Three things to ask your email subscribers

Over the years I have created dozens of email signup forms, to help organizations build their email lists of supporters.  Often people want to ask the subscriber to give every last detail of their personal information: full name, address, phone number, etc.

They also know that every piece of information you require in your sign up form reduces the number of people who will complete the form and subscribe.

So what’s the optimal information to ask for, in my opinion?

Based on some simple research I conducted, I think email subscription forms should ask for only three things:

  1. the subscribers email address,
  2. first name and
  3. postal (or zip) code.

That’s it.

Valid email address
Why you need the supporters email address is obvious – you can’t send email if you don’t have an address.  It’s an open question whether people should be asked to confirm, by clicking on a link in and email, if they truly do want to receive updates from you. I think if you send them a good welcome email that explains clearly that they can unsubscribe at any time, this should take care of the few ‘prank’ signups that will inevitably occur.

First name
Knowing the recipients’ first name helps you send emails that are far more compelling, simply by addressing them personally. We all ‘know’ that when we subscribe to an email newsletter, we are getting one copy of an email that was sent to thousands of other people on the list.  But another part of our brain also ‘knows’ that the most important emails are the ones that are sent by people who know us, and they send it directly to us. So we have an expectation that to be important, and email has to be directly addressed to us by name, not ‘Dear friend’.  Including the first name in the salutation of the emails you send is a simple but effective way to increase the reader engagement with your email.

Postal or ZIP code
Collecting this information helps you move your relationship with your subscriber beyond simply sending them emails. And if you are running a campaign, at some point you are going to have to move the relationship beyond the computer.

If you know your supporters postal code, you know:
- where they live (roughly)
- who their elected representatives are
- whether or not to invite them to an event
- their approximate income level

Imagine how useful this information is when you are organizing campaign events, asking them to contact their elected officials or beginning to fundraise.

Why did they sign up?
There’s one more piece of information you need to collect when you ask people to sign up to your email updates: why they signed up to your list in the first place.

At this stage, this is as simple as recording the ‘source’ of the signup. Was it an online petition on a certain issue? Did they attend an event, download a report, or make a donation to a particular campaign?  It makes a world of difference if you have some record of what compelled the signup in the first place – you now have some small hint as to what they value about their relationship with you.

If you are asking for every last personal detail of your email subscribers, you are likely losing more potential signups than you need by asking for too much signup information upfront.  If you truly need that information in the future, people will give it when they are ready.


*This is based on A/B testing I have conducted with two clients using Google Website Optimizer to determine which email signup form gets more subscriptions: A) three form fields that are all required or
B) a form with more fields, but the same three fields are the only ones ‘required’

Admittedly, two tests are not enough to close the book on the issue, but they do represent a sample size of close to two thousand individual signups.

Posted in Email, Online advocacy, Twenty Minute Webbie

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