Tips for staying in constant contact with your clients - Effective opt-in forms

Email marketing is an extremely powerful and effective marketing technique. It is also the most cost effective way in existence today, to contact prospects and customers. If done incorrectly, by sending unsolicited emails, it is called spam and gets you blacklisted and hated by the ones you were trying to reach. If done right, it is called permission-based email marketing and it will build the value of your brand, increase your sales and keep you in constant contact with your targeted audience, whether prospects or existing clients.

When most people think of permission-based email marketing, they automatically associate the concept with the old practice of mass mailing, that is building a list, and emailing a message, or a newsletter to that list. Today, the process is much more elaborate, as you have to push your message across in a way that will not piss people off, that will not get you blacklisted and that will not get you labeled as a spammer.

In this article we will discuss one of the most underrated steps in building a successful email marketing campaign: the sign-up form.

With the introduction of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/canspam.htm) it became increasingly important to make sure that your recipients opted in, that is requested themselves to be emailed your information. The easiest way to achieve this is through subscription, or sign-up forms.

Here are some tips on how to effectively build sign-up forms, gathered from experienced email marketers:

1. The more often your prospects are exposed to your sign-up form, the greater the chance they will notice it and actually sign up to receive your emails.

As with everything else in life, you have to be very careful as not to reach the saturation point, which is the point at which your viewer gets annoyed.

Our studies have found that strategically, it is best to place your forms in one of the following locations:

- On the top right of a page;
- On the left hand navigation bar;
- At the bottom of the page, directly after the relevant content.

2. Entice your subscribers.

An effective sign-up or opt-in form is as effective as your enticement campaign. You have to convince people to trust you enough to give you their real names and email addresses.

Explain the benefits of subscribing (ex. "to receive tips, tricks and techniques on how to…."), include a few samples and testimonials. Finish it up with a strong call to action.

3. Offer opt-in incentives.

Properly used incentives can significantly increase opt-in rates.

Some of the most proven and effective incentives in use are:

- Free whitepapers or e-books (you can find one on almost any topic, and if you don't, then consider writing one yourself);

- Opt-in discount or a free service (for example, if you are a web hosting company, you can offer one month free hosting);

- Special report.

Whatever incentive you chose to offer, do not forget to follow up on your promise. In your welcome message, you should automatically provide a link to the free product – if applicable, for example if you are giving away a free report or an e-book, then provide a download link – or a coupon (discount) code that you are ready to take automatically online or via phone.

4. Design your form with the user in mind.

Walk through your form yourself after you put it online and see if you would be annoyed by it or if you would find it easy and comfortable.

Some tips to remember:

- People use various devices and browsers today. Make sure your form and the entire page the form is on is readable by all browsers. Do not place the form on a page that is heavy in graphics and multimedia, as people generally don't have too much patience if the page is slow to load.

- Do not forget people who browse the web on PDAs. You might think I'm nuts, but it's a reality, a lot of people now browse on their Blackberrys and Treos. This is especially important if your opt-in form is a link inside an email message. People do click on those links on their PDAs and you don't want to lose them, as after they read your message, they will not go back to it again, on a regular computer. You want them to sign up right there, on the spot. So make those forms simple, use only plain and traditional HTML. Also, things shift on a PDA screen so try to borrow one and see how your form looks like and make the appropriate size adjustments.

- Don't forget to make sure that the TAB key advances through the fields in the proper order and that the ENTER key submits the form. You'll be surprised to know that a lot of people are turned off at the slightest misbehavior of your form. You'll also be surprised to know that the vast majority of form fillers rely solely on the keyboard. If hitting the ENTER key activates a link instead of submitting the form, you lost them.

- Do not ask for too much information, at least in the initial opt-in stage. People are reluctant to fill up long questionnaires, especially that their intention was not specifically to fill up your form but you enticed them to do so. Name and email should be sufficient. Collect your demographic data later on.

- Have a privacy statement on the page where the form is, or as a link, accessible directly from the page with the form. People trust companies that openly display privacy policies and promise not to sell their data. Remember that with opt-ins, they can't just put fake data on or use those "shopping" email addresses, but they trust you with their real contact information.

- If you are rusty at creating HTML forms, use an opt-in form generator from a reputable email marketing solutions provider.

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2.  iContact
3.  Constant Contact 
4.  Stream Send
5.  GetResponse
6.  Benchmark
7.  Mailigen
8.  Aweber 
9.  Active Campaign
10. Response Wise



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