Keeping A Well-Swept Path To Sign-Up Conversions

When was the last time you signed up for your own emails? Perhaps better yet, when was the last time that you watched one of your parents sign up for your emails? Would they be able to do it -- or would they get confused about certain elements of the process?

Based on my experience signing up for 120 retailers' email programs for the 3rd annual Retail Email Subscription Benchmark Study, which the Email Experience Council is releasing next week, I'm betting that you might find some hitches and glitches that you didn't expect.

Here are some of the problems I found cluttering up the subscription processes of the top online retailers:

Fuzziness on what's required and what's optional. Clearly label what is required on your email subscription forms, or consider saving all the optional fields for the confirmation page. Getting people to fill out a form once is difficult enough; don't make them have second thoughts by halting their submission because they didn't give you information that wasn't indicated as required. For instance, B&H Photo Video's email sign-up form says a zip code isn't indicated as required, but it actually is.

Uncertainty about where in the sign-up process you are. When a would-be subscriber progresses from page to page in your subscription process, make it really clear what needs to be done next, if anything. For instance, after submitting your email address on J&R's homepage, you're dropped on an untitled landing page that asks for more information without saying if this information is optional or not. Some people may assume -- perhaps falsely -- that this information is not required, and leave the page.
QVC does the same thing. After entering your email address in the form on the homepage, you're taken to an account sign-in page without confirmation of the email subscription or the explanation that registration is required to receive emails. In these cases, would-be subscribers are left wondering what happened -- whether they're signed up, whether the process failed, or whether they have to register.

Out-of-date information. Make sure that all of your preferences and other options are up to date. For instance, Best Buy's email preference center has outdated game console preferences -- PS2, PS one, GameCube, etc. -- and none of the current ones. Besides making you look unprofessional, with such mistakes you also miss out on collecting information that would help you target subscribers with relevant offers.

Confusion about subscription confirmation vs. welcome emails. There was some confusion among retailers about the difference between these two kinds of emails -- and, yes, I do think that many consumers know the difference. For instance, Alibris and American Eagle Outfitters both said that they were sending a confirmation email when they only sent a welcome email.

This becomes more vital when subscribers are given the impression that they still need to take action to complete their sign-up -- or worse, aren't told that they do need to take further action to finish the sign-up process. For example, Lane Bryant says that you need "to confirm your subscription by clicking on the link in the email we just sent you," but the welcome email that arrives doesn't contain a confirmation link. On the other hand, Etronics doesn't tell you to expect a subscription confirmation email, which means that some people may delete it without opening or looking at it closely.
Dirty copy. Don't raise questions about your attention to detail or competence by having misspellings or errant copy. For instance, the <title> tag on Old Navy's email sign-up page is "default | Old Navy." Also, on the sample pages for Walgreens' "W Photo News and Offers" and "Special Offers and Savings" emails, the word "test" appears right above the field for your email address. That doesn't inspire confidence and may make some people hesitant to submit their address, thinking that the form is in the testing phase. Email is as much about the details as it is about creativity and analytics.
Creating a straightforward subscription process with clear directions and a minimal number of steps is critical to converting visitors into subscribers. Keep these pitfalls in mind to avoid placing barriers on the path to conversion for your would-be subscribers.




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