As different as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest are, they have one thing in common. They may be cutting edge social networks but all of them use “old-fashioned” emails as a big part of their marketing – sending out regular targeted updates to draw users back to their websites. This is a step-by-step guide to how you can do the same.
No matter what your business model, having a mailing list will boost your bottom line by doing one or more of these:
* Encouraging return visits for more pageviews and ad clicks
* Letting customers know of new features or offers or encouraging premium upgrades
* Marketing your own or affiliate products
Isn’t email marketing dead?
Not by a long way.
Email remains the most preferred way for consumers to receive permission-based marketing messages. While 6% say they prefer social media and 5% text messaging, a huge 77% say they prefer email.
That is not a typo.
And it’s not just older users. Even in the 15-17 age range, only 8% like getting marketing messages through social media, 10% via text messages, with 66% preferring email (source: ExactTarget’s 2012 Channel Performance Survey).
That’s settled then.
I’m going to walk you through every aspect of creating a mailing list, showing you how to:
1. Add an effective signup form to your site
2. Send your mailings at the best possible time for the most reads and clicks
3. Choose an email mailing company to make all this easy to do
The newsletter sign up box
Without an enticing but trustworthy subscription box, your mailing list efforts will be wasted – so spend time testing different locations, wording and designs.
There are three placements that consistently attract more subscribers.
1. On the right, at the top of the sidebar
2. Under the content, attracting engaged readers who have read your post right to the end
3. Above the content
Because multiple sign up forms boost subscription rates, try placing forms both on the sidebar and under or above the content.
What about “popup overlays”?
Personally, I find them too annoying. That said, used wisely they can boost your subscription rate considerably. The leading WordPress plugin for popups is Popup Domination.
Now we’ve looked at the best placements, let’s focus on the design.
Tips to get more subscriptions
First thing – make the form as short as possible.
People don’t like filling in forms. The longer it is, the fewer people will fill it out. That’s why the most effective subscription forms usually only ask for an email address.
The key components of the form are the headline, descriptive text and the subscribe button.
The headline needs to be short, clear and enticing. Don’t try to be too clever. Just make it obvious this is where people can sign up for your free newsletter. If nothing else, “Get free updates” is a good start.
Under the headline you may want to include a brief description to clarify what the newsletter is and how often you send it.
Here’s why. Users are cautious about handing over their email address. The two things they fear most about mailing lists are a deluge of emails or that they’ll be spammed by “offers”, or worse.
Because of this, make sure your signup form looks squeaky clean and is up front about how often you send mailings. If you’re planning an ad hoc schedule, say something like “no more than twice a week”.
Keep the wording on the subscribe button short and upbeat. Avoid words that sound too much like a sales pitch. Good examples include, “Join now”, “Sign up” or “Get updates”.
Avoid words like, “subscribe” or “subscription” which people subconsciously associate with having to make a payment.
When to send out mailings
Unless your business focuses on weekend activities – a local events listing service, for example – avoid sending your mailing out on Saturday or Sunday (weekend-themed lists should be mailed Thursday to give them a chance to be read in time).
Because most emails are read during work hours, Friday is another day to avoid – people are too busy concentrating on finishing the week’s work and leaving the office. A recent study by email marketing firm eROI found that almost no marketing / mailing list emails are opened after midday on Friday.
That leaves the best days as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. When sending on these days, the key statistics you need to look at are open-rate (how many people read your message) and the click-through-rate (how many clicked a link in the message).
The same survey by eROI – analyzing 7.7 million marketing emails sent by 6000 companies – found that although Tuesday and Thursday are the biggest days for volume of emails sent, they’re also the weekdays with the lowest open rate and click through rate.
Monday and Wednesday have the best open and click through rates, with Monday being the best.
Best time of day
This is much more straightforward.
You just need to hit the inbox when the user has it open and has time to read your message. This means targeting the time soon after arriving at work or just after lunch. Those are times when people tend to be open to reading emails.
That means good mailing times are 9-10am or 1-2pm.
Use these days and times as a guide but keep a close eye on the open and click-through rates reported in your mailing list software. That’s the definitive guide to what works best for your audience.
Choosing an email marketing service
Although you can install software on your web hosting to send out mailing lists, there are several extremely good reasons not to do that.
The two main ones are that your web host probably won’t allow it (especially if you have a large list) and that your site could become the target of hackers, eager to get their evil paws on a list of email addresses.
Instead, use a dedicated emailing service.
Aweber vs MailChimp
I’m going to compare both in terms of price, ease of making a sign up form, sending a mailing out and viewing email campaign statistics.
Both companies charge based on the number of subscribers. With a list of less than 2,000 subscribers MailChimp is free.
Aweber’s lowest price is $19 a month for up to 500 subscribers (though they do offer the first month for an introductory $1).
Once subscriber numbers get above 2,500 the price differences between the two are negligible, with Aweber charging $49 monthly and MailChimp $50. As the subscriber numbers increase, MailChimp becomes more expensive. A 25,000 subscriber list on MailChimp costs $150 per month, on Aweber it’s $130.
So, for small lists MailChimp is cheaper (or free) but Aweber is the better price for large lists.
Making a sign up formThis round goes to MailChimp who provide simple but contemporary looking forms with a variety of pre-baked templates for non-technical folks. At the same time, web developers and code monkeys can access the raw HTML code to customize the form any way they like.
Both companies offer a good range of design templates to use in campaigns but the MailChimp interface is more comfortable than Aweber’s, which is kind of clunky.
Something to think about is that while both companies offer autoresponders to automate welcome messages, etc., with MailChimp that’s a premium service not available with a free account (premium accounts start from $10).
It used to be that Aweber had the better performance tracking by a long way. New features introduced by MailChimp have evened things out. Now there’s less of a difference between the two, though Aweber arguably still has the edge.
Both companies offer performance tracking which allows you to analyze:
* How many subscribers sign-up but don’t act on the opt-in confirmation email
* Which links are clicked the most
* How many members have unsubscribed
* How much money you’re making with each mailing (if you’re marketing a product)
MailChimp also allows you to integrate email campaign reporting with Google Analytics and social media linking from platforms like Twitter.
Aweber wins this one easily.
It has phone support (including for international customers) and live chat available through most of the day every day, along with email support for less urgent issues.
MailChimp only offers email support and it can be a little on the slow side.
Summary: which is best for you?
If you’re an analytics addict, don’t like the idea of being marooned from support and don’t need easy access to programming code, then the best fit for you is probably Aweber.
MailChimp is better if you’re looking for a friendlier, more intuitive interface and like the idea of starting a mailing list for free.
What you should do now
Start building your mailing list!
Remember that unlike traffic from search engines – which tends to fluctuate – mailing list numbers are fairly constant and will steadily increase every week.
By the way, whether or not you like the sound of either company, both of them have a selection of guides in their resource sections that are worth checking out.