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How to build a great email list

All brands want to grow their market share. If they didn’t, there’d be no need for marketing. 

However, for those in email marketing it is critical to understand that your efforts won’t help your brand grow its market share if you only target your existing email subscribers.  Oh sure, you can increase your share-of-wallet, but to really grow market share you need to add new customers. 

And for email marketers, that means continually adding new email addresses to your CRM database. But not just any email address. There are real risks to adding email address the wrong way.

Email marketers using co-registration to add new addresses—or worse, renting or buying email lists—are going to end up with bad addresses in their databases—spam traps, honey pots, and other land mines await those who use these tactics.

"Email marketers using co-registration to add new addresses—or worse, renting or buying email lists—are going to end up with bad addresses in their databases—spam traps, honey pots, and other land mines await those who use these tactics."

Even if you don’t end up with any truly bad email addresses, people who don’t really want to hear from you via email are the first ones to hit spam or otherwise complain to their ISP about your email.  Hit too many spam traps and you are going to be blocked. 

But getting too many complaints is going to get you bulk foldered by the ISPs. And the impact of that is the same as if you are blocked—your audience isn’t going to see the emails you are sending (Gmail, in particular, seems to have a sixth sense when shutting down a marketer using co-reg to build its list!).

With the holidays right around the corner the thought of dramatically lower inbox placement at Gmail and the other major ISPs is enough to make any email marketer thinking about building his or her email subscriber list pause and ask whether the risk is worth it or not. But adding new subscribers to an email database doesn’t have to be risky.

An email marketer who focuses on the right characteristics in his or her new subscribers and collects them in the right manner can almost eliminate any risk.

 Before we look at how to do this, let’s examine what makes an email list great.  There are 3 key traits that all great lists have in common:

  1. The people on the list want to be on the list. That seems elementary at first, but as we’ve already discussed there are collection tactics that don’t guarantee you that the person at that email address willingly opted-in to get emails from you. You want to add only those people who literally gave you their email address.  Implied consent doesn’t meet that standard.
  1. The subscribers consistently return strong revenue per email (RPE). Revenue per email (RPE) is a key metric of the performance of an email list—yours should be growing with the addition of new subscribers.  After all, isn’t that the point? Do you know who are your highest RPE subscribers?  Do you know where they came from?  You can’t go get more of them if you don’t know those things.
  1. Finally, the people on your list remain engaged with your emails over time. These days, engagement is a key driver of inbox placement. If you are constantly emailing people who don’t open your email your delivery rates will decline. These “silent unsubscribes” are a major drag on list performance.  Even email marketers who do everything else right run into problems collecting a lot of what I call “one and done” email subscribers. These are the people who gave their email address to get access to a great offer, but don’t have any long-term plans to sustain any type of relationship. 

It’s all well and good to know what are the elements of a great email list.  And maybe your existing list meets those criteria.  You still need to add new subscribers.  

So the real question is where are you going to find new subscribers like that? Finding them starts this five-step process which includes how you manage the media you use to drive people to your landing page for email opt-in. email list growth.  Not every step is easy to accomplish, but if you follow these steps you are on your way to building a great email list.

  1. Start with true email opt-in. There is simply no substitute for asking a new subscriber in input his or her email address into a form.  Are you choosing quality of quantity when you stick to you guns on this?  But as we’ve already discussed, a large email list built on risky collection practices is going to end up in the spam folder sooner rather later, so you’re always better off with slower list growth, while maintaining—or even improving—your delivery numbers.
  1. Monitor new subscriber engagement starting with your welcome campaign. If someone who has opted in doesn’t engage with your welcome email(s), that is a pretty good indicator that he or she will not be a highly engaged subscriber over the long term. By monitoring this engagement, you should be able to adjust your media buy to start focusing on those sources of new subscribers that deliver a higher percentage of engaged people.
  1. Standardize performance metrics across all of your email acquisition media channels. It’s a critical step to be able to compare the quality of new email subscribers regardless of where they came from in the subscription path. If RPE is your measurement stick, then whether the subscriber came from a display ad, Facebook or an email newsletter, you need to be able to track to same things. Because when you can do that, you are able to…
  1. Optimize your media plan even further, focusing on those sources of new subscribers that pass the engagement threshold and spend the most money, the most often with you. This is the key step because if you do this, then each month the overall quality of the new subscribers you are adding to your list continues to get better. So even those who don’t start out at the beginning with a great email list will be building one over time.
  1. Test new media sources—constantly. Part of the optimization process involves dumping bad sources from your buy and spending more on the good sources.  The other part of optimizing your buy is around testing new sources and seeing if they can deliver as well or better than your best-performing sources at that time. 

The more great sources you have, the faster your great email list grows.

Being able to pull off all five of the above steps isn’t going to be easy, but who said building a great email list was supposed to be easy?

For those email marketers looking to add some last-minute fire-power to their holiday email marking efforts it’s the only safe way to proceed.

And even beyond the holidays it’s the only sure-fire way to build or expand a great email list.

There are companies out there who can help you with technology and services enabling you to follow the 5 steps. Your first step in building your great list should probably start with one of them!

iMedia Communications, Inc. is a trade publisher and event producer serving interactive media and marketing industries. The company was founded in September of 2001 and is a subsidiary of Comexposium USA.  ...

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Commenter: Chris Marriott

2017, October 27

Note from the author: Several people have asked me what companies can do this work. The best example is CertainSource--I wrote about them back in 2016. Thanks for reading! Chris Marriott