Maximizing Your Email Audience Potential: Optimizing Your Email Signup Forms

November 19, 2019 | 9 minute read
Kaiti Gary
Senior Director of Analytic & Strategic Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency
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Everyone wants more subscribers who are regularly converting. While there are many paths open to marketers to achieve this goal, one of the most important is having email sign-up forms and processes that are as friction free as possible.

Having an email subscription process that’s clear and easy helps grow your email marketing program by getting more of your potential addressable audience to climb your Email Audience Potential Pyramid. At a minimum, they’ll climb up to the second step and be opted in, but many will climb higher and become engaged or converting subscribers, propelling your email marketing revenue growth.

Let’s break down all the major elements that go into creating high-performing, low-friction email sign-up forms...

1. Cast a wide net

Turning a customer or a prospect into an email subscriber is one of the most sure-fire ways to turn them into a high-value customer. The reward is great, so use all of your owned media to help drive this opportunity. Wherever your customers are engaging with your brand and buying your products or services, that’s where you want to be asking them to become subscribers.

Some of the most effective subscriber acquisition sources are:

  • Your website’s header and footer. People who are looking to sign up for your email program will likely instinctively look in the footer of your website, so it’s always wise to have an email sign-up call to action there to avoid frustrating them. However, to reach people who aren’t explicitly looking to sign up, a top-of-the-page placement is far more visible. A mid-page placement (often right after the hero module) can also be effective. But for the ultimate in email sign-up form visibility, consider adding...

  • A lightbox or pop-up. These generate significant list growth because they require visitors to interact with them before they can continue. However, they can also be a big nuisance to visitors, so be sure to clearly define the behavior of your lightbox so it’s not endlessly harassing your customers. For instance, once a visitor dismisses your lightbox, consider not showing it to them again for, say, two weeks. You can then test a more or less aggressive timing and compare results. It’s also worth testing whether your lightbox is triggered immediately, after a certain amount of time on page, or after a certain number of pages browsed. A less aggressive option is...

  • A sticky footer. Staying anchored to the bottom of your viewport until they’re dismissed, these lightboxes are considerably less in your face. They’re hard to miss, but don’t stop visitors from interacting with your site or app. 

  • Your website and app registration and login screens. During registration on your website or app, make the email subscription appeal hard to miss. Consider using the login process to periodically re-present the email sign-up opportunity. However, just like you need to with lightboxes, you’ll want to control how often you’re asking so as not to annoy them.

  • During in-store checkouts. This is best when you have pin pads or tablets available for customers to enter their email addresses themselves. This approach results in much higher input accuracy rates and a much lower risk of spam traps getting on your email list compared to taking an email address verbally. If you don’t have a way of letting shoppers enter their email addresses, take them verbally and then visually show them what you captured on a pin pad or elsewhere so they can confirm that you got it right.

  • During live events. Again, avoid handwritten email sign-up forms because of the high error rates with transcriptions. Use digital sign-up methods whenever possible.

  • During call center interactions. OK, so technically it’s impossible to present these people with an email sign-up form, but your call center is still a good place to get customers signed up for promotional email. This is especially true during calls with positive interactions. Because the person is providing their email address verbally, we highly recommend using a double opt-in permission process to protect your list from incorrectly transcribed addresses.

Regardless of which subscriber acquisition sources you use, we highly recommend that every email source is tagged with an identifier on the backend so analysts can go in and determine how each source is performing in terms of the volume of sign-ups, bounces, subscriber value, and other metrics critical to building a high-performing list. Doing this will allow for adjustment over time to invest in high-value sources, as well as to shut down poorly performing sources.

2. Communicate the benefits of signing up

“Sign up for email” is a poor sign-up call to action. “Join our email list” is even worse. Neither of those communicates the value proposition that your email program is offering.

Across all of your subscriber acquisition sources, be sure that you’re making it clear to your audience why they should sign up. Essentially, this means answering the question that every would-be subscriber is asking themselves: “What’s in it for me?”

If you’re offering exclusive deals, new product alerts, educational content, or whatever the case may be, make that clear. Keep in mind that you may need to tweak this value proportion for each of your subscriber acquisition sources so the message best suits the context in which you’re asking them to sign up.

In the case of a re-opt-in appeal, why should they reconsider? What’s changed or new? Can you make a personalized appeal? For example, if someone is a frequent purchaser of a particular product category, consider offering them a sign-up incentive that’s tied to that category.

3. Make it easy

Complicated forms and ones that aren’t user-friendly cause people to abandon them, which means that you’re sort of losing subscribers before they’ve even had a chance to experience your program. There are two key elements here to be mindful of: the form fields and the user interface.

Form fields

Long email sign-up forms are daunting and raise all kinds of negative questions in would-be subscribers’ minds: What are they going to do with that information? Why do they want my phone number? Are they going to call or mail me things, too?

For that reason, limit the number of fields on your email sign-up forms to only the most essential. Ask yourself: What information do I need right now to create a great subscriber experience, and what information can I get later?

For example, many B2C brands only require the person’s email address on their sign-up form. That’s because, retail, ecommerce, and other similar brands know that if their emails do their job, then they’ll be driving conversions—during which customers will provide their name, mailing address, and plenty of other information that they can append to the customer’s profile. If personalizing your emails by nearest store or zip code is a big part of your emails, then asking for that information upfront makes sense. But be mindful that every field you add—whether it’s required or not—adds to form abandonment.

B2B brands have it a little harder, as they typically need to know the person’s name, title, company name, or other information about their business or needs in order to tailor their email communications. Especially for B2B brands (but for B2C ones as well), you can reduce the incremental form abandonment caused by additional fields if you briefly explain how you’ll use the extra information to create a better experience for them.

Of course, the forms that are the most friction-free are the ones where all the data is pre-populated based on previous interactions. When you’re able to do that, you have the opportunity to turn your email sign-up potentially into a one-click process. For example, if a shopper enters their email address at checkout in-store so they can receive their receipt via email, you could ask them on the e-receipt confirmation screen if they’d like to sign up for promotional emails. Since you already have their email address, that becomes a simple Yes-No question. It doesn’t get easier than that.

User interface

The design of the email sign-up form matters as well, especially on mobile. Generally speaking, we advise our clients to:

  • Clearly label form fields 

  • Left-align all fields in a single-column layout to make navigation from field to field easier

  • Make use of autocorrect and autofill capabilities to make filling in information much quicker

On mobile devices, we also recommend that clients: 

  • Use responsive design

  • Have adequate spacing between form fields to avoid fat-finger user experience issues

  • Use a large call-to-action button to complete the sign-up

  • Include a progress bar if sign-up is a multi-step process

These make the sign-up process easier and more intuitive, reducing form abandonment rates.

4. But also make it compliant and safe

While you’re looking to make your email sign-up forms as appealing and frictionless as possible, you also need to ensure that you’re not inviting trouble. It’s a balance. For instance…

Ensure you’re following the law. CAN-SPAM has zero impact on how you design your email sign-up forms, but Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) do. If you have subscribers in either Canada or Europe, be sure that you’re in compliance with those laws. But companies that operate exclusively in the US aren’t off the hook, thanks to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

In each of those jurisdictions, make sure that you’re handling permissions correctly, recording and passing data appropriately, and following other aspects of laws that may apply to your operations. 

Ensure you’re protecting your sender reputation. You want to make it easy for your prospects and customers to sign up, but you need to protect your list from problematic email addresses that can lead to hard bounces, spam complaints, and spam trap hits. Having too many of any of those can cause inbox providers to block your emails or route them to spam folders instead of inboxes. 

Here are some protections to consider putting into place depending on the behaviors and issues you’re experiencing:

  • Double opt-in subscription process. The gold standard in protecting the quality of your email list is adopting a double or confirmed opt-in process. This is where you send an opt-in confirmation email to anyone who signs up and that email requires them to click a link to confirm their subscription. If they don’t click, they aren’t added to your active email list and don’t receive any more emails from you. This ensures that the address is valid and that the person who owns the email address indeed wants to subscribe. This level of protection is best for open forms, like email sign-up forms and webinar registration forms with email sign-ups in them. The risks are lower for email sign-ups during checkout or account creation, for example, so you might consider some of these other ways of protecting yourself.

  • Double-entry confirmation. People are in a hurry, so it’s easy for them to occasionally mistype their email address. However, it’s highly unlikely that they’d mistype it twice in a row. That’s the logic behind double-entry confirmation, where you ask a would-be subscriber to enter their email address in two separate fields and check that they match. This helps reduce hard bounces (when the typo makes the address invalid) and spam complaints (when the typo changes the address to someone else’s). It can also help protect you from typo spam traps.

  • Email validation services. For all the reasons that you’d use double-entry confirmation, you could use an email validation service, which checks for and screens out poorly formatted and suspicious email addresses.

  • CAPTCHA. Whether it’s a traditional CAPTCHA test, a checkbox reCAPTCHA, or an invisible reCAPTCHA that works behind the scenes, each of these can help keep malicious and exploitive bots off your email list.

Growing your list by adding high-value subscribers is critical to email marketing program success—and, indeed, often to business success as a whole. Put your program in a position to succeed by placing email sign-up forms in all of your key channels, making the benefits of signing up crystal clear, and making the sign-up process as easy as possible, while complying with laws and protecting yourself. Do all of that and you will have made a big step forward in maximizing your email audience potential.

Want more ways to maximize your email audience potential? Check out: 


Need help growing your email audience? Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting has more than 500 of the leading marketing minds ready to help you to achieve more with the leading marketing cloud, including audience experts on our List Growth & Lead Generation Services team.

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Kaiti Gary

Senior Director of Analytic & Strategic Services, Oracle Digital Experience Agency

Kaiti (Livermore) Gary is a Senior Director on the Analytic & Strategic Services team at Oracle Digital Experience Agency. Her background includes over 16 years of client and agency consulting experience in the in a variety of marketing capacities including product management, customer experience and digital marketing. Given her diverse background, she excels in the development of holistic and innovative marketing solutions that balance strategy, technology and operational needs.

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