How to Build a Responsive (and Profitable) Ecommerce Mailing List


There's no question how important email marketing is when it comes to running a successful ecommerce business.

When compared to other channels, email subscribers are more responsive, they have a stronger connection with your business, and they buy more of your products.

And every subscriber counts. Whether you’re gaining one per week, one per day, or one per minute.

But how to you go about getting people to join yet another newsletter - not to mention actually buying your stuff once they've signed up? 

At the end of the day you need the right mix of incentives, sign-up forms and high quality, valuable content. 

Let's take a look at how to put all these ingredients together so you can drive more sign-ups and sales.

Choosing the Right Sign Up Incentive

The first stage of building your mailing list is choosing the right incentive, or 'ethical bribe', to offer people in exchange for joining your list.

This step is all about getting permission to follow up with your potential customers over time.

There are lots of options you can choose from - the key is to make sure it's something that's compelling. For most ecommerce businesses, this is usually an immediate discount or the promise of getting future discounts and information about special, members-only sales delivered by email.

There are also a number of email marketing and incentive focused apps and services you can use to help make this step easier like Incentivibe and ViralSweep for example. 

Another good incentive is a free piece of content that your target customer would find valuable and would put your subscriber into a buying frame of mind. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.

  • A women’s clothing store could create seasonal fashion guides to help women learn the latest trends and how to coordinate outfits and accessories - specifically, outfits and accessories they sell.
  • A bookseller could offer sample chapters of their latest / best sellers.
  • A musician could offer a free MP3 download of their new song.
  • A photographer could offer a free high-resolution wallpaper download.

No matter what industry you're in, coming up with a compelling incentive is an effective way to kickstart your list building efforts.

Creating High Converting Landing Pages

Once you’ve decided on your incentive, your next job is to create a landing page - sometimes called a squeeze page. A squeeze page is simply a page on your website that is 100% focused on getting people to subscribe to your mailing list.

Why do you need a landing page? You can use it in a variety of ways to help build your list.

  • Add it as a link in your social profiles.
  • Advertise it using Google AdWords and Facebook Ads.
  • Link to it in blog posts.
  • Link to it in emails (within the body or email signatures).

Essentially, it’s just an easy to reference page that you can get people to and convince them to subscribe. It has no distractions - no other objectives.

Your landing page content should include a persuasive headline, some text or a video about your incentive and the benefits of joining your mailing list, and an opt-in form.

Everything else - like your sidebar - should be removed.

Placing Strategic Opt-in Forms

Aside from your landing page, the most important element for driving opt-ins on your website is strategically placed opt-in forms. Opt-in forms are just a fancy word for the email sign-up boxes.

Popular email marketing software solutions will have handy opt-in form generators that will provide you with a snippet of code that you can just drag and drop into various places around your site. 

Here are some of the more popular services:

While it may sound excessive to add multiple opt-in forms to your website, it’s really not. If you had eye-tracking analytics on every visitor to your website, you would find that they do not look at every part of your website, from header to footer.

They may just look at the content on a blog post or your about page, your navigation menu, or your sidebar. Hence, you need to make sure that any one spot they look at has a conversion point for your mailing list - an opt-in form.

So where should you place an opt-in? Here are good places to consider.

  • Your header / navigation bar. This can be an email field with simple text like 'join', 'subscribe', 'sign up', 'get updates', 'get exclusive discounts', 'get our free fashion guide', etc.
  • Your sidebar. This can be just an email field or name and address field with a sentence about your free incentive and what your mailing list has to offer.
  • Your About Page. After you tell visitors about your business and the benefits of your products, get them to connect and learn more by subscribing. This can be just an email field or name and address field with a few sentences about why people should subscribe.
  • At the bottom of your blog posts. If people make it to the end of your blog post, chances are they enjoyed your content and are ready to take action. Having a strategically placed form here gives them a clear option for what to do next.
  • Your website footer. Let’s say your visitor bypasses all of the above fields. If they do make it to your website footer, they’re still interested. Capture them as subscribers. 
  • Your checkout page. One of the best ways to build your list is to simply make sales. The services mentioned above all have integrations, whether it's their own or a third party app, that will allow you to add customers to your email list after they make a purchase.

Most visitors will be blind to a few of these spots so having multiple forms is important.

Also, if you run a brick and mortar store, don’t forget about offline opportunities. Email service providers provide apps that allow you to capture subscribers in-person. One such app is Chimpadeedoo from MailChimp which lets subscribers enter their email address on your iPad or Android tablet. Even if you’re offline, it will collect the email addresses and import them into your MailChimp account the next time you're online.

Staying in Touch

As you start growing your mailing list, you need to make sure you're staying in touch with your subscribers. The last thing you want is to build up a great list, not email them for months, and then have them either not open your emails or unsubscribe because they’ve forgotten all about you and why they joined in the first place.

You have two options for keeping your subscribers interested in your business. The first is to send regular, manual updates, such as newsletters, information about your industry that your customers would want to keep up-to-date about, or links to your latest pieces of content.  Preferably this would be high quality content that has independent value but that also has sales and conversions in mind. This option is best for businesses who have new things to talk about on a consistent basis.

The second option is to put your customers in an autoresponder series. This is a series of emails that you set up in advance and scheduled to send to new subscribers within a specific timeframe as they join your list. 

Your first email to your subscriber would have the incentive you promised - the discount, free guide, link to a download, etc. The next email, sent a few days later, would follow up with the subscriber, asking how they liked the incentive. The next email, sent a few days later, would let subscribers know about some products and services that will be of interest based on the free incentive they received.

This option is best for businesses who have pretty static products or simply those who want to automate their sales funnel in a set it and (almost) forget it kind of way. I say almost because if you do have updates to your products and services, you'll want to update your autoresponder accordingly for future subscribers.

Bringing it All Together

When it comes down to it, building your list is all about getting permission and providing value. To get permission, think about what incentives or high quality content you can create in order to drive sign-ups. Once you've got people joining your list, focus on sending your subscribers a balanced mix of more high quality content with occasional sales and promotional messages mixed in.

In our next post in this series, we'll be looking at how some of the major online brands are building their lists and driving sales with email marketing.

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