You may have great content. And beautiful emails. But it’s the subject line that gets people to click, and the best subject lines lead to more conversions. In this guide, we’ll take you through our favorite email marketing subject line best practices to try for yourself.
Email Subject Lines that Show Urgency
If readers don’t have a reason to click, and click now, then they probably won’t. The best way to get them to act is by showing urgency.
Retailers do this well. Their sales end soon. There’s a last chance for free 2-day shipping. For events, tickets are going fast. For online webinars, space is limited.
Columbia Sportswear’s email marketing newsletter reminds subscribers when sales are about to end.
Words and phrases to include:
“Almost sold out”
And throwing in an exclamation mark with capitalization may not hurt either.
So why do these subject lines work so well? It’s because we never want to miss an opportunity. F.O.M.O is innate in all of us. Tell your subscribers their ability to act is coming to an end.
We also operate through something call the Eisenhower decision matrix. It was coined by Dwight Eisenhower. You know, that military general, President of Columbia University and U.S. President.
In the Eisenhower decision matrix, we balance urgency with importance. And the sad truth is that if something is urgent, even if it’s not important, we’ll probably address that one first.
When you give your readers a reason to act urgently, they are more likely to. Even if the task isn’t that important.
Personalized Email Subject Lines
Emails aren’t broadcasts, or mass announcements. They’re letters. Even if that letter isn’t on a piece of paper at all. Letters are also personal, and your emails should be too.
When you include the recipient’s name in the email subject line, you see significantly higher open rates than if you didn’t.
In a study by SaleCycle, they found that including a customer’s name in the email subject drove to a 46% open rate. That open rate even outperformed when they tested a variation that had an Urgent tone (only 41% open rate).
The companies who do personalization best are the same companies who have a lot of personalized data on their subscribers: social networks.
Try this: If you use Gmail, search for “subject:” and your first name.
You will see the search results for every email you received that include your first name in the subject line.
It’s probably no surprise that social networks, Netflix, music subscription services, charities and organizations who know your name are using it.
Personalization works, and it doesn’t have to only be a first name. If you are an e-commerce retailer, you could include the name of the product they most recently purchased, or a product they recently added to their shopping cart.
If you are following up on a customer service call, you could include the name of your own customer service representative in the email subject, like: “How was your call with Michael?”
Use the data you have to personalize in new ways.
Or, do what Disney does: combine personalization with urgencies.
We can imagine they got higher open rates by combining these two tactics than alone.
Tell Them a Story, But Make Sure it has a Cliffhanger
We forget statistics. We misquote facts. But we live for stories. We are motivated by stories. And somethings those facts and figures just rationalize the decisions we want to make.
When you open an email marketing subject line with a story, you want to give them a reason to click. A reason to “turn the page.”
Indie Hackers is a community of tech founders and people working on a sideproject. It’s owned and funded by Stripe. From their community, they source stories. Those stories are sent to their subscribers with clear, enticing subject lines.
Indie Hackers’ email campaign has a subject that reads: “How I got over 3,000 paying customers as a first-time founder.” And that’s it. But it’s enough for other first-time founders to click.
You can tell other people’s stories, or you can tell your own. Just follow this structure:
How [ I / we / a mother of 3 / a veteran / a full-time student / a retiree ] got ##### [ paying customers / YouTube fans / in revenue ]
People love underdog stories. Play with your subject to show how, against all odds, there was a result.
Use the word “Free”
If something is free, tell them. Email marketers used to avoid the word “free” like the plague, because those emails ended up in spam filters.
But the web got smarter. Email clients began using savvier filtering and screening. This change came along with retailers offering free shipping. The word “free” was no longer reserved for spammers. It was now being used by Amazon and Wal-Mart.
And frankly, web content and offerings got better. Online courses that would have cost $200 10 years ago are now given away for free with an email sign-up.
So don’t avoid “free.” Embrace it.
But Avoid Spam Stop Words
Not all words and phrases have been given the all-clear like “free.” Avoid these words and phrases:
Be your own boss
Double your income
F r e e
Income from home
Limited time offer
If you’re using these phrases in your subjects, readers probably don’t want your emails anyway.
Use Emojis, or Not
We mentioned this tip in our email marketing split testing guide. Sometimes emojis work well, and other times they don’t. You should try them and see if they perform well for you.
Emojis used to be popular in email marketing, but people got jaded. And they stopped being the secret tactic for sky-high open rates.
Even worse, emojis vary across devices. Look at this example for the pistol emoji. Depending on the device and service, it could be anything from a squirtgun to a supersoaker to a gun.
Plus, emojis are visual. We have different interpretations of images. And there’s always the chance that people will misinterpret what you mean.
I mean, what exactly does this water drops emoji mean?
Different readers will have different interpretations. The more you use emojis, the more confusion you may introduce.
And as open rates with emojis fall back to average, email marketers have just said they don’t need them.
Combine Your Favorite Tactics, and Test
Best practices are only best practices because they have been tested. If you can think of a different variation that we haven’t included, test it.
Create a sense of urgency.
Use “free” if something is free.
Tell your own story, or someone else’s.
Test every tactic, and every combination of these, plus your own.
You may have turned your website into an opt-in machine. And maybe you write subject lines so alluring, they’re like a siren calling your readers to open. But if people aren’t clicking, you aren’t driving an impact. Email marketers glamorize their list size. They even brag about them. But I would take clicks over a larger, unengaged audience.
In this guide, we’re going to build on the work you have done. We’re going to focus on what we need to do to get people to click.
Make it Easy to Scan
Have you noticed we rarely have paragraphs of text on your website?
Because nobody has time for that.
And they definitely don’t have the patience.
Your recipients do not have time to read all of your emails even if they all have precise formatting. It’s critical to make it easier to scan your email newsletter. Images can draw the eye, so where they’re located on an email newsletter can affect the readability.
All of your content – images, subheads, everything – should make the most crucial call to action clear. Use bullet points or subheads to lead recipients to your call to action. Marketers can subdivide their email newsletter into sections and use the first section to showcase the most important action item.
Making your messages scannable is one our the most important strategies will will ever learn. If people don’t read, or if it don’t pay attention, they can’t act.
Make Your HTML Email Look Like Plain Text
Email marketing providers showcase their beautiful themes and templates. But you know what often works best? Plain text emails. In a world with glossy marketing emails, sometimes readers associate plain text with a letter from a friend.
The only problem with plain text emails is that the reader will get ugly links. Plus, it limits room for design tweaks and makes it hard to track clicks. So we strike a balance. Use a plain text HTML email. This approach will make your links look clean and increase the flexibility of your design, It will also make it easier to analyze email statistics.
OptinMonster does plain text HTML emails well:
Look at the tone, and the clean hyperlinks. This email looks like a plain text email to the casual observer, but it’s actually an HTML email. This is a highly refined campaign.
Obsess Over Your Content
Your content is what leads subscribers to click and open your email. But it will take a couple of tries to make your content more engaging.
Readers are likely to respond to visual stimuli, so if you have an HTML email, consider adding images. GIFs, from a resource like GIPHY, may work even better.
Another way to know if your content resonates: ask them. Include a short survey or poll and ask for feedback. Your subscribers are likely to take part in a study, but only if the results will favor them.
We use a lot of surveys. You could do use a service like SurveyMonkey or Typeform, but we use a free alternative: Google forms.
We don’t ask readers if they like our content. They’ll give much more limited responses than you would otherwise hear. Instead, we open with a net promoter score question, and then ask what is one thing we could change.
The responses are added to a Google Sheets doc for your to review. You won’t believe how valuable this feedback has been for us.
Once you create your survey, get the link and add it to your email. We write something like, “Take our 10-second survey.”
Use the Right Template
If you want to use a beautiful template, make sure it’s formatted correctly.
Email marketing newsletter templates should not have a width exceeding 600px. That limit is getting larger now with larger smartphone screens, but it’s a good rule of thumb.
Also, stick to a single column. Single column emails tend to drive higher click-through rates than multiple columns.
But, above all, if you’re using a template, don’t build your own when you’re just starting out. Email marketing providers have valid and beautiful templates. With most of the emails being read on mobile devices, you need to ensure your template is responsive to the screen size.
You also want to use email newsletter templates that can fit your content and brand. And a template will make it easier to edit future email newsletter campaigns.
Be Mindful of Email Accessibility
Sometimes your readers will not be wearing their glasses. Or maybe they’re reading your messages on a different, non-traditional device. You want to ensure your messages adapt to these situations.
Avoid walls of text that may be difficult to read. Use readable fonts. Use alt text for all images. Well-designed emails can be accessed even by people with visual impairments, so don’t neglect email accessibility as part of your email marketing strategy.
Email newsletters are part of your marketing strategy and your brand image. That means an enterprise will need to include an avatar, photo, or logo that it uses across all its social media accounts to their email newsletter. A branded email newsletter make it easier for recipients to recognize your brand and builds trust.
Consistency is critical to subscribers, so don’t change the templates of its newsletter every week. Brand all email newsletters with the same template so that recipients can familiarize themselves with it and know what to expect. Keep the templates simple and include the name of the newsletter as well as the brand’s name to make it more appealing.
One way to maintain brand consistency is to send email from a recognizable sender. Adding your real name to the email “From” field and asking someone associated with your brand to sign the email can help boost your trust. Subscribers are also likely to respond to an email with a real address instead of a no-reply address. That can help improve future email deliverability as well as the reputation of the sender.
Keep Text Short
Your goal is to drive more traffic to your website and engage visitors with relevant and valuable content. But not in the email message itself.
All you want them to do is click!
With an email newsletter, your goal is to get your readers to your website or landing page. That’s why keeping your email newsletters short pays off.
Email newsletters that are 200 words and below have higher click-through rates than those with more words. However, using a series of emails to test your audience is the best way to find out what pleases them.
Even with short texts, senders can capitalize on a few tips to make their email newsletters more useful than ever. You will have to use eye-catching headlines and share your best content to make more people open your email.
Try to use a short introduction, match the brand color with the background theme, and make your call to action as clear as possible.
Use Color to Set a Tone
Color influence action. Color intensify brand awareness. And color is beautiful.
Even if your logo is blue, you don’t have to stick to the color blue. Color is an excellent way to strike interest.
Look at the beginning of this email from apparel retailer Nordstrom. Their logo doesn’t have color, but they used yellow – a color many designers avoid – to make a statement.
Control Your Font
Over the past decade, the web has exploded with the number of beautiful fonts we can use. In the early days of web design, we had to stick with fonts we knew were on every reader’s computer. That’s why we saw Courier, and Times New Roman. And Arial. So, so much Arial.
Not any more.
With web fonts, we didn’t have to choose.
We went overboard with font selection. Why limit yourself when font limits were imposed by a technical deficiency of the past? This was the future. We replaced our limits with ligatures as we entered a new era of web design, sans serifs. But just like the design decisions of the 1980s, any time the pendulum reaches that point of excessive typographical opulence, it swings back.
And here we are.
Two fonts max.
You need a headline typeface and a body typeface. That’s it.
Whatever font you choose, opt for readability. Keep it simple. If you want to use an elaborate script font, use it sparingly and never with body copy.
We use a boring font selection. That’s because we want readers to know we’re direct, we’re not flashy, and we’re focused on getting to the point.
Companies using specific fonts and themes as part of their branding should be consistent too.
Pay Attention to Images
It can be difficult to balance images used in email newsletters. We like to turn to research for these decisions, but even the data can be confusing.
Some studies show that close to two-thirds of readers prefer to click to image links in emails. Other studies show that the majority of readers have their images disabled.
So what do you do? First decide if images are necessary. If they aren’t, leave them out.
If you use images, use alt text to describe any graph and image even if all images are disabled. And make them as clear and crisp as possible.
Need a resource for finding high-quality free photos? We like Unsplash.
Clean Your Email List
If you don’t add any new subscribers to your list, you’ll probably see your churn rate around 25% to 30%.
That number includes people who complain or unsubscribe from your list. It also includes readers who don’t use that email account anymore. And it includes readers who never see your message because it goes to their spam folders.
Some of the ways to improve your churn rates are to send re-engagement emails or create an option for recipients to receive fewer emails. You can remove any of the unengaged subscribers if none of these approaches work.
Email marketing providers like ConvertKit and GetResponse let senders remove or segment subscribers and recipients based on their activity. That means the remaining subscribers are more likely to read and click your messages. This boost your click-through rate over all. It may also improve your deliverability, driving more clicks in the future.
You can re-send your email campaign again in case your readers don’t open it the first time. Re-sending the message gives them a second chance to open your email and click your link.
But if you do, use a different subject line, and try sending it at a different time. It can be the same exact content though. You may be surprised at how well this simple tactic works.
Nail Your Call to Action
In the end, the number of clicks won will determine whether your campaigns work. Your Call to Action (CTA) is the most important part.
A well-designed CTA should be included in the email throughout the message. It should appear at the top, at the bottom, in different formats, and be actionable and visible.
Colors and font are crucial for creating a CTA button. Experiment with their CTAs to find out whether it works for all subscribers or not. The above design tips can help marketers to create engaging email newsletters to boost their click-through rate.
You may have subscribers. And those subscribers may be opening your emails. But did you realize that with a little bit of easy testing, you could get more opens? And more clicks? And more purchases? Email marketing split testing, or A/B testing, is an extremely effective way to double your performance. And it isn’t hard to do. Popular email marketing providers like ConvertKit and GetResponse have split testing built-in.
Small changes can have huge improvements. And before you start looking at email marketing growth tactics, you want to make sure your emails perform as best as possible.
Here are the best tactics for split testing your campaigns. But before we begin, let’s keep a few things in mind…
What You Should Know When Starting Your Split Testing
The main point you should focus on is consistency between the two options that you’re testing. Especially after the work you did to improve your email opt-in rate.
Does one subject line work better than the other? You want to be sure that what you were testing for is what causes the difference in action. If you’re testing for ad copy and calls to action, then you want your test emails to visually be the same. If not, you won’t be positive which changes actually caused a better result. And then you’re just guessing. Not a good position to be in.
Always be sure that what you’re testing for and looking for is isolated. That way you can ensure that the difference in action and conversion rate is due to the one change you made.
Test What You Can Scale Repeatedly
Results you gain from any test run should be significant enough to scale. Sending a few dozen emails may not represent the same significance on a larger run. If you can’t discern significant results from 500 to 1000 email actions, then you might want to consider rethinking your approach. The end goal of A / B testing is finding a proven outcome that’s worth investing in. Think of it as refining your presentation to more effectively reach recipients.
Know What Your Goal Is
Starting out with an achievable goal is the key to success in email marketing. You need to decide whether you’re looking for a higher open rate or a higher click-through rate. The best A / B testing focuses attention on a single result. Polishing your email marketing subject line typically means you’re looking for a better open rate. Changing graphics is usually to improve the click-through rate. Try them both, but focus on one at a time. Know what you want and take the necessary steps to see results.
How to do Email Marketing Split Testing
There are a few different ways to split test. You can do it manually, the old way. Or, you can let your email marketing provider do it for you. I know which way I would choose, but I’ll show you both.
The Old Fashioned Way – Not Recommended
You could manually split test your email campaigns. That means you would send one message to one part of your list, and send another message to the other part of your list. Then, you compare the open rates or click-through rates between both messages.
A better way to compare the results is by using a statistical significance calculator. This calculator will tell you if the lift you see is caused by chance or if it truly is a better performing message.
The Modern Way – Do This Instead
If you use an email marketing tool, you probably have split testing built in.
ConvertKit lets you split test subject lines when you write a new message.
GetResponse offers even better control of what you can test, between your subject, “from” name, message or when the message is delivered.
If your tool offers split testing, it typically allows you to send two variations to a small portion of your list. Then, it will find the best performing variation and automatically send it to the rest of your list.
We prefer letting tools tell us which one performs better. No statistical significance calculator needed.
So What Do We Split Test for Email Marketing?
There are so many ways that you can make tweaks to your email templates when testing. Where do we start?
Emotional Marketing Value
All of your recipients are real people. Your target-market probably has similar traits that you can tap into with the wording of your email. Feelings are a driving force behind action and buying. Hopefully you understand who you’re trying to get a response from. Testing between a more logical writing style versus a more emotional tone may give you great insight into how your target audience responds.
Personalizing Your Template
Try to avoid writing headlines in second-person. Don’t remind the reader that they are being pitched. Use generic wording that addresses the recipient in a personal way. Try sticking to phrases like, “ how to improve marketing skills” instead of “ how you can improve your marketing skills.” Think about it from the point of view of the person reading it. Your headline will be more suggestive if it’s worded in a natural way that appeals to a person’s inner monologue. Create a few entertaining phrases to get them thinking and see which one works.
Subject Line Length
Different devices display a various number of characters in the subject line. It usually ranges from 30 to 80 characters on most devices. Having a short subject line is the most common rule of thumb. Having as few words as possible with profitable results is going to be your best bet. Once you’ve found a decent subject line try shortening the phrase between templates to find the most effective wording to use.
Making Statements and Asking Questions
When you’ve found a good template to use, test the effectiveness of open-ended questions. This approach is especially important if you work in a Business-to-business field.
Statements are great once you’ve established a sense of authority in the eyes of your audience. But open-ended questions that engage the reader are powerful. It’s no secret that one-on-one sales professionals constantly use engaging questions to keep prospective buyers on the hook. It’s not that much different for digital marketing. When you can get your target thinking about an answer, then you’ve overcome the hardest obstacle in marketing.
Get their attention no matter what it takes. Try one email loaded with questions and another one that’s mostly statements. Find out what works best for your target market.
Images versus Text
It’s become very popular for campaigns to utilize graphics rather than focusing on text. You shouldn’t just follow the trend that everyone else is doing, but instead try to find the answer for yourself. Try running an A / B test comparing a campaign with lots of images to one that’s more heavy in text. You should be able to find a nice balance that your audience will respond to more readily.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
There are a ridiculous number of online resources that you can tap into. There’s no reason to go on a whim or try to create a new way of doing things. Look for repeatable results. There’s no shame in trying what’s already been done. Find a model that you can follow and build on that pattern in your own way. A / B testing is a strategy you can follow to find the efficient means of getting a response. Take something you already know works and make it work better for you.
Benefits Versus Solutions
Pitching your product in a way that showcases its benefits is an easy way to a good response. Bringing attention to a problem and then offering a solution can be equally powerful. Of course there are downsides to any route you take, but you aren’t looking for perfection. You are looking for action. If you can you use negative issues and paint your product as a solution to those problems, then run a test campaign. It might work out great for you.
Capitalization and Emphasis
Lowercase and uppercase letters could actually have an affect on your replies. Try using capitalization in different ways. You could capitalize important words, or try capitalizing your whole subject line. In your emails you should try using bold text, underlining action statements, or utilizing italics alternatively. You want to put emphasis on different points to see how your audience reacts through the actions that they take.
The Number Of Links
People tend to be more likely to use a link when they don’t have a lot of choices to choose from. If you have too many visible links throughout your email, then it may actually subtract from your click-through rate. Try testing your emails with various forms of link-anchors. Study the difference in response to text-links, clickable images, and hyperlinks. Sticking below 3 visible links is usually a good idea. A prospective buyer can really be overwhelmed when they are given too many options.
Detail-Oriented versus Curiosity-Driven Engagement
Your potential customers could be more intellectually minded. They might be extremely anxious about details and need to know everything about your offer. Detailed ad copy can improve trust between the buyer and you. Others might be more curiosity driven. It could be beneficial to be a little bit more mysterious and let that curiosity turn into a click. You won’t know what your demographic finds appealing until you test.
Test Multiple Groups
If you have a decent amount of leads to test from, then you should divide them into separate groups. This way you can see if your email campaign is more productive depending on specific group traits. You can single out individuals based on the information that you know about them. Target individuals based on location, their occupation, their age or based on how you acquired the lead. You don’t necessarily need to make great changes to your template. See how your potential customers act and try to narrow down the nuances between the groups that you created.
Optimizing Your Subject Line in an Honest Way
Subject lines that customers see in their inbox are often what your email is judged by. Getting the most out of your first impression is important. It can be tempting to be somewhat misleading in order to increase the open-rate, but open-rate isn’t everything.
Typically you’re going to be looking for some kind of response or action as a follow-up. Misleading a potential customer can drive complaints and get your message marked as spam. That’s not good because it may mean your message ends up in other people’s spam folders.
Always try to be as honest as possible while enticing a recipient to open your email.
Keep in mind that it’s okay to build anticipation or curiosity in your subject line too. You be the judge of whether your headers might be mistaken for dishonesty, or if they plainly communicate to the recipient a clear representation of an email’s contents. Walk that fine line and get the best of both worlds through proper testing.
Compare templates that generate curiosity to those that aren’t so mysterious, then you’ll be able to define what your leads take offense to.
Emojis in the Subject Line, or Not
Emojis break up the inbox. And they can lead to better open rates. But some readers have grown tired of seeing so many emojis.
Look at the gift emoji used in the email from IFTTT. It stands out from the other emails. But it’s still sitting in my inbox unread.
Test including an emoji in your subject line. If it works to drive better open rates, use them. But don’t be surprised if you don’t see any improvement.
Building a Sense of Trust
There are a few ways that you can instill a feeling of trust in prospective buyers throughout your campaign. If your leads include first names, affiliations, or any other personal information, then you should utilize it. Sending an email that includes someone’s name or business might be far more likely to become a conversion. Try different setups to see what personalizing methods will give you the upper hand and increase your metrics.
Driving Click-Through with Bad Responses
Try including clickable text buttons after your call to action. Always have an option for those who might not be interested. This would be a great way to utilize different landing pages for those who are less agreeable.
You can also use negative response buttons in opposition to your positive response links as a way to encourage recipients to second-guess themselves. If you were pitching a product for instance, then your negative response option might say,” no thanks, my life is easy enough already.”
Brooklinen does this well on their homepage. When users scroll, they’re prompted to subscribe to the newsletter and receive free shipping. Or they can click, “No thanks, I still want to pay for shipping.”
Who wants to pay for shipping? I don’t. I don’t want to assume, but you probably don’t. This tactic is called Confirmshaming. If you look closely, you’ll see them all over the web. Why? Because they work extremely well. If you’d like, you can use them in your email messages to drive click-through rates.
Try testing between different negative responses to see if you can flip those who aren’t interested by forcing them to rethink their position. You could also utilize separate landing pages for those who are absolutely interested, and for those who may be more skeptical.
If you want to create powerful and beautiful landing pages, take a look at our recommended landing page tools.
There’s nothing new about creating urgency to generate an action from your prospective buyers. You can get creative by incorporating different styles of urgency within your templates. Try sending one test group an email that includes a deadline. With another test group you can include a countdown timer. These response tools can be used for special offers, or limited time situations. Discover what’s going to work best for your leads when you can get the most out of this marketing tactic.
Test Your Images
This type of testing is simple. You’ve got your text, your call to action, and your target audience where you want them. Send out two groups of emails with completely different images included. Images create emotion and those emotions create motion towards action. Getting the response that you want can be as simple as finding the right picture. Your visuals can greatly influence a person under the right circumstances.
Hard-Selling versus Soft-Selling
Most entrepreneurs are reluctant to come across as too sales-like. But the way you feel about your representation should not be based on your opinions. Everything that you do should be rooted in proven results. The only way you’re going to find a statistical advantage is by taking risks.
Don’t neglect to go outside of your comfort zone when A / B testing. Try your hand at both sides of the coin. Compare results from casual pitching that builds interest to full sales pitches. Don’t rely on your own opinion, but rather rely on hard evidence.
Professionalism versus Fluidity
Do your leads respond to professional tone, or more laid-back casual demeanor? It’s all up to the demographics that you were targeting. Oftentimes casual tone may mesh with private individuals whereas a professional tone could work better towards business owners. You might not always know what your test group likes, but you certainly have the means to find out. Try an ad copy that’s strictly professional and another one that is casual.
Pay close attention the time of day and the day of the week that your email campaigns are sent. You can test to find the most selective schedule to reach your recipients. Schedules that may work well for other campaigns and companies might not be best solution for you. Don’t leave your timing up to guesswork or following someone else’s conclusions on the best timing. Use testing to find out what schedules work best for your recipients.
Re-sending to Those Who Did Not Respond
This is a handy little trick to reach out to those that you didn’t hear anything back from. Try re-sending your emails with a different subject line 48 hours after the first attempt. Resend to another test group 72 hours after your first attempt.
Switch up the time frame and the subject line to find that sweet spot you’re looking for. Knowing the effective follow-up routine after a failure to respond will help you cut losses on leads.
Don’t throw away those old leads. Test everything you have at your disposal.
Know The Facts and Use Them
Once you’ve found crucial and proven statistical advantages in your testing, then you should put them to work for you.
Scale up in different increments to ensure that your findings are profitable. If you tested with 100 original recipients, then try it with a thousand recipients. If you see similar results in a thousand, then scale up to 10,000. Just be careful when you aren’t certain on your results.
Move forward one step at a time and never quit testing your ideas! Facts don’t lie. Great methods rarely fail.
And it’s true! Even after all these years, email marketing continues to be one of the most cost-effective methods for growing your business online and making a profit. More than traditional media. More than social media.
But it seems like it’s becoming more difficult than ever to get people to sign up for your email list, doesn’t it?
Part of the reason is that today’s readers are simply becoming numb. We’ve seen it all. We recognize tricks to get us to sign-up. Those old email list building tactics used to work. And they worked well. But just as ad blindness has become a thing, opt-in blindness is also creeping in.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
In many cases, the key is to simply offer really good content on your blog. When you are engaging your readers and giving them amazing blog posts, that alone will be enough to get them to grab your email marketing lead magnets and join your list.
So first make sure that you’re delivering the goods on your blog and building trust and authority with your readers.
But beyond that, there are still a lot of ways to build your email list. Don’t give in to the temptation to use spammy tactics such as bait-and-switch or buying email lists from shady marketers. Following white hat email marketing best practices is always your best bet in the long run.
So with that in mind, here are 17 proven strategies for improving your opt-in rate and building your email list to the next level.
1. Put an Email Signup Form on Every. Single. Page.
One of the most effective ways to increase your email opt-in rate — arguably the best way ever — is to simply give your readers more opportunities to join your list. Many marketers make the mistake of only putting a signup form in their sidebar or on their homepage, but that’s a huge mistake.
When you do that, your opt-in rate will be pretty dismal. A lot of readers don’t even look at sidebars — particularly those on mobile devices, since most responsive websites push sidebars down below the main content.
And most visitors don’t even come to your homepage. They come from search engines or links on social media to read a particular article. Then, if they liked the article, they’ll probably click on a related article from that one. So they never even make it to your homepage.
Wouldn’t that suck if the main reason visitors aren’t subscribing to your blog is that they aren’t seeing any signup forms?
This is why you need to include an opt-in on every single page of your website. Every blog post should have an opt-in form. Every page — even your contact and about pages — should offer an opportunity to join your email list.
2. Use a Popup Form
Everyone has seen popup forms — you know, those annoying windows that pop up while you’re trying to read an article, begging you to join their email list?
Bonobos does it.
Crate & Barrel does it too.
Groupon puts their signup form in a circle.
Yeah, those popup forms sure are annoying. Why do people keep using them?
People keep using them because they work. They work really, really well! It’s that simple, and that’s why you should at least experiment with popup forms on your blog.
Yes, popup forms are annoying — but they still work.
Popup forms are totally overused on the internet — but they still work.
Some marketers abuse them — but they still work.
Popup forms might actually make some visitors click away — but they still work.
Listen, even if you personally don’t like popup forms and grumble with all your blogging buddies about how you’ll never use them, you owe it to yourself to at least test it out and see for yourself.
And if you’re worried that your current subscribers will stop following your blog because of popups, then you can stop worrying about that.
You can actually customize your popups so that people who are already on your list won’t ever see them. You can also adjust your settings so that return visitors — whether they’ve subscribed or not — won’t get popups.
So just test it out for a month or so and see if it makes a difference in your opt-in rate.
(Hint: it makes a difference.)
3. Use Multiple Signup Forms/Links on Every Single Page
So, you have email signup forms on every page. You’re done, right? Wrong. That might still not be enough. Using multiple opt-in forms in different areas of the page can also increase your signup rate.
One of the best places to put a signup form is above the fold. Above the Fold is a phrase that comes from the newspaper world. Advertisers would pay a premium if their ad appeared above where the newspaper naturally folded. Because above the fold performed in best. In the digital world, Above the Fold is the space before the reader has to scroll. On smartphones, that space is even smaller.
Websites centered around their email lists do this well. The Skimm is a daily email newsletter on news you want to read. On their homepage, you need to scroll down before seeing any content. That space above the fold is fully dedicated to the sign-up form.
Another website that does this well is Hacker Newsletter. Hacker Newsletter is a weekly newsletter that summarizes the best content from Y Combinator’s Hacker News.
Above the fold means putting your signup form at the top of the page where it’s visible without scrolling down. Tons of visitors bounce away from your website within a few seconds, so you want to make sure they see your lead magnet before they bounce. That alone can catch their interest and keep you from losing them forever.
Another great place for your opt-in form is at the end of a blog post. Most readers won’t even make it that far down the page, but the ones who do obviously liked the content that you wrote for them. So that means that they are already warm leads who will be more likely to join your list. That’s a great opportunity to get a new subscriber!
The next best place is in a sidebar. Readers may lose interest in your post they are reading, but they may be enticed to subscribe with a good offer.
And there are a lot of other places to put signup forms and offer your lead magnet. Also, you don’t necessarily have to put the actual form on there to get a response. Try dropping links to a landing page within the body of your content too and see if that increases your subscriber count.
4. Make Your Home page a Landing Page
This is one of the best tips on this entire list, so make sure you experiment with this one. Stripping down your homepage and turning it into a landing page is enormously effective for getting new subscribers.
Why does it work? It works because it locks your content away behind the opt-in and basically twists visitors’ arms to get them to sign up. It forces readers to notice your signup form by placing it front and center and requiring action to move forward into your blog content.
But the key is to offer a really juicy lead magnet to entice them to subscribe. Joining your list shouldn’t be a nuisance. It should be an awesome benefit and a total win for the subscriber. If you just expect them to subscribe for blog updates with nothing in return except blog updates, you’ll lose them. So make your lead magnet something special.
5. Split Test the Elements on Your Home/Landing Page
Everyone can have opinions about how to improve opt-in rates, but if you aren’t testing these changes on your site for yourself, then you’re really just guessing. In general, there are tactics that are proven to help in most cases. But there are a lot of variables, and your mileage may vary.
So it’s always a good idea to perform split tests.
Choose one feature on your landing page or opt-in form and test two versions of that. For example, if you have a green “subscribe” button, try a red one and see which color performs better.
Then pick another element on the page and test that.
Continue optimizing your signup forms to get higher and higher conversion rates.
You could do these optimizations manually, or use a landing page tool. A tool like Instapage can build beautiful, converting landing pages, and split testing is built-in. Read our Instapage review.
6. Use Social Proof to Encourage Opt-Ins
Social proof can also reduce readers’ doubts and encourage signups. If you have a subscriber base over a few thousand, show it!
Social marketing tool Buffer shows off their subscribers.
Fitness community Nerd Fitness does it too.
You can try adding some testimonials from clients or other subscribers who’ve tried your product and achieved positive results.
Using social media share buttons that show the number of shares — if it’s a high number — can also demonstrate how popular your content is.
And of course, once you have a decent number of subscribers, simply showing your current subscriber count can give new readers peace of mind, knowing that your content must be good since so many other people are subscribing.
7. Use Heatmaps to Identify User Attention Patterns
Heat mapping software tracks readers’ mouse movements around your page, allowing you to see what people are looking at and what they are ignoring. This can help you eliminate weak elements from your page and put your offer where it will get the most attention.
8. Include an Exit Popup
An exit popup can also get you some additional subscribers.
Whenever a reader’s cursor moves toward the back button at the top left corner of the page, a popup will appear and encourage them to subscribe before leaving the site. If your lead magnet is compelling, you will get some of these readers to subscribe.
And since many of them were first-time visitors who were about to bounce anyway, it’s not like you should worry about them being annoyed. You were about to lose them forever anyway. But some of them will be interested in your lead magnet, so take a chance and try to win them back with a popup.
9. Offer a Killer Lead Magnet
It goes without saying that your offer needs to be really good in order to get people to subscribe. Too many marketers put up boring offers that nobody wants and wonder why nobody is signing up.
What would it take to make people really excited to join your list? Think about what kind of content your readers value, and focus on that for your lead magnets. Don’t hold back. Don’t hide all of your best stuff behind a paywall. Let them get something really good just for joining your list.
There are too many email marketing practitioners out there who get people to sign up, only to make them pay to go deeper in and get anything worthwhile. That’s a great way to lose both subscribers and sales.
But you can differentiate yourself by making killer offers that deliver real value to your subscribers. That’s how you build trust. When your subscribers trust you and receive tons of value — even for free — they’ll be a lot more likely to buy in when you offer even greater value at a price. But you can’t expect to upsell successfully when your free content is shallow and offers little value to readers.
10. Make Opting In Easy to Do
Some marketers miss out on a lot of subscribers because they simply make them jump through too many hoops to subscribe. Their opt-in form will have 5-10 fields to fill in! That’s pretty crazy and will simply push people away.
To satisfy GDPR requirements, you’ll likely want to have a double opt-in process, just to make sure subscribers understand what they’re opting into, but your form should still be as simple as possible.
Don’t ask for too much contact information at this point. Just ask for their first name and email address and get them onto your list. Once you get them as subscribers and convert them into warm leads, then you can require additional info later on in the sales funnel.
11. Show Subscribers Exactly What They’ll Get
One of the main reasons people unsubscribe from email lists is that they receive content that they aren’t interested in, especially if they receive content that they didn’t want in the first place.
Getting spammed like this by email marketers using bait-and-switch tactics has caused many readers to hesitate to give out their email address, and for good reason.
But you can reassure your readers that this won’t happen by being very transparent right from the start.
Entrepreneurial blog Smart Passive Income shows readers exactly what they’ll get by signing up.
When you have an email signup form on a page on your site, you can improve your opt-in rate by listing the emails that the subscriber will receive going forward. If you have a sequence of ten articles to share, list out all the article titles right there next to the opt-in form. If your headlines are good, people will be happy to join your list to get that info.
12. Customize Your Lead Magnets To Fit the User
You can’t expect all of your readers to respond well to the same lead magnet offer. So it’s a good idea to customize your offers for different readers.
For instance, at the bottom of the page on a case study, you might offer a free report featuring similar case studies.
Or at the end of a tutorial blog post, your lead magnet could offer a free five-part video tutorial course that dives deeper into the topic.
13. Offer Content Upgrades as Lead Magnets
Content upgrades are another effective way to get new subscribers onto your email list. These should be offered at the end of a blog post. A simple but effective content upgrade would be a printable PDF version of your blog post. Or you could offer the blog post as a podcast that readers can download and listen to on their smartphone at their convenience.
14. Feed Your Comment Section with a CTA
You can also try feeding your comment section at the bottom of your blog posts with a call-to-action (CTA) which recommends that readers subscribe to your blog to get more great content from you.
Why does this tactic work well for list building?
It works because the readers who will see it are already warm leads. They already read your blog post down to the bottom of the page. They were so interested in the post that they decided to write a comment about it.
Very few of your visitors will read your blog posts from start to finish, and even fewer will actually leave a comment. Those who do are the most engaged, so they are also the most likely to sign up to your list. Having a pinned comment at the top of the thread is a great way to get them signed up.
15. Link to Opt-In Page on Social Media Profiles
Promoting your lead magnets on social media is a very effective way to build your list. You can certainly make regular posts that link back to your offer. But linking in your profile can be even more effective over time because that link is always out there, as opposed to regular posts that get lost in the feed.
A lot of your followers will visit your profile at some point and click through whatever link you have there. So you can send them to a squeeze page to capture their email and offer them your lead magnet.
Using this tactic across several social media profiles can result in a ton of new signups.
16. Use Paid Ads to Drive Traffic to Your Lead Magnet
But don’t limit yourself to free social media traffic. Boosting posts on social media and buying ads from search engines can result in a lot of targeted traffic to your landing pages too.
Many marketers use this tactic alone to build their list, and some of them don’t even have a website! They just use landing pages through a lead-capture service and then market to their list!
17. Segment Your Email List
One more way to grow your email list is to simply keep it from shrinking. Use segmentation to push your subscribers to different email lists based on interest. This allows you to customize the content they receive and lower your number of unsubscribes.
This might sound a bit complicated if you’re maintaining your email lists manually. But it’s really easy if you’re using an email marketing service. You can create different lists to go with different lead magnets to further narrow down your audience.
After all, there’s no sense going through all the trouble of acquiring new subscribers just to lose them one or two emails into the funnel. By targeting your email content, you’ll have a higher retention rate and grow your lists much faster.
Building your email list is one of the keys to the success of your business. If you can keep adding new subscribers, you’ll get your content and your products out there to more and more people, leading to more sales and revenue. List building is truly one of the most effective ways to scale your business, so use these 17 tactics to grow your list and keep the income streaming in.
Email marketing is one of the most powerful ways to reach your audience online. Everybody has email. Everybody uses it, and most people use it multiple times per day.
If you can get target readers who value your content and get them to join your email list, you can potentially market your products and services to them for years to come. And with the price of email list management services being so affordable, the ROI is potentially off the charts.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
But are your results measuring up to the hype? Is your list growing and bringing you revenue month after month?
A lot of marketers fail with email marketing for several reasons.
They might not be targeting the right audience. Or they might not be consistent enough to make conversions. Or maybe they just aren’t offering their visitors good enough reasons to join their email lists.
If you’re struggling to build your email list and are looking for some actionable tips that you can use to get more subscribers, then you’ve come to the right place.
You’re going to learn three key strategies to list building along with several tips you can use right away to get more subscribers and start getting better results on your very next email campaign.
1. Give Readers a Really Good Reason to Join Your List
Some marketers aren’t getting the results they want to see in regards to their email list, so they conclude that email marketing is dying.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth. While consumer behaviors might be shifting in some ways, the power of an email list is just as strong as ever. You just need to know how to grow your list in an ever-changing digital world.
If you are offering something that people want badly enough, they’ll join your list. Everybody loves free stuff. The best email marketing campaigns offer something readers actually want and that they don’t already have.
I’ll show a few examples.
Here’s a bad example. This blog is offering “Free email updates” in exchange for your email address?
Do you need free updates? I already get enough emails in my inbox. Why would I want more?
And that’s one of the biggest problems many email marketers don’t understand. They’re offering lead magnets that nobody wants, and they’re scratching their heads when nobody takes the offer.
Now compare the example above with these examples.
This company is trading 3 free workouts for an email address and a phone number.
People get 3 free workouts anyway when they join, but they’re using it as a lead magnet.
And this company, which offer debt support, trades an Excel budget spreadsheet for an email address.
So if people are seeing your offer but aren’t biting, then you need to figure out why they don’t want it.
Have they already seen it before? Do they perceive it to be of little value to them? Have you over-promised and under-delivered on previous offers?
Once you figure out why they don’t want your offer and also figured out what they do actually want, then offer that to them instead.
Email marketing takes some work to set up, but it’s not complicated.
Make Sure Your Lead Magnet Offers Massive Value
Some readers today are becoming a bit more sophisticated regarding lead magnets. They’ve downloaded so many cheesy free reports and cheaply-thrown together ebooks that it’s become harder to get them to take a chance on you and subscribe to your list.
If you want those email addresses, you’ve got to earn them. And that means that you need to go a step beyond and offer more value than others have been offering in the past.
In any business, it all comes down to value. You can’t build an email marketing list if you aren’t really offering your subscribers something that they consider valuable.
And that’s a crucial distinction to make.
You might consider it valuable, but if it doesn’t speak to their pain points, solve their problems or make their lives easier or more enjoyable in some way, you’ll have a hard time getting them to sign up to your list.
If your readers see your offer and consider it to be valuable, then they’ll sign up to get it. If they don’t, then they won’t. Really understanding your target audience is key to growing your list.
Show Subscribers Exactly What to Expect by Signing Up
One effective way to increase your opt-in rate is to show your readers up front exactly what you’ll be offering them by joining your email list. This is a lot easier if you already have the entire course or autoresponder sequence planned out.
If you’ll be offering them a free email course with 10 emails, then list the titles of all 10 emails in a bullet list right alongside the signup box. They’ll read through the list of articles that you’ll be sending them every week, and that will help them decide right away if this is something they want to subscribe to.
If you’re offering a free ebook, then list out the table of contents — again, right there next to the signup form — so they can see how much value they’ll be getting when they get your ebook.
Just make sure that you deliver exactly what you promised. Don’t promise them an article or video every week and then flake out after a month or two.
If you do that, they’ll forget who you are.
And when you finally do send them another email six months down the road, they’ll be like, “Who is this? I don’t remember signing up for this.” And then they’ll label your email as spam, and the email provider’s spam filters will blackmail your address for spamming.
Try Offering Additional Incentives for Subscribing
You could also offer some additional incentives for new signups. Instead of offering just one free ebook, you could offer a dozen. Or instead of sending them to a video about a particular topic, let them access an entire video training course.
Remember, it’s about value, and your readers want massive value.
Or instead of offering a free digital product, you could offer a free physical product. You could even do a giveaway with a high-value item.
Sublime Text, a text editor app loved by developers, drove email signups by offering ONE (1!) copy of their app to a lucky subscriber.
Would you be surprised if I told you it performed well?
Lifestyle blog Apartment Therapy relied on a sponsor for their giveaway. They partnered with online retailer Houzz to offer a $2,000 shopping spree. For a large advertiser, $2,000 isn’t very much money. But it would make a world of a difference to one lucky subscriber.
Giveaways have proven to be very effective at growing an email list quickly. But you have to make sure that you are targeting your audience for the giveaway. Make sure that the people signing up for your giveaway will also be interested in your blog content. Otherwise, they will unsubscribe just as quickly as they subscribed once the giveaway is over.
There are also a lot of legal technicalities that you need to go along with when doing a giveaway on your blog or on social media. So be sure to do your due diligence and research the ins and outs of subscriber giveaways before you launch.
2. Use Proven Tactics to Persuade People to Join
Email marketing has been around for quite a few years, and marketing in general has been around for much longer. Over the years, marketers have found that many people respond in predictable ways. And they’ve learned to use basic principles of human psychology to trigger the desired responses.
In other words, there are some psychological tactics that work really well and have stood the test of time. Here are some of them that work well with email marketing.
Use a Limited Time Offer. Even better, show a Countdown Timer
Many marketers have seen great results by using countdown timers on their landing pages. The idea is to create a sense of urgency with the reader and push him or her to make a decision.
Do you remember those home shopping networks that offered all kinds of products on television? Each product would have a timer going down in the bottom corner, or it would have a counter showing how many units were still available.
“Hurry up and call our operators right now! Time is running out! Once these units are gone, this special price will be gone forever!”
Brilliant. If the approach works with people, it works with email marketing campaigns.
This technique also pairs very well with live webinars. Set up a live webinar to teach a particular topic that would be of value to your blog readers. Then setup the countdown timer alongside your signup form or put it on your signup landing page. You can use a landing page tool to build these countdown timers, plus a lot of other features.
All else being equal, you’ll find that many people are more likely to join the list and the webinar with when time is limited.
Leverage FOMO Psychology
Beside the countdown timer, there are other ways to create a sense of urgency in your readers.
With the live webinar example, you could also limit the number of slots available to attend the live session. Or you could make it free for the first 30 days and then require everyone else to pay full price once the timer runs out.
This puts further pressure on the reader to make a decision whether to take advantage of the offer or not.
The reason all of these tactics are so effective is that they play on people’s Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). When you’re offering your lead magnet to everyone with zero pressure to commit, and they can just come back later and join at any time, they lose motivation to act now. So they won’t.
But when you put some restraints on that offer and limit the opportunity, that pressure immediately goes to work. And that’s how email marketing campaigns start to see an uptick in subscribers.
Nobody wants to miss out on a great opportunity.
Hire a Copywriter to Write Your Landing Page Copy
Many email marketers start out their business on a shoestring budget. As a result, they end up doing all of the work themselves.
Design the website layout. Come up with all the visual branding features themselves, such as the color scheme, logo, site header and tagline. Write all the content themselves and manage all the social media accounts too.
And they burnout a few weeks into their first project and never get their internet business off the ground.
Offline businesses that create a website to promote their business will often also fall into the same trap.
But if you want to grow a high-conversion email marketing list as quickly as possible, you might need to accept your limitations and call in some experts to help you out.
When it comes to building your email marketing list, no other investment will give you a greater return than your sales letter. The copy that you publish on your landing pages or signup pages can make or break your business. It’s really that important.
And it’s no wonder that many successful email marketers will spend thousands of dollars on a single sales letter. Persuasive sales copy written by a professional copywriter can grow your list faster than just about any other factor.
If you don’t want to go through this effort, take a look at our favorite landing page tools.
3. Continue Driving Traffic to Your Signup Page
You might have one of the best offers ever as your lead magnet, but if nobody sees it, then nobody signs up.
Your blog or website should already have some traffic coming to it every day, but to maximize your signups, you’ll need to drive additional traffic from other sources.
Email marketing is a combination of the right audience with the right offer.
Include Links and Call-to-Actions in Guest Posts
One of the best ways to tap new audiences and get tons of traffic is through guest posting on popular websites, media outlets and industry blogs that are related to your niche. These other websites already have built-in audiences, and many of them will already be warmed up to your content and your offers.
Start reaching out to some of these sites and inquiring about their contributor guidelines. Many of them will allow you to plug your site and even include a link to your signup page. Others will prefer that you only link to your homepage or just to a social media page.
But even those links will still result in more traffic to your offers, if you are incorporating some of these other tips into your signup campaigns.
Conduct a Sign-up Campaign on Social Media
Use all of your social media accounts to drive traffic to your signup pages. You’ll need to customize the content you’re putting out so that it is native to each platform. But don’t limit yourself to just one platform or even your main ones.
There’s no law that says you have to limit yourself to using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. There are tons of other platforms out there with built-in audiences that might be interested in your content, your products and your services.
And we’re not just talking about Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat here — though those are also excellent platforms for businesses to leverage to send traffic to their opt-in forms. But there are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of smaller social media platforms out there that are vying for a slice of the market.
Don’t be afraid to test the waters with some of these other platforms. Sure, they might not have the reach that Facebook and YouTube have. But then again, you might actually find it easier to reach new audiences because there is so little competition on some of those other platforms.
Offer Multiple Sign-up Opportunities on Your Blog
How many opt-in forms do you have on your website for people to join your email list? Is there just a single form on your page? If so, then you are making a huge mistake. Your email marketing campaign will be missing hundreds or thousands of sign-ups.
Your website should have multiple offers to join your list. And these offers shouldn’t just be on your homepage or in your sidebar. You should have them on every page, on every post of your website.
And more than one per page is ideal.
You want your email marketing sign-up forms everywhere.
Include a popup form that shows up once a new readers scrolls halfway down the page.
Have one at the top of your sidebar that locks in place at the top of the screen when scrolling, so that it is always visible.
Have one in your footer too.
Add one at the end of each blog post, right after the last sentence.
The more your readers see these signup forms, the more likely they will eventually opt in to one of them and join your list.
It might take a while, but eventually they will bite.
Use Paid Ads to Boost Traffic to Sign-up Page
One last way to drive more traffic to your offers is to just go out and buy traffic. There are tons of ways you can do this. First, you should buy Google ads. That’s a no-brainer. But the major social media platforms also have advertising opportunities. You can buy Facebook ads, Instagram ads, Twitter ads and more.
Social media ads and Google ads are so much cheaper than traditional advertising on television, radio, newspapers and so forth. It just doesn’t make sense to not take advantage of these platforms. And with social media ads, you can really fine-tune the demographics to zero in on your target audience.
Growing your email list isn’t always easy. You might think that you’re doing all the right things, yet you could still not be getting good results. If your efforts having been yielding the kinds of numbers that you need to build your business, then try some of these email marketing tips and see how they work for you.
Use a Lead Magnet with Your Paid Ads to Drive Signups
Try doing that giveaway. Try using popups. Add some extra signup forms at strategic places on your site. Double down on your social media accounts and even pay to boost some posts that link to your lead magnets.
And take a look at your blog content, put yourself in your readers’ shoes and ask whether or not your content is really offering much value in the first place.
It might seem like a mystery, but there’s a logical reason why you aren’t getting the results you want. Keep working at it. Keep testing different ideas and keep measuring your results. The answers will emerge as you continue to work on your business.