Email Marketing: Building Valuable Subscriber Lists on the Cheap


This has not been a banner year for marketing budgets by any estimation. So you might be surprised that two tactics actually garnered increased budgets in 2009 – email and social media. Your peers consider email a highly cost-effective tactic and see social media as a way to extend that content to new markets. This research comes from MarketingSherpa’s 2010 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, which contains practical data to improve your budgeting and grow your overall business.

We’ve found email marketing to be a hot topic as well, with near-record attendance at Wednesday’s web clinic (If you couldn’t attend, please subscribe to the free MarketingExperiments Journal to be notified when the replay and research brief are available). To build on that clinic, which explored ways to maximize revenue from your house list, here is a cost-effective way to grow your list:

In the past year, low-cost has become the most popular modifier of the word “campaigns” for most marketers. Of course, you never want to sacrifice results simply for the sake of cost.391609724_6a85f6981b According to the 2010 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, blog contests are an inexpensive way to quickly gain motivated subscribers. Here are the seven key steps to making the most of blog contests to rapidly grow your list:


There are highly relevant audiences for blogs on almost every interest under the sun, including Sun (Microsystems, that is) and, likely, an audience with interests very similar to your best customers. But, contrary to popular belief, these audiences aren’t all micro. According to the web-traffic analysts at Compete, some so-called “mommy blogs” get well over 100,000 unique visitors a month. For an example, see Dooce (if you’re a parent, you know what she’s referring to).

Lay down the law

Make sure you clearly define a set of rules to keep everything running smoothly. For example, you could give extra entries to readers who refer friends. Or even host a second, private contest for the blogger who generates the most entries. And remember, the more compelling the prize, the more motivated your audience will be.

…and he told two friends…and she told two friends

After you set up a landing page to explain the contest and capture entrant’s information and referrals, email referred prospects automatically and invite them to join the contest as well. With luck (and a compelling contest), you may reach the Holy Grail of cost-effective online promotion – going viral.

Seek the source

To understand which channels deliver best, create coded links to track traffic originating from blogs (with unique links for each blog), referrals, newsletter emails to current subscribers, social networks, etc. If you hold a separate blogger contest as well, you could create an anonymized tracking page to show bloggers how many entries they’ve generated compared to competitors, which may encourage them to step up efforts.

Release the hounds

Once you have the mechanics of the contest in place, finding the right bloggers will take a bit of hunting on your part. Here’s one simple strategy. Use basic Web searches to find applicable blogs. When you spot a likely target, use its “blog roll,” or links section, to find similar sites. Look at the sites’ number of RSS subscribers (if publicized) as well as the freshness of its content. Then, you can reach out to the bloggers (using info found on the site or a “Contact Us” form) with an email that includes a description of the contest, a coded link to the landing page, a link to the stats page, and a link to a promo ad.

Remember your members

While these bloggers will hopefully drive new subscribers, don’t forget to let the current members of your virtual fan club enter as well. The contest deserves at least a mention in your email newsletter, Twitter feed, Facebook group, social networks, weekly coffee klatch, Pinochle tournaments, and any other place you regularly communicate with your most loyal customers. Not only are you deepening your relationship with existing customers, making it easy for them to pass the contest on to friends is another cost-effective, viral way to grow your list.

Rinse, wash, repeat

If you do not prevent multiple signups, you will have to scrub your list of duplicates. You may also want to remind new subscribers why they are receiving your email newsletter (“Thank you for entering our contest and signing up for…”). Include an easy way to unsubscribe, a must for the CAN-SPAM Act, since some may have focused more on your prize than the fact that they were also signing up for an email newsletter. This is also a way for your least motivated list members to self-select and get removed before too many of them hit the “SPAM” button and hinder your deliverability.

After you’ve counted all your new subscribers, look at your metrics to see what you could have done better. And then, start another contest with your newfound knowledge pushing you to even greater success.

For a real-world example of a marketer that used these tactics to grow a small email list to 20 times its previous size, turn to page 129 of the 2010 Email Marketing Benchmark Report. MarketingExperiments blog readers can receive a $100 discount.

And for a more in-depth look at making email and social media deliver for your bottom line, check out Email Summit ’10 in Miami from January 20-22. PLUS, Dr. Flint McGlaughlin will teach a Pre-Summit Live Email Optimization Workshop to help you maximize your email capture rate and quality. Register by January 8 to receive an early bird discount of $200.

Photo attribution: / CC BY 2.0

You might also like
  1. Steven Roddy says

    I am still cutting my teeth on email marketing. Thank you for the insight.

  2. Jason says

    Email marketing is a huge part of any successful online business. It basically is a business in itself. The benefits of Email marketing and starting up a double opt-in email list are priceless. That Is how the majority of Internet gurus make there fortunes. That and an army of affiliates promoting there products. Great tips thank you!

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.