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Best practices for effective list acquisition

Your email program’s success depends on continually increasing your return on investment (ROI). One of the obvious ways to achieve this is by expanding your subscriber list. And as you might know, there are good and bad ways to do this, and good reasons for doing it right. These reasons include protecting your deliverability, reputation, and ultimately, growing your email ROI.

When you use poor list acquisition practices you will add more complaints, spam traps, unknown users, and unengaged subscribers to your list. These consequences will cause big deliverability and reputation issues. Your email can get blocked, delivered to the junk folder or blacklisted. Poor list acquisition practices ultimately result in less of your email reaching your subscribers’ inboxes.  So, fewer subscribers are able to engage with your email, and your conversions and sales are negatively affected.

There are a few different ways you can acquire new subscribers. Here are the most common ones:

  • Organic list acquisition: Organic list acquisition includes a few different methods that involve having subscribers actively opt in to your email program. This is in contrast to non-organic methods where  email addresses are added without subscribers knowing or giving their consent. Organic list acquisition methods include:
    • Website sign up
    • Transactional email message sign up
    • Retail and website point-of-sale sign up
    • Forward-to-a-Friend (FTAF)
    • Social media and SEO
  • Renting, purchasing or harvesting lists: These methods are not recommended because subscribers have not given permission to receive your email. Also, these lists often contain spam traps and unknown users. You may get lots of spam complaints from the addresses on these lists.
  • Co-registration and sharing lists with third parties: These are also risky methods if your partner uses a single check box for subscribers to sign up for multiple companies’ email lists. In that case, new subscribers may not realize they had signed up for multiple lists. This method can be successful, however, when it is clear to the subscriber what lists they are signing up for.

Using any of the recommended methods in combination with these best practices can help you get good engagement out of the new subscribers you add to your list.

Create a compelling opt-in form

  • Visibly place a link to your subscription form on your home page, internal pages, and point of sale.
  • Make your web subscription forms easy to use and intuitive, with a clear path to completion, and require subscribers to only provide relevant information.
  • Provide prospective subscribers with clearly stated benefits of opting in, which emails they will receive, and how frequently they will receive them.
  • Set expectations clearly about the type of content and the frequency of emails subscribers will receive.

Use solid permission practices

  • Require permission from all subscribers. Email addresses are subscribed only after address owners have given their explicit consent, receiving the strongest level of permissioning your audience will support.
  • Place a privacy policy prominently on your sign-up form. All website pages and email sign-up forms include a visible link to the company's privacy policy

Develop an effective confirmation page

  • Confirm the subscription and reiterate the benefits and set expectations
  • Prompt subscribers to add the sending address to their address book to ensure delivery to their inbox and provide whitelisting instructions.
  • Drive subscribers to your Preference Center to manage the emails they receive and the frequency.

Send a winning welcome message

  • Send an email confirming the subscription and reiterating the value right away.
  • Remind subscribers to whitelist your sending address and provide them with instructions.
  • Drive subscribers to your Preference Center to remind them where they can manage their email preferences.
  • Include an offer, and test different offers to identify the most effective one.

Have a solid testing plan

  • Track acquisition sources, such as point of sale, web and co-registration, to support testing.
  • Test new lists and acquisition sources to determine list quality and to identify poor sources.
  • Test data acquired from third parties and send from separate IPs to protect reputation.

Vet and audit your partners

If you acquire subscribers from third-party partners, ensure you test lists, segment data onto separate IPs. and audit their practices regularly to ensure the data does not affect your primary lists and IP reputation.

  • Test a sample of the file from a separate IP space and monitor unknown user rates before adding the file to your database.
  • Review the partner data file to ensure that you are not receiving incorrectly formatted addresses, such as those with missing @ symbols, spelling errors or periods in the domain,  or role account addresses.
  • Segment partner lists onto a separate IP to monitor their ongoing data quality and unknown user rates. This will help you protect the deliverability of email you send to your primary subscriber list from any potential issues related to list quality issues of partner data.  
  • Regularly audit your partner's sign-up process to ensure that it meets best practices for address collection.

Return Path products that can support this issue

  • Inbox Monitor: Use Inbox Monitor to look for major swings in deliverability. These may indicate a new list or list source is in use.
  • Reputation Monitor and Certification: Use these products to get spam trap, complaint, and unknown user rate data. These rates may show corresponding increases that can help when researching list-related issues
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