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March 4, 2016
Guides  |  9 min read

10 Surefire Tips to Get Your Email List to Love You

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Ellis Friedman

Think back to your first date with your significant other (or the one you just had last week). First dates are pretty nerve-wracking—the skepticism, the hope, the butterflies or utter lack thereof. How do you think that date would have gone if you’d proposed—or been proposed to—on the first date? It probably would have been your last date.

Dynamics are much the same with email marketing. By now you’ve done enough list building and email marketing to know that there’s no magic potion you can take to make your email list engaged. Just like dating, getting the sort of engagement you want takes work, commitment and respect. 


Beyoncé wouldn’t want you to put a ring on it on the first date, and the recipients on your email list probably don’t want you asking them to buy on the first email they receive from you. It’s an email-by-email – or date-by-date – process.   

While engagement takes a lot of work, there are a lot of things you can do for your list that don’t require a proverbial trip to Tiffany’s and two months’ salary. So here are the top 10 ways to create an engaged email list that loves you – just as you are.

1. Have way for people to join your list

It might sound obvious, but capture mechanisms are far too often overlooked. Your website needs to have a visible, easy way for visitors to subscribe. Because people can’t be on your list if they can’t join your list. 

2. Deliver content based on expectations

If visitors to your site sign up expecting to subscribe to your blog, send them your blog updates, not marketing campaigns. When people give you their email address, it’s your responsibility to use it responsibly—not for any purpose you want. There’s an element of trust when people give you their information, and showing them that you respect their privacy and desires will win you their trust, and trust is the first step to engagement.

Plus, if people start getting emails from you that they didn’t subscribe to, your chances of being flagged as spam—or even reported—go way up.

3. Check your frequency

When it comes to respecting desires, email frequency plays a huge role. If at all possible, have a way that subscribers can set their preferences on how often they want an email from you, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly. Maybe you want your significant other to call every day, or maybe twice a week is fine; it’s all about allowing your counterparts to communicate what they want—and to respect that.

If you don’t have or can’t get (for now) that capability, you need to seriously ponder what the right number of emails is per week. Numbers back up that fewer emails actually gets you more engagement. Most people don’t like daily emails – unless they already know they’re specifically signing up for a daily digest. So make sure the frequency is clear—and then stick to it. 

4. Create valuable, useful content

No one likes a date who drones on and on about himself, like this poor lost soul.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise—the best way to engage your email list is to give them value. That means you aren’t sending out repackaged sales messaging, but instead you’re sending out information that your list will find useful. Good content marketing—nay, good marketing—is done on the basis of repeatedly providing value (and proving your worth) before asking for the sale. It’s the pattern of creating value that people will respond to.

It’s the Jay Baer principle; if people get continual value from your emails, they’ll be engaged and you’ll stand out. Think about how many straight sales or promotional email you receive. Now think about how many of them you click through, let alone open. Probably not very many, right? 

Now think about the emails you do click through. Our managing editor loves Almighty’s Dark Matter; I’m a fan of the Quartz daily brief. What are they doing that makes you want to engage? That’s what you need to do for your list. You’ll stand out by not being self-serving, and you’ll be rewarded with dramatically higher open and click-thru rates. 

5. Use the proper systems to deliver a good experience

This is especially important if you have more than one way for people to subscribe, whether it’s for promotions, your blog, a newsletter or what have you. If you have multiple lists, you must have a way to properly manage them. If your lists aren’t well coordinated, you could unknowingly be spamming your list from a number of different places.

This will cost you more than just being annoying—you may find that your emails are going straight to spam, costing you any chance at engagement. You might also find higher incidences of reporting, which could, in more extreme cases, lead to blacklisting. 

So make sure you’re using and all-in-one automated personalized follow up to reach your different lists.  

6. Don’t purchase lists

Just. Don’t. Do it. When you send emails to recipients from a list you purchased, they don’t know who you are. That’s like getting love letters from a stranger—it’s not romantic, it’s creepy. 

And since those recipients don’t know you, they don’t know that you deliver value, so your open rates will be low, your emails will probably go to spam, you could get reported and honestly, it’s just not the way to go if your goal is engagement and results. 

7. Do spring cleaning

This one might be a bit contrary but—get rid of the inactive contacts in your list every six to 12 months. 

Yes—give up on the people who aren’t responding. Just as you wouldn’t spend a year texting someone who ghosted you, nor should you be sending email to people who haven’t clicked in ever. So do them—and you—a favor, and proactively unsubscribe them.

Here’s why: if you’re looking for engagement, those contacts are just skewing your data. They’re lowering your engagement rates, and warping your picture of how many people actually engage and what they’re clicking—or not clicking—on. 

Knowing what people actually want to engage with will help you create better content. 

8. Provide a variety of content experiences

Don’t send the same stuff every time. Think of your emails as an experience and yourself as an experience designer. You wouldn’t want dinner a movie for every date, would you? 

So keep things fresh, provide some diversity and surprise your list in positive ways. A great way to do this? Give them something for free. Imagine how happy you’d feel if a company you loved sent you a 50 percent off coupon just because. 

For example, our managing editor Jake Johnson received a $50 gift card from Warby Parker just for being a valued customer. He used the gift card and spent another $50 to get new glasses he probably didn’t need. He was so surprised, he even shared on social. Sure this is one anecdote, but since a repeat customer spends 67 percent more than a new one, email freebies are a great way to get and retain repeat customers.

Remember it’s all about a relationship, and expressing appreciation is the best way to maintain and build that relationship.

9. Think mobile first

Your emails absolutely must be formatted to work well on a variety of screen resolutions, because about 50 percent of all emails (depending on the survey) are opened on a mobile device and a responsive design increases click-thrus by almost 15 percent

Remember that how people consume your content is as important as the content you create, because even if you have a great strategy and killer content, your list won’t be engaged if they have to awkwardly zoom in on your email.

10. Tailor messaging to location and needs

Customize your emails based on where the recipients live. Your email to someone in the U.K. should be different than your email to someone in California. Because now that content marketing is commonplace, the only way for your emails to stand out is by having truly relevant content.

And now that longtail search—or a three to four-word specific search phrase—is how people find what they’re looking for online, very general content is not good for your list engagement. So allowing people to subscribe based on their interests is a surefire way to ensure even better list engagement.

There's no magic bullet to engaging with your email list so that they love you, but these tips will help you build you relationship with your list so they're yours for life.

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