriber to jump aboard?

You've seen terrible ads for great products, and great ads for lacking products—and yet the latter often result in higher sales.

Test different messaging on your audience on certain dates. And you will see a spike in certain signups that are working better than others. Once you know what works, spend more time/money to acquire the names.


1. Offer great prizes for signups

While this might seem like a nice gesture, you'll simply get subscribers whose motivation will be to win a prize, not learn about useful information, your company, or your products. And goodness knows what will happen if your promotion gets posted to another Web site of "contest opportunists" who couldn't be farther from your target audience.

If you provide useful information, that will be prize enough.

2. Deluge your participants with too many emails

Word-of-mouth is a great way to increase opt-ins, but it is a double-edged sword. Once I signed up for an opt-in list to receive event updates and without notification was added to the company's chat-room email list. Suddenly I was receiving 10 emails a day from various people commenting on one initial person's inane comment. I couldn't unsubscribe fast enough.

But how much is too much? I don't want a daily email from some companies, such as product information, yet I do want it from others, such as stock market developments.

Ask a sample of your opt-in list participants what the "right" number of emails is, and they'll let you know. Otherwise they'll let you know when it's too late—with an unsubscribe notification.

3. Be everything to everyone

When you market that you have an opt-in list, your messaging should be focused and hit a nerve. If you're too generic, in hopes of getting more readers, you'll end up being "nothing to everyone."

Don't be afraid to really hone in on one need of your audience members. Sure they may have many needs, but hit the most urgent one first, and save the rest for future emails.

4. Spend too much money acquiring names

Opt-In lists are an asset—and that means an investment on your part. Budget in advance where your target audience is, and what each opt-in list name will cost you to get. Then evaluate potential revenue from that name (a tricky art, but guesstimates will do), and juxtapose your results. It will be clear what areas you want to focus on, and what you want to avoid.

5. Live in a vacuum

Continually view, read, and explore how other companies—from competitors to completely different industries—acquire opt-in names. Sure, most will be the same tried-and-true techniques, but you'll spot an occasional guerilla tactic that will inspire you to try something new.

* * *

The term "opt-in list" was virtually non-existent a few years ago, and yet you'd be hard-pressed to find a marketer with a good Web site who doesn't have one today. Thanks to the Internet, opt-ins are truly a new vehicle for communicating more quickly and effectively to targeted customers.

Note: This article originally appeared in MarkteingProfs in February 2001 and was titled "How Do You Increase Your Opt-In List?"

Sign up for free to read the full article. Enter your email address to keep reading ...

Did you like this article?
Know someone who would enjoy it too? Share with your friends, free of charge, no sign up required! Simply share this link, and they will get instant access…
  • Copy Link

  • Email

  • Twitter

  • Facebook

  • Pinterest

  • Linkedin


Teri Dahlbeck is the cofounder of GotMarketing.com