How to Improve Email Engagement

As everyone says…

You need to build an email list.

Email marketing provides the highest ROI for most businesses at $40 for every $1 spent (on average).

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I’m sure you see a ton of content on a regular basis that shows you different ways to build that email list. Great.

But how much do you see that tells you how to interact and engage with that list effectively?

I think it’s safe to guess not much.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you had questions such as:

  • What do I send my subscribers?
  • How do I keep open rates high?
  • How do I make my emails exciting?
  • What do I do if my email list goes stale?

Some of you may even already be emailing newsletters to your subscribers.

However, if you’re not writing actionable emails, these messages could be doing more harm than good.

Subscribers want to hear from you. That’s why they joined your list.

But they don’t want spam, nonsense, or anything else that wastes their time.

If you’re sending emails just because you haven’t contacted your subscribers in a while, it’s not an effective strategy.

Fortunately for you, I’ve done my fair share of email marketing and I can help.

Whether you’ve never sent a emails or need help improving your current approach, I can show you how to write emails that convert.

It’s all about eliciting specific actions from the recipient.

Here’s what you need to know.

1. Start with a clear goal in mind

Why are you sending a email or newsletter?

You should be able to answer this question for each message you send.

With coupons or promotional campaigns, this question is a little bit easier to answer.

But newsletters usually have an underlying message within the content.

Stick to one goal per newsletter.

Including too much information in your message will confuse the reader.

Here are some popular examples of actionable goals:

  • getting downloads
  • selling something
  • driving traffic to a landing page
  • promoting an event
  • subscribers sharing content with friends or family

Here’s a great newsletter from General Assembly:

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Right off the bat, it’s clear what the goal of this message is.

They are trying to promote an event in Boston, MA.

The newsletter shows the date of the event and has an option for the recipient to RSVP.

This goal is consistent throughout the entire newsletter.

General Assembly doesn’t try to promote products, get downloads, or drive traffic to their website.

Instead, they continue providing more information about the event.

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It’s an effective newsletter.

The message won’t confuse the reader, and the goal is apparent throughout the entire message.

In this case, the action is clear.

They want subscribers to come to their event.

It was successful because they started with a goal.

2. Don’t overlook the subject line

I see people make this mistake all the time.

They take their time to write awesome content for their emails, but then come up with a subject line in 2 seconds.

It ends up being something boring like:

  • June Newsletter
  • Weekly Update
  • A Message From Company XYZ

Boring.

Nobody is going to open that.

As I said before when I talked about only emailing subscribers who want to hear from you, the email is useless if the message doesn’t get opened.

A strong and actionable subject line is arguably more important than the content within your message.

This data shows just how important email subject lines really are:

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Based on this information, your email might even get marked as spam before the recipient has a chance to read it.

Come up with a subject line that generates curiosity.

Hint at a topic or question that may get answered if the message gets opened.

Including information about news or recent topics in the subject line is another great way to generate opens for your email.

Make sure your timing is spot on.

Nobody wants to hear about news that broke last week.

About 40% of Americans get their news from online platforms.

If your subject line is highly relevant to something current, your subscribers will want to open it.

3. Be personal

Approach your emails the same way you approach promotional messages in terms of personalization.

Continuing with my last point, you can even use this tactic in the subject line.

In fact, personalized subject lines increase open rates by 50%.

Clearly, it’s an effective approach.

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But don’t stop at the subject line.

You can personalize your emails by addressing the recipient by their first name.

Use the first person perspective when writing so your subscribers know exactly from whom the message is.

Your personal email address should be displayed in the sender’s field.

Always sign newsletters with your name.

It will give the message a personalized touch.

But remember, you’re trying to get the recipient to act, e.g., to click.

Recent data shows that personalized emails and newsletters improve both click-through and conversion rates.

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Another way to get more engagement through personalized content is by segmenting your email lists.

Not every recipient should get the same email.

As you saw with the HubSpot example earlier, you can segment lists based on delivery frequency.

But you can take this idea one step further and segment the content as well.

For example, let’s say you have a website that sells sporting goods.

Your email could cover various topics based on different sports.

When a subscriber opts in to receive your emails, you can have them select which sports they want to hear about.

That way, your emails that cover golf or swimming topics won’t get sent to someone who would rather read about snowboarding and mountain biking.

Your subscribers are much more likely to act if they’re interested in the content.

4. Have a clear call to action (CTA)

Your CTA should align with the goal you set for your email.

If you want subscribers to download something, make sure the CTA directs them accordingly.

Refer back to the example I used earlier with the General Assembly newsletter.

They were promoting an event. Their CTA was a link through which subscribers could RSVP to that event.

Here’s another great example from Litmus:

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This newsletter is promoting an email checklist guide.

Rather than including the checklist within the content, they embedded a downloadable link as the CTA.

5. Be professional

Just like everything else associated with your name and brand, your emails and newsletters need to be professional.

It’s OK to write in a conversational tone, but I recommend staying away from slang and profanity.

In some circumstances, it could be acceptable, depending on the image of your company. But it’s definitely safer to avoid this approach.

You also need to check your emails for spelling and grammar mistakes and typos.

If your email has lots of errors, your subscribers won’t think you care about your company.

Don’t rush through this procedure.

Have an editing process.

You can even run emails through an editing software like Grammarly to assist you with this.

Here’s another editing tip.

After I’m done writing something, I read it out loud.

I find it’s easier to catch mistakes or poorly written sentences when I’m speaking as opposed to reading.

Depending on who writes your email, you could even have the content checked by another set of eyes before it gets sent out to your subscribers.

6. Tell a story

I’ve said before you can increase sales by mastering the art of storytelling.

Apply those storytelling skills to your newsletters and emails.

Stories are a great marketing tactic because they are a source of entertainment.

Nobody wants to read a boring email, so talk about something exciting.

Look at the positive impact storytelling has on conversion rates for B2B and B2C companies:

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What kind of story should you tell?

Get creative.

You can tell your own or someone else’s story.

It all depends on your goal and the tone of your email.

As I said earlier, you want your content to be relevant to your subscribers’ needs or current times.

If you have some sort of breaking news to discuss, write an engaging story instead of just stating facts.

This will captivate your audience and increase the chances of eliciting the desired response from them.

7. Exclusive offers make subscribers feel special (but which kinds are best?)

It’s nice when someone, whether a close friend or a relative stranger, goes out of their way to do something nice for you.

As a website owner with an email list, you’re hopefully somewhere in the middle of that friend-stranger spectrum in the eyes of your subscribers.

If you can do something for your subscribers that they really appreciate, it will do many important things:

  • Make them think more highly of you
  • Make them more loyal (to stay a subscriber and to buy in the future)
  • Make them more willing to reciprocate (if you ask for a share, referral, or something else).

The question then is: what can you give them?

For most businesses, an exclusive offer is the best thing they can give.

Let’s go through a few real examples and then some more general situations.

First, you can offer a live event that only your subscribers are invited to. Not only will the event be valuable because it’s live, but it will also be well attended because it’s exclusive.

Bryan Harris often does this, so it must work well for him. For example, here is an email with an offer to attend a private mastermind:

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He sends a few emails leading up to the event and one or two at the last minute. They aren’t complicated—just a brief description of what to expect in the event.

What else can you offer subscribers? Another thing of value that doesn’t cost you much, if anything, is early access.

Matthew Barby created a WordPress plugin and sent this email to his subscribers, giving them free access to it:

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That’s a pretty sweet offer. In reality, Matthew is also gaining his first group of users, which is another win for him.

If you’re launching any big guides or tools, consider getting early feedback from your subscribers.

What else can you offer?

  • Discounts
  • Secret products (like limited one-on-one consulting)
  • Webinars
  • A sneak peak at original research
  • Free samples

Be creative. If you can think of any other ideas, tell me about them in a comment at the end of the article.

8. Give subscribers the gift of convenience

Take care of your subscribers because your list is one of the most valuable assets you own.

You can give value in many ways. Some may be big gestures (email type #1), but even small things go a long way.

If someone is on your list, that means they’ve already told you that they like your content (if they signed up from a blog post, for example).

However, just because they want to hear your thoughts and advice doesn’t mean all your subscribers want it in the same way.

Typically, you’ll email all your subscribers about any new content you create. When you do this, consider giving them alternative ways to consume the content. Make it as convenient as you can.

For example, Tim Urban created a long post about SpaceX. He then sent out this email to subscribers:

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On top of the regular link that he had already sent his subscribers, he sent this email with two other options: a PDF version and an audio version.

It takes a fraction of the time to re-create the original content in a different form, but it adds a lot of extra value.

Nathan Barry offers another way to make your content more convenient.

After he hosts a webinar, he uploads it to YouTube and sends an email with a link to all his subscribers.

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It’s something that I know most subscribers really appreciate, and it also exposes his webinar to those subscribers who forgot to sign up for the event.

Convenience typically comes in the form of different mediums of content.

If you wrote a blog post, particularly a long one, consider emailing it to your subscribers with more than one version:

  • PDF
  • a cheat sheet
  • audio version
  • video summary

Or if you created a video, reformat that into:

  • an e-book
  • an MP3 download
  • a video download
  •  a cheat sheet/summary

You don’t need to create all the formats. Just think about which ones your subscribers would like most and which make sense for the content you made.

9. Short value emails can be a nice change of pace

Think about your subscribers’ email boxes.

Day after day, they get several emails from friends, families, and businesses they like.

What do most of the business emails consist of?

  • “Read our content”
  • “Buy our stuff”

About 90% of business emails fall into these two categories.

And it’s not that those types of emails aren’t valuable to your subscribers—because they are, but some subscribers will get fatigued by them.

If you’re looking to maximize your subscriber happiness as much as possible, consider sending emails that focus on nothing but teaching something interesting to your subscribers.

No links to your content or anyone’s website.

No asking for replies—just a clear show of value.

Bernadette Jiwa is known for her story-telling talent.

She sends out this exact type of email I’m talking about on a regular basis. Sometimes her emails have links underneath, and sometimes they don’t.

Here’s an example of such an email (yes, that’s the whole thing):

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It’s short but gives her subscribers an interesting thing to ponder, which helps them tell better stories (their goal).

It’s a nice break from overwhelming amounts of content (which I may be guilty of myself).

10. Highlights need to be interesting

Email newsletters are nothing new.

Any email sent out on a regular basis that summarizes what’s been happening on a site can be considered an email newsletter.

They’re supposed to consist of highlights.

But like the name implies, they need to consist of the very best of your site.

Whether you have user-generated content or content produced by your writing team, highlight emails are an option.

However, make sure you’re not including everything. But don’t select content randomly either.

You should be giving previews of the most popular content on your site for that particular time period.

For example, Quora (the question and answer site), regularly sends users the most upvoted questions from their feeds.

Here’s what it looks like:

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I would guess that these are automatically generated by the most upvoted questions during the week.

11. One way to show that you really respect subscribers

One goal that every email marketer should have is to form deeper relationships with subscribers.

Admittedly, this is difficult. It’s tough to break down that barrier over email only. You’ve probably never met your subscribers, and by default, they think of you as just another business.

Even if they like your business, most subscribers will still be skeptical about your claim that you care about them and not just their money.

One thing I encourage businesses to do is find employees through their email list.

I’ve done it before, as have many others. Here’s an example of Ramit Sethi sending an email to his list while looking to hire for more than 10 positions:

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When you do this, you make it clear that you think of them as people whom you respect and who you believe have valuable skills.

And it’s good business too. Your subscribers likely have an in-depth understanding of your business and obviously think in similar to you ways (since they like you).

Even if someone doesn’t apply or doesn’t get hired, it’s clear to them that you’re looking to develop partnerships and relationships with people on your list.

It’s one way to break down that barrier a bit and become more than “just another business.”

12. Don’t fall victim to the “curse of knowledge” (deliver your best stuff)

Many bloggers suffer from the “curse of knowledge.”

The curse of knowledge is a fairly old concept. It basically states that it’s hard to understand what lesser-informed people are thinking.

If you’re an expert in math, it would be hard for you to even fathom that someone doesn’t understand something like basic calculus.

It’s the reason why some people are geniuses but absolutely awful teachers. Conversely, someone who just learned something can often teach it best because they understand the perspective of someone who doesn’t know it.

Let’s apply this to your subscribers and content.

Over the years, you might write hundreds of pieces of content. At that point (possibly present day), you’re naturally going to assume that your average new subscriber is more informed than they used to be.

For me, as an example, it’s easy to assume that every new subscriber understands on-page and off-page SEO as well as concepts such as white-hat and black-hat link building.

From that perspective, it’s hard for me to send them my advanced guide to SEO because I’m assuming they already know everything in it.

Chances are, though, your average new subscriber won’t change much over time.

And it’s very likely that my average new subscriber could benefit from more general SEO knowledge before I get to the specific tactics I currently write about.

The autoresponder “crash course”: If you think that this is a problem, one way to fix it is with an autoresponder sequence.

Think of what an average subscriber knew even a year or two ago, and make a list of what they need to learn to get up to speed with the rest of your content.

Then, put together an autoresponder sequence that you send to all new subscribers, where you showcase your old content that teaches these basic concepts.

For example, if you sign up for Wordstream’s list, a PPC optimization business, you’ll get a few emails like this:

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The guides are all older content, and the field may have advanced since it was written, but the fundamentals hold true, and new subscribers will greatly appreciate learning them.

The takeaway from the “curse of knowledge” is that you’re probably giving subscribers a bit too much credit. Don’t assume they’ve read every single post you’ve ever written—because they haven’t.

Don’t be afraid to send emails featuring the best of your older content.

13. Preview big events that subscribers will be interested in (be your own hype man)

You need to give subscribers incentives to open that next email.

There are many ways to do this, but one way is to build hype in advance.

Think about any popular TV show. They show previews for the next episode in commercials and at the end of episodes.

These get you excited, and you make sure you watch the next episode.

Brian Dean does a similar thing really well, but for content.

For example, he sent this email to subscribers:

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In that email, he shared his story about struggling and then finally succeeding with SEO.

It’s an interesting story that draws you in and makes you curious about the specifics of his success (building hype).

At the bottom of the email, he teases subscribers with bullet points that outline what he’s going to show them over the next few emails:

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Right at the end, after building that hype, he tells them to watch out for his next email in which he’ll send the first post about how to succeed with SEO like he did.

You’d better believe that he had a fantastic open rate on that email.

You can do the same. When you’re planning to publish a big piece of content or a new tool, first send an email that focuses on the benefits of it.

If possible, tie it into an entertaining story to suck in your subscriber even more. That will only add to the anticipation.

14. Make sure you’re emailing subscribers who actually want to hear from you

People won’t open your messages if they didn’t sign up for your emails.

That’s why I recommend creating a double opt-in process for new subscribers.

Take a look at how this affects your open rates:

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You might have a huge list of subscribers.

But that doesn’t mean anything if they’re not reading your content.

Getting your subscribers to open your message is the first step.

That’s why you need to seed your lists with people genuinely interested in your brand.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend buying subscribers.

Only contact those people who signed up for your emails or newsletter.

How often have you received an unwanted email from a company?

For argument’s sake, let’s pretend this message doesn’t go to your spam folder and you actually open it.

Maybe you’ll even skim through some of the content, which is even more of a stretch if you’re not a subscriber.

Are you going to follow through with whatever action they’re asking you to complete?

I doubt it.

Well, then you can’t expect recipients of your email to follow your instructions if they never opted in to receive it in the first place.

Give your subscribers options when they are signing up.

Here’s a great example from HubSpot:

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HubSpot lets their subscribers decide whether they want to receive messages on a daily or weekly basis.

If customers want to hear from you every day, give them what they want.

These people are more engaged with your brand and will be more likely to act in response to your email.

15. Survey Your Subscribers

A great way to ensure that you are sending the right emails to the right customers is to run a survey.

You’ll find out valuable information about their levels of satisfaction and buying habits.

Surveys can help alter your marketing strategy, products, or services based on the results.

Asking the customer for their opinion is a great way to show how much you care about them.

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Nearly 70% of customers said they left a brand because they did not feel the brand cared.

Don’t let this happen to you.

Keeping your customers happy is a great way to add subscribers to your email list and to keep your readers engaged.

You can even send customers a survey through an interactive email.

Here is how to setup a surveys which will allow you to produce more engaging emails and can help you grow your list too!

First, come up with ideas for a survey

What’s your survey going to be about?

Before you can build a survey, figure this part out.

You can’t have a “one size fits all” questionnaire.

You’ll need to come up with a few different ideas here.

Here are a few examples to guide you in the right direction.

You can create a survey about:

  • The shopping experience on your website
  • A recent product purchase
  • How the customer felt after visiting your store
  • Their latest interaction with a customer service representative

Just make sure your questions focus on the customer experience.

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If your customers are experiencing an issue with your brand, products, or process, a survey can help you identify these problems.

You can’t resolve an issue unless you identify it first.

Build your survey

Now that you’ve decided what your survey should be about, it’s time to construct it.

If you’ve never created a survey before, don’t worry.

It’s super easy, and I’ll show you how to do it.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to building a professional customer survey.

Step #1: Select a platform like SurveyMonkey

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SurveyMonkey is a top option, but it’s not your only choice.

I like it because it’s easy to use and it’s free.

You can also check out other sites:

All of these will get the job done.

But for simplicity and consistency, I’ll continue explaining how to create your survey on the SurveyMonkey platform.

Step #2: Sign up for an account

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SurveyMonkey makes it easy for you to create a profile.

You can create a unique username or just sign in through your Facebook or Google accounts.

I think it’s easier to just click the Google button.

But it’s a quick process no matter which option you choose.

You can’t proceed until you create your account.

But again, it’s free, so you don’t have to give any credit card or billing information.

Step #3: Choose your template

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You’ve got some different options here.

You can build your survey from scratch or choose one of the predesigned templates.

I’d go with one already designed.

It’s much easier to just plug in your questions into their designs.

But if you want to be adventurous, feel free to start one from scratch.

Step #4: Select “Customer Feedback” from the “All Templates” menu:

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For our purposes, the templates in the customer feedback section are the most relevant.

Remember, we are designing our surveys to:

  1. Enhance the customer experience
  2. Grow our email list

This is the best spot to get started.

Step #5: Navigate to the “Question Bank” to add questions

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After you select a template, you’ll advance to the “Design Survey” tab.

From here, you can customize your questions from the question bank in the left column.

You can use their existing questions, modify them, or write your own.

For example, take a look at the question in the above example.

I could change the words “our company” to “Quick Sprout” to make it less generic.

Step #6: Collect responses from your customers

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Now that you’ve customized the survey, it’s time to distribute it to your customers.

Click the “Collect Responses” tab to proceed.

Now, the logical distribution method would be email, right?

Well, yes and no.

Here’s what I mean.

Yes, you want to send this email to your existing subscriber list.

That’s a no brainer.

However, this won’t necessarily help you build your email list.

All these customers are already subscribed.

Their responses are still valid, and you definitely want to hear them.

You’ll get more opens, clicks, and engagements by sending this out.

But remember, you’re trying to blow the top off your email list.

To do this, you’ll have to distribute the survey on all of your platforms:

  • your website
  • social media pages
  • mobile application

I’ll explain how you can use different resources to grow your email list.

Share your survey on social media pages

You may have fans and followers on social media who haven’t subscribed to your email list yet.

You can target these followers by distributing the survey through social platforms.

It’s a nice change of pace from your promotional messages.

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People will unfollow your page if you post only promotional content.

A survey is a great way to mix it up.

Your customers may have been waiting for a long time to tell you how they feel about your company.

This survey is an opportunity for them to voice their opinions.

Once they complete the survey, say thank you.

Now’s the perfect opportunity to get them to sign up for your email list.

Here’s how you do it.

Before they get started, offer an incentive to your followers to complete the survey.

They will be more inclined to share their opinions if they get something in return.

Here’s the twist.

To receive their free gift or discount, they need to join your email list.

Look at the way Blue Apron accomplishes this:

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Your social media followers will be happy to join your email list if they are getting something in return.

Make sure the deal is worth it.

Giving them 5% off may not be enticing enough.

I’m not saying you need to give your products away, but the offer needs to be appealing.

Converting your followers into customers by sharing your survey on social media can do wonders for your business.

Take a look at the process. Consumer:

  1. takes the survey
  2. signs up for your emails to receive their discount
  3. activates the promotion and makes a purchase

Now, you’re growing your email list and generating revenue.

All because of your survey.

Social media is a great distribution method for your survey because customers are more likely to buy from brands they follow.

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Targeting people for your email list who are more inclined to purchase from your company is an excellent strategy.

Leverage your survey results to boost your brand’s reputation

Let’s take this a step further.

You can use the results from your survey to grow your email list as well.

There are two main ways to accomplish this:

  1. make changes to improve the customer experience
  2. use social proof of concept to get subscribers

Let’s play out a hypothetical example here.

You’ve obtained some new information from your latest survey results.

Customers don’t think you’re running enough promotions.

They want more discounts than you currently offer.

Adjust your business model accordingly.

Make a point to give your customers a sale or promotional discount at least a few times per month.

How do they receive this discount?

By subscribing to your email list.

Start promoting more content that looks like this:

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Your survey results may be telling you that your current sign-up strategy is inefficient.

What’s the current incentive that your subscribers receive for signing up?

If you’re advertising that they will be the first people to get notified whenever you write a new blog post, it may not be exciting enough to them.

Switch it up.

Give the customers what they want, based on how they responded to your survey.

You can also use social proof to leverage your survey results.

This is another great way to grow your email list.

Here’s how social proof influences decisions:

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It’s power in numbers.

Use this psychological tactic to grow your email list.

In addition to surveys, you can ask your customers to write reviews for your company.

According to studies, 82% of customers conduct research online before they make a purchasing decision.

What information are they going to find about your company?

If you can encourage customers to review your company online, it will generate social proof.

Ask your customers to write reviews on platforms such as:

  • Facebook
  • Google Local
  • Yelp

Obviously, you’ll want to see positive reviews here.

But don’t be surprised if you find some unfavorable comments as well.

The more people you can get to write reviews, the greater the power of social proof will be.

Here’s an example of Yelp reviews of some coffee shops in my Seattle neighborhood:

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These places have 930, 755, and 1469 reviews, respectively.

When a customer is researching your brand online, seeing lots of reviews can influence their decision.

Reviews can also help grow your email list if they say something like, “I subscribed for weekly emails, and they always send me great discounts.”

Highlight surveys, and review results on your website.

Here’s a great example from Legal Zone:

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They proudly display this information on the homepage of their website.

How did they find out this information?

By conducting customer surveys.

Sharing the survey results on their website will create social proof for the prospective customers conducting online research.

This information can help influence more people to subscribe to receive emails.

Conclusion

It’s not enough just to build an email list—you have to use it effectively.

Emails are a great personal way to communicate with subscribers and customers.

Make sure you’re only contacting people who want to hear from you and ensure each email you send has a purpose.

If your message doesn’t have a purpose, your recipients won’t respond in a way you would like them to.

That’s why for every email, set a clear goal before you start writing.

This will keep you on track so the rest of your content, including the CTA, focuses on this goal.

Follow all of the tips in this post, and you will increase the rate of desired responses from your email subscribers and grow your list faster.