15 List Building Mistakes Ranked From Minor to Downright Evil
List building is some of the most important marketing work you’ll ever do for your business. The trouble is, there are a lot of ways to screw it up. Check the roster below to see if you’re making any of these classic list building mistakes.
1) Your opt-in form button says “Subscribe”.
Unless you’ve actually tested this, the odds are very high you’re losing subscribers because of lame opt-in button copy. What’s the best opt-in button copy to use? It depends on your site. But most of the time, “Sign me up” or “Get weekly updates” or any other call to action that complements your opt-in headline are all good choices.
2) Your opt-in form is confusing or it has more than 3 fields.
Your opt-in form has to look easy to fill out and easy to understand. People will not spend a moment trying to figure out your form. They’ll just ignore it. The easier your opt-in box looks to fill out, the more subscribers you’ll get.
3) You haven’t customized your confirmation pages.
This isn’t the worst list building mistake ever, but it’s one you don’t need to make. set custom confirmation pages throughout your email signup process. Don’t just use the default pages your email service provider gives you. That’s a huge branding opportunity wasted, and a way to engage your subscribers enough so that they finish the signup process.
If you’re not convinced, here’s a stat for you – it’s not uncommon for up to 30% of your new subscribers to not confirm their email addresses in a double opt-in (also called confirmed opt-in) email signup process. So if you’re using double opt-in, and 30% of the people who start the first step of your sign up process never finish it, that’s normal. But if you add these custom confirmation pages, and you make the process engaging, you can save at least half of those otherwise lost subscribers. That means 15% more list growth, just from customizing a few pages. How much is that worth to you?
4) You’re not using a lead magnet or some other kind of signup incentive.
Whether it’s a free report or a 15% off coupon, you’ve got to give people a compelling reason to sign up for your list. Just describing how great your emails are is nice, but it’s not enough. Telling people they’ll get special deals and insider news is also good… but again, it’s not enough.
Remember – it’s not 1997 anymore. Nobody gets excited about getting another email. You have to offer your visitors a reason to sign up for your list that is stronger than their resistance to getting yet another email sent to their already overflowing inbox.
Adding a lead magnet or signup incentive can increase your site’s opt-in rate by 30 to 100%. It’s worth a bit of extra effort.
5) You’re not using a pop-up.
Whether you call it a popover, an interstitial, or a lightbox, or anything else – use it. Pop-ups can increase opt-in rates by more than 1000%. AWeber reported a case study from earlier this year where one of their customers increased her site’s opt-in rate by 1,375% just by adding a lightbox. The lightbox got an opt-in rate of 5.5%. The same site’s sidebar opt-in box had been getting an opt-in rate of only .4%.
If you’re still resisting pop-ups because you think they’re annoying, then adjust the settings of your pop-up to make it less invasive. Set the pop-up to show only after someone’s been on your site for at least a minute, and set the pop-up to show only once per visit. And, of course, include an incentive to signup in your pop-up, just as you would with any other opt-in form.
6) You’ve got a link to an opt-in page, not the actual embedded opt-in form on each page.
I know it takes up more space to include the full form, but if you want subscribers, don’t make people click through to another page to sign up. Put the actual form in, not just a link. This can double your opt-in rate.
7) You never defined a goal in your Google Analytics account for your email signups.
Not every list-building tactic you try will work. So set up a simple goal in Google Analytics so you know where your new subscribers are coming from. Then do what works to build your list, rather than wasting time on what doesn’t.
8) You built your email list, then never mailed to it.
This is one of the most common mistakes I see. It’s OK – I’ve done this too. But you don’t have to. Just set up RSS to email in your email marketing service and every time you publish a blog post, your subscribers will get an email. It’s not as good as designing a weekly email combining a bunch of content, but it’s a good start.
9) You’re using a WordPress Plugin to manage and mail to your list instead of a full-fledged email service provider.
Don’t do this. WordPress plugins are no match for what a good email service provider can do for you. Besides, if you’ve got a list that’s less than 2,500 people, MadMimi will give you a free account.
Don’t go cheap with your list. It’s one of the most valuable assets your company has – it’s right up there with your website.
10) Your site looks untrustworthy.
Maybe it’s the eight different typefaces. Or the black background. Or how 70% of your page space is ads. Or that you’ve got articles about everything from weight loss to relationships to “Clickbank riches”. Whatever your offense, the result is a site that puts visitors on alert. And so you can do everything else right, but still get very few subscribers.
11) You’re hiding the opt-in form.
Add opt-in forms near the top and bottom of every page on your site. The worst version of this mistake has only one opt-in form on the entire site. If you’re doing that, and your list isn’t growing, it’s not hard to see why.
12) You bought an email list.
It certainly is a fast way to build a list, but it’s also one of the worst ways ever to build a list. There are many reasons why bought lists are a bad idea. The first is you may not be able to even use your bought list: Respectable email service providers don’t allow their customers to mail to bought lists because they often contain spam traps – bogus email addresses certain anti-spam entities release specifically to catch spammers. Mail to one of those addresses, and you’re branded a spammer and your deliverability rates tank. No good email service provider will risk this.
Bought lists are also bad because they tend to be brutally overmailed. You’ll get a ton of spam complaints (another reason good email providers don’t let you mail to these lists). Finally, you’ll just get rotten results. You can send a good offer to a list of 50,000 bought names and NOT GET ONE ORDER. Seriously. I made this mistake for you a few years back – please don’t insist on making it again for yourself. Of all the list building mistakes I see, this is the most painful. Bought lists can be very expensive.
13) You scraped your email list.
Deep under the seamy of the Internet, there is software that can go out and scrape up people’s email addresses and gather them into a list. Don’t you ever, ever use this kind of software. It’s NOT okay to “gather”, “collect” or in any way take people’s email address and then add them to a list without their permission.
Many marketers – even experienced, well-meaning marketers – sometimes wonder if they can’t just add their LinkedIn contacts to their email list. This is NOT okay. Do not mail to people unless they have specifically raised their hand to hear from you. Anything else is spam. This list building mistake can actually get you in legal trouble.
14) You stole someone’s list.
It’s unbelievable I have to include this, but I am pained to say I’ve actually heard of this happening, and more than once. I’ve even heard of new businesses being created from a stolen list. (No, I did NOT participate in that). If you do this, and then find nothing but frustration and failure and misery in running your business… YOU DESERVE IT.
And the #1 list building mistake is…
Never getting started. This trumps any other mistake you could possibly make.
Hey, everybody makes mistakes. You’re going to make mistakes. Get over it, or you’ll never have any list at all.
Pam, you are a marvel!
Thank you for all this top-notch information!
Hi Pam Neely, thanks for sharing with us common list building mistakes. As a marketer, I have never been in the favor of buying or renting an email list as one can’t trust the quality of the list. The only list one can depend on is the list one grows organically. And I’m sure one can build an email list fast by avoiding these mistakes.
I think i made 5 to 6 of these mistakes, i will never do them again,Thank you Pam for the great post!!