How to Optimize E-Mail List Growth (Part 2)

By Jeanne Jennings | Posted February 28, 2003
In my last column, we talked about conversion rate — the percentage of Web site visitors who supply their e-mail addresses and opt in to receive e-mail from you. The next natural step is to look at the abandon rate on your registration page.

What's Your Abandon Rate?
Abandon rate is defined as the number of people who complete your registration divided by the total number of people who start the process. Put simply, it's a gauge of how many people were interested in registering but didn't complete the process; typically the cause is something in your registration process is turning them off.

Abandon rates vary widely and not many people track them, making it difficult to get averages either overall or by industry. Those who do track it tend to keep their numbers close to the vest. So how do you figure out if it's a problem? Look at the number of people who abandon each month. Though it's unlikely you'll get this number to zero, if the figure is significant you'll want to see what you can do to get it down.

The highest abandon rate I've heard of is 90 percent. Yes, 90 percent. So 9 of every 10 people who started the registration process didn't finish it. If the company could just get it down to 80 percent (still high) its monthly growth would double. This is a case where the payback for decreasing the abandon rate only nominally is quite significant.

Decreasing Your Abandon Rate

There are some simple and inexpensive things you can do to address a high abandon rate. Here are five:

  • Set expectations appropriately. Tell people what to expect up front. In a recent study by Jakob Nielsen, the average online subscribe process took five minutes. That's a long while in online time. Nielsen recommends, and I agree, the process should be relatively simple and be completed in less than a minute. If you can't do this, at least tell people up front the subscribe process will take about five minutes so they can make a go/no-go decision at the onset.

  • Navigate people through the form. Once they've entered the registration process, give them a road map telling them how close they are to the finish. If they can clearly see they are on step two of four, they can gauge how close they are to the end. You don't want them bailing out on step three when they're nearly done.

  • Provide incentive if necessary. Offer them a carrot to get them through. The promise of a small token of your gratitude (a coupon, an entry in a prize drawing, etc.) will go a long way toward getting them to finish. Just remember — it must have some value to them.

  • Limit the information you ask for. Conventional wisdom says you can ask five to seven questions and not hike up your abandon rate. Common ones to ask include e-mail address, first name, last name, and Zip Code. You might also include a password field if it's a subscription management system in which they'll be able to log in later and change their information.

  • Other common things to ask in business-to-business (B2B) applications are industry segment or subsegment and job title or function. Typically a drop-down menu is used for these last two to make it quicker for the registrant and easier to analyze the data. In a business-to-consumer (B2C) world, you might ask something about interests relevant to your offering.
  • Avoid asking sensitive questions. In addition to avoiding the obvious, such as political affiliation, race, and religion (unless they are relevant to your offer and even then be careful), you want to avoid information that's clearly only going to help you, not help you tailor the information you deliver to your subscriber. The most common of these? Asking for U.S. Postal Service address and/or telephone number when someone is registering for an e-mail newsletter. This information has nothing to do with fulfilling an e-mail newsletter. Another common culprit — questions about buying authority, budgets, and other things you often find on controlled-circulation magazine forms. Again, this has nothing to do with getting them information and everything to do with you selling to them.

Did Mickey Mouse Sign Up for Your List?
Abandonment is one common problem with registration pages. Another is bad data. If you ask for too much information or information that's too sensitive, people will lie. Of course, this makes the data pretty much worthless. Be thankful for those people who lie in an obvious way — using Mickey and Mouse as their first and last names. The bigger issue is those who lie in a non-obvious way — the 32-year-old director-level female who says she's an unemployed 50-year-old man to avoid sales pitches. What's that old saying — garbage in, garbage out? Don't give your subscribers a reason to misrepresent themselves.

The Next Step
Once you feel you have acceptable levels of conversion and a reasonably low abandon rate, it's time to invest money in driving more traffic to your site to get them to subscribe. Don't waste your money on it before you've made your tweaks to lower the abandon rate. Take a look at your registration process and see if there isn't a simple, inexpensive way you can boost your growth rate.

Adapted from ClickZ.com.

Jeanne Jennings is an independent consultant with over 12 years of experience in the online, Internet and e-mail realm; she specializes in helping businesses develop an effective and profitable online presence. Areas of expertise include strategy, product development, information/Web site architecture, marketing and e-mail newsletters. Jeanne also publishes The Jennings Report an e-mail newsletter with market research, articles and other resources for e-mail marketing professionals. Visit her site at JeanneJennings.com.

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