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SCORE: How to build your email marketing list

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SCORE mentors often are asked the question "is email marketing still a viable strategy and if so, how do I build my email list?"

The quick answer is, yes, email still is a viable marketing strategy because it is an effective way to stay in touch with your base of customers and clients.

To start, CEOs must remember when it comes to your email list, size matters. Having a large contactable universe gives your brand the opportunity to interact with more subscribers, helping to drive more return on investment for your business. But it doesn't end there.

The quality of the subscribers you're driving into your business can have a big effect. With more and more mailbox providers narrowing in on engagement as a primary factor in spam filtering decisions, building a list of high-quality, engaged subscribers is increasingly important.

Luckily, marketers have many opportunities to build a bigger and better list. I inform SCORE clients that companies that provide email solution services such as Return Path and Constant Contact are excellent resources to which I turn for information.

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Keep in mind that as you build your list, the main goal is to build a foundation for a positive subscriber experience. Let's make one thing clear: perspective is everything. As CEOs and marketing folks, we can get so caught up in our business goals that we neglect to think through the subscriber experience.

Think through the process from the subscriber perspective and be sure you are creating a customer-centric, simple path into the email program.

Throughout the entire subscription process, clearly and succinctly spell out the benefits associated with your email program. This is especially important for business-to-business mailers, those with a longer sales cycle or bigger ticket products or services.

• Make sure "permission" is front and center — and easy to understand. Sure, a prechecked box or somewhat sneaky opt-in language may increase your list size but you're far more likely to end up with subscribers who unsubscribe or complain.

• Reduce friction throughout the process, whether site visitors want to complete the opt-in process or abandon it. Entry and exit points should be user-friendly and intuitive, and next steps should be completely clear

• Regardless of the point of entry, be mindful of the mobile experience. If mobile users aren't able to easily read copy, complete the form or exit, it's time to pull up the code and rework it.

• If your brand strategy requires a large amount of data, consider implementing a two-step process where users are able to enter basic information then continue on to volunteer additional information or adjust preferences.

• Keep required fields to a minimum to reduce both form abandonment and the likelihood of subscribers providing bad data. Be sure page visitors are able to differentiate easily between required and optional fields.

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• Set expectations for the types of messages subscribers will receive after opting in. Informed subscribers who know what kinds of messages are headed their way are more likely to be engaged and less likely to complain.

• Offer email-exclusive deals, information and opportunities to increase the value of your email program for subscribers, but don't bait and switch. Be sure your email program delivers on the promises you make.

• Include confirmation messaging or a confirmation page once subscribers hit submit. Dead air after the opt-in can contribute to an awkward and offputting subscriber experience.

• List hygiene plays a role in how mailbox providers filter messages, so consider using a list validation service. While welcome messages often have high open rates, they also tend to have a higher bounce rate and more list hygiene issues. Help keep your messages out of the spam folder by making sure you're sending to a clean list.

• Send a triggered email to confirm the opt-in and welcome new subscribers to your program. While this won't help grow your list, it's an important step to start things off on the right foot and stave off list attrition.

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