Grow Your House List: Email Marketing Optimization

By Jeanne Jennings

Email lists are a hot topic. I keep hearing the same questions from my clients and prospective clients: Where can they find new email lists to test? How can they tell if they are really opt-in? What can they do to maximize return from an outside list?

Like a Zen master, I answer their questions with one of my own: What about your house list?

Answers vary. Some don’t have a house email list. Others have a list, but the names are all clients or previous buyers, no prospects. A small number have some form of a house list, but usually its origin is murky (did these people really opt in?), it’s a static group (no growth), or they’ve been emailing it and the response rate is approaching zero (if it’s not already there).

Now it’s not that I’m against renting outside lists, but your house list is an asset you can’t afford to ignore. Conventional wisdom says your own house list will outperform just about any list you rent. It is a way for you to build relationships with prospects, not just market to them. And you can’t beat the cost — free. So before you give up on your musty old house list, put resources into growing and revitalizing it.

The First Step: The Offer
First you need a “carrot” — something to entice people to give you their email addresses. I recommend developing a free email newsletter. It should be editorial – not promotional – and focus on issues of importance to your prospects. It can also serve as the vehicle you use to communicate with your house list. (My colleague Debbie Weil has great advice on getting started with an e-newsletter.) Important: Limit your advertising (in-house and third-party ads) to no more than 40 percent of the content (some experts recommend no more than 20 percent), otherwise you’ll lose people who will view it as an email advertisement.

Growing Your House List
Once you have the carrot, there are many ways to grow your list. A few of the most common are:

Promote your email newsletter prominently on your site. Make sure everyone who visits sees the offer. If you have free registration on the site, include an opt-in for the newsletter.

Incorporate the free email newsletter into your other prospecting activities. Going to a trade show? Give attendees a chance to sign up for your email newsletter while there. Add the registration URL and a brief description of your e-newsletter to all your promotional flyers, brochures, and other marketing materials.

Practice viral marketing. Encourage subscribers to forward your newsletter to friends and colleagues. Make sure a sign-up mechanism is in the newsletter footer.

Consider coregistration and other affiliate marketing options. Coregistration is when visitors at a site other than your own have an opportunity to sign up for your newsletter as part of that site’s registration process. The upside is exposure to a whole new audience; the downside is that you are basically buying prospects (market rates range from a nickel to a few dollars per subscriber). Identify a complementary site, and see if it’ll do a barter deal for coregistration on your site.

Advertise your newsletter in other email newsletters that reach a similar audience. Email newsletter ads tend to be more effective than banner ads. If a prospect subscribes to another industry newsletter, chances are he’ll be interested in yours, too. If you’re worried about cost, offer a barter deal or create an affiliate program whereby you pay by subscriber (like the coregistration agreement).

Rent outside lists, and use them to market your free email newsletter. We’ve come full circle. If you rent outside lists, maximize your return by giving respondents the opportunity to add themselves to your house list. You should see a higher response rate with a free offer than with a purchase offer (especially if your product is high-dollar). You’ll have umpteen more chances to sell these folks once they’re on your house list. This is also a good way to skim the cream of your prospects from the list and be able to go back to them without hitting people who weren’t interested the first time.

Growing your in-house list will lessen your dependence on outside lists in the long run, thus reducing your costs. It’s an investment in an asset you can leverage many different ways. For successful e-marketing, make growing your house list one of your objectives.

Jeanne Jennings is a consultant with over 10 years of experience in using email and the Internet to generate revenue. Areas of expertise include customer acquisition/retention, new product development, and identifying and exploiting synergies between offline and online products/campaigns to increase revenue. Visit her website at

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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