6 actionable tips to boost your email opt-in rates
I started looking at emails differently a couple of years back after I heard Tim Ferriss say something interesting on his podcast.
“Your inbox is everyone else's agenda for your time.”
That’s actually true if you stop to think of it. Take one look at your inbox and you will see a garden variety of emails demanding your time; calendar invites from colleagues, marketers asking you to join their webinars, Nigerian Princes trying to scam you of your riches, and so on.
Everybody out there is vying to get your time and attention to sell you something you might not want!
The only exceptions are the emails that you proactively signed up for, which only make up for a small percentage of this noisy universe. These are blogs or newsletters that you subscribe to, Google alerts, and updates from people or brands you want to keep in touch with.
If you have a newsletter that’s suffering from low opt-in rates, it’s important for you to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and realize this. You’re buying someone else’s time with your newsletter content, so you have to make sure it’s well worth their time.
But what if you already have your newsletter content in alignment with the values of your audience and your opt-in rates still suck? Good question. That means your principles are in place but your tactics are missing the mark. We have some easy-to-apply strategies that you can try. Give these ideas a shot and see what sticks.
1. Say “hey” with the hello bar
A website’s real estate is more complicated than the town planning of a new suburbia. You have a dozen options to present your offers — welcome mat, tabs at the top navigation bar, sidebar or tray menu, footer banner, in-line banners, pop-ups, etc.
If you want to pitch your email subscription to readers who are already on your website, nothing is better than communicating it through the hello bar — the forehead/masthead of your website.
Opt-in messages presented on a hello bar are unintrusive, static, and in a direct line of sight of readers scanning your website.
Hello bars have the same effect that Snickers bars or Doublemint gums have on you when you are in a convenience store waiting for your turn to check out at the POS (point of sales) counter.
It commands your attention without being pushy. A hello bar works because they are subtle yet in plain sight of the customers.
If your newsletter delivers great value and the copy on your hello bar reinforces that message, your readers are more likely to overcome the commitment fatigue that they have when faced with a new subscription decision.
Make sure you either optimize this for mobile or disable it. The real estate is very low, so you should be mindful about mobile where most conversions happen.
You can use tools like OptinMonster/Sumo Me to create different, more suitable opt-in message/campaign for mobile.
2. Try having a conversation
You may not hear this every day, but I’m happy to break this bubble today: you can increase your email subscription with a little nudge from a live chat widget on your website.
Yes, a live chat that chimes in at the bottom-right corner of the website when the time is right.
Most of us assume that chat is a support-focused tool that website visitors use only when they need to contact your customer service. That’s definitely true, but the evolution of live chat into a messaging platform has turned a lot of things around.
Now, sales and marketing teams all over the world are leveraging the power of a modern messaging tool to trigger sales campaigns, announce product updates, and engage with customers in real time.
Newsletter publishing is a community-building activity. It’s different than other forms of product push because people opt for it. Live chat can help you convert more visitors into subscribers because it’s an interactive, conversational channel.
Take chatbots for example. They allow your website visitors the guilt-free experience of interacting with your brand without coming across as spammy. There are 3 different kinds of bots you can use to improve your email opt-in rates:
A chatbot to exchange pleasantries and greet customers before they hand off the chat to a human agent.
A lead bot to coax them to share their email addresses (in our case, to subscribe to our newsletter).
An answer bot to ask the right questions to understand what they are looking for and serve answers that match their queries.
The best part about using chatbots to increase your email opt-in is that it’s automated yet personalized. You can program a bot’s personality to be friendly, goofy, or sassy — anything you want it to be.
So if you know that your prospects are fans of Star Wars, you can customize your chatbot’s personality to sound like a Jedi, Yoda, or R2 D2, or BB8 and let them talk visitors into subscribing.
Humans crave engagement, communication, and conversation. Chatbots fulfill that without coming across as intrusive. People can still feel like they are in control.
If you want to pitch a simpler opt-in message without the help of a chatbot, that’s fine too. You can time the message based on user behavior. For instance, you can prompt a chat when a reader is towards the end of a blog—a behavior that indicates liking for the content.
Or, you can trigger it when they click on a certain button (say, one of the related articles). It’s an intent-based marketing technique that borrows ideas from behavioral psychology to influence your customer’s decisions.
3. Make an impression with videos
Videos can be the best call to action (CTA) to increase newsletter sign-ups. Video is quickly becoming the next big thing in marketing because it is known to get 66% more qualified leads and a 73% conversion rate.
That probably explains why every other post in your social media feed nowadays is a video and the steep growth of video marketing platforms like Vidyard, HippoVideos, and Facebook Watch.
Unlike hello bars and chat, videos have use cases that go beyond your website pages. You can obviously embed a video in your website pop-up but also include its thumbnail in your email marketing copy.
And guess what happens when you add a video element to your email? According to MarTech Advisor, videos improve your email click rates by up to 300%.
Videos are highly engaging because they are visual and easy to grasp. Brownie points if they are visually appealing too. But you have to pull it off well — don’t be generic or use an explainer video for your email subscription pitch.
Use a human actor (or your animated brand mascot), keep it short and conversational, and be specific in your call to action.
4. Have fun with pop-ups
Ah, the plaguey, problematic pop-ups. If you are like me and when a website throws a pop-up at you, the first thing you do is instinctively look for the cancel button — sometimes, without even reading the copy.
However, pop-ups are not really that bad. It’s the way in which they are done that makes them repulsive. Timing and value are key factors in creating engaging pop-ups. You have to position the opt-in form strategically—don’t pick a real estate randomly.
Use a heat map tool to understand what exactly your visitors hate about your existing pop-ups. If you make pop-ups unintrusive and are actually able to communicate a relevant value, people will subscribe to the idea you are selling.
Here is an example from Neil Patel, who maintains one of the most popular marketing blogs on the internet. Neil is always trying out new ideas to drive more sign-ups for his blogs at neilpatel.com, Quicksprout, and Kissmetrics.
More recently, he used a spin-and-win wheel pop-up to grab his readers’ attention. Instead of the usual exit intent pop-ups that aren’t very effective in changing people’s mind, this idea actually intrigues people into trying their luck in a wheel of fortune — although Neil doesn’t even offer any tangible incentives.
It’s just one of those feel-good interactive, experiences that people can have that might actually persuade them to sign-up for your newsletter.
I’m not prescribing that you absolutely need a spin-and-win pop-up to increase your email subscription. The suggestion here is to configure your pop-ups to make them timely and intriguing.
Offer incentives if you are running a campaign to drive subscriptions. If you don’t have any rewards to give, at least make the pop-up interactive or fun to look at.
Here are a few things you can do to make your pop-ups more appealing to your website visitors.
Ask your audience to participate in a short survey
Offer them a free personality quiz
Provide interactive raffles, scratch-to-win experiences
Use video to pitch your newsletter. (See #3)
Give them incentives or discounts in lieu of their sign-up.
Make your pop-ups interactive or fun to look at.
If you can tie this well with your newsletter’s value, you can easily win your prospects trust and convince them into being your subscribers.
5. Let your audience rein in control
Much like reality, marketing is nothing but a perception. Customers gravitate towards brands that seem safe, trustworthy, and a valuable investment of their time. There are seemingly minor tweaks that you can make to your subscription pitch that go a long way in persuading your customers into taking the desired action.
For instance, when you add a phrase such as, “Don’t worry, we won’t spam you” in the fine print of your subscription message, you build immediate trust with your prospects. I personally find it very effective when subscription copies assure me that I have the option to unsubscribe at any time.
It shows the brand’s confidence in its content, it sounds like a commitment-free deal, and it makes it easy for me to sample a new newsletter for a few weeks.
Another way to drive more subscriptions by building trust is to deliver immediate value to your customers in your copy. As marketers, we tend to overdo things at times. We sometimes dilute the value of a message by the overplay of words, puns, alliteration, or even jazzy graphics.
What appears creative might come at the cost of being ineffective. But when you deliver the right message to the audience, it gives them control over whether to subscribe or not.
People feel they are in control when you make your messaging clear, concise, and contextual to their needs. Split test is a marketer’s best friend—so, A/B test your messaging across different demographics to see what the majority finds most compelling.
For example, simply changing your button copy from the trite “Sign Up” or “Subscribe” to “Get Started” or “Send Me Awesome Stuff” can do wonders to your subscription rates.
You can do this even better when you brand your CTA buttons to your newsletter’s offerings. Here is an example from Ramit Sethi, the celebrated financial coach and is a New York Times best-selling author who runs I Will Teach You To Be Rich.
Ramit uses different CTAs for different products to make sure each message resonates best with his audience. The messages communicate the value propositions clearly, talk about specific outcomes, and are accompanied with fitting CTAs. It’s no wonder his website gets over 250,000 monthly readers and has more than 100,000 newsletter subscribers.
6. Build credibility around your newsletter
A great way to build trust with your audience is by humanizing your messaging. Write your subscription pitch in the first person and add your photo — if you are a personal brand.
This brings transparency to your newsletter brand and makes it easier for people to relate to you. This becomes even more important if you (or your business) are already an established name in your domain.
If you don’t have much brand awareness, you can ask your existing readers’ to give you testimonies or work with influencers to get an endorsement. Another great way to establish credibility is by adding a stripe of “As Seen On” media names, supposing you or your writing has appeared across credible media websites.
Many bloggers flaunt the number of subscribers they already have because it showcases social proof and their authority in their respective field.
Here’s Brian Honigman’s email subscription page with all the ingredients mixed beautifully:
Growth begins with a new mindset
Growing your email subscription is pretty easy once you know your audience well and can tap into their psychology. It might take some work on your part to understand what ticks them, but that’s an endeavor that will give you long-term yields.
Give it your all to create a world-class newsletter and understand your audience behavior so that you can align the two in perfect harmony. Keep experimenting with new ideas to be up to snuff and you will reap the sweet rewards of being relevant to your audience.
As a final parting thought, I would encourage you to think of your newsletter just like a product—you have to produce, package, and present it to the right market in order to make it work. It needs a robust plan and commitment to succeed—as if your survival depends on it.
NOTE: This article originally appeared as a guest post in OptinMonster in 2019.