Get In Tune

Keep your site visitors dialed in and buying.
This story first appeared in the May 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

You're practicing good opt-in etiquette by asking for permission to contact site visitors: "Check here if you'd like to receive special offers via e-mail." But with this yes-or-no style of permission marketing, you're losing sales opportunities. Instead of an on-or-off option, why not offer a "volume dial"? Let visitors choose the degree of communication they want from you, and more will tune in to get your e-mail.

It's becoming harder to get consumers to accept opt-in offers. Unsolicited e-mail, also known as spam, discourages people from subscribing to e-mail. Nobody wants their e-mail address passed on to companies that send spam. A 2002 study by MessageLabs, an e-mail security company in the UK, found 1 in every 12 e-mails was spam. It's no wonder customers are leery.

Plus, there are simply more opt-in offers available today-leading to opt-in overload. You can still offer an opt-in program, but if people aren't signing up, try the following:

  • Offer a one-time e-mail. Customers are more likely to accept a single e-mail from you. If it's a good coupon, a free report or a newsletter, they'll opt in for more. Let them know they'll receive the e-mail within 24 hours and have the option of subscribing at that time. Use an auto-responder to automate the process.
  • Include special offers. When customers place an order, you have two opportunities to communicate with them through e-mail: payment confirmation and shipment notification. Both are great occasions to include a coupon or a newsletter tip, and then request sign-up. Customers are now receptive. Remove or revise the second offer for customers who do subscribe the first time. Otherwise, they'll get the offer twice and may become irritated.
  • Address their concerns. If you don't sell or distribute customers' e-mail addresses, tell them so. Also state how often you will send e-mail. These two simple actions will encourage your Web site visitors to say yes. Take your sign-up process one step further by providing a "double opt-in." This means sending subscribers an e-mail inviting them to confirm their subscription.

A few years ago, I subscribed to Garden.com's online newsletter. Each colorful HTML e-mail included a substantial savings on seasonal plants or flowers. I bought several flower bulbs from those e-mails. And I'll confess: I didn't even have a garden or a backyard. But the newsletter didn't come too often. Nor did I notice a flood of spam from other companies after subscribing. And the photos showing beautiful flowers at exceptional discounts sold me. Your opt-in program can generate sales, too.

Opt-in e-mail is a low-cost way to reach customers and site visitors. And it works. According to a 2001 study by Opt-in News, 50 percent of participants claimed they were more likely to buy online from opt-in e-mail. Of the survey participants, 37 percent preferred newsletters, and 13 percent chose direct e-mail. These statistics indicate they are willing to listen; we just need to encourage them to dial in.


Speaker and freelance writer Catherine Sedaowns an Internet marketing agency and is author ofSearch Engine Advertising.

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