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How to Build an Opt-In E-List of Customers and Prospects This may sound like a "duh" step in your marketing prospect, but not having an elist could squash any real progress you make using emails and enewsletters.

By Robert W. Bly

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The following excerpt is from Robert W. Bly's The Content Marketing Handbook. Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble or click here to buy it directly from us and SAVE 60% on this book when you use code MARKET2021 through 4/3/21.

If you want to ramp up your online marketing program, your first step should be to build a large, opt-in elist of customers and prospects (unless you already have one).

That's because without a significant online "house file" (list of opt-in subscribers), you can only reach prospects in your niche by renting other marketers' opt-in elists, which is hardly cost-effective: Each time you want to send another message, you have to rent the list again — and that can easily cost you hundreds of dollars for every thousand names on the list.

Some marketers buy databases containing the email addresses of business prospects in their niche market. This can work if you're sending highly targeted emails on extremely relevant topics. But when you send email messages to people who haven't opted in, you're mostly asking for trouble. The CAN-SPAM Act, which established the rules for commercial email in 2003, doesn't prohibit these messages. But people on these lists are much more likely to register spam complaints — and far less likely to buy from you.

The best online strategy for marketers is to build your own list of subscribers. This eliminates the cost of renting lists and prevents the spam complaints and lower response rates typical of non-opt-in lists.

When you own an opt-in elist covering a sizable percentage of your target market, you can communicate with your prospects and customers as often as you think is appropriate at minimal cost. And by using a double opt-in process that requires new subscribers to verify their identity before being added to your elist, you help minimize spam complaints and bounce-backs. In double opt-in, recipients subscribe using an online form. A pop-up window then appears, telling them to watch for a confirmation email asking them to confirm their opt-in. If they don't confirm, they're not added to the list. This prevents companies from registering other people for the list without their knowledge.

Building Your Elist

There are many online marketing options for building your elist, including pay-per-click advertising, postcard marketing, banner advertising, online ads in other marketers' enewsletters, B2B co-registration deals, video marketing, viral marketing, editorial mentions in trade publications, online article marketing, affiliate marketing and social media — to name just a few.

When evaluating marketing methods for elist building, you must weigh the cost of acquiring the new name and the value that new name holds for your business.

To determine value, divide the total annual revenues generated by your online subscriber list by the number of names on that list. For example, if your 20,000 online subscribers account for $600,000 in annual sales, your subscriber value is $30 per name per year.

Say that using Google ads, you can drive traffic at a cost of $7 per click. Can you afford that? Yes, because that means you get one new subscriber for every two clicks you buy, which works out to just $14 per subscriber — within your $30 per new name limit.

Would it make more sense to base the allowable acquisition cost per new name on the lifetime customer value (LTCV) of online subscribers rather than just the average one-year revenue per name? Theoretically, yes. But you can only do that if you've been marketing online long enough to have reliable numbers on which to base LTCV estimates. Until you do, stick with the revenue per year per name figure as the baseline.

Publish a Free Enewsletter

The best way to build and regularly communicate with an opt-in list of prospects is to publish and distribute a free enewsletter on a specialized topic that's related to your product line and of interest to your target prospects.

A free enewsletter benefits your online marketing efforts in two important ways. First, it gives you a standing free offer — a free subscription to your enewsletter — that you can use in your list-building efforts. Second, it ensures that you communicate with your subscribers on a regular basis, building your relationship with your online prospects while increasing the frequency of your branding messages and online marketing opportunities.

With the staggering number of free enewsletters competing for attention on the internet, however, it's not enough to have a simple sign-up box on your homepage. You should offer a bribe (typically known as a lead-gen) to get visitors to subscribe. The best bribe is a free downloadable special report in exchange for opting into your elist.

For instance, if you sell supply chain management software and publish an enewsletter called The Strategic SCM Partner, offer a short bonus report called 7 Steps to Improving Supply Chain Management in Your Enterprise as a premium for new subscribers.

Drive traffic not to your home page or a standard subscription form, but to a special free-on-free name squeeze page—a separate landing page highlighting this offer. We call it a "name squeeze page" because it extracts or "squeezes" new names for your list from web traffic. "Free-on-free" means you're offering free content (the report) to get people to accept your primary free offer (the subscription).

Also, put in place one or more mechanisms for capturing the email addresses of site visitors who don't buy a product, download a demo, subscribe to your online newsletter, or take other actions that opt them into your elist.

For example, when they attempt to leave the site without purchasing or registering, have a window pop up to capture their email address with the headline "Wait! Don't leave without claiming your free special report!"

The text explains they can get a free copy of your special report 7 Steps to Improving Supply Chain Management in Your Enterprise by entering their email address and clicking submit. If you're not proactively making an effort to capture these email addresses, you're leaving money on the table.

Did you enjoy your book preview? Click here to grab a copy today—now 60% off when you use code MARKET2021 through 4/3/21.

Robert W. Bly

Author, Copywriter, and Marketing Consultant

Robert W. Bly has been an independent copywriter and marketing consultant for more than a quarter of a century. He has worked with more than 100 clients including Boardroom, Phillips, IBM, Nortel, Agora, Prentice Hall and Grumman. He is the author of more than 75 books. His most recent book,  The Marketing Plan Handbook , from Entrepreneur Press , is available at all major bookstores.

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