Content Marketing Best Practices: Getting Email Opt-Ins

Email works incredibly well as a marketing tool … except when it doesn’t. What’s the best way to get people to sign up for an email list … and continue to read our messages?


Solid email marketing will deepen your relationship with your audience, nurture prospects until they’re ready to buy, and provide a great tool to make relevant, compelling offers.

Crummy email marketing will disappoint, bore, or annoy that same audience.

Here are some thoughts on how to put yourself on the correct side of that equation.

In this 26-minute episode, I talk about:

  • The factors that go into a great sign-up bonus for your email list
  • The most common mistake businesses make when convincing customers to sign up for email
  • How to get people to read your messages once they’ve signed up for your list
  • The magic key to understanding your audience’s problems and desires (spoiler alert: listen to them!)
  • 4 ideas for opt-in bonuses that you haven’t seen a million times
  • How to effectively use classic opt-in bonuses like free ebooks and autoresponders


The Show Notes


Sonia Simone: So glad to see you again, and welcome back to CopybloggerFM, the content marketing podcast.

CopybloggerFM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone, I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I hang out with the folks doing the real work over on the Copyblogger blog.

Note: See the show notes for all the links!

First things first, just a quick reminder that the cost for the Digital Commerce Academy goes up on Friday the 27th — that’s tomorrow if you’re listening to this the day it comes out. If you get on over to you can snag the best price if you’re quick. That’s our series of courses on digital business, covering topics like marketing funnels, how to put an online course together, social media advertising, how to build a business with WordPress themes — and there will be even more courses coming in the future. If you want to launch or improve an online business, that’s where you want to be.

On to today’s topic:

As I say every week in the intro, one of the things we talk about here are the enduring best practices in content marketing. Obviously there are a lot of bright & shiny new platforms, new tactics, and some things evolve, for example how we use images on social has evolved a lot, particularly since Pinterest opened up so much interest in sharing visual content.

So from the beginning of good email marketing, it’s been permission based — we have to convince people to sign up, we can’t effectively buy email names like direct marketers have long done with snail mail addresses.

And that means that we have to make it worth people’s while to get started with us. We have to entice them with the experience they’re going to have on the other side of the click, on the other side of getting started on our email list. And more and more, that’s in a context where we’re all looking at our email boxes with some measure of exhaustion. We get a lot of email, and we pay attention to a little sliver of it.

So not only do we have to convince them to give us their email address and confirm their interest, then we have to convince them to pay attention to it when they get it. The bar is high.

For better or worse, most of the other stuff in your prospect’s email box is not that great. Very few of us have email boxes that are groaning with super high-quality material that we can’t wait to open.

If you think about your physical mail box, there are the bills, there are a bunch of pretty random pieces of junk mail — since the art of excellent direct mail seems to be dying out — and then once in awhile there’s a card from a friend or a package with a little present in it.

That card from a friend and the package with a little present is where you want your email to be. That’s what you want to create for your audience.

The opt-in bonus

Sometimes people call this the “ethical bribe,” which has always felt a little queasy to me, but it gets the idea across.

People aren’t going to sign up to be on your email list — or if you have a Rainmaker site, for registration in a private membership area — just to get news about your business.

Most businesses are still asking people to “sign up for our newsletter.” No one cares about the news of your business. It’s just not compelling. Maybe if you’re Apple, maybe if you’re a brand that has a super tight relationship with your audience. Maybe. That’s probably not something you should count on.

Instead, you want to create a reward experience.

When they sign up on your email list, they get a reward that they find compelling. Not what you find compelling, what they find compelling.

I’ll talk in a minute about what these can be. We’ve all seen the free ebook, which for some markets is totally fine, but for many of our audiences it’s not fun or exciting, so the reward experience there is fairly dim.

But first, let’s talk about what happens after the opt-in.

Beyond the opt-in

Here’s the part that a lot of people who are supposed to be “good at email marketing” miss the mark, in my excruciatingly humble opinion.

Remember, a huge part of email marketing isn’t just getting the opt-in, it’s getting people to open your messages over time.

As time goes by and the person continues to get email from you, they still have to have reward experiences when they open your email.

And if they don’t, they’ll quit opening up your email. Not because they’re mad at you, but because you’ve lost their interest. You’re boring now. You’re just another spam and slam email marketer who sends pitch after pitch hoping that one of them will have an intriguing enough subject line to get an open.

I literally opened an email the other day from a fairly prominent email marketer with the header:


Why? Two reasons. One, this guy is actually pretty smart so I figured the message probably wouldn’t suck. He has a good reputation with me, even though I ignore a lot of his email.

Two, it made me laugh that someone who’s known for being an Infusionsoft expert made a rookie mistake like that. It didn’t make me mad. We all make mistakes. It was amusing and I opened the message. But it didn’t compel me, there wasn’t a reward experience, I didn’t click further, so that was that.

So what kind of emails will get opened?

You’ve heard me use this phrase, reward experience, a couple of times.

When people have a positive emotional experience when they click to open one of your emails, they’re more likely to open the next one.

If they’re bored, then you haven’t set up that next click. Obviously if they’re annoyed you haven’t set up the next click.

You do have to be careful not to be so nervous about annoying people that you never make any offers at all. That’s not a business. But a) relevant offers aren’t annoying, they’re helpful — kind of like a catalog for your favorite thing, and b) as long as you keep the balance on the useful and rewarding side, you’ll be fine.

You’re never going to capture everyone’s attention forever. We come in and out of being interested in things, especially now when there are so many digital distractions. We just want to stack the odds in our favor as much as we can.

#1: Speak to the problems or desires they’re actually thinking about

Tara Gentile had a great conversation with Brian Clark over on Unemployable where she talked about this — and she’s giving a whole presentation on it at our live event in October,

Talk with folks in your audience. Get them on Skype or on the phone. Take them to coffee or meet up at live events and conferences. Read the comments on popular Facebook pages in your topic (this can be painful) and look for where people are struggling or triumphing.

Find out what’s been pushing your audience’s buttons these days. Evoking some kind of emotion, positive or negative.

Then use the language that they use. Mirror the words back that you’ve heard them speak, or seen them write.

Once you have the right topics and the right language, you can implement them in lots of ways.

  1. Run a monthly private Q&A just for subscribers. You get to answer their questions and you always have a fresh source of new problems and concerns from your audience. Record these, both for your audience and for you. If you can afford it, transcribe them — or consider pulling out the most interesting question every month and either make it a blog post, a mini product (think $5), or a free bonus for your subscribers.
  2. Think about throwing a live four-week workshop for subscribers. Once a week for four weeks. Meet on something like Google Hangouts and do a little teaching and a lot of hanging out. Make these special events, and remember to capture the questions that come up!
  3. Create email sequences — autoresponders. Sequences of messages that speak to audience problems with bite-sized solutions. This is an oldie, and over time folks will definitely drift off. But it’s a good add to the mix.
  4. Think about bite-sized content premiums. Chris Brogan spoke at our live event last year and talked about content upgrades — this is when you take a specific piece of content and create a “premium” version of it, or you create something that relates to it. So if it’s a great blog post, create a PDF checklist that accompanies the content in the post, so they can implement it. Think “easy to create and easy to consume.” Checklists, cheat sheets, process maps, mind maps, audio or video versions.
  5. If you have strong membership functionality to make this easy, consider creating a pop-up forum for an event or project. We created one for a Content Challenge that we kicked off at the beginning of the year. It created a massive amount of engagement and connection — a fantastic reward experience. This is the kind of thing that can be challenging to implement — Rainmaker Platform makes this very easy. Just saying.
  6. Mix it up. This is a great place to launch new ideas, try new things. If it doesn’t excite you or it doesn’t excite your audience, move on to a new idea.

I’m not saying don’t do the ebook as a reward, just that ebooks are a big demand on time and attention, and those are at a premium. So fold in some reward experiences that have a more “instant gratification” component, and also a community component where you can.

Email marketing is one of those topics that has a lot of elements and strategies you can play with. We have a whole ebook on it — go to, to the PRODUCTS menu, then choose Free! MyCopyblogger. Our 15-book content marketing library is an opt-in bonus on steroids, normally if it was just a download it would be very overwhelming. But with that registration for a private member area function of Rainmaker, it becomes a lot more manageable both to deliver on our side and to consume on your side.

And on a final note, it’s time for me to make an “Ask” — it really helps the show when you give it a review or a star rating on iTunes, so if you’re an iTunes listener and you feel moved to show us some love there, that really helps us. And a big thank you to everyone who has already left us reviews and ratings, it’s so appreciated.

See you next week!