Making it harder for someone to subscribe to your email list may sound counterintuitive if you’re feeling generous, and downright foolish if you’re not. For the last decade, you have heard all manner of advice and tactics for making it as easy as possible to add all the names you can find to your house list. Why do we now need to spin 180 degrees and make it harder? Do we suddenly want fewer subscribers?
In a word, sort of. The email game has changed and is no longer strictly about the ROI of any individual message. Rather, the impact of engagement metrics on deliverability and the migration of subscribers’ communication preferences to social media and other channels means that the battleground for modern email marketers is Attention. Brands that learn how to earn and hold attention better will win – in the inbox and everywhere else.
There are a number of ways to lift attention – better content, improved targeting, deeper engagement across all channels. Another way stop trying to attract the attention of people who just are not that into you. By making it a little harder to join your email list, a brand is more likely to attract subscribers who are predisposed to attention. A little added friction between “nice to meet you” and “thanks for joining our email list” will winnow out the underengaged, leaving you with new subscribers who behave like your favorite existing subscribers. Here is how:
1. Telegraph your email content and frequency at signup. The principal reason people unsubscribe from email lists is because content is too frequent. Before they unsubscribe they start ignoring your messages, or moving them to junk, or otherwise compromising your engagement metrics. By letting your would-be subscribers know up front that you intend to email them every day, or 3x per week, or not at all for 3 months and then every other day for 6 weeks in a row, the better prepared they are for your brand’s impact on their inbox. If your frequency is high, you may not win as many subscribers as you would if you didn’t tell people how often you plan to mail them, but the ones who do go ahead and signup have by definition given you the greenlight to proceed according to schedule. That much email? I’m good with that – bring it.
2. Use a Double Opt-In. Double opt-ins are not required by law and many email experts do not advocate them because they add an extra step. That is precisely the reason why I do think they are a good idea. Where they are principally useful for helping to ensure engaged subscribers is when a customer is making a purchase or registering at your website, and have the option to join the email list as part of another process where they are providing their name and contact info. These opt-ins are often overlooked (many are designed to be that way), so a confirmation email informing the customer of what s/he has just done and asking for a final confirmation before joining the list gives those who submitted before they read a welcome second chance to consider joining the list.
3. Use QR Codes and other Offline Signup Forms. QR codes may be a convenience to marketers, but pulling out a phone, launching a seldom-used app, aiming it at a code and then pecking in an email address with your thumb is a lot less convenient to a customer than writing their name and email address on a piece of paper to join a list. So anyone who goes through the trouble obviously likes your brand very much and is exactly the kind of subscriber you would like to attract. Work QR codes and subscribe-by-txt initiatives into all of your terrestrial marketing. It won’t ring up huge volumes of new signups, but you will know the subscribers you are getting are highly engaged. (And you will know they are mobile-active, which helps with targeting later on.)
An important distinction here is to make it a little more difficult to complete the subscription process, not start it. You still want links to your signup page as prominent as ever, and you want to continue to tout the benefits of your emails as loudly as possible. You are not trying to hide the option to subscribe, only to pre-qualify your new subscribers a little better.