This is why your email list building strategy doesn’t work (and 6 ways to fix it)

This is why your email list building strategy doesn’t work (and 6 ways to fix it)

Nina Delacruz's Layout avatar

You probably know how crucial email list building is. Chances are, you’re either getting ready to start building your list, or you’re trying to improve the forms you’ve already put on your site.

When you’re new to email marketing, it’s pretty normal to hit two walls. If you’ve gotten your feet wet, you might be wondering things like:

  • Why am I not getting more subscribers?
  • Why aren’t the people who did subscribe converting?

The first question boils down to your opt-in form’s conversion rate — the percentage of visitors who take the action, i.e. subscribe. It’s easy to make some simple mistakes — and those mistakes can actually tank your forms’ conversion rates. (We’ll talk about that later in this article!)

Conversion rate isn’t everything, though. The quality of those conversions matters as well. And that brings us to the second question.

Which is better — a dozen people who religiously read your emails and buy your products? Or a hundred people who don’t even open your emails?

It’s the first one, right?

Finding those dozen people is all about lead quality, and that also ties into how you structure and format your forms.

Yup — forms are a big deal! And in this post, I’m going to share what types of forms you should be using, and then dig into some common mistakes people make (and what to do instead!)

What you should be using for your opt-ins

When it comes to the tools for list building, pop-ups have dominated the niche over the past few years. If you are still using a static form at the bottom of your page, where most visitors don’t even scroll to, you are probably missing out.

To actually create your forms, there are plenty of great solutions. A few good ones to get started are GetSiteControl, Icegram, and Sumo. All three provide free versions, so you’ll be able to test the waters before paying for premium features.

layout by flywheel email lists how to fix screenshot of stay up to date subscribe box popup An example of a GetSiteControl email opt-in form.

But having a tool isn’t enough — you also need to use it wisely. So whether you pick one of those three tools or you’re already using a different one, here are six mistakes to avoid when creating your opt-in forms.

1. Your subscription form is too obtrusive

“When used right, pop-ups can work wonders. When used poorly, they can frustrate your readers and drive them away. ”

One example of risky pop-up usage is making it too intrusive. If a user doesn’t leave right away, they might sign up…but just for the sake of closing the annoying form. 

Forms can be intrusive in many ways. Sometimes they are entry pop-ups — appearing the same second one lands on a webpage. Other times, it’s those unreasonably large-size forms covering a significant part of the website content. And of course, the ones appearing with high frequency during the same webpage visit can be labeled as intrusive as well.

But as long as it gets the job done, who cares how annoying the subscription form is, right? Not exactly.

Even if user experience alone is not your main priority, intrusive pop-ups may have a knock-on effect and harm your email marketing campaigns in the long-run. After all, if people sign up just to get rid of the pop-up – and not because they’re actually interested in being your subscriber — how efficient do you think this audience will be for your strategy? And will such method of collecting emails affect your open rate, click-through-rate, conversions, and spam reports? I’m positive, it will.

So instead, use pop-ups that aren’t too intrusive to your reader. The better their experience, the more they’ll enjoy your site, and the more they’ll want to continue engaging with you and your content.

2. Everyone sees the same generic message

This one should probably not be marked as a mistake, but rather a missed conversion opportunity.

Generic messages are boring. They don’t resonate, and therefore they often get ignored. So, the idea is to personalize the form based on whatever makes sense for your business: web pages where the opt-ins appear, referral sources, visitors’ physical location, visitors’ OS, or even devices.

For example, if you know there is traffic coming from a particular website, why not mention it in the form message?

layout by flywheel email lists how to fix apptivy blog subscribe screenshot An example of personalization from Apptivity Blog.

Even if you’re willing to give this discount to every person landing on your website, a bit of personalization adds value to whatever you are offering.

You also might want to have various lead magnets (we’ll talk more about these in the next paragraph) based on the page your form appears on. Say, if it’s a cooking blog, there should be different incentives on the pages with paleo recipes and vegetarian dishes. Or you may simply use the “Since you’ve got this far…” text if you’re triggering your form based on a user’s scroll depth.

3. The incentive to subscribe is insufficient

It’s 2018 and nobody is excited about receiving a newsletter from your company. That incentive stopped working long ago. To get the privilege of appearing in someone’s inbox, you need to offer something valuable in exchange.

Compare the following calls to action: 

  1. “Sign up to our newsletter”
  2. “Sign up to receive a roundup of our most popular beauty items once a week”

See the difference?

Visitors are more inclined to opt-in if they know exactly what they are signing up for. Therefore, the second call to action from the list above may easily outperform the first one.

Should you want to go extra mile, lead magnets are among the hottest trends in email marketing today. An ideal lead magnet is a valuable free piece of content delivered instantly after a sign-up (see the 3rd example on the list above). It can be a guide, a report, a cheat sheet, a discount, a link to a webinar, an app demo version, or anything else that your readers will love.

Technically, there are two ways to deliver lead magnets.

First, you can create a success page — it’s the page your visitors will be redirected to automatically after completing the form.

Second, you can make use of the autoresponder feature. Instead of sending a plain (and let’s face it, often quite unnecessary) “Thank you for subscribing!” note, you can add value to this email by including the promised link to the lead magnet.

Here is an example of what setting up an autoresponder may look like:

layout by flywheel email lists how to fix screenshot example of the autoresponder from GetSiteControl An example of a GetSiteControl autoresponder feature.

4. The form has too many fields

You might be tempted to ask as much information about your prospects as possible. That’s normal! But before building a sign-up form with dozens of fields, remember your own experience filling those out and ask yourself: “What is it that I really need to know?” Oftentimes, it’s just an email address and the name.

The truth is, with too many fields, you make the subscription process more difficult for a visitor and therefore may prevent them from signing up.

layout by flywheel email lists how to fix chart of hubspot conversion rate by number of from fields

There is plenty of evidence confirming the negative correlation between the number of fields and the conversion rate. A HubSpot study shows that adding a fourth field may decrease conversion rate by as much as 7%. And Neil Patel claims he increased his opt-in conversion rate by 26% just by removing one field. And if you’re not convinced yet, here is a great case study from Imagescape team who gained a 120% increase in conversions by reducing the number of fields from 11 to 4. 

The takeaway? Minimize the amount of information requested from your leads or at least leave only the most important fields as required.

5. Poor mobile experience

While the majority of websites are well-optimized for mobile devices, many subscription forms still are not. And if you’re like most people — browsing the internet on mobile over 50% of the time — you have probably encountered quite a few poorly executed pop-ups.

When it comes to mobile forms, there are two often-overlooked parts. First, they should be adapted in terms of the size and the content. If you’ve ever attempted to fit the content of a current desktop website into mobile design, you know how it usually ends up. The same rule applies to subscriptions forms. There is just no way to have them look the same on the screens with a huge ratio size difference.

The second challenge is keeping UX as seamless on mobile as it is on desktop.

Arguably one of the clearest descriptions of a good mobile-friendly pop-up belongs to Google. Back in 2017, the search giant started penalizing websites with intrusive mobile interstitials. Those are entry pop-ups making content less accessible and therefore forcing a visitor to interact in quite an obtrusive way.

layout by flywheel email lists how to fix screenshot of various intrusive popups on mobile phone flat graphics from search engine land

Whether you like Google or not, most of its updates are aimed at improving user experience, and let’s face it, the above-described cases barely fit the definition of a great practice.

The best tactic here will be to use Google recommendations paired with common sense. Make sure your email opt-in form doesn’t take more than 30% of a mobile screen. Indicate an obvious way for a visitor to close the pop-up. Finally, having the screen size in mind, adapt your message: shorten the text, revise the creative, optimize the field size.

6. You don’t A/B tests the subscription form

“Marketing never gets boring because it’s hard to predict exactly how your choices will play out. ”

Sometimes your intuition just isn’t enough to move the needle, so good old A/B testing becomes the best way to get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. And once you start getting a significant number of subscriptions per month — say a few hundred to a thousand — you should include A/B testing as an optimization tactic.

Again, you don’t need to know the code or do anything overcomplicated to execute a quality split test, because email list building tools have this functionality already built-in.

Hey, web designers! Make sure you build these 5 A/B tests into your workflow to optimize your websites!

So, what should you test? There is no strict rule on which elements you should or shouldn’t test. You should probably start with the ones most involved into the decision-making process: lead magnet (or the value proposition), copy, call to action, and creative.

layout by flywheel email lists how to fix Ab/B test copy on subscribe optin

Which one will encourage more people to sign up? Here’s how to A/B test the text copy on a subscription form.

Next, you might want to test timing and animation. Will an exit-intent pop-up outperform the one appearing after 50% of the page scrolled? Will a sliding form bring more conversions than a bouncing pop-over in the middle of the page? Well, you never know if you don’t test.

Willing to create a precisely “perfect” email opt-in form? You can go ahead and play with the little details like button color and size, font, and alignment. It’s never just one element that wins (or ruins) it all, so running one test after another seeking for the best combination is always the right decision.

If you’ve never run split tests before, the main rule of thumb you should remember is never to test more than one variable at a time, otherwise you won’t be able to tell what element you should attribute success to.

Start building a bigger email list today!

Establishing your email list building strategy can be tricky at the beginning, but with time you’ll be able to get the hang of it. And once you start getting first results from optimization tactics, you’ll see how much there is to strive for.

Have you fixed any of these mistakes and noticed an increase in email subscribers? Let us know in comments!

All photography in this article was shot in-house at Flywheel.

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