It’s really difficult to think of a business that can’t benefit from email marketing. It’s cost effective. It keeps you on top of mind of potential customers so that even if they aren’t ready to buy now, you’ll be there when they are…and top of mind of current customers that are more likely to refer you. And the list goes on…
But in order to get into email marketing to begin with, you have to build a list.
Now, building a list is easy. Anyone can build a list. Building a targeted, profitable list is a bit more tricky.
So here are four steps to building a list of email subscribers that will actually benefit your business.
1. Who do you want on your list?
This is the question you need to ask yourself before doing anything else. Figure out what you are selling and who you are selling to.
This may seem like a simple question on the face of it. But most businesses struggle with this – or never even think about.
And what you think you are selling may not actually be what your customers are buying. And the reasons that your customers are buying may actually be eluding you.
There is actually a very special FREE, live event happening on that can help people with this issue (as well as others) on April 30th. I will be inviting my subscribers to the event. So if you want an invitation use any of the subscription links on the site.
You can start simple though. And even focusing on more specific targeting will automatically set you apart from most other businesses. For example, rather than diving deep into the psychology of why people might by from you, you can simply focus on specific subject matter or audience.
Let’s make this more clear…
I can market myself as a marketing consultant for small to medium sized businesses. That’s a pretty wide net though. Wide may sound good, but in reality it’s the furthest thing from it.
This blog had a focus of content marketing and strategy at the beginning. It has spread a bit though to encompass all things marketing (mostly digital, like SEO). Then again…most things in digital marketing revolve around content anyway :). I would certainly argue that something like SEO certainly does.
But even this is a bit too wide. I can go narrower.
I could focus on a specific topic such as SEO exclusively. Or I can focus on a specific target audience…
For example, ProfitCrunching focuses on marketing for accountants. This site has built me a very targeted list of potential clients that happen to fall into the accounting industry (tax professionals, bookkeepers, etc.).
Now I can speak to accountants and give them products and services that they would find appealing. For example, I provide a done-for-you newsletter service for accountants. If you click through to check out the page, you will notice that I’m not focusing on the “what” that I’m selling…rather the “why” they might want to buy from me: customer loyalty, referrals, etc.
If your industry permits, you can go even narrower and focus on a specific topic and audience. DentaLead, for example, focuses on SEO for dentists (one topic – SEO, and one target audience – dentists).
It’s extremely important that you figure out who you are targeting, what you are offering them and why they might want to buy from you before you start building any sort of list. This will make things much easier going forward because it will allow you to focus.
And don’t worry, you aren’t limiting yourself to just one sector of potential customers by doing this. Us humans and our funny brains create something called the “halo effect.”
In other words, establish yourself as an expert in one area and you will be seen as an expert in all related areas. You can then go to the email list you’ve built and see who might be interested in related products/services.
Plus, there’s always the increased chance of referrals when you put your email list to good use…referrals that aren’t necessarily within your specific target audience.
Note: As you can see from my previous examples, you can have multiple audiences (accountants, dentists, etc.). But it’s a good idea to create separate pages targeting each one. As another example, I have a general page for SEO services and one targeting Cleveland, specifically.
2. Land Your Audience
Now that you have your audience figured out, you need a place to send them. Obviously that is going to be your website.
But before you send a single visitor to your website, you need to make sure you have something worth sending them to. And you need to make sure that you have it optimized for your goal: building a list.
Obviously it would be great to send all your traffic to a landing page strictly designed for lead collection, like this one:
But for most people that isn’t realistic. Chances are you are going to be getting traffic to the inner pages of your website. If you blog (why wouldn’t you be?), that traffic is going to go to blog posts, for example.
Design has a lot to do with it. You don’t want something that looks like it was build in the 90s. But you also need to think about functionality and what elements you are putting on each page.
First and foremost, if you want people to opt-in to your list, you need to make it easy for them. This may sound but, you need to…
Annoy Your Readers
Seriously, if you want to build an email list then focus on building an email list. Put opt-in forms…everywhere! Just look around and see how many I have on my blog.
I wrote this post about opt-in form placement three years ago and the advice still holds true. In fact, there are even more options now…like the slide-out form as people scroll down the screen.
The more forms you place on the page, the more likely it is that a visitor will use one.
Now…I label this as “annoy your readers” because some people will genuinely get annoyed….especially with popup forms. But guess what, those people weren’t likely to be a customer of yours anyway. And if you spend the time to create great content that is going to benefit them, you do reserve the right to stick a popup on your website.
If they are genuinely interested in what you have on your site, they will take the half second they need to close out the popup form.
Also don’t forget other elements on the page. Plug your traffic leaks. If you have outgoing links, make sure they open in a new window. Otherwise, once a person leaves chances are they aren’t coming back.
Likewise, if you have advertising on your page (like AdWords), get rid of it. If your business model is generating tons of traffic to show people ads, that’s one thing. But most people aren’t. If you’re going to focus on list building, then focus on list building…stop sending traffic away from your site unnecessarily.
And finally, create calls to action. If you want people to sign up for your email list, tell them to do so. It’s that simple.
But when you have a call to action, you should…
3. Provide a “Because”
It’s more likely that someone will take a desired action if you give them a reason to do so.
That is why you often see free eBooks, reports, software, and the like being given away. I have a few different things I give away on different pages.
On pages that serve strictly as lead-generating landing pages, you need a “bribe.” Something to give away for free in exchange for the email. I linked to the accounting landing page with a free report earlier in this post. I also give away a list of some of my favorite SEO tools.
The reasoning here is simple. If you want someone to do something for you (provide their contact information), you have to reciprocate by doing something in return (providing a free report, tool, etc.).
Blog posts are a bit different, however. In this case, you’re already giving away content. On the blog I give access to a list of some of my favorite marketing tools that I use. But this isn’t even really necessary. I could simply offer “free updates” as some other blogs do.
People were significantly more likely to let someone cut in line to the copier as long as they gave a “because.” The reason didn’t even have to be a good one…it could have simply been “because I have copies to make.”
Now, this shows the power of the actual word. And you won’t always be able to use it explicitly. But the concept still holds: if you want someone to do something for you, you must give them a reason.
With landing pages, you have to give something away for free because otherwise there isn’t’ much reason for someone to give away their contact information. With blog posts, you have already provided some value and your “because” is that they can get future updates for free.
4. Attract Visitors
Once you have everything set up (you know who you’re going after, your website is set up for converting visitors into list subscribers with opt-in forms, and you have a reason for them to sign up), it’s time to start attracting people to your website.
Now, traffic generation is obviously a topic that can take ages and ages to discuss. There are countless methods of attracting people.
Of course, I’m partial to content marketing because it affords you so many options.
You can leverage content for SEO and attract people passively through pages optimized for certain targeted keywords (like blog post is for list building). You can leverage content for social media…because content drives social media…it’s what people share. Content gives you an excuse to do blogger and influencer outreach to establish yourself as an expert and get yourself in front of their audiences. And the list goes on…
If you aren’t sure how to get started with generating content here are 24 ways to generate content ideas.
You can also go the paid traffic route and run ads. In this case, your best best is to send the traffic straight to a landing page.
If you have a bit of an advertising budget, this is the quick way to build an email list. But remember, you want a good list of people that are interested in what you have to offer. So make sure you get your targeting right. And provide a “freebie” (your because) that establishes what you offer and how it can benefit your visitors.
Finally, don’t be afraid to go “old school;” go offline. The digital space is getting more and more crowded by the day, making offline outreach more and more effective.
Direct mail campaigns, for example, can get much more attention than they used to (spamming through email is much cheaper than spamming through direct mail as people used to do). Of course, if you go the direct mail route I would stick to high-value clients that will make up for the more expensive marketing method.
If you do a lot of in-person networking that is also an opportunity to build your list. Now, I personally wouldn’t run home after collecting people’s business cards to dump their information into an email list. That’s not the right way to do things. But you could hand out business cards with a bit of sales copy (remember the why) and a link to a landing page with a free resource and build some targeted leads that way.
This last section was obviously just some quick ideas. I don’t intend to make this (already long) post into a discussion about traffic generation because it could never be covered in one blog post.
List Building: Worth The Effort
I’m sure that when you saw a headline claiming a four-step plan you din’t expect a blog post this size. To be honest, I didn’t expect to write one this long. But it happened. So here we are :).
The truth is, the importance of having a good email list can’t be overstated. So the topic of list building deserves every word on this page and more.
It is just as important to avoid building a list that isn’t useful. You waste both your time, and the subscribers’ time. And while email marketing is certainly on the lower end in terms of cost, it gets to be a waste if you are spending the money on a list that is never going to get you any actual prospects.
So remember to start with step 1. And good luck with your list building efforts.