Question: What should my e-mail newsletter sign-up form request of potential subscribers?

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Answer: The first guiding principle in developing a subscription form for an e-newsletter is that your questions should enable you to further one or all of the goals of your newsletter. Because the goals of e-newsletters differ so widely, the questions asked by, say, the publisher of an ad-supported newsletter will differ significantly from those asked by a marketer producing a customer newsletter.

When creating your questions, try to focus on:

  • Serving your readers better by tailoring content to their needs and interests;
  • Serving your readers better by enabling them to receive highly targeted offers from you and your advertisers;
  • Serving your advertisers better by enabling your company to more accurately describe your audience to them;
  • Enabling your company to generate additional revenue from a list rental program.

The second guiding principle is that you need to limit the number of questions you ask. Too many questions drive up the abandonment rate of your e-newsletter subscription form. (Readers may jump through hoops to qualify for a magazine, but they don’t expect to do so for an e-newsletter.) Ask two to three questions with drop-down menus so you can easily feed the answers into a database. Use as few free-text fields as possible because it’s difficult to keep them error-free.

Standard drop-down questions include: number of employees, department, title, industry and country (if you haven’t already captured an address).

A final inviolable principle is that you must include an opt-in box, either for list rentals or your own use. Whether your goal is to upsell, offer third-party information or offer additional targeted information of your own, you should include an unchecked box whereby your readers can opt in.

Marilou Barsam is VP-client consulting services for TechTarget (, an information technology media company based in Needham, Mass.

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