Ask The E-mail Diva: Converting Visitors To Subscribers

Dear E-mail Diva,

While my site receives 10K visits/day, my e-mail list has stagnated at about 20K people. I want to kick-start the viral marketing aspect of it, and I'm not sure what to do besides providing a "forward to a friend" function and incentive sweepstakes for those who refer a friend to signup. Any ideas? Also, I sometimes wonder if my e-mails are too long and if that's affecting my churn rate.

Michelle Madhok

Dear Michelle,

With 10K visits per day but only 20K subscribers, your primary issue is conversion. Dr. Flint McGlaughlin of has achieved truly amazing results by recognizing that the probability of conversion is a function of:

  • The motivation of the user;

  • The clarity of the value proposition;

  • The incentive to take action;

  • The friction elements in the process; and



  • The user's anxiety about entering e-mail address.

    This week we'll only have space to discuss the first three; next week I'll follow up and also answer your questions about your e-mail length and viral options.

    Motivation of the User

    Helping your friend enter a sweepstakes is not a motivating factor for subscribing to a newsletter. On the contrary, it makes you wonder whether the product is good, or whether the friend is merely interested in the reward. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) suggests that rather than giving an incentive to the referrer, you should empower referrers to reward their friends. Influencers love to be able to pass on a great tip or bargain. Is there a special offer that you or one of your advertisers can provide? Give current subscribers an exclusive bonus they can pass on to friends who sign up for e-mail.

    Clarity of the Value Proposition

    What does a subscriber get from your e-mail program? Your opt-in headlines are "Sign up for our e-mail newsletter and get weekly style finds in your inbox!," which is not bad, and "Sign up for free e-mail!," which is dreadful. Do you imagine potential subscribers thinking, "Yes! That's what I want! More commercial e-mail! Wow, and it's free!"? Test headlines and supporting copy that describe your program in a tantalizing yet accurate way. If you can't be as effusive as you'd like and still be truthful, improve your program so you have something to sing about.

    Incentive to Take Action

    If you have an offer that subscribers have passed along, you need a different one for non-referred subscribers (to keep the friend offer exclusive). It can be a screensaver or other digital goodie, discount, gift with first order, free shipping, 2007 Fashion Forecast via PDF, etc. From direct marketing,we know that the best offer is one that:

  • appeals to the target audience and not the general public;
  • is harmonious with your brand;
  • provides the highest perceived value at the most reasonable cost;
  • has a time limit; and
  • makes consumers feel they will miss out if they don't act.

    Test the quality of subscriber you get, based on subsequent e-mail response, for various incentives and no incentive, to find the right solution for you.

    Next week: friction elements in e-mail sign-up, anxiety about entering e-mail, e-mail length and frequency, viral basics.

    The E-mail Diva

    Send your questions or submit your e-mail for critique to Melinda Krueger, the E-mail Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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