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By Jerry Hart

Optimizing your e-mail opt-in process is one of the most important, though often forgotten, parts of your e-mail/web marketing program. How you present your opt-in pages and forms determines the rate of list growth and the quality of your list, and establishes subscriber expectations that subsequently drive e-mail performance. In this section, a colleague and friend of mine adds his two cents — Loren McDonald, VP of Marketing for EmailLabs, presented the following four valuable points that speak to high-impact, high-conversion-rate opt-in pages:

1. Getting People to the Opt-In Page

Once someone is on your website, how do you get them to the opt-in page?

* Don't hide the link: If your e-mail newsletter/promotion is key to your business, make sure it is easy and obvious for your visitors to find the signup page. Consider including links in main and secondary navigation and promotional boxes in sidebar areas. Don’t make your visitors search to see if you offer an e-mail newsletter. Include some form of link on every page of your site.

* Don't Disguise It: When referring to your e-mail in links and navigation areas, don't use some name or term that isn't obvious to all. For a link, "Newsletter," "E-newsletter," or "E-mail Newsletter" is fine.

* Home Page: If appropriate, promote articles and news from the current issue on your home page and then link to the article/issue.

* Back Issues/Articles: For newsletter publishers, make sure you have an area of your website such as a "Knowledge or Resource Center" where you keep archived issues and individual articles pulled from the newsletter. Then promote subscriptions to your newsletter throughout this area.

* Web Version Subscribe Link: If you post your back issues on your website, make sure they include a "Subscribe" link within the actual e-mail.

* Product Pages: Include copy in a prominent spot, such as signup forms in key areas on your site.

2. Copy and Design/Layout of Opt-In Page

Your e-mail opt-in page has one goal: to convert as many visitors as possible to subscribers. Its design, layout, and copy, therefore, should be similar to that of a landing page. A landing page is simply the page an e-mail recipient is directed to from any number of media.

* Clean and simple: The opt-in page should be designed in such a way that the images, copy, and form instill confidence, trust, and value.

* Samples: Always include a link to a sample copy or copies of your e-mail and consider including a hyperlinked small screenshot of your e-mail.

* Testimonials/awards: Use testimonials in pull-quote format, either text or as an image, that highlight awards or kudos that readers and third parties have bestowed on your e-mail publication.

* Incentives: Offering an incentive or discount is a great way to increase conversion. Whether it is a “free white paper” or “$5 off your next purchase,” incentives work.

* Value proposition: Subscribers are happy to provide you their valuable e-mail address, but only in exchange for something of value. Your opt-in page must convey the core value of your e-mails. For example, if you are a retailer you should highlight things such as “e-mail only specials,” advance notices of sales, and other values they will receive as an e-mail subscriber. Newsletter publishers should stress things such as the type of content, timeliness, your expertise, and the content relevance to readers.

* Privacy/e-mail policy: Include a brief one- or two-sentence e-mail policy located near the “submit” button and a link to your company’s more detailed privacy/e-mail policy. For example: Hart Creative Marketing, Inc. will not use your e-mail address or information for any purpose other than distributing the Hart Creative Marketing, Inc. E-newsletter and related special materials. Then supply the user with a link to the complete privacy policy available for viewing online.

* Expectations: Lastly, the copy and layout should set expectations for the recipient, such as the frequency of the e-mails, whether to expect other communications from you and, again, the value of the e-mail. Clearly explain your confirmation process if you are using a double (confirmed) opt-in approach.

3. The Opt-In Form

The point of the actual form is to obtain the right balance of information that you need in order to optimize your e-mail program for each subscriber.

* Don't ask for too much information: Your e-mail opt-in form is not the place to qualify prospects or make them jump through hoops. Don’t ask for information that you cannot use for e-mail delivery and personalization. If you think you have too many fields, denote some of them as optional.

* Don't ask for too little information: By the same token, plan for the future. The most often missed opportunity on the Internet Road Map is the acquisition. Focus on acquisition of an e-mail address when a visitor arrives on your website. Remember the two key points on the internet road map are driving traffic to your site and, once they arrive, capturing their e-mail address.

If you accomplish only one thing from that one visitor on your site, acquire their e-mail address to begin an ongoing relationship filled with respect, frequency and more sales.

Option 1
When a visitor enters the e-mail address and clicks subscribe for the free e-mail alert, he or she is directed to a page that displays that same e-mail address and invites the visitor to enter more information about him- or herself; the visitor may even answer any questions you have posed. I would only ask questions to the new subscriber if I had a wonderful gift of some kind, such as a free report or a grand prize giveaway.

Option 2
On the home page the user enters the e-mail address and is then directed to a landing page where the user is thanked for subscribing and told to expect a follow-up e-mail that will contain a link to a special section of your website where your new subscriber can update their contact information. We call this a preference or profile center and is just as important to have on your website as the e-mail data capture box. Adding the privacy policy link and a note promising “to never share the visitor’s e-mail information with anyone” is highly recommended.

While only asking for someone’s e-mail address makes the signup process extremely quick, you have not obtained information that will help you deliver more relevant e-mails to your subscribers. This includes format preference, name, and other preferences/demographics key to your program.

Address validation: To ensure that subscribers enter their e-mail address correctly, include a script that checks for syntax errors upon submission. Additionally, consider a secondary box that requires them to re-enter their address. This will minimize invalid addresses due to input errors.

Form fields — the minimum:
- First name
- Last name
- E-mail address
- Format preference (HTML or Text).

Consider including a note, such as: (Text is recommended if you use Eudora Light, Eudora Pro 3 and below, Lotus Notes versions below R5, or AOL 5.0 and under.)

Form fields—optional:
- Secondary e-mail address. Since approximately a third of those on your list will change their e-mail address every year, consider asking for a secondary e-mail address. Then when their primary address bounces you can send a follow-up e-mail to the secondary address.
- Frequency. Many sophisticated retailers and publishers give subscribers the choice of how often they wish to receive e-mails, i.e., daily, weekly, monthly.
- Demographics such as gender, age, location, etc.
- Interests/preferences such as topic, rock vs. jazz, etc.

4. Other Opt-In Pages

In addition to your actual e-mail opt-in form pages, there are other means on your website of gaining new subscribers, including:

* Download/registration pages: Always include an e-mail subscription check box as part of your registration forms (download white papers, membership, demo request, etc.). This approach can generate a subscription conversion rate of 50% or more.

* Purchase/shopping cart pages: Be sure to include product/shopping preferences in your shopping cart form and a clear opt-in check box for your e-mail.

About the Author: Jerry Hart, CEO of Hart Creative Marketing, Inc., a 20-year veteran in marketing online and off, wrote "Blueprint to E-Marketing" (Blueprint Series, June 2005), available at http://Amazon.com. Once a radio show host in Calif., he also is a dynamic speaker and prolific writer, and has been widely published. More info: http://www.hartcreativemarketing.com.

Source: www.isnare.com