Encouraging people to sign-up to your newsletter is good. But too much pressure and we destroy the user experience and damage your business.
We have all watched bad trends come and go. Do you remember the blink tag, the splash screen, the excessive use of Flash and the popup? They all seemed like good ideas at the time. But with hindsight, they were a terrible mistake.
It was not that they were all bad. There was a place for each. We just used them in the wrong way and with too heavy a hand. Less is more, as the saying goes.
Yet despite watching all these mistakes come and go, we are still making them. The latest is the newsletter sign-up form.
Getting people to sign-up to our newsletter is important. An email newsletter provides the opportunity to keep our brand in people’s minds. They also give us a chance to encourage repeat purchases or to up-sell. It is just that we seem to have become somewhat obsessed.
Maybe it is because we feel on safer ground with email than social media. Email feels more like traditional direct mail. It is a broadcast medium where we can control the message. It is not messy like social media where you have to engage with customers and they might say bad things about you.
But whatever the case, we have taken our desire to get people’s email addresses to the extreme. We have started damaging the user experience.
I am sorry to break it to you, but nobody comes to your website wanting to sign-up to your newsletter. They have a different agenda and when we push the newsletter sign-up so hard it makes it more difficult for the user to get their task done.
Take for example checking out on an eCommerce site. If ever there was a moment to streamline the user experience, this was it. Yet, the entire experience can get slowed down as users have to read every checkbox. All to check that you are not signing them up to a newsletter by default!
But it gets worse. Sometimes we can prevent people from doing anything until we deal with the newsletter sign-up request. I am sure you have been to sites that overlay a newsletter sign-up form across the entire site. Until you dismiss that form you can no longer use the site. This is madness!
Unfortunately, we are not just damaging the user experience. We are also crippling our own credibility.
Have you ever seen one of those newsletter sign-up boxes where they have designed the cancel link to make you feel bad for not signing up? They have worded it in such a way that clicking on the link is tantamount to insanity.
Sure, these kinds of techniques might work on one in a thousand. But to the rest of us, it just looks manipulative. Worst of all you are treating your users like they are idiots who you can trick with some manipulative copy. No wonder our opinions of such sites plummet.
Unfortunately, we don’t just look manipulative. We can also look desperate. A common practice at the moment is to offer customers a discount if they sign-up for a newsletter. On face value, this sounds a reasonable transaction. In return for somebody’s email address, you give them a discount. But consider for a moment what you are saying about the newsletter itself. You are saying that the content of your newsletter is so worthless that you have to bribe people to sign-up for it.
You are also relying on people’s laziness to stop them unsubscribing once they have had the discount. Not exactly an inspiring start.
Of course, you could make it hard to unsubscribe. This seems to be the course many have chosen. But this further undermines your credibility by making subscribers frustrated. Not to mention getting your newsletter consigned to the spam folder.
Perhaps you don’t care about your reputation or brand. But what about the bottom line?
We have already established that newsletter sign-up forms can distract users from their main task. But they also distract them from completing your primary call to action.
On most sites newsletter sign-up is a secondary call to action. You want people to do something else like buy a product, give a donation or complete a contact us form. You have a newsletter to catch those people who aren’t ready to complete the primary call to action.
But when you make the newsletter sign-up so prominent you can distract people from these primary calls to action.
You can end up in a bizarre situation where a user comes to your website to buy something and in effect you say - “Stop! Don't buy that. Instead sign-up for our newsletter so we can remind you later to comeback and buy.”
There must be a better way.
Look, despite how this article sounds I have nothing against newsletter sign-ups. We just need to become more sophisticated in how we handle them. At the moment we are so desperate for people to subscribe we are screaming at them every time they visit our site.
Instead of ending on a negative note, let me share with you four steps to improve your newsletter sign-ups. All without damaging your business.
You have to provide value to the subscriber and that has to be more than discounts. If your newsletter isn’t full of rich, engaging content then people will unsubscribe faster than you can sign them up.
I recommend making your newsletter about more than you and your products. Write about your sector and provide lots of advice to your audience.
I am amazed by how many newsletter sign-up forms neglect to tell the user why they should sign-up! Make sure you provide compelling reasons. Let the user know what the newsletter will include and what benefit it will provide.
Also provide practical information like how often they can expect to receive emails. Everybody gets too much email these days, so let people know you won’t be overwhelming them.
Don’t just tell people what they will get from the newsletter. Show them as well. Always have a link where they can see previous newsletters online.
Nothing will damage your brand and your newsletter more than making it hard for people to unsubscribe. It makes people frustrated, but that is just one of the problems.
If people cannot unsubscribe they do one of two things.
They may choose to ignore your email. This can make it hard to judge the success of your newsletter. You will appear to have a lot of subscribers, but your open and click rates will be low. The problem is you won’t know why. Is it the content of the newsletter or is it that people couldn’t unsubscribe? By making it hard to unsubscribe you are just obscuring your metrics.
Even worse, they could choose to mark your newsletter as spam. This creates the same problems as above, but with the added bonus of black listing you. If enough people mark your emails as spam then they will stop reaching legitimate subscribers. This is the worst of scenarios as you may never know what is happening.
My final piece of advice is to pick your moment before asking people to subscribe. Don’t leap on users the minute they hit your site. Let them complete their primary task first.
Consider displaying a newsletter sign-up when they are about to exit, or at the end of a checkout process. Give people a chance to look around your site so they can judge if a newsletter is something they might want to receive.
Of course all this is common sense. Unfortunately in our desperation to get more subscribers, common sense often goes out the window. Don’t make that mistake. If you do, you risk damaging the user experience and your business.