Practical Ecommerce

Growing Your Email Subscriber List With Contests

Cultivating a solid, permission-based email list can take a lot of time. So some businesses understandably get impatient waiting around for their lists to grow.

ALTFor these businesses, online contests may be an attractive quick fix. As an example, let’s say a newly launched shoe e-retailer, Shoe-Fanatics.com, wants to grow its email list really fast. So it partners with a well-established fashion news website Fashion-Freaks.com, to run a contest or giveaway. Fashion-Freaks.com has been around for years, and they’ve built up a subscriber list composed of users with the same demographics that Shoe-Fanatics.com is looking for. Fashion-Freaks.com will send an email promotion to its readers, recommending they all visit Shoe-Fanatics.com to enter a contest, or redeem a nice coupon. When readers of Fashion-Freaks enter the contest, they can opt in to Shoe-Fanatics’s email marketing list.

Consider these tips

While I can’t offer any legal advice about running contests, I do run the abuse desk at MailChimp, and can tell you all the ways this can go wrong from an email marketing perspective. Over the years, I’ve had to shut down quite a few user accounts that grew their lists from contests. So here are some tips if you’re thinking about using contests to boost your list. We’ll use the example above, and pretend you’re the shoe e-retailer:

  • Perform some due diligence. Opt-in to Fashion-Freak’s website, and research its list management practices. If it uses single opt-in, its list may be larger, but prone to prank email submissions and typos. If it uses confirmed opt-in, the list will be smaller, but higher in quality and response rates. Try unsubscribing from their list. Do they make it a difficult, or impossible process? That’s a bad sign, because it means they could have lots of angry recipients on their list, who will undoubtedly end up hating you too.

  • Don’t send out contest email yourself. Let’s say everything checks out, and you decide to work with them. You want to send an email promotion to the subscriber list. They should already have a “Fashion-Freaks.com recommends…” sort of email template for this sort of thing. They’ll probably ask you to follow their guidelines and create an email that they’ll send on your behalf. Sometimes they’ll design the email for you, because they know what makes their readers click better than anyone. The point is, the email list stays with them, and they do the sending for you. Remember, these aren’t your subscribers yet. If Fashion-Freaks.com offers to give you a copy of their email list, don’t take it. Those subscribers don’t know you, and will report you for spam. And chances are, the list has already been sold many times before you, and is very dirty.

  • Communicate clearly, disclose everything. You’ll send your email creative, and it’ll take readers to a landing page signup form. When they sign up, make it abundantly clear to entrants that they will be receiving email marketing from your company. Don’t bury this fact somewhere in the contest rules. Use the opt-in method, not the opt-out method. Better yet, use confirmed opt-in. Down the road, if a forgetful entrant reports you for spamming, her ISP will trace the email back to your signup form. If they see anything less than a pure, permission-based opt-in form, they will be more likely to block future emails from you. On that note, make sure your opt-in form collects IP address, date, and time-stamp information for all new subscribers (this is your “proof of opt-in” if you’re questioned by ISPs or anti-spam groups).

  • Respond quickly. When people enter your contest, send an immediate confirmation email. Include a copy of your email-marketing newsletter (or send it separately), so they get a feel for who you are, and what to expect. The point is, you don’t want to wait too long before they hear from you. Contest entrants tend to be forgetful.

  • Segregate lists. Don’t just add all new subscribers from the contest into your master customer list. I’ve seen too many companies want to “remove all those contest freeloaders” from their list, because their response rates brought down their averages, or their complaint rates were jeopardizing their deliverability. Save entrants into their own database, or flag them so you can filter them out if you ever wanted to.

  • Remind subscribers of contest. Remember, contest entrants are forgetful. And they’re really just looking for a prize. When they get their first, non prize-related email newsletter from you, make sure you include a prominent reminder of how they got on your list. Find a way to mention the fashion website partner in your introductory paragraph, or at the very least, put a permission reminder in your footer (“You’re receiving this email because you entered a contest and opted-in at…”).

If organic list growth is just not fast enough for you, using contests can indeed be a fast and cheap way to grow your list. But if you don’t cover all your bases, you’ll end up with an inferior quality email list with “bad apples” that can spoil your whole bunch.

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Ben Chestnut
Ben Chestnut
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Comments ( 4 )

  1. Rachel Cavalier July 31, 2008 Reply

    Thanks for another great article.

    I just wanted to point out that in your first sentence you are missing the word "of." The first sentence should say, "Cultivating a solid, permission-based email list can take a lot of time."

  2. Kerry Murdock July 31, 2008 Reply

    Thank you, Rachel, for pointing out the missing word. We have corrected the error.

    Thank you for visiting our site.

    Kerry M.
    -PeC

  3. WereBear August 28, 2008 Reply

    Good stuff!

    I somewhat bypassed the pitfalls of the frantic contest supplicant by offering specialized products that would only be of interest to my core audience. And they have to sign up from my site.

    Very good points about keeping a clean list and stressing opt-ins. Face it, if someone doesn’t really want to be on it, they won’t want to do business with you, either.

  4. Tim October 23, 2014 Reply

    Ben,

    Thanks for this post. Can you recommend a third party site that can help with a contest and can integrate with my MailChimp account? I want to find someone how is doing it right, for the integrity of my list.

    Thanks in advance,
    Tim

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