From the May 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

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.