Why Source Matters in Email List Building

Posted by Scott Cohen On March 11, 2011 in story time I 0 Comments

If you listen to the email marketing industry, you’ll hear the constant refrain about how important it is to segment your list and target your content to keep your subscribers happy. It’s solid advice, no doubt about it. But oftentimes, the focus of the segmentation argument centers on the typical demographic, psychographic, geographic and engagement data. Again, all good things.

But, there tends to be one key ingredient to the list building meal that’s missing: Source of Entry. Namely, where did the subscriber come from?

  • Did they come from your website (what some would call a “Natural or Organic Subscriber”)?
  • Did they subscribe to get some free content from you like a whitepaper?
  • Were they a co-reg subscriber?
  • A cost/incentive subscriber?
  • An eAppend list, rented list, or (dare we say it as we wince greatly) a purchased list?

Why is source of entry important? Because your metrics will differ based on it.

For many, a natural subscriber tends to be the most responsive—at least during the “Honeymoon Period,” and hopefully longer if you deliver the content they signed up to receive.

Once you move your list-building efforts into other areas, including incentivized tactics (“Subscribe for a chance to win an iPad!”), Co-Reg, and less-than-thrilling tactics (List rental and (gag) Purchase), you begin to dilute your list with what will surely be a higher rate of non-opens, unsubscribes, and complaints and a lower rate of conversions.

Need some numbers? In Scott’s previous life, conversion numbers looked like this:

  • Website subscribers: 25%
  • Other subscribers: 8%

By contrast, spam complaints were noticeably higher from “Other” sources. The numbers looked like this:

  • Website subscribers: 19%
  • Other subscribers: 57%

(Yes, dear readers, you can’t totally avoid spam complaints.)

As you can see from the numbers, understanding the dynamics of your subscriber lists will help you in future mailings as well as enable you to set reasonable expectations for those lists. If you segment your lists, consider doing so by subscriber source and basing your reporting on those segments as well.

Basing your reports on subscriber source as a segment will reveal a boatload of valuable information about how well your different tactics are working for you. Be sure to remember to NOT dilute your natural subscriber metrics with a bunch of outside subscriber data that will bring down your overall metrics.

Always present your reports with metrics from individual segments, and then show the overall numbers. You’ll be able to show how certain sources affect your total numbers for a campaign. Plus, you’ll be able to calculate revenue based on subscriber source and match that against your acquisition costs for each source.

Now that’s really useful email marketing data you might not be using today. It can make your tomorrow much easier and more profitable.

Cheers, Chris

Thanks to Scott Cohen for his help on this post.

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