Email registration: best practice vs. common practice

Nov 01, 2010 9:30 PM  By

Before you can communicate with customers and prospects via email, you have to capture their email addresses. But while you may think that the benefits of opting in to receive email from your brand are apparent, visitors to your Website might not. When persuading consumers to give you their email addresses — or to agree to pretty much any other action — you need to keep in mind these four factors:

TIME

The shorter and easier the opt-in process is, the more likely people are to follow through.

TRUST

Consumers will not hand over personal information to brands they don’t trust.

INTEREST

If the content doesn’t interest the site visitor, he isn’t going to subscribe. On the one hand, that’s to your benefit: If you sell motorcycles, you don’t want to waste resources marketing to him. On the other hand, you have to ensure that you are communicating effectively so that your emails do sound interesting to the audience you hope to interest.

VALUE

Also known as the “what’s in it for me?” factor, this ties in somewhat with the interest criterion. If you sell commodities, though — for example, office supplies, you may need to offer more than a few articles about toners and pens. What will your emails provide that make them worth subscribing to?

These factors come into play even with something as elemental as where on your home page you place the email registration link or button. The vast majority of the brands studied placed their email opt-in link on the bottom of their site (43.4%) or the top (40.8%).

Placing it on the top makes it readily apparent to visitors, and saves them the time of hunting around for the link. But bottom placement can work well also.

For one thing, web users have become trained to look for it at the bottom if they don’t see it at the top. For another, by placing it along the bottom of the page, you can easily put it in close proximity to your customer service, security and privacy information, which will help mitigate any trust concerns.

The email registrations themselves can be broken out into three types. The one-step email capture requires only one piece of information from the visitor: his email address. The user types his address directly into the box on the home page, and voila! he has subscribed. Of the sites studied, 18.1% offered this sort of easy registration.

While one-step capture fields appeal to consumers’ time concerns, they don’t really provide you with the opportunity to elaborate on the benefits of subscribing. Linking to a dedicated registration form does. You can use the dedicated page to describe the newsletter content in more detail and even to show or link to a sample issue.

And of course, a dedicated registration form also enables you to collect more information from the subscriber. More than one-quarter (28.6%) of the sites surveyed had what could be considered a short form — one in which visitors were required to fill out no more than four fields. Although these fields varied, they usually consisted of email address, first name, zip code (for geotargeting), and/or date of birth (generally for use with birthday offers).

The majority of websites, though, made consumers fill out at least five fields on a dedicated subscription form. These long forms often included optional fields as well as the mandatory ones.

Don’t overwhelm them

Generally speaking, the more questions you ask of potential subscribers, the lower your response rate. For that reason, you should ask only for information you need. If, for instance, you don’t have bricks-and-mortar stores and do not segment your file by geography, there’s no need to ask for a zip code. And even if you do practice geotargeting, you might want to consider asking for the zip code after the site visitor has subscribed.

“This is an evolving relationship,” explains Jean-Yves Sabot, vice president, retail group for Abacus, a division of Epsilon Targeting. “As the relationship evolves, then you get to ask more questions. So start with the basics. Retailers have a balance to maintain between asking for too much information and the risk of losing a prospect at sign-up. Ask for information that you know only the customer could give you. Demographic information, for instance, can easily be appended to a name and address, or even to an email address.”

If you do feel the need to ask for data that could be perceived as overly personal, such as a birth date, explain why you’re asking for it. If you want to know so that you can send a birthday-program offer (“Happy birthday! In honor of your special day, here’s a code for 15% off your next purchase…”), say as much on the form; this satisfies the “What’s in it for me?” question.

And even then, you probably don’t need to ask for the year of birth. While 25.3% of the brands surveyed asked for subscribers’ day and month of birth, 19.8% asked for the year as well.

A good place to ask for information such as birth date, as well as postal address, phone number and other information that you’d like to have but don’t absolutely require, is on the email preferences page. Unfortunately, fewer than one in four of the brands studied had any sort of preferences page or center.

It’s more important than ever for marketers to make sure from the get-go that they are sending subscribers the information they want, in the format they want, at the frequency they want. Unwanted content or too frequent missives are more likely to be deleted unread, which will hurt your deliverability.

Yet just 21.8% of the retailers asked new subscribers what types of communications they wished to receive, such as newsletters vs. brand updates vs. sale notifications. And fewer than 15% asked subscribers for their content preferences, such as whether they wanted to receive info about women’s clothing vs. men’s, or dog supplies vs. cat products.

More heartening is that 84.1% of the retailers surveyed sent subscribers to a thank-you page after they’d signed up. Besides the obvious benefit of letting visitors know that their subscription went through and providing them with a bit of warmth and fuzziness, the thank-you page is a great opportunity for retailers to remind subscribers to “whitelist” their address or add it to their email address book to minimize the chances of the emails ending up in a spam folder.

And since a consumer who has reached this page is obviously already engaged with the brand and looking forward to receiving communications from it, this thank-you page provides you with the opportunity to invite the new subscriber to join your Facebook page or follow your Twitter feed.

Slightly more than half of the brands in the survey followed up with either a confirmation (8.2%) or a welcome (48.9%) email. A confirmation email is a text-based, autogenerated message that does exactly what the name says: It confirms that the subscriber has indeed opted in. A welcome email is much more of a marketing vehicle.

“Welcome emails are important because you are trying to establish a relationship,” says Sabot. “They set expectations and set the level of relationship you are going to have with someone. The very least you can do is welcome customers, thank them for their interest, and tell them what your brand is about. Most store associates greet you when you browse through a bricks-and-mortar store to engage in a relationship. At the core, you simply need to extend and replicate that interaction in a virtual setting.”

The ideal welcome email — or welcome email series — addresses the four key consumer criteria cited earlier. It would arrive very shortly after the subscriber has opted in and would be a quick and easy read; it would reiterate the trustworthiness of the brand; it would speak to the interests of the subscriber, perhaps by referring him to a preference center where he could indicate the type of content he’d most like to receive; and it would again emphasize the benefits (discounts, merchandise-related advice, new product alerts) of opening and reading each subsequent email. They’re an optimal way of beginning to deliver on the promises set up at the very beginning of the registration process.

The second of the four joint Email Institute and Multichannel Merchant reports will look more closely at welcome emails and programs. It is scheduled to be released in mid-November. For details, visit www.emailinstitute.com.