How to increase email subscribers – Seven reasons why your mailing lists and opt-in forms aren’t getting any sign ups

How to increase email subscribers – Seven reasons why your mailing lists and opt-in forms aren’t getting any sign ups

Polly Kay

Polly Kay
11th October 2018

If the introduction of the GDPR sounded the death knell for your existing mailing lists and you’re struggling to maintain past subscribers and achieve new sign-ups and opt-ins, this can have an acute effect on your bottom line.

In this article, I will outline seven reasons why your mailing lists or opt-in forms aren’t achieving the level of sign-ups that you want, and provide some solutions to help to you to counteract them.

Here are the main problems to avoid if you want to write opt-in forms and sign up information captures that incentivise your prospects to provide their data without reservations.

You’re not being open and honest about what you will do with the submitted data itself, and what an opt-in means for your prospect

Before a prospect will provide you with their personal information – even if this information is just an email address – they will want to know what providing this data means for them, and how it will be used.

Letting people know how and why you will use their data and ensuring that they opt into providing it rather than being forced to opt out instead is mandated by the GDPR, which came into force in May of this year (2018).

This means that you first have to determine how you will use the data you capture, and strike a balance between gaining value from the information you garner without discouraging sign-ups due to concerns over the wide remit of its potential usage.

Sharing personal information with third parties (particularly for addition to other mailing lists or promotional databases, or without clear guidance on who or why) is one of the first things that will discourage sign-ups. Unless you have a good reason for needing to do so, this is best avoided in order to incentivise prospects.

Offering some options on how your prospects want to be contacted and how often can also help to provide a layer of reassurance for sign-ups too – and requiring prospects to enter a phone number as well as an email address is likely to compromise your total level of sign-ups.

Nobody likes to receive email spam, but the idea of allowing a company to call or text at some undetermined future point for an as-yet-unknown reason is even more discouraging.

If you do require your prospect to enter a phone number, again, make it clear what you will do with it and if relevant, advise your prospects clearly that this information will be used only to deal with a query and not as part of a promotion or mailshot.

You don’t highlight the true value of what you’re offering in return for your data capture

It can be hard for business owners and even seasoned marketing professionals to understand why prospects are so reticent to provide their email address or other contact details to a company who offers something of interest, and fully understanding what you’re asking of your prospects is step one in getting more from them.

Providing personal information of any type to any company needs to provide value for the person who shares their information, and so you need to offer your prospects something in return. It might only take seconds to fill out a form or subscribe to something, but few people will do this without the right incentive.

Sometimes this might simply be because your prospect doesn’t want the hassle of those few extra seconds spent, but a more common cause of reticence is concerns over how much inconvenience providing their data to you will cause them in the long run.

Obviously, you want your prospect’s information for a reason, and this reason has to be one that your prospect is ok with. You also have to provide your prospect with a good reason for the exchange, which means offering them something that they want in return.

Financial incentives such as a discount on a first order, the ability to earn loyalty points or a free gift with a purchase all work well for prospects that are ready to buy, but may not incentivise those who are still on the fence.

Think about why customers come to your website and what value you can provide for them, and this will help you to determine the right type of offer to make.

Access to valuable information such as a library of white papers that your prospects want to read or a free eBook download can be highly effective, as long as you take the time to highlight the benefits of these things and invest your prospects in wanting them before you ask for their information as part of providing access.

You fail to address common concerns and pain points

You need to be able to predict and pre-empt the triggers for potential objections to signing up, and understand and mitigate the customer pain points that can lead to clicking away.

Perhaps the main issue to cover here is outlining what providing their data means for your prospect. If the only information you provide is vague and pertains to mailing lists, newsletters and marketing activities, your level of sign-ups will probably be low.

Being able to outline how and how often you intend to contact your sign-ups and for what purpose helps with this.

Ensure that the frequency at which you want to do this won’t put your prospects off in fear of receiving a deluge of spam, and make this clear from the outset so that your prospects know what to expect, and are reassured that they’re not signing up for a whole host of content that they don’t want.

Data security is another important consideration for all internet users these days, particularly given the number of high-profile data breaches that have occurred within large and well-known companies across the UK over the last couple of years.

If your prospects aren’t reassured that their personal information will be safe, they won’t provide it. This is especially likely to be the case if you are asking for a lot of information, including things such as date of birth, physical address and phone number as well as an email contact.

Your forms are too long, convoluted, or difficult to understand

Effective data capture forms are by their very nature short, simple to use and quick to complete.

Asking for too much data or making prospects jump through too many hoops when trying to provide it is a fast way to make them back off, which is very frustrating when that prospect has already been primed and conditioned to the point that they were ready to share their data initially.

If your form asks for more than a couple of pieces of information (such as a name and email address) it will become harder to incentivise, more hassle to complete, and more likely to get your prospect thinking in detail about why you need this information and what you might do with it, even if you have already made this clear.

Check your form’s functionality carefully, including any security or anti-spam measures you have integrated into the capture, and ensure that once a form has been submitted successfully, your prospect is informed of this and navigated back to an appropriate page or piece of content.

If you require your customers to validate their sign-up by clicking a link in an automated email, make this clear within the form and ensure that the email they receive is short, clear, and delivered promptly.

Additionally, remember that your prospect will probably want their incentive immediately, so ensure that when they have completed the form and/or validated their sign-up, this is provided for them.

You’re not selling your incentive to your prospects effectively

Getting the tone, angle and timing of your data capture right is the key to providing that final incentive to sign up, which means that where and when you do this is vital.

A prospect who might be interested in the incentive you are offering may quickly change their mind about even exploring their interest in finding out how to get it if you place all of the content behind a barrier that requires a sign-up or opt-in.

You have to catch your prospect’s attention and get them invested in wanting what you offer before you outline the exchange part of the process. If you’re offering something free without obligation other than the sign-up (such as access to a knowledge base or an eBook download) share an article or chapter first, with your opt-in at the end if the reader wants to continue.

If you’re incentivising your opt-ins with a discount or deal (such as free shipping or a percentage discount on an order) then highlighting the incentive with a banner or unobtrusive pop-up that outlines its value before clicking through to the full details and opt-in form is a better approach than beginning with “sign up to our mailing list and get x-y-z.”

The latter approach forces your prospect to weigh up the value of the incentive against their data capture immediately, whilst the former gives them the chance to start thinking of the value of the incentive first, investing them in it before you broach the exchange itself.

Opt-in data capture forms should be short and easy to understand at a glance, so you will only have a couple of lines of writing to highlight why your prospects should sign up and build the trust that encourages them to do so.

Your incentive itself needs to be mentioned within the call to action, and you might also want to consider adding a layer of trust and reassurance by mentioning how many of your prospect’s peers have already signed up, and why.

Your message and voice are too generic

Personalisation is one of the main buzzwords in the modern marketing dictionary, and the value of personalised content and how this helps to boost sales and incentivise prospects cannot be overstated.

Epsilon’s 2018 research into marketing and personalisation revealed that 80% of consumers are more likely to take the desired action when the seller personalises their experience, and the more effectively you can personalise the content that you shopper or prospect is exposed to, the more likely it is to speak to them in a way that resounds positively.

This creates a good impression that builds trust and loyalty, which is particularly important if you want your prospect to take a specific action like providing their email address.

Prospects are more likely to be willing to exchange information and interact with a trusted brand, or one that speaks their language and supports their lifestyle and personal ethos, which means that you need to get to know your prospects and what they want in order to offer it.

Tailoring both what you offer, the slant you place on it and the language and imagery you use to build up a picture of your brand and approach that resounds with your prospects helps them to feel engaged with and invested in what you do, and get on board with it.

You don’t offer a get-out to nurture trust

The way that data capture forms, mailing list opt-ins and other signups are structured has changed significantly since the pre-GDPR days, when such endeavours were often a minefield of tricks designed to obtain the maximum amount of data for a large number of potential applications.

Today’s data captures are required by law to be much more transparent and fair to the prospect – it is no longer acceptable to provide pre-ticked opt-in boxes, mask or mislead on the purpose of the data capture, sign people up automatically, or make it hard for people to opt out.

However, all of the above tricks have led to an understandable level of distrust and suspicion among prospects about mailing list signups and providing personal data voluntarily, and we’ve all faced the annoyance of making a purchase online only to find that we’ve unwittingly bought into an avalanche of ongoing marketing spam along with it.

Even though the GDPR has changed the rules significantly to provide an additional layer of transparency and security for prospects, people’s memories are long, and many businesses still haven’t updated their data capture forms in line with GDPR.

Making it clear to your prospects how they can opt out later on if they change their mind after opting in isn’t just mandated by the GDPR – it also makes good business sense. Make it easy for prospects to work out how to opt out by simply clicking unsubscribe or adjusting their personal settings via their account.

If a previously signed up user has to email or call you to request the removal of their information or to opt out of a mailing list, they might not even bother signing up to it in the first place, as the hassle of doing this is likely to occlude the value of your incentive itself.

Can you win your old, pre-GDPR prospects back?

If your previous mailing lists and customer databases didn’t fall in line with the GDPR and you were forced to delete them or approach your prospects with a plea to remain, the chances are that you lost a huge number of previous subscribers.

So, can you win them back without starting from scratch? There is no easy answer. As the launch date for the GDPR drew closer, anyone who has used the same email account for any period of time is likely to have received multiple emails per day from businesses that they had previously signed up with, either knowingly or as part of an old-school pre-GDPR data capture that might not have required their express permission.

Interestingly, some of these businesses and brands didn’t even need to do this – those whose previous data captures were achieved in line with the newly determined GDPR rules could, and can, retain those hard-won databases.

Even so, the sheer volume of such emails that the average internet user received meant that all or most of them were deleted or left ignored, and the fact that users also had to take action (by confirming permission to retain their details within the mailing list) resulted in many businesses and brands losing the bulk of their mailing lists virtually overnight.

Regaining these previous prospects in large quantities is something that few brands will be able to achieve without starting from scratch, and rebuilding your mailing lists to their old, pre-GDPR levels is something that can only be achieved organically with time.

However, if the signups that you lost found value in the content you sent, or buy from you or visit your website regularly, you may be able to claw some of them back with the right incentives to join your new mailing lists.

Understandably, the negative impact of losing the ability to contact the mailing list subscribers you’d built up previously, potentially over the course of many years, is one that many businesses will still feel the fallout from in the months and years to come.

That said, there are some upsides to making a clean cut and starting from scratch. Losing people from your mailing lists that were not interested in receiving them or whose requirements and preferences no longer gel with what you offer allows you to cut out dead wood, and can help you to hone and fine-tune the demographic information you hold on your prospects.

This, in turn, helps you to understand them and market to them more effectively, providing immeasurable value for the future.

If your customer or signup database is out of date or doesn’t reflect the nature of your real buyers or service users, the information you hold is not only largely without value, but it can also harm your business and marketing endeavours too.

Relying heavily on historical data when doing research into your prospects’ demographics skews the results. This may mean that you’re losing sales by targeting your offerings to match a demographic or buyer type that isn’t interested, or that does not truly reflect the nature of your present-day buyers and your business goals.

Ultimately, building up a useful and strong mailing list takes time, and there are no easy shortcuts. However, nurturing signups, keeping prospects engaged, and offering value that keeps them interested and coming back for more makes it worth it in the long run.