6 List-building Mistakes and Tools To Make It Easier

Email Marketing

Email List Building TipsRecently I’ve been working with a lot of my clients on building their mailing lists. Everyone has learned that the “money’s in the list” (and it is). From the discussions, it’s clear that the psychology of the email sign-up is not intuitive. List-building is clearly nurture versus nature.

“List-building is nurture versus nature. Learn 6 Mistakes you may be making”

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People think that if you put up a box in the upper right hand corner of your blog that says, “Sign up for my newsletter” or other default language, that they’ll pick off 1 out of every 2 visitors and their money-making list will swell to gigantic proportions overnight!

In truth it’s a bit harder than that.

Why don’t people just seek out your opt-in box?

Because people are sick of any extraneous email. They want it gone from their inboxes NOW. They’re thinking, “If you want me to sign up for any of your crap, it better be good crap!”

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s cover several reasons why your list will not grow unless you make some changes.


6 Reasons people are not signing up for you email list


 1) You’re not getting enough traffic

At the end of the day, list-building is not a one-on-one battle. You can build a list slowly by referring people you meet at networking events, but it will be very, very slow going. Traffic generation tactics like content marketing, webinars, SEO and guest blogging are great ways to get more (qualified) visitors to your site quickly.

Realize that list-building is a numbers game. In addition to the points you’ll learn about below, you need to have some traffic flow in order to build your list. And by the way, one big event, guest blog post, webinar or public speaking opportunity can lead to hundreds of new subscribers if done correctly.

2) You’re not giving away anything of value

“Subscribe for updates” or “Sign up for my newsletter” won’t cut it unless you’re Beyonce (who has over 3.4 million Twitter followers without ever having tweeted). If you’re Beyonce, people want your updates (Twitter, email or other). If you’re you, they probably don’t.

So figure out what your customers really want. What do they need to know? What things can you teach them? How can you help them take a first step towards fixing their business, solving their dating problems or losing 50 pounds? You don’t have to give away the whole farm but give away something of value in the form of an ebook, webinar, email course or other valuable giveaway.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you (as them) don’t think your giveaway rocks, it’s probably not that attractive. Keep trying.

3) Your language is limp

“The Sales Techniques eReport” is limp. “12 Sales Techniques of Millionaire Salespeople” or “12 Negotiation Techniques To Triple Your Sales” are more exciting (and I’m sure you can come up with even more exciting titles – just make sure they’re true!).

Compel them to get your book or attend your webinar even though they know they’ll start getting more email from you!

4) Your opt-in box is unattractive or boring

The standard, off-the-shelf opt-in boxes rarely get noticed. Unless they have something unique, custom or eye-catching they blend into the scenery of your blog.

It doesn’t have to be obnoxious, bright and flashing, but an attractive box, a picture, clear “call to action” and a unique look will help it to get noticed.

5) Your opt-in box is tucked away in your sidebar

You can call them lazy or forgetful, but if your readers have to scroll back up and find your opt-in box after they read your post, they’re not likely to sign up.

You have to hit them over the head with your opt-in box to get them to sign up! Your opt-in box needs to be right in front of them, at the right time enticing them to register to access your killer content.

6) Your opt-in box is not on all of your posts

Embedding your opt-in box in each post or page it takes time (if you’re putting it on the page versus in the sidebar). But your opt-in box needs to show up on every post, including your older blog posts.

When you update your offer, it needs to apply to your previous posts because people still visit them via search or by using your navigation.


3 Ways (and Tools) To Improve Your Opt-in Rates


Option 1: Pop-up Boxes (effective but annoying):


Using Pop-up Domination

One solution that a lot of people use is to have a pop-up box jump up before the reader accesses the blog content. A popular tool for doing this is Pop-up domination. This technique has been shown to increase sign-up rates by various marketers, but I personally find pop-ups annoying. I also rarely share popped-up pages on social media. So what might you lose with this strategy? If you have a big name and tons of traffic it probably pays off and your gains will likely outweigh your losses. If you’re smaller and trying to grow your readership, it may impede your growth.


Using Aweber or Mail Chimp’s Pop-up Mode

Aweber (a popular email list software) has a setting for pop-ups that you can enable when you set up a new form for an email list. Mailchimp has this as well and calls it “Evil Pop-up”. These options are less advanced than Pop-up Domination but serve the purpose if you want to use pop-ups or pop-overs. Experiment with how each of these work on your site and your email provider may have similar pop-up or pop-over modes available.

Option 2: Sign-up Box Built into your Theme (e.g. just below the header):


Using StudioPress Theme Generate

Another solution being used by some marketers, bloggers and businesses is to include a prominent sign-up box prior to the blog content on the home page. Studiopress has released a theme specifically to enable this technique (called “Generate” as in “generate a list”). It’s definitely less annoying than a pop-up, but it requires a site redesign or theme change to implement. For people who are in a position to update their themes, this is a good solution (and I’m a huge fan of Studiopress – my theme runs on their Genesis framework).

Generate theme

Option 3: Opt-in Box in the same spot on all of your posts


Using Optin Skin

Optin Skin is a new and very elegant solution that solves a lot of these problems and some ones you may not have thought of. Let’s say you decide that you want your opt-in either before or after each blog post (right in the line of sight)? The solution I’ve been using is to create a custom opt-in box with a picture, some compelling language, and a form at the bottom of a post. I would then copy that code and paste it into the same spot on the other posts, including my older posts (replacing other, older calls to action). What a hassle to create this and then have to edit multiple posts!

opt in box screenshot

Optin Skin’s Elegant Solution

Optin Skin is exactly what I and my clients have been looking for. Based on my testing, it’s easy to implement attractive opt-in boxes that can be added to all of your posts in the same spot (above posts, under posts, below the first paragraph or floated right of the second paragraph) or on specific posts or pages (using short code). The beauty of this solution is that when you update an offer, it can change for all of the posts at the same time (new and old). They look pretty nice and you see my example below this post (I created the book cover using another great tool – Box Shot King).

Here are the basics on using Optin Skin

1) Buy and install the Optin Skin plugin

2) Select from 19 different templates

3) Change the colors and the language.

4) Add a picture of your ebook, report or video (I used Powerpoint and a great tool called Box Shot King to make this example that you see in the form at the bottom).

5) Connect it to your email list provider and name.

set up email provider

6) Save it and select the location for the opt-in box.

placement and effects

7) You’re done and there is is at the bottom of this post (in this case I used the short code to put it on this post)!

You can remove the Optin Skin branding as well.

I hope this has helped you think about list-building and that you find these tools helpful.

“3 Cool Tools to Help You With Your Email List-building”

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Now go out there and start building your list!


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Tom Treanor is the founder of the Right Mix Marketing blog. He’s the author of the Search Engine Boot Camp, the co-author of Online Business Productivity, and regularly speaks at industry and corporate events. His writing has been featured on the Content Marketing Institute, Social Media Examiner, Copyblogger and other leading industry blogs.


    1. Thanks Chris. One of my clients had just asked if there was a way to put opt-in boxes on all of your posts and that same day I stumbled onto it. I’m loving the flexibility that it provides. What kind of problem/fix was required (just curious)? Mine seems to be working perfectly so far and it should save hours of work.

  1. Hey Chris,

    Thanks for the great list building advice. I like that optin skin software that you recommended, I just can’t afford the investment right now. I am slowly building my list without it. Once I gain a little headway in my business venture, I will have to invest in it…. I will make it a point to use your affiliate link since you are the one who recommended it to me. I believe in fair affiliate marketing.

    Thanks a lot for the advice Chris!

    Talk again soon,

    Jeremy Ruggles recently posted..Internet Marketing – What is it? How Do You Succeed?My Profile

    1. Thanks Jeremy and I know how these investments can add up! I like the fact that most of these are one type costs (versus subscription). Good luck with your venture!

  2. Tom,

    It’s funny… I just wrote a post that goes live next week which breaks down why I will not be giving my eBook away for free anymore in exchange for a New Subscriber.

    I completely agree with your logic as far as getting more subscribers… But from what I have seen in newsletter results is that the people that Opt-In in exchange for a free item versus the people that Opt-In just the newsletter have a MUCH lower engagement rate with the newsletter. Not clicking on links, not opening emails or just simply unsubscribing…

    That frustrates me and though I know I will receive a lower new subscriber rate without that Free product I think I’m OK with that.

    What are your thoughts? Have you seen anything similar?

    I also have seen a lot of people with Optin Skin and they all love it.


    Ryan H.
    Ryan Hanley recently posted..5 Thoughts from Marcus Sheridan on Small Business Content MarketingMy Profile

    1. I hear you Ryan. I’m recommending that my clients take their one opportunity to capture mostly one-time visitors or people that they’re interacting with in other venues (guest post, webinar, live presentation). I feel pretty strongly that they (and I’ll include myself here) need something compelling to get them over the edge to sign up. Maybe the “engagement factor” goes down a bit but I still prefer having the opportunity to interact over time versus having them come once or twice and then be gone forever.

    1. Thanks Denise. Yes, you’ve moved to Option 2 (sign up box built into the site up front) and also have Option 3 (via the What Would Seth Godin plugin/optin box) and I appreciate you sharing the results of the site redesign. I love the look of your site over at http://www.Denisewakeman.com and it’s a great example of how to implement what I talk about here.

  3. Ahhhh, Tom. This is great stuff man, and it’s given me some ideas I can implement to have a greater impact – this post felt like a good understanding of list-building and offered great tools. Keep rockin’, man!

    That being said:
    I’m glad you mentioned Beyonce as the exception — because I also see myself as an exception in the blog world. I prefer to model myself after Beyonce, and I focus on making my content and delivery so emotionally charged, fun, and valuable that people will go the extra mile and “jump through hoops” to get it from me.

    Some have called me crazy 😉

    Jason Fonceca recently posted..19 Examples Of Celebrities Who Think SuccessMy Profile

    1. Jason,

      Hey, I won’t try to stop you from pursuing the “Beyonce strategy” because I happen to believe in a form of it as well. I believe people should be aiming to make themselves unique and valuable in one way or another so that the right people (for them) will clamor to hear from them in every way possible. With that said, we still want to make it easy for people to tune in when the urge strikes them. Thanks for adding your great perspective!

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