The REAL art of list-building – and how to build yours

How can you grow an impressive list of engaged people who don’t just open your emails, but click through to your links? We reveal the real art of list-building!

If you run an online business, one phrase you can’t avoid is ‘list-building’. Apparently we all need to be doing it, and the bigger the list the better! In fact, many online businesses use the size of their list as a key element of their marketing strategy, to demonstrate the size (and implied) success of their business.

But is it really that simple? We don’t think so.

On the one hand yes, we absolutely agree that a genuinely large list of engaged customers who open and respond to your communications is more or less essential for a successful online business.

But an artificially inflated list with subscribers who never open, let alone respond to your communications is pointless. It may look impressive that you have 20,000 people on your list, but if most of them don’t even know who you are, how are they going to make you more successful?

It’s important to grow your list

It’s not difficult to grow a subscriber list – all you need is a good strategy and some commitment to the time and effort it entails. (If you need help with a strategy, we recommend Nathalie Lussier’s free 30 Day List Building Challenge.)

But it’s important to bear in mind a few important points when building your list:

  • Who do you want to attract to your business?
  • What do they want from you?
  • What are you going to do with them once they’re signed up?

A clever list-building strategy is clear about who it needs to attract and what they want. With this knowledge you know where to reach out to people, what messaging is going to work and what offers to tempt them with.

And a well-planned marketing strategy will enable you to engage your new subscribers, promote the right products or services to them and ensure that you reap the rewards of your list-building efforts. (You can learn more about how to target your digital marketing here.)

Your list also needs to be well-maintained

Your list-building efforts don’t stop once you’ve attracted subscribers and devised a brilliant marketing plan either. Just like your home, your list needs to be regularly cleaned and maintained – even if it means that you are seemingly senselessly deleting subscribers that you have worked hard to acquire.

Why? Because a clean, healthy list will deliver the results you want, as opposed to simply giving you an ego boost.

It’s something we try to do regularly. A few weeks ago, we started getting hundreds of new subscribers a day. Initially we were delighted – but we were also confused. We weren’t on a list-building drive at the time and didn’t understand where they were coming from.

On closer inspection, we realised there was something funny about the email addresses. The names didn’t make sense, and indeed when we Googled a few they were clearly made up.

It turns out that a spambot of some description had found our site and clearly loved what we did! But as nice as it was to get hundreds of new subscribers every day, we didn’t really see the value in sending out emails to an unresponsive computer programme, so we deleted the emails, worked out where they were coming from and fixed the glitch.

Remove people who don’t open your emails

Another thing we do periodically is remove anyone from our list who hasn’t opened our emails for a set period of time. Again, there’s no point in sending out offers and newsletters if no one is reading them! And we don’t want to bombard uninterested people with our emails.

As a result, our open rate is well above what Mailchimp claims is the average for our industry (the average is around 22%). In fact, for the first few months of launching Talented Ladies Club our open rate was around 70%. It’s dropped down from that now, but is still way above the average.

Our all-important click through rate (the number of times people click on links in your email or newsletter) is much higher than average too. In many ways, your click through rate is the real test of your list’s success. If you have the right offers, presented in the right way, to the right people then they’ll click on your links, which ultimately, for most of your communications, is the point of sending them.

Check the REAL stats behind a large list

It’s not just your own list quality and size you need to bear in mind. If you decide to promote your business through someone else’s list, you need to ask the right questions to ensure you get the results you want.

Don’t just accept their list size as proof that advertising to it is good value for money. Ask them what their open and click through rates are too. (These should be a percentage.) To get an idea of whether it’s good or not, here are Mailchimp’s email marketing benchmarks for each industry.

As well as assessing open and click through rates, make sure that your business, and indeed offer, are relevant to the typical subscriber of the list you’re paying for.

Why did the subscribers sign up for this particular list? What do they normally respond best to? What’s their customer profile? These are all questions you need to ask to make sure that any investment in email marketing using a third party list is wise. (If you want to advertise in our weekly email newsletter, get in touch for more information.)

Experiment and see what works

The only way to come up with a brilliant list-building strategy for your ideal audience is to experiment and see what works.

Over time you’ll learn what type of offers and freebies they respond to, and in what format. You’ll hone your Facebook ads down to the perfect combination of words and image. And know what type of pop-up your site visitors best respond to.

But whatever strategy you use, it’s important to do something. Simply crossing your fingers and hoping people will stumble across the email sign-up box hidden away on your site isn’t going to win you many fans!

And finally – 10 quick tips to grow your list

If you do want to grow your list, we’ll leave you with 10 tips shared by experts on how to do so effectively (bearing in mind our advice above!):

  1. Create an opt-in box on your site (top right is the best spot).
  2. Encourage people to sign up with a freebie, such as a checklist or ebook.
  3. Design a squeeze page for your freebie.
  4. Experiment with a pop-up on your site.
  5. Write guest blogs for sites your ideal audience visit.
  6. Offer a free webinar.
  7. Put an email opt-in in your Facebook page tabs.
  8. Run Facebook ads or sponsored posts for your freebie.
  9. Run a free giveaway or competition on your Facebook page.
  10. Tweet links to your freebie squeeze page.

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