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Question: Why isn't anyone signing up for my e-mail list?

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Answer:  Probably because you haven't given them a good reason to do so.

We all get way too much e-mail. Most of it is terrible, and we'd like it to stop. So when a Web site says "Sign up for our newsletter" or "Get special offers," who cares? "Special Offers" means "Spam" to most consumers.

If you want people to hand over their e-mail address, you've got to answer three simple questions:

  1. What are you going to send me? Focus on your call to action. The words next to the sign-up box matter more than any other factor. Give people specific, compelling reasons why they should get e-mail from you. Emphasize benefits to the reader. In short, sell them on the concept of signing up.
  1. "Get our newsletter" rarely works well. The customer doesn't know what they are committing to, how much mail they are going to get or what possible value it has. Try something stronger, such as "Get tips and tricks for increased productivity in our short weekly e-mail newsletter—plus coupons in every issue."
  2. Why would I want to read another e-mail? Content counts. Come up with an e-mail that has real substance, interesting information or entertainment value. You're going to have a hard time if you're just sending out a list of items on sale this week. When a customer opens your e-mail, they should say, "That was interesting, I'd like to see it next week." If you don't get a response like that, they are going to unsubscribe.
  3. Can I trust you? We all hesitate before putting our e-mail address into a form, wondering if we're going to get spammed. People assume that even the most respectable business is going to turn around and sell them out. Reassure them. Put "we will not share your e-mail address" on every single form, and put a link to your privacy policy.

Andy Sernovitz is CEO of GasPedal, an e-mail marketing consultancy. He's also CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, http://www.womma.com. Sign up for GasPedal's free white papers and newsletters at http://www.gaspedal.net .

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