These days, consumers know that their personal information is gold, and they won't give it to you unless you give them a really compelling reason to opt in to your list. And it's definitely worth your while to give them the incentive because a good opt-in e-mail list will start generating profits for you immediately--and continue to do so well into the future.

Your opt-in incentive should:

  • Offer specific benefits
  • Relate to the reason people are visiting your site in the first place
  • Give visitors a reason to look forward to your e-mails or keep returning to your site

There are tons of different incentives you can use to encourage people to give you their personal information, but not every offer will suit every website or business.

Most people think of newsletters right off the bat, for instance. But for some businesses, a free newsletter just won't work. Suppose, for example, that your site sells washers and dryers. You're going to be hard pressed to come up with interesting, relevant information about laundry for your free newsletter every month.

Before you start a newsletter, think about how much relevant information you can deliver to your audience and how much time you have to put it together so it can be delivered regularly. If it turns out that a newsletter isn't a good fit for your business, here are eight other ways to collect your prospects' e-mail addresses:

1. Offer a free course.
If you have a lot of know-how in your field, you can turn your "expert" status into a free multipart course. Ask yourself what kind of information visitors are seeking when they come to your site and what you can teach them.

Your course can contain text, audio, graphics--even video--whatever suits the material you're delivering. Just send your subscribers a link to the web page where your course can be found. Unlike e-mail, your website doesn't put any restrictions on how much rich media you can feature.

Once you've developed the course, you can use delayed autoresponders to e-mail it to your subscribers at specified intervals, exposing them to your business and your offer repeatedly. And the best part is, you're contacting them with information they've specifically requested.

2. Offer a free e-book.
An e-book doesn't need to be hundreds of pages long to be useful. An information-packed e-book can be as short as eight to 10 pages and still provide major value for your opt-in subscribers.

You can also make your e-book viral by encouraging your customers to send your e-book to others. Your message can spread like wildfire--and help you attract tons of highly targeted, potential customers.

3. Offer downloadable articles.
If your site contains a lot of useful, original, content-rich articles, one of the best ways to collect e-mail addresses is to require that visitors to your site opt in to your list if they want to download those articles in full.

As long as you offer useful information and as long as the downloadable articles contain something that people can't get for free in the version you've posted on your site, you can expect to get a ton of sign-ups using this strategy.

Now maybe you're not comfortable writing, or your business isn't suited to a written opt-in incentive. The following opt-in offers don't require much writing at all:

4. Offer other "downloadables."
Articles aren't the only items you can offer for download on your website. Why not offer e-cards, screen savers, desktop wallpapers or templates that your visitors can use in exchange for their opt-in information?

For instance, if you sell books about pet care, you can offer e-cards or printable greeting cards with photos of cute animals. Or if you sell beach home rentals, you could easily create a screen saver with pictures of some of your most beautiful destinations.

You can even offer a free monthly subscription or members-only area for these special items.

5. Offer a regular contest, puzzle or game.
Depending on the kind of business you run, there's a multitude of different options for this type of opt-in incentive. Some examples include:

  • A contest to win one of your products. But remember, don't offer to give away the primary product you sell. People will enter the contest hoping to win--and leave your site without considering an actual purchase.
  • A contest to win an item (or a coupon for a percentage off an item) related to your product. Say you sell party favors--hats, toys and streamers. You could hold a contest to win a free birthday cake from a bakery in your area or a coupon for a party rental place.
  • A weekly puzzle, game or quiz. The type of puzzle is up to you. You can set it up as a contest and draw a name from the winning entries to award a prize, or you can require that people give you their opt-in information to get the answer.


6. Take a survey.
Surveys give you a good excuse to appear in relevant newsgroups, forums or related newsletters and provide a link to the survey page on your website. Let participants know you'll send them the results if they give you their name and e-mail address. Because participants have to come to your site to fill out the survey, you should be able to take advantage of all that new traffic and generate a significant number of new opt-ins.

7. Offer a members-only forum or discussion board.
Members-only forums and discussion boards can be a major draw for people in niche markets. You can step in and provide a place where like-minded people meet and discuss their hobbies or their concerns.

Besides attracting opt-ins, this will also give you a great opportunity to learn more about your customers and what kinds of products or services you can develop to further meet their needs--and grow your business. You'll need to establish some community rules and moderate the forum, but in the meantime, your subscribers will be creating valuable content for you.

8. Offer members-only specials.
One of the easiest ways to encourage visitors to opt in with their personal information is to offer them a chance to save money. It can be as simple as something like this: "Do you want to receive our special MEMBERS-ONLY offers? Every month we bring exclusive deals to our subscribers that you can't get anywhere else! To start saving now, just sign up below." This is a great way to drive opt-ins and sales and to make your potential customers feel appreciated before they even buy your products.

There are many different opt-in incentives available--you just need to apply a little creativity to choose the one that's right for you and your target market. The first step in creating a solid opt-in strategy is to consider the people you want to opt in to your list. Just as the best businesses are created in response to the needs of a specific niche market, so are the best opt-in offers. With some customizing, any one of these ideas could build you a highly targeted opt-in list.